I knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make me any less sad that we’ve finally hit the letter Z and our alphabetical journey around the world is coming to a close. We won’t stop learning about new places of course, but I’m not sure what I’ll say to the kids next week when they ask which place we’re learning about next. Maybe I’ll have to come up with some sort of a mini version to fill in the last weeks until school’s out or something, we’ll have to see.
For the letter Z I decided to focus on Southern Africa, but I never really did decide whether I was going to do Zambia or Zimbabwe and ended up exploring elements of both. My husband and I had the chance to go on an amazing African safari just last July and we spent three nights in Zambia near Victoria Falls. The Zambia we saw while staying in a nice tourist hotel is obviously not the “real” Zambia experienced by most people there, but we did get a bit of exposure to life outside the hotel gates. We had the chance to visit a rural village and tour the school and also went into town one day to look around a bit and do some shopping. We were lucky to get a talkative cab driver and we peppered him with questions about his country. He told us there were seven official languages in Zambia but over 70 languages in total were used. He also pointed out a worksite where men were digging a trench alongside the road using pickaxes and hand tools with no modern equipment in sight. He told us that the trench they were digging was to be used for new internet lines out to the hotel.
For our Zambian/Zimbabwean learning activities I found some Southern African background music and some videos showing African children with toys they had made by recycling trash. I told them about the time I was visiting a friend in West Africa and we came across some kids selling small vehicles they had made from bits of metal. They were quite ingeniously made and the kids sold me a handful of them for a couple of dollars. Most of them I gave away, but I still have two along with a metal Christmas tree ornament that I bought at a market and looked a little more professional since it was likely made by an adult.
We looked at what we had in our recycling bin and brainstormed ideas for what we could make and since we were enjoying the music so much we ended up making our own musical instruments; a tissue box guitar, a coffee can drum and a toilet roll rattle filled with dried beans.
Corn, commonly known as mealie or mealie-meal is the main staple in this part of Africa and it played a big role in our Zambian/Zimbabwean dinner. It is eaten both fresh in season and dried and ground up as cornmeal and our first dish was a sweet corn soup that included both. I also tried my hand at cornmeal porridge, which is known by a different name in each area; nshima in Zambia, sadza in parts of Zimbabwe and ugali in eastern Africa. It is served with almost every meal and is usually eaten without utensils, used to scoop up sauces and garnishes. For our main course I made a dish with chicken and peanut sauce using peanut butter my son helped me make in the blender. We also talked about how many children in Africa rarely get to eat something like chicken on a daily basis. For many families, most meals would consist of cornmeal porridge and vegetables and meat would only be eaten on very special occasions.
We had enjoyed several high quality local beers when we were in Southern Africa, especially Windhoek Lager from Namibia, but were were unable to find any of them in British Columbia, so instead I bought some of our other favourite safari beverage, Amarula Cream. Our safari guides offered it to us every morning with our coffee when we had our morning break and I’ll always associate the taste of Amarula in coffee with our African trip. It turns out that it also goes very well with decaf after supper.
And the verdict? Well, my daughter was fighting a cold and had a busy day at school, so she ended up falling asleep at 6 pm while I was cooking supper and she missed the entire meal.The sweet corn soup was delicious, although we quickly began to suffer from corn overload. We tried our hand at eating the cornmeal with our hands and using it to scoop up the sauce from the chicken dish, but we quickly concluded that it must be a learned skill. My son was quite intrigued by the idea, though. The porridge was incredibly bland, but it went very well with the chicken dish and it was extremely filling; I can see the value of having something like that to make the more expensive ingredients stretch further and still give everyone a satisfying meal. The chunky home made peanut butter was really nice combined with the chicken and tomatoes as well.
Overall, Zambia and Zimbabwe were fun destinations for our final stop on our alphabetical trip around the world. It was great to explore a place that was so exotic and different to finish off and it really made me want to go back again, but this time with the kids. Hopefully it will happen someday! But for now, it’s over and we’ll have to go back to the beginning next year. If anyone has any good ideas for destinations to try next time I’d love to hear them!