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How I Ended Up Barefoot in Zambia
Tuesday, 13 February 2018 Written by Valerie Kae Ken


So it isn’t all work and no play. I’ve been really busy at Padri Vjeko Centre. I came to Rwanda with the intention of mainly working with the tailoring department of the school, but, as usual, it didn’t exactly work out that way.

You see, fra Ivica started a Kindergarten about six months ago. As time went by and there did not appear to be a formal program, I decided to step in to help out. With the assistance of Immaculee, the school’s secretary, we located a government approved Kindergarten curriculum. It took a bit of translation, as it is all in Kinyarwanda, but in the end, I managed to divide it into three sections – Nursery 1 (3-4 year olds), Nursery 2 (4-5 year olds) and Nursery 3 (6 year olds). I also created some paperwork - Scheme of work/daily lesson plans as well as Activities’ books that can be used for teaching the kindergarten children in all three levels.


But I digress... I want to talk about Zambia! I got the opportunity to visit this very friendly, very ‘westernized’ country when fra Ivica (the Franciscan who runs Padri Vjeko Centre) had to go on a trip to see his fellow friars. So I tagged along and was it ever worth it!

As I mentioned, the Zambians are a very friendly, very outgoing people. The landscape is much as one would expect – flat and dry in some areas and somewhat hilly in other places.

After doing whatever business he had to at the friary, we rented a car and drove to Livingstone in the southwest corner of Zambia where Victoria Falls is located. At any other time of the year, the water would be absolutely raging down the rocky precipice, but sadly, much to my disappointment, it was at the end of dry season and there was only a slight trickle of water coming overt the edge in several places. Well, I quickly scratched that sight off my tourist list!


Next, we were told of the chance to ‘walk with the lions’….this really intrigued me, so we went to see what it was all about. Turns out there is a sort of sanctuary for orphaned wild animals. These animals are often taken in as cubs and raised by ‘handlers’ who are the world’s best friends to these beautiful, untamed creatures. The idea is to keep them as much as possible in their natural habitat, while protecting them from predators. This is because, although they have the wild instinct for attacking and killing for food, they lack survival skills that they would have been taught, had they not been orphaned at an early age.

What a thrill it was to be ‘up close and personal’ with two lions – siblings – a male and a female. They were huge (well, to my eyes, anyway) and being so close to them was the closest thing to heaven that I have ever felt! We were given clear instructions about where we could and where we could not stroke them… for example, the insides of the ears and the palms of their paws are off limits (now, why would anyone want to do that anyway???).

So for the sum of $200 USD, I happily sat beside the gorgeous, golden male who had really ferocious teeth and the beginnings of a very impressive mane and ran my hand up and down his spine!!!


Whenever the lions got up to go, the handlers would be close by and quickly told me to stand also. And we were instructed to walk behind, never in front of them. We each carried a stick (a branch that had been lopped off from a tree) so that if either of the two lions turned on us and came towards us, we were to put out the stick towards its face and this would keep them at a safe distance. It was fascinating to watch the two lions playfully nibbling and clawing at each other less than a few arm’s lengths from us! We had about an hour with these exotic creatures!

Then, as if this wasn’t enough, I also got to take a cheetah for a walk……Okay – the cheetah actually took me for a walk!

After all this, and while I was still in a sort of daze - not believing what I had just done, we drove to the nearby National Park and negotiated to have a park guide accompany us to search out some rhinos which we knew to be in the park. You see, I have seen wild animals quite a number of times, especially four of the ‘big five’ – elephants, lions, giraffes, hippos, but only one time a rhino in the Serengeti- in Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania.


So off we went, along with a guide telling us the way to turn when the road reached a fork. Suddenly she said, “Stop!” and told us to park the car to one side of the track. Then we got out on foot; surprising because this is forbidden in National Parks, or so we thought!

Well, we didn’t get more than one hundred meters and what do you think??? Right in front of our eyes there were four…..FOUR, count them!.....rhinoceros! - a bull, a female and two younger ones! I was so excited, I could hardly breathe! By this time we had two more rangers guarding us with their rifles ready in case the animals charged. We stayed watching them for quite some time, and then …sigh…. we had to leave as a large group of tourists were waiting to have the same experience (except they had to pay $85 each to do it, and we had only paid the $20 entrance fee to the park!) Talk about luck!!!!


Okay… now about my shoes...

When I came to Rwanda this time, I had forgotten to bring running shoes with me. So I rummaged through recently arrived goods from a container and managed to find a pair of “converse-like” bright green shoes, so took them with me to Zambia.

On the last day there, we drove to a village where things like masks and carvings were sold for bargain prices… I guess I meant to say ‘bargaining’ prices… smiles! As we entered the walled off compound where everyone stood behind their stalls hoping for a sale, a local woman informed us that we could not only bargain with money, we could bargain with what we were wearing! And……you guessed it… after purchasing several items, I suddenly got the idea of using my shoes as a bargaining tool… And it worked! I got a beautifully carved piece of the ‘big five’ for my shoes, my socks plus a few Zambian Kwacha. And the best part was, the gentleman who got my shoes and socks was so happy because he now had a Christmas gift to give to his wife!

I always say that I am spending my time now making the memories that I will have when I can no longer travel, and this was certainly a trip to be remembered!

Father Vjeko Center

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