If there’s one thing I learned from my 250-day, 20-country travel sabbatical in 2013, it’s that travel has a crazy way of making the foreign seem familiar — and vice versa. For instance, I can still taste the chocolatey gooeyness of the s’mores that I ate by a campfire in the small fishing village of Mwandi, Zambia.
(If you’re thinking, “S’mores seems like a surprising thing to be eating in rural Zambia” — you’re right! More on that in a bit…)
My husband Mike and I had initially decided to visit Zambia, in Southern Africa, to see the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls — the world’s largest waterfall, and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Its beauty and power did not disappoint.
While we were in the region, we also took advantage of the spectacular game viewing. We camped in the middle of the bush in Botswana — also in Southern Africa — and went on a wildlife cruise in Chobe National Park.
These experiences blew me away.
Whether we were observing the laid-back giraffes eating calmly from trees, watching an elephant wake up from a nap, waiting patiently to catch a photo of a hippo yawning, or taking hundreds of pictures of the colorful sunsets, our time spent in Zambia and Botswana was unforgettable.
While these more traditional tourist experiences were simply amazing, the most memorable part of my time in Zambia was spent in the small fishing village of Mwandi.
For two weeks, Mike and I worked with a local nonprofit to build sustainable housing alongside community members. Our days in Mwandi were spent interacting with local people, building homes, and learning about Zambian culture.
During our weeks of building, we got to know a local teacher named Gabby, and Matt, the director of the Zambian nonprofit, quite well. Gabby taught me that fishing, family, and religion are the pillars by which many locals live their lives. And Matt taught me more practical things — like how to use a power saw when installing a new door.
Our visit to the 8,000-person village of Mwandi happened to correspond with the 4th of July holiday…which brings me back to the s’mores.
Gabby and Matt wanted us to feel at home, so they surprised us with all the ingredients to make this favorite American dessert! Mike and I still laugh that we were over 8,200 miles from our home in Chicago, but felt more patriotic that Independence Day than ever before.
These personal connections (And did I mention the s’mores?!) will stick with me forever.
These experiences were so transformative that Mike and I decided to found Unearth the World upon our return home.
Unearth the World exists to make the volunteer travel industry more ethical and transparent, and help people from all over the world break down cultural barriers.
On this trip, a group of Wanderful women will visit the project that had such an impact on Mike and me in Mwandi, and work alongside local community members to build safer and more sustainable housing. After using their physical strength to construct homes, the group will travel to Kasane, Botswana for two days of animal wildlife viewing, returning to Zambia to check out Victoria Falls before heading home.
While I cannot guarantee s’mores, I know there will be other aspects of this group’s visit that will seem wildly exotic and oddly familiar at the same time.