Fight or flight mode: in-awe-gural FAM trip to Zambia

“Wait, I’m going to reverse for you.  You have to take this one,” says my driver Teddy in a clipped English, who has now also taken on the role of location scout in the absence of my husband.

In front of me, on the concrete curb, stands a character straight out of a WWE comic book. Dressed in a red and blue one-piece spandex suit, he is noticeable from a distance, with the red barret and sunglasses, used more for dramatic effect than for sun protection.

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Mr. R&B

We are on our way from the Best Western Plus Lusaka Grand Hotel to the Mulungushi International Conference Centre for the first annual ZATEX (Zambia Tourism Expo).
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The Lusaka Grand Hotel will be my home for the first three days on my Zambia Familiarisation Tour (FAM trip for short) sponsored by AIRLINK
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It is Thursday, 21 May, and day 2 of the FAM Trip. I am an early riser, and at 5am this morning the city was already swarming with the sounds of people getting to their business of the day.

Earlier this morning Teddy dropped the rest of the group at the MICC for the start of the ZATEX2015. When I ask him if I could join him on his second pick-up, he tells me to jump in at the front, “… to have a better view, ” he explains as he gestures to the passenger door of the transfer van.
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Fight mode
And here, at the entrance to Lusaka Grand Hotel, is where my path with Mr. R&B (red & blue) cross for the first time. Carrying his persona in public, wasn’t  only while the cameras clicked, and I wonder what kind of man he is around his grandmother.
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An electrifying buzz around the hotel piques my interest and soon I learn that an event of note is going to take place the following day. Esther Phiri of Zambia is set to meet Sandra Almeida of South Africa. Both boxers are making a comeback and competing for the prestigious World International Boxing Association (WIBA) and World Boxing Federation (WBF) Welterweight titles.

Wait WHAT? Here I am, about to attend the first Tourism Expo of Zambia with the slogan Promoting Tourism through collaboration not competition, and a few doors down we are packing punches. A faint sniff of irony is in the air.

Since I haven’t been to a boxing match before,  let alone one where the fighters have the same anatomical design as me, precepts are already forming in my head.

Friday rolls around and by this time we are all invited, by Lusaka Grand Hotel (one of the title sponsors), to the unification title fight taking place at the Government Complex in Lusaka. We have VIP tickets, front row seats, and will be going there straight from a cocktail evening hosted by Zambian Tourism Board at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Arrival
I am stressed (not a fight-mode kind of person) and dressed (not a heels-kind-of-girl either).
And a little scared.

As South Africans we will be in the minority, herded into who knows what kind of building with people totally different in all aspects from us.

And when the reliably punctual Teddy drop us at the entrance of a building complex the size of the Coca-Cola Dome, it is open, and light and orderly. People outside are friendly albeit the excitement audible in all the conversations we pass. This is not what I imagined.
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The pre-fights entertain the crowd and revs up the tension just enough to see the Zambians’ patriotism shine through and unify them as “One Zambia, One Nation”.
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All rise to sing the National Anthems, and by the third line in I have to fight back the overwhelming urge to shed a tear and I choke my way through the rest of Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika.
I barely make it through. Now it’s our Zambian counterparts’ turn. There is a familiar rhythm to the song and I feel strangely connected to it.

The contenders walk into the room and the crowd rise again to catch a glimpse of their hero’s entrance into the ring.
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The fight ends when Esther Phiri draws first blood from Sandra Almeida and it results in a technical draw. Even the results have a way of equalising the outcome. There is no winner or loser.
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Now it is Mr R&B’s turn, and he steps up to the ring ready to show off his wrestling skills. He is a student from the great William “Tiger Boy” Nkandu. Wrestling in Zambia faded after the demise of Nkandu, after a controversial bout between himself and a wrestler from the DRC, and this will be the first time since 2005 that a wrestling match of this magnitude is available to Zambian sports enthusiasts.

We are escorted back to the hotel where a celebration party has been set up in the conference room, but I can’t stay since I have to be ready at 06h00 for my flight to Livingstone.

More about Flight mode in the next part of this post.

In the midst of the impending fight there was a oneness, connectedness, unity.
We are different but also, we are one Africa.

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