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Video: Why We Chose Africa
In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale

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    Walking down the escarpment into Zambia's Luangwa Valley, I was sluiced with an old feeling that I remembered from my childhood. Here is where you have to try to recall the expansive lifesaving lessons of walking in the wilderness (if you were ever lucky enough to be taught any).  Here is where you have to read the world in three dimensions and six senses.  Our version of literacy doesn't work in the bush. There is no book that can show you how to walk without watching your feet, teach you to tell the age of an elephant's spoor, or demonstrate how to sleep well on hard ground. The men I was with were reading the ground, the sky, the trees the way urbanites read road signs, and they were sure-footed in their literacy of the world. I—too long out of the bush—was bumbling and stupid and trotting to keep up with them. We who exist in a world of glossy sound bites have forgotten—or never learned—that there are many ways of reading our way around the planet. Ours might be the most limiting method of all.    
    We were hours from the Lunsemfwa River, where we had planned to camp for the night, when we saw the old woman sitting by the side of the road with her companion. She had been waiting for two days to get a lift from the hospital where she had gone to receive treatment for pain in the stump of her amputated leg. (They had been unable to help.)
    The heat was intense during the day, and the nights had been brutally cold. Yet the two women showed no signs of their discomfort. They had achieved the kind of meditative state that saves people from madness or despair in these circumstances. 
    We made room for them and dropped them off at the village before reaching the river. That was all. There's nothing particularly uncommon about seeing an old sick woman waiting for a lift for two days by the side of the road. And in the course of what Zambia can hand out in the form of hardship, this was mild. But there is something that demeans all of us when only extreme suffering catches our global attention and when there is such disparity and difference in our fortunes.
     About 50 years ago an eccentric Englishman built the hotel in Lundazi in the shape of an old castle. It overlooks a lake surrounded by eucalyptus trees, and the view sweeps away into the far distance. If you didn't inspect the place too thoroughly, the old man's nostalgia for some kind of imagined British grandeur would still be evident. But close up, the castle was a crumbling wreck that couldn't have been much better even in its glory days. The plumbing was limited, the bedrooms were small and inconveniently built around stray pillars, and spiral staircases led to nothing more than false battlements where bees had set up house. In fact, bees had infested the hotel to an extreme. To counteract this, the hotel's only loo had a fly swatter next to it (presumably so that you could kill bees that would otherwise find a sitting duck). And the beds came with a pair of rubber flip-flops next to them so that you could cross the room—crunching over the carpet of bees—without getting stung. 

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