By Michelle Fish
Our time in Zambia was, without question, one of the most captivating, moving and eye-opening adventures of my life. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. But, my friends, even the best adventures are not all unicorns and rainbows.
Sometimes, things go off script. And sometimes, it’s your own fault.
We were traveling with cash. Many years ago, we might have had traveler’s checks, but it seems that cash… especially the US dollar… goes far in most countries. In fact, we had more cash with us than we might on a different trip. Of course, we had local currency, too, and credit cards. But many establishments seem to prefer taking US dollars, so we often used them for transactions. We were, proverbially speaking, loaded.
We had split the cash between our two wallets. I had about $700 in mine. Typically, I would carry about 10% of that with me during the day. I didn’t think it was wise to be walking around with almost twice the average yearly wage of most Zambians in my backpack. I put the rest, along with our passports and travel documents, in our hotel safe. Even in relatively remote Ndola, the hotel rooms all had a safe. And for the first three days, I was diligent about locking up our valuables.
By the time we got to the big city of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, and the rather modern feeling Stay Easy Hotel, I guess I was feeling confident. Or, maybe the shower got to me. After many days without one, I finally got to wallow in hot water, and I think it went to my head.
We were planning on meeting up with Tim Cooke, Lee Davis, and Leo Fox, our Living Hope US-based travelling companions, for dinner. I took a rather long time getting ready. Did I mention wallowing in the shower? And so, as the time for our meeting approached, I took a few short cuts.
The cash was all in my wallet, as we had just arrived. I didn’t have a purse with me, and I didn’t want to carry my backpack. It didn’t go with my dress. I was too lazy, or too confident, or too giddy from all the hot water to take the time to put my wallet in the safe. So, I hid it in the back of the closet, thinking “it’ll be fine.”
We had a great dinner. We came back to the hotel and had a cocktail. And then we hit the hay and slept like logs.
The next morning, Bob wanted to walk to the Mall across the street. He had been the one using his cash on our behalf, so I wanted to refresh his supply. I dug my backpack out of the back of the closet, found my wallet and… I bet this won’t come as a surprise… the cash was gone. Only the cash. Thankfully, the credit cards were still there.
I was seriously bummed out. In fact, I was angry. It was as if Africa as a continent, this place I was coming to love, had reached up to smack me hard for my naivete. I was embarrassed. And I was out $700, which made the sting a little sharper.
One thing to know about Zambia: 80 percent of the population lives on about $1 a day. The average daily spend maybe a little higher in the big city of Lusaka, but it is a poor country. I like to think that the $700 did something positive in someone’s life, but I’ll never know.
I did complain to the management. No follow-up ever happened. And it’s no big surprise. It’s also no one’s fault but mine.
Advice to the travelers out there… always use the hotel safe. Always, no excuses. But if you forget, and end up losing something, remember that there are worse things. It’s easy to take a lot for granted. Losing $700 reminded me to be grateful. My life would still go on… dented, but not broken. There are a lot of people in the world that don’t have that luxury. I am thankful for the lesson.