Outdoor adventures and freedom for kids in Zambia
Global Parenting this months takes its first trip to Africa! From probably one of the most remote destinations we have covered so far, I’m delighted to introduce you to Annie and the Wright family based in Solwezi in the copperbelt of Zambia where they have lived since October 2015.
BG: So tell us how your family ended up living in Zambia!
AW: Both my husband and I are from the UK. We were both brought up in the Midlands except for a year as a child when I lived in Australia. All three of our boys were born in the UK although we found out we were moving to Zambia when I was 7 months pregnant with our third.
We have travelled quite a bit, both before and with children. We love seeing new places and meeting new people, living aboard was always on the cards but we both have large families and always had an excuse to put it off. We realized there is never going to be a right time, so when Husband got the opportunity to work in Zambia as a teacher, we decided to go for it.
The move was driven mainly by a desire to live in a different culture and as a means of exposing our boys to the world. We love travelling and this seemed like the next step. We also wanted a more outdoor lifestyle for the boys then they would have in the UK.
BG: What were your first impressions of your new home?
AW: We had visited the continent of Africa a few times but Zambia was a big unknown. First impressions were very mixed. The main feeling was relief to finally be here! Moving a family to another continent is not an easy task!
My eldest first words as we got off the plane were “This isn’t Africa, its raining”. We had told him it was going to be warmer here than in the UK so he was very shocked to see rain. The airport was tiny, one small building and a worn strip of tarmac. As we drove from the airport it became apparent how little there was in the town we had moved to. No cinema, No shopping mall, 1 Wimpy and not a lot else.
I started to question my sanity as we pulled off the main road on to a dirt road leading towards our estate. At the gate I couldn’t believe after the chaos and poverty we had driven through that a finger print scanner was used to access the grounds. The estate was lovely large manicured gardens surrounds spacious light houses with large verandas. I was introduced to lots of smiling faces who all seemed happy to have us here.
BG: How much interaction do you have with local community?
AW: The estate we live on is mish mash of people from all over, a few from the UK and Europe, lots from South Africa and Zimbabwe and a few Zambian. So there are lots of different cultures and backgrounds which is exactly why we brought our kids here.
Everyone loves kids here; my boys have long blond hair and get a fair amount of attention which they don’t always like. I’m breastfeeding my youngest and although I never had any issues feeding in the UK where people usually averted their gaze. Not here, it is so normal that people will look and touch baby whilst he is feeding.
There is a massive wealth divide between those that have and those that don’t. I don’t think I will ever get used to it and I hope I don’t!
As a woman you get a lot of hassle (especially if not with a man) when out in town. If something official needs to be sorted a man will get more respect than a woman. For example my husband took one of the boys for some immunizations and he was told men don’t wait and taken to the front of the queue. As a woman I find this sexism hard.
BG: What does the typical family look like?
On site there is everything from singles to couples and families (max 3 kids). No grandparents or extended families live onsite so help comes from neighbors and friends. We now have a maid and a gardener! That took some getting used to! Outside the expat community, Zambian families can be large. Usually women look after the children and men work.
BG: What facilities and activities exist for young children?
AW: The kids play out every evening with loads of other kids exploring and getting up to mischief (exactly what they should be doing 🙂 ) They usually come back covered in mud and with some story to tell.
There are no facilities for children as such, but we have a pool onsite which we go to at least three times a week. It is a small community on our complex but in the neighboring expat estate there is a golf club that has a swimming pool and a restaurant.
The only clubs/groups that exist are self-organized. I attend a small playgroup once a week with my baby, where group of mums meet in each other’s houses. This interaction with other mums makes life so much easier. On the golf estate there are more expats and more events organized such as a mud run which my boys took part in a few weeks ago.
Celebrations and birthdays usually involve a bring and share Braai (BBQ) on someone’s veranda while the children play outside.
BG: What schooling is available?
AW: The schooling is stricter and more formal than the UK, sometimes this doesn’t sit easy with me as I’m quite laid back when it comes to parenting. They follow the International Primary Curriculum for English, Maths and Science, but learn local history and geography. They swim twice a week and do sports twice a week.
The school year runs from January to December. The school bus picks them up at 6:40am. My middle boy is in nursery (they start at age 3) so finishes at 12:30pm, my eldest is in year 1 and finishes at 1:30pm except when he has activities twice a week when he finishes at 2:30. The boys school places are funded by my husbands work.
