Culture Shock


At first glance, while landing at Lusaka, I was pretty surprised by the many similarities that it had with any upscale United States city. From the sky shone thousands of lights like L.A, at the airport the workers were tapping away at their smart phones and on the drive to the hotel we saw Subways, billboards, huge shopping malls and sophisticated roads. One would think that in Africa none of these things should even exist. But Lusaka is a top of the notch, upscale city in Zambia. To us, these things would seem like the typical norm, but right next to all this luxury were dilapidated building and antiquated cars. For Zambians the American norm is Zambian luxury.

On our first official day in Zambia, we went for lunch in the city and walked around in a local market. The city was bustling with excitement as it was Farmer’s Day, a national holiday in Zambia. Everywhere we went there were hordes of people walking around in the streets. The kids had painted their faces with many colors as they played joyfully with water bottles and ran around in the streets with no regards to the city traffic. Most of the people wore jeans and t-shirts, which seemed like typical American fashion. Nike, Hannah Montana, Disney, Levis were just a few of the brands which people wore. However, all of these clothes looked almost out of place where a random shirt was matched with the wrong style of bottoms. One interesting thing was that the rich people would leave their tags on their clothes to show off their wealth.

At the markets the venders were persistent on selling their quirky items such as woven bracelets, animal figurines, metal oil paintings, wooden globes and household items. Haggling was the main focus of the team, to get the best price. I personally felt really bad every time I had to walk away from the stall with the vender lowering their prices to get you to buy their items. Today I got to see what the wealthier side of Zambia looks like, and I know it is nothing like most of the country. There is such a sharp contrast between how the American and Zambian upper class live.


This morning as I was standing in the hotel bathroom brushing my teeth with bottled water to prevent from infection and while running the shower, waiting for the water to heat up, I experienced an overwhelming sense of guilt. I thought, I am about to meet some of the happiest people ever, and yet those same joyous people have to pump a well just to get a jug full of water, and the water that they do get must supply the needs of an entire family. Think about every aspect of life in which water is necessary- cooking, hydration, washing, and anything else we may flip our faucets for. Every ounce of the water they need, takes many more ounces of effort to get it.

I can sum this experience up in one word- shock. The shock of how wasteful I am. The shock of how much I have. The shock of how little others have. The shock of the fact that these people in need are God’s children just like you and I, the fact that Jesus gave his life for these people, but they are still suffering in such an unjust way. I still don’t know what to make of that realization and shock. The best thing I can do is keep an open heart and open mind so that our awesome God can do everything in His power to work through myself, the rest of Team Zambia, and everyone else involved in the famine to change the world and put an end to suffering.


Tiff and Gianna are students from L.A. and New York. Stay tuned to read more posts throughout the week about all of the students experiences in Zambia!