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5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African BushWhy You Should Travel Like a Local

I am a BIG believer in “living like a local” while traveling. Seeking to understand and participate in culture as a globetrotter is essential for two reasons:

  1. You will make friends. When you demonstrate a sincere interest in a culture, the locals will be more inclined to like you. When they like you, they’ll become your friend. Who doesn’t want those?! This leads us to benefit number two.
  2. Your travel experience will be greatly enriched.  Your new local friends will show you the off-the-beaten-path attractions and authentic restaurants. You’ll be able to view the world through their eyes and gain a deeper appreciation for your destination. No more wallet-gouging tourist traps for you!

Our recent trip to Zambia was an excellent test case for “living like a local”. For anyone hoping to visit the beautiful country one day, I’ve compiled a list of ways you can assimilate into local life!

1. Start a Conversation

You probably won’t master a new language before traveling to a foreign country, but just knowing a few key phrases can not only help to get you around but also communicate genuine care toward the natives. (Again, trying to make friends here!) Zambians are especially appreciative of your efforts to communicate with them. They’ll give you grace!

There are 72 different languages are spoken in Zambia – wow, I know! We visited the western and southern provinces along the Zambezi River where Lozi was the primary language.

5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African Bush - Lozi Phrases

2. Dress the Part

Dress is especially important for women traveling in Zambia, as I learned from my sweet friend Muvianna. For modesty’s sake, legs must be covered at all times by a traditional garb called a chitenge. These brightly colored bolts of fabric are actually really fun to wear. You can usually purchase them from various vendors in the markets of major cities.

5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

Just wrap and tie!

3. Give Respect

This is hopefully a given as you travel, but it’s important to brush up on your destination’s respect code before you depart. For example, common hand gestures in the States can be considered EXTREMELY vulgar and disrespectful in other countries!

Hand gestures are key in communicating respect in Zambia. Whenever tribe members pass on the paths, they always exchange a verbal greeting, accompanied by a slight bow (deeper if it is an elder or headman) and the traditional handshake.

First you clap, while bowing slightly. Think golf-clap.

5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

Then, you extend your right hand to shake, while your left rests at the midpoint of your right arm.

How to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

While clasping hands, you’ll rotate your hand up and down as your new friend does the same. This could go on for a while – let the native determine the end!

How to Live Like a Local in the African BushHow to Live Like a Local in the African BushHow to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

End with another golf clap.

5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

4. Eat Up!

One of my favorite parts about traveling is sampling the traditional foods of my destination. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t loved everything I’ve tried, but I’ve never regretted the taste! While brushing elbows with locals, it’s really important to eat the food they offer. Especially in Zambia, where a big meal is a luxury and to feed a guest is an honor.

The traditional food in Zambia is nshima. It is made from cornmeal which many natives grind themselves.

5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

Once ground, natives use water to mold the cornmeal into mounds. Many natives subsist completely off of nshima and collard greens, but on special occasions, they may also add a meat.

5. Be a Learner

Having a humble and teachable spirit goes a long way in making friends and living like a local. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. You’ll learn endless fun facts that will enrich your overall experience!

5 Ways to Live Like a Local in the African Bush

Maybe you won’t be traveling to Zambia anytime soon – but hey – these tips are pretty transferable to any destination!

What are your tried and true tips for traveling like a local?


Harvesting Fruit in Chabukala

Chabukala (Cha-boo-kah-la) was the last stop on our mission into the bush. We were hopeful and eager, all the while wondering if we would meet the same mixed reception we had experienced in Mutwa. Little did we know that we had stumbled upon a place ripe for a harvest!


A Miracle in the Making

Our arrival in Chabukala was not a coincidence. It had been a year-long miracle in the making. The previous year Jack set out on a mission in the direction of the village. A man met him on the path. He said that God told him in a dream to join the group on the road – they would need his help.

The man’s name was Miracle.

Uncertain of how he’d fit into the mix, Miracle joined the team. When they arrived at their destination, they discovered that the villagers spoke Shanjo…

a rare language only Miracle could speak!

Miracle worked with Trail Missions from that moment on. He prepared the people in Chabukala for our arrival and was invaluable to us as a translator!

People Eager for a Harvest

Hundreds of villagers met us at our campsite as we pulled up. Hospitable adults shook our hands warmly with the traditional bow and clap. Curious children peeked out from around their parents’ waists, smiles flickering across their faces. The people had set aside the best land in the village to be our campsite, situated directly underneath massive, beautiful mango trees. Although fruitless at the time, I imagined what they would look like covered with ripe mangos, ready for a harvest.

