I have a piece in Pacific Standard Magazine (well, the website, not like the magazine-magazine) about my trip to Zambia:
Like Tolstoy’s unhappy family, every poor country is poor in its own way, and everyone I meet has a narrative, a creation myth, for how it got this way and why it remains so.
I will spend the next 10 days meeting NGO activists, government officials, and business representatives. They will tell me that Zambia is terrible, that Zambia is fine, and that Zambia is getting better, respectively.
I’m not here to determine which of those statements is true. I’m here for the numbers, the information I can’t get back home. Somewhere between the handshakes, the spreadsheets, the PowerPoints, the annual reports, a story will emerge about Zambia, a story of a country watching its mineral wealth disappear, a country making everyone rich but itself.
I can tell we’re getting close to Kitwe because the number of people crossing the highway increases. The highway has no streetlights, the only light is from the cars, and about halfway there we start to see silhouettes of people in twos and threes running across the road. Our driver never slows down, even as the groups increase to six, seven people, crossing our headlights, stopping in the road to let a car whiz by, running again. I could ask him to slow down, but instead I just look.
There are people there who know a lot more about Zambia’s poverty than I do. If you’re interested in making a donation to any of the organisations I profile in the essay, get in touch and I’ll give you their info.