Sunday, September 28, 2008
Western Province The Barotse Kingdom
Earlier this month I ventured out of Lusaka to the Western Province. The Western Province is made up of mostly flood plain. During the rainy season there are several parts of the Western Province that are only accessible by boat. I went out with three other embassy officers on a good will tour to check on U.S. funded projects and visit villages to promote the U.S. Mission. It was an awesome feeling traveling around the Western Province as the face of the United States. The Western Province is home to the Lozi people and the Barotse King known as the (Litunga). Because we were the U.S. delegation we were formally invited to have a meeting with the King at his palace. It was like a scene out of Coming to America. People bowing down, receiving lines, and every phrase begins with "yes your Royal Highness" or "no your Royal Highness." The King was a very nice man who enjoys a very cordial relationship with the United States. He thanked us for our country's support of his people and personally invited us back to his Kingdom any time we were in the Western Province. Let me just say this, "it's good to be the King."
The remainder of my trip was spent driving or boating through small villages and meeting with Chiefs, Headmen and children. Most of the schools we visited were very poor yet the children were always happy and filled with curiosity. The schools put on several drama's for us and sang wonderful songs in our honor. I was amazed at how articulate the children were and extremely impressed at the obstacles they had overcome just to be going to school. Many schools were held under a tree with a blackboard leaning against the tree. Others were in grass huts with dirt floors and no electricity. Cafeterias were basically campfires next to the school. Yet these kids were learning about the world and proudly displayed their knowledge to us in song and dance. It was hard not to cry seeing the joy in their eyes when we handed out red white and blue soccer balls courtesy of the USA. You would have thought we had given each one of them a million dollars. Of course each red white and blue ball had imprinted on it "Made in China."
My digital camera was a big hit as many of the people had never had their picture taken or seen themselves in pictures. I would take a picture of a kid and show him or her the picture on the monitor. Before I knew it the whole village was clamoring to see the monitor and then requesting that I take each ones picture. Most of them asked how long it would take to get to the United States. I found that question very hard to answer because their only mode of transportation was by boat or by foot so "17 hour flight" didn't mean a whole lot to them. I was amazed at how any kids could learn anything while attending school under a tree without running water or electricity. Yet I met some truly bright young people full of promise and hope. It really gave me a new perspective on that 84 million dollar bond we passed a few years back.