After quickly erecting our tents, we sat down with the people and began to share about Jesus. The men nodded in grave agreement as the gospel was shared. Some even had pads of paper and were furiously scribbling down notes as we spoke. It quickly became apparent that many of these men and women were already filled with the Spirit of God!

As soon as we had finished teaching, several men came forward with questions that were indicative of their hunger for the Lord:

We believe that what you say is true. Will you come and build a church here?

How can we learn if we do not have a bible?

How can we know that a pastor is teaching the truth?

I couldn’t help but wonder in amazement at what we were witnessing. In our first village, we had planted fresh seeds of truth and love. Here, we were harvesting the fruit of faith in these new believers as they eagerly sought after Christ!

We assured them of the intent of Trail Missions – to return and train up leaders through bible studies. We gave bibles to men who could read in Lozi and would faithfully share with their community. We encouraged them to abide in Christ so that they would continue to produce good fruit. Just like their mango trees. 

The Celebration

The magnificent harvest called for a celebration! We invited the entire village to a feast.

teaching the Macarena in Zambia

We purchased a pig for roasting and the headman graciously gave us his chicken.  While the meal was cooking, I found my happy place among the children. We spent hours teaching each other games and dances from our home countries.

I taught them “duck-duck-goose”, the hokey pokey, and the macarena.

They taught me how to play human tug of war.

human tug of war in Chabukala

And this circle game.

kids playing in Chabukala

Our afternoon of fun was as much a gift to me as it was to them!

all smiles in Chabukala

Suddenly, it was time to leave Chabukala. Headmen from surrounding areas came and pleaded with us to visit their villages. Although Trail Missions would return to this area, our time there had come to a close.

Those headman will not have to wait very long.

I’m confident that those reaped in the harvest of faith in Chabukala will in turn become seed planters!


Planting Seeds in Mutwa

Mutwa was the first village we journeyed to on our mission into the bush. We drove along a deep sandy trail that can only be likened to Disney’s jeep tour in the Indiana Jones ride! After hours of death-defying turns and flames (yes – flames) the road opened up to one of the most beautiful clearings I’d ever seen.

Cattle and goats grazed along the roadside.

Mango and banana trees appeared around every corner.

Termite mounds that rivaled the size of park monuments dotted the countryside.

And everywhere you looked you could see farmland.

We arrived at the perfect spot to plant seeds.

farmland in Mutwa, Zambia

 The Seeds in Good Soil

The first hut we walked to was absolutely the most memorable. Gathered underneath a family’s humble hut, I shared the gospel story. As I spoke, there was thoughtful stillness among the family.

Their eyes widened with facsination as I told of creation and sin’s entry into the world.

They sat in pained silence as I told of the life of Jesus, his betrayal and death on a cross.

Then, a look of hope as I explained how Jesus rose from the dead to cancel our debt of sin and reconcile us to God.

The husband and wife eagerly agreed to pray and enter into relationship with Jesus!

Afterwards, we asked if they had any prayer requests. The wife complained of chest pains, so we began to pray for her. As we did, she began to manifest a demon. Now I’ve always believed in the spiritual realm – known that evil forces are in constant contention with the work of God – but never had I seen it with my own eyes. I was amazed. And distraguht. Held captive by a dark presence, the woman before me shook uncontrollably, gasping for air. Tears filled my eyes as I began to pray aloud with the team in the name of Jesus for her deliverance.

Then as quickly as the darkness manifested, it was gone.

There was peace. 

The woman breathed easily. Her former chest pains were gone. Jesus healed and delivered her!

walking in Mutwa

We walked on and entered into the hut of a young family. The husband, wife, and four children sat in rapt attention as the gospel was shared. Afterward, the family prayed to receive Christ. Then the husband spoke:

I believe that the bible has the answers. How can I get one so that I may train my family?

We were all so moved by his humble request. He wanted something we too often take for granted in the States – access to a bible. We had precious few bibles translated into Lozi. We were determined to give them to families who would seek after the Lord wholeheartedly and share with their neighbors. This was one such family.

the good soil

With full hearts, we continued on – stopping at each hut we passed. On our last stop of the day, we arrived at a hut as a visitor departed. She was so joyful and free I hardly recognized her. It was the woman from the first village. She greeted us as we passed by and spoke with our translator. He explained that she had been walking ahead of us all day. At each hut, she proclaimed the power of God.

Listen to these people! They healed me!

The Seed Snatched Up by the Enemy

Our second day of ministry was starkly different from the first. Despite the norm of Zambian hospitality, many families met our group with suspicion and fear. Knowing that something dark was at work, we began asking around.

