Emotions and questions tossed themselves around my head as the plane descended into Lusaka Airport. Will I feel like a total stranger? Wasn’t I a completely different person from the one who left Zambia fourteen years ago? So much had happened and changed me: career and job changes, relocations, apartments, cars, friends, lovers, truths, regrets, bad times, good times, and all the accompanying scars. My 20's & 30's had happened.
And what of Zambia? How had it changed in the interim? (Surely it must have changed, too). I hadn’t been in touch much. I guess I had been too absorbed in my own problems. And now, as I deplaned I braced myself to face a changed, strange new home.
Arrivals hadn’t changed much. We descended the large jet via stairs and walked across the tarmac into the airport building. As vaguely familiar and comforting as that was, my father’s welcoming embrace was what really grounded me to the fact that I had returned home.
The next morning, my friend Jack drove me around to show me some of the ways in which the face of the city had changed. There were obvious differences: billboards, new buildings, new roads connecting old neighbourhoods, two malls where once there was just wild grass, a lot more traffic.
There were subtler changes: an extraordinary number of bed & breakfasts (or lodges), expanding neighbourhoods, restaurants changing ownership.
The most interesting trends were in the people I saw: friendlier drivers, more frequent (and widespread) smiles, open body language, and positivity in the language used on billboards and other commercial advertising. Conversations flowed easily — people were welcoming and told me their stories through the last 14 years.
Out of curiosity, then, I decided to see where my world intersected with my old home. In my 14 years, my passion has revealed itself in open source software, customer support, product management, education and startups. The startup phenomenon is relatively new in Zambia, and my introduction to it came from BongoHive, a space where developers, designers, gamers and entrepreneurs gather to co-work, co-educate and co-mingle.
Through BongoHive as well as some of my connections and friendships from the past, I was able to meet a remarkable set of people, and listen to their stories.
Mark is a serial entrepreneur with a history of successful exits (including a buyout from Vodaphone). He and his company develop a technology that has dramatically reduced truancy in schools (the kind of engaging technology that doesn’t even exist in the West yet).
Vicky and Cassandra are business partners and best friends who bring a truly human touch to an online delivery business model.
Daryl is a university student so discouraged with the state of hi-tech education in Zambia that he started up a peer organization to teach practical and marketable programming skills.
There’s a lot of pioneering spirit in Zambia, these are exciting times. The people making these times exciting: their stories need to be told. They were willing to sit with me on a couch for about an hour and tell me their stories. In turn, I’m launching the Twishibane podcast to tell the remarkable story of Zambia by telling the stories of remarkable Zambians.