Oh, the places we'll go.
Hello, there! I know it is has been a while since I have written to you all. Things have been crazy busy for the Provinces!
In this post, I wanted to share one of the crazier trips I was able to take while posted in Croatia - I got to visit Africa.
Once the State Department hiring freeze lifted in February, I was able to begin working at the US Embassy Zagreb as the co-Community Liaison Office Coordinator! A year after I was hired, but I was so grateful to even get six months.
The Community Liaison Office (CLO) assists and supports US Government employees and their families as they serve in embassies and consulates overseas. We are in the customer service business, but it did not feel like a typical customer service job. Our duties range from helping new families transition to post to organizing activities that bring people together. One of my favorite areas of responsibility is with Family Member Employment. Most of you know that I am passionate about helping women continue their leadership education as adults, so the co-CLO position allowed me to continue that work with women in the community (although I would have loved to do more!).
Each year, the program that manages the CLO program, FLO, hosts regional CLO training for newly hired CLOs. Since I had a clock quickly ticking off my time in Zagreb, I tried to get in the first training possible - and that happened to be in Lusaka, Zambia. The training lasted Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm, so I traveled the weekend before and the weekend after the training. And who knew that traveling from Zagreb to Zambia was just as long and complicated as flying from Zagreb to Kansas or Zagreb to Bangkok!
Yes, I was nervous traveling this far alone to a new continent. I took additional safety and security training to prepare for the new surroundings, and I mentally prepared for the new experience.
But the experience was incredible.
Not only did I meet some amazing CLOs who serve around the world, but I was also able to explore (a little bit of) Africa for the first time. And of course I learned a lot.
Safari Game Drive at Lilayi
Three of my colleagues also traveled from afar - from Asia, to be precise - so they generously set up a small excursion on Saturday before our 9 pm flights back home. I am so glad they did
After having coffee and a stroll around the lodge itself, we went on a Game Drive through the park. It was the not the most active time of year for the animals, but see if you can "spot" what we spotted on our drive. Besides the animals, the landscape itself was beautiful.
After the Game Drive came my favorite part of our excursion. Not favorite for the circumstance of why it exists, but incredible to experience.
Lilayi offers a home to baby elephants who have been orphaned in Zambia. Many of these orphan elephants lost their parents to poachers, which is still a big problem throughout Africa. When someone sees an orphan, they call this orphanage to pick them up and care for them through childhood. If an elephant doesn't get the proper nutrition and care in their first two years, they will not survive. This rescue saves their lives.
For a small donation, you can see the elephants eat and play at 11:30 am each day. The milk is given to each elephant in bottles, then you can watch them adorably feed themselves. I mean, the "aw" factor is insane. We also saw them eat leaves and play in the dirt a bit. A knowledgeable guide talked us through the entire process, educating us on this issue as we watched the elephants.
Before we headed back to our hotel, the driver took us to a small market so we could shop for souvenirs. Huts and huts of souvenirs filled the space, and each seller had a small piece of the market. As you walk along, they try and sell you the best things to take home, bartering and offering to show you even more items.
As you may remember, the hubs and I try to collect a piece of art from most places we see. I did not see many paintings or drawings, but I did fall in love with a small abstract elephant sculpture. So souvenir - check! Another souvenir was a handmade bag, made by local artisans with proceeds helping a local nonprofit. Beautiful fabrics are popular souvenirs, but I went with something I could use on any trip, while still remember my first time in Africa.
Africa in General
The hubs and I talk about lucky we feel to live in Europe, but everyone I talked to LOVED their time in Lusaka, Zambia. Many of my colleagues have different, more desert-like experiences in other African countries. But the common thread, and one among many in the Foreign Service, is that there is always an adventure waiting for you.
In Zambia, if I had more time, I would have seen Victoria Falls. I hear amazing things about the embassy in Nigeria. South Africa has wild safaris. Each country has something to cherish during your time there, and all give you "crazy" stories to share when you go home.
A few things that did seem crazy for me in Zambia were:
- Dirt roads were common throughout the city.
- Traffic was horrible! Crossing the street is dangerous.
- Many signs are in Chinese because China is investing a lot of money and resources in Africa.
- A Thai restaurant (and a good one at that!). There isn't even a Thai restaurant in Croatia!
- Lush, green plants and vegetation. Unlike the typical vision you have of Africa being dry and sandy, Zambia experiences wonderful seasons.
The trip to a new continent was helpful for work and just plain cool. I am so happy that I have been able to travel during our first post overseas. In the US, I was able to travel a bit for work with Altria. Who knew that I would get to scale that up to see more of the world?
Rapid fire posts coming soon, friends! I need to catch you all up on our last six months in Croatia.
Love to all,
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