Personal Journey: Finding simplicity, bliss on Zambia's Lake Tanganyika

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Zambian children accompany the author on a visit to a village, curious about the foreign travelers and eager to maintain contact with them.

My nephew's Peace Corps assignment in Zambia gave us the impetus needed to plan a three-week adventure in Africa.

Once there, in northeast Zambia, we visited several villages, complete with mud brick huts with thatched roofs, wandering chickens, curious children, and friendly adults. We were treated to three honorary dinners featuring a village chicken, greens, and the starchy Zambian staple nshima, made from maize flour. The guest of honor was directed to eat the chicken gizzard before starting the meal. Without utensils, this was accomplished by grasping the cooked whole chicken with bare hands, pulling it apart, and fishing around for the gizzard, all while minimizing burns from the steaming chicken.

Several days into our journey, we traveled one of Zambia's few paved roads to Mpulungu, on the southern shore of Lake Tanganyika. There we rendezvoused with a prearranged dhow and village boatman to transport our party of six, plus suitcases and provisions, across the lake. Zambia's infrastructure challenges became clear as we cautiously boarded the dhow, a wooden shell with an erratic gasoline motor, its top covered with a few boards we could perch on. There were no life vests to be had in all of Mpulungu, despite the fact we were traveling three hours across the world's second-deepest lake.

Singing the Gilligan's Island theme song, we safely reached our destination, Luke's Beach, a tropical hideaway complete with palm trees, three open-air, thatched-roof huts, vervet monkeys, and gorgeous views, but lacking running water, electricity, and WiFi. That necessitated carrying in most of what we would need for three days, including bottled water, food, and ice to maintain perishables. My sister cooked Nile perch over a brazier, fashioning leftovers into fish/rice balls for the next morning's breakfast, one of the most delicious and memorable meals I have ever eaten. Toward evening, after canoeing on the lake, we watched Zambian boatmen travel out for a night of fishing. With darkness descending by 6:15 p.m., and only flashlights to illuminate the night, we tucked into our mosquito-netted beds, waking at dawn to the sound of gently lapping waves.

On the second day, we hiked over rocks for 20 minutes to a fishing village to buy sugar and dried milk for coffee and a bag of cooking oil from the village store, a small hut with limited provisions. Children congregated to greet us, enthusiastically posing for photos and whooping with delight to see their likenesses on our cellphones. Having made our purchases, we said farewell, a string of children following Pied Piper-like through the village, curious to maintain contact with infrequent visitors.

That night, a strong wind came through, whipping our clotheslines and mosquito nets. In restless dreams, I envisioned our three-hour boat ride back to Mpulungu the next day in our rickety dhow, sans life jackets, amid strong waves. My worries were unfounded, as the day dawned with another beautiful sunrise and the waves died down to gentle lapping by midmorning.