BG: What are health facilities like for families?
AW: There is a private clinic just round the corner, any treatment is paid for by my Husbands work. It is simple but has done the job so far. If there was a serious emergency we would have to be flown to South Africa for treatment, this is not a straight forward process as one friend unfortunately experienced last year.
Although I had all my children in the UK, some expat women have their babies in Lusaka (the capital of Zambia), most though will fly home for the birth. The clinic does have a midwife but probably not the facilities to handle some of the more complex births. A gynecologist visit roughly once a month. And there is a ‘under 5’ clinic once a week where baby can be weighed and checked over. Vaccinations are also available but some of the routine vaccines in the UK are not part of the schedule here so I will have to get boys up to date on return to UK. There is no developmental checks like their are in the UK.
My main concern living here though is Malaria. I have had it once after a trip to Uganda and never want my children to have it. It was horrible. There is no drug that is effective long term so we are not on antimalarial tablets. We wear repellent every evening and make sure we cover up as much as we can (it can be very hot here), we sleep under nets and the grounds are fogged every night. We are very aware of the symptoms and can get tested easily.
BG: What sort of family lifestyle do you have?
AW: Work life balance is very good here, my husband is home earlier and less stressed here. I have yet to find work, due to visas it is going to be very hard.
It is a very outdoor lifestyle, we live on the veranda. The boys play outside all the time, there is a game reserve on our door step where we visit the giraffe and antelope, also a waterfall where we swim. We swim, run, walk and ride bikes as a family a lot. My blog post ‘Mummy there is zebra poo in the garden’ discusses some of the similarities and differences to the UK.
A lot of our living costs are covered by Husbands work. Food is about a third cheaper than the UK. You need a 4×4 to get about which are really expensive (even for an old one) and it will need a lot of maintaining as the roads are awful (especially in the wet).
There is one supermarket in town but you can never guarantee what it will have. I’m really missing cheese as it has been months since they had any! There is no clothes shop other than a second hand shop in town again you can never guarantee what they will have. The nearest shopping mall where we can by more items is 3 to 5 hours away depending the state of the road. Nappies are really expensive so we use cloth now!
Standard post is very unreliable but DHL will courier here (not cheap though). We also use a 3rd party company who have an address in the UK. They can fly parcels over and we then collect iit from town. Generally though. When people have visitors its common for them to bring over bits for us all. My parents and the in-laws brought over more stuff for us and our friends than they brought for themselves 🙂
BG: You are ideally placed in Zambia for exploring more of Africa, what adventures have you undertaken so far?
At Christmas we did a month road trip around Namibia and Botswana. Highlights include safaris in Ethosa, sand-boarding at Swakopmund, flying over Okvango Delta, elephants in Chobe, and Victoria Falls.
We are hoping to visit more of Zambia over next couple of weeks ( school holidays whoop!). We want to see Victoria Falls at full flood and maybe Lower Zambezi National Park.
We also would love to visit Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa. Maybe even get back to Zanzibar where we finish our honeymoon!
(BG: I’m exhausted just reading this- but sounds so amazing! Zambia is a land-locked country with eight neighbours – that’s a lot of Globetrotter exploring!)
BG: What are the biggest challenges as a parent in this country?
AW: Being away from family support! And not having two incomes is difficult. The general attitude to expats is that you are made of money and you should share it, this means you are often mobbed or harassed, especially without Husband, the boys can find this quite unnerving.
BG: What do you love most about your new lifestyle in Solwezi?
AW: The outside lifestyle (even in the wet season), I love the fact we have zebra and impala roaming around the complex. Plus I can go see a wild giraffe whenever I want!
I thought compound living would feel unsafe and threatening but it’s the opposite! My boys have more freedom and childhood experiences here than they would in the UK. We went on an amazing family road trip which would never have been possible if we were not living here!
I would recommend living here if you’re laid back and happy to go with the flow. Nothing is straight forward and simple tasks can take days to complete. It can be quite isolating here, you really need to make an effort to socialize otherwise it could be lonely. Bring anything you think is important with you as you probably won’t be able to get it here!
What a fabulous adventure! Not everyone is cut out for this type of expat experience but we are so grateful for Annie for sharing her story. If you would like to read more on Annie’s African adventure with the boys, she has started to blog about her experiences as well at www.awrightadventure.wordpress.com – we, for one, are really looking forward to seeing how their adventure unfolds.
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All pictures © Annie Wright