Unity in the face of adversity

In 2015, I began exploring the area in between Lukolongo (Shimabala) and the Kafue River. My objective to eventually develop hiking trails for the intrepid explorer who wants to immerse themselves in nature, culture and adventure. After years of mapping and planning, on Friday, 26 February 2021, my team and I headed out about 80
kilometres southeast of Lusaka to set up base camp and prepare for our hikers who we expected early the next day.
I learnt my very first Tonga phrase, tuli antoomwe, on this trip. As the locals helped us take our gear to the top of the hill, they said it again and again and again. Throughout the weekend, they proudly repeated it. Little did I know they were teaching me one of the greatest lessons I would learn; the importance of unity in the face of adversity.
That night after setting up camp in the dark and having a 10pm supper we finally hit the sack past midnight.

After a couple of hours’ rest, our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kitchens team was up at 3am, preparing the packed lunches for our very first group of clients. How excited we all were. As this was my first group of clients I had to impress them with how punctual and organised I was (I take pride in the fact that I don’t do ‘Zambian time’). I had it all planned out. I would arrive at the meeting point early, with plenty of time to rehearse my introduction, safety briefings, etc. I even rehearsed the jokes I was going to tell them as part of my grand Introduction. Well, none of that actually happened. In fact, I didn’t even make it to the meeting point!

As I made it down the hill from the campsite to where our vehicle was parked, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A stream of fast-flowing water had been created from the overnight downpour. I now had to drive through a ‘river’ that was not there before. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the earth under the vehicle had softened to the point that when I tried to move it, it struggled to move even a few meters. It was like watching an old man walking home after a long night at the local tavern – one step forward and two steps back. What a start.

After I had gone from terribly stuck to hopelessly stuck, one of our team members, Brian, came to check if the car had made it as he was concerned that it wouldn’t considering the previous day’s happenings. He was right. Brian quickly swung into action running to the closest village in search of the team of men who helped us the day before. He returned with the men after what felt like forever. This camp was a disaster. I was stuck out of mobile coverage with no way of letting the team know I was running late. Two hours later, covered in mud to my knees, we managed to get the vehicle out. Two hours later! People were waiting for so long! So much for a first impression, so much for the grand intro I had worked on so hard. I figured they would not be in the mood of hearing any jokes from me that day. I barely drove a few hundred meters before I met the team driving in convoy to the start point of the hike.

A stream of fast-flowing water had been created from the overnight downpour. I now had to drive through a ‘river’ that was not there before.

After my initial apologies, I decided the best plan of action was to get hiking as quickly as possible and give my clients the experience that they came for and deserved. I decided not to let a bad start of the day affect my mood or further dampen the spirits of the team. Instead, I decided to focus on the silver lining, the fact that I was about to lead about 20 explorers on a formidable adventure in a very beautiful part of the country. I let my passion and love of the outdoors guide me as we began the 13-kilometre hike.

We began on a slight elevation between two hills. As we climbed higher and higher we could see the peaceful Kafue River in the distance behind us and an expanse of lush, green woodland ahead of us. We crossed over to the other side of the hills. I decided to leave my post at the front of the group and trek back and forth along the group chatting to a few of the hikers, getting to know them a bit more, and see how they were finding the walk.

One of the ladies had her two very young daughters on the hike that I was slightly nervous about initially but quickly learned that those girls would earn the respect of the whole team. We all admired their determination and adventurous spirit. Speaking to some of the hikers, I was encouraged that they were having such a good time and hoped to see more exploratory activities in different locations across Zambia. It was a group of people from all walks of life. We had the super cool mother with her two girls, social media influencers of the travel industry, women in conservation, a group of friends looking to have a great time as a team and the most adorable couple. It was the perfect mix of different personalities walking and working together towards a common destination.

We hiked over a hill, through woodland, small rural villages, and maize fields, and crossed several streams, until we got out a place called Naboye – a small rock pool of great spiritual significance to the locals. This pool is where the locals believe the spirits of their ancestors reside and in times of drought, the locals perform certain rights to appease the spirits, and in return the spirits ‘gift’ the area with plenty of rain. We had our lunch break a few meters after Naboye then made our last stretch for the finish line. This was the end of the road for the day hikers who made their way back to Lusaka, whilst the campers still had to hike another three kilometres uphill to the campsite.

The following morning we waved our clients goodbye, packed up camp and started our long journey back to Lusaka. A river had burst its banks and the bridge we were supposed to use was now submerged leaving us no option but to wait. We waited for one hour. This was quite a long distance from camp yet the five men from two days ago had followed us up to this point making sure we didn’t get stuck again. I tried to tell them that we were fine from here and they could turn back, their response was the same each time – tuli antoomwe.

We finally asked what tuli antoomwe meant and it was translated as meaning ‘we are together.’ Although it was a beautiful phrase, I didn’t recognise the gravity of those words until a few days later. I attended two funerals post-camp. In one of the speeches given to encourage the widow of the deceased I picked up tuli antoomwe. It was at that point when I thought back to every challenging moment of the past two weeks: getting stuck in the mud, challenging river crossings, climbing steep hills, campfires in the rain and the loss of loved ones. I realised that I could not have gotten through it alone. Tuli antoomwe is a promise, reassurance, encouragement and lesson. A lesson on the importance of unity in the face of adversity. It describes what humanity ought to be; what you and I should strive to be. No man is an island, we are indeed together.

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