We learned that the witch doctor had been doing just as much walking and talking as we had. Afraid to lose her position of power in the village, she taught the people to fear us.

“They are asking for your names in order to curse you.”

“They will make you remove your clothes in order to pray for you.”

“If they take your picture, they will steal your soul.”

“If they pray for you, you will die.”

Fewer people received our message. One family even ran and hid from us as we approached. Our hearts were heavy.

Jack encouraged us to not focus on the opposition of the enemy, but to rejoice in those whose names are now written in the Book of Life. Over one hundred people received Christ in Mutwa. That is certainly something to rejoice over for all eternity!

Trusting in His Faithfulness

faces in Mutwa

I will think about Mutwa often. But not in despair. I will rejoice in remembering my new brothers and sisters in Christ. I will hope in God’s promises that his word never goes out empty and that he always finishes the good work that he begins.

I look forward to hearing stories in Heaven of how the woman healed of demons and the humble family of seven continued to water seeds that were planted. 

Thank you for following along on our adventure into the bush! Coming soon: stories from the village of Chabukala! We’ll talk pronunciation later… ;).



Why I Ventured Into the Bush

Adventure in Africa

My globe obsession began when I was just six years old. I can remember visiting my Grandma’s house, giving her a quick hug and kiss hello, then racing into the room that housed my beloved globe. Sitting with the globe in front of me on the floor, I would spin it with my eyes tightly shut. When a sufficient number of seconds had passed, I’d stop the globe with one finger and open my eyes in wonderment to see which country I had “traveled” to.

I landed in Africa quite often.

It wasn’t long before I found myself dreaming of traveling to the exotic land. Then years went by, and I became a Christian. Suddenly my reasons for visiting Africa changed.

Jesus set me free from my sin and I wanted to carry his message of love, hope and new life to a people who had never heard his name. There are countless places I could have chosen, but the dreams God had planted  in my six-year-old mind would not be shaken. I was determined to go to Africa.

Fast forward to August of 2016. I arrived in Zambia, Africa with my husband and three other teammates ready to take the gospel in the bush. We teamed up with dear missionary friends of ours, Jack and Amber Mututwa, and their organization – Trail Missions.

Trail Missions

Missionaries Jack and Amber Mututwa

Trail Missions

The purpose of Trail Missions is a three-part process:

  • FIND THEM: Jack and Amber identify rural, unreached villages in the bushes of Zambia. They take missionary teams into the villages for two weeks at a time to share the gospel.
  • TRAIN THEM: The Mututwas pour into the believers in the formerly unreached villages through discipleship and bible training.
  • SEND THEM: Once local pastors have been trained, they are sent out to plant churches in their villages.

Our team had the privilege of being a part of the first movement – finding them.

We Arrive

So there we were, fresh off of our 15 hour flight, standing with all of our life’s necessities for the next two weeks on the curb outside of the the Livingstone airport. We immediately packed all of our belongings into a repurposed military truck fondly named The Gladiator.

The Gladiator | Zambia, Africa

From there we drove 6 hours on into the night on a road I imagine would feel quite at home on the face of the moon. Full of craters – I mean potholes – the dirt road stands as a barrier between those living in Livingstone and the Western province. The Gladiator delivered us safely to Jack and Amber’s mission base in Sioma, which is perfectly situated on the river bank of the Zambezi.

Zambezi River in Zambia, Africa

The Send Off

It was here that we caught up on sleep and learned about the villages we had traveled the world to love. The gospel, as Jack explained, would be received quite differently in rural Zambia than in the States.

The Zambians are a deeply spiritual people. There is no need to convince them of the existence of God or of the spiritual realm. They interact with it daily. Cut off from modern medicine, villagers often rely upon witch doctors for healing and protection. People come to the witch doctors to purchase deliverance from sickness, bad dreams, and protection from demons. Ceremonies are performed and charms – white beaded necklaces – are given to ward off evil. Sadly, it’s these very charms that actually enslave the people to evil spirits. There are various churches scattered throughout rural Zambia, but very few of them teach Scripture or even speak the name of Jesus. The people are caught in a cycle of legalism and hopelessness.

As Jack concluded his briefing on the villages, I felt excitement mounting. How perfect a setting for the lavish love of Christ to be proclaimed to longing hearts! And yet, there was this lingering question of how? How do we relate to these villagers when we don’t even share a language! Jack answered our misgivings in this way: “Show an African love, and they will love you forever.”

Love. So simple. What won me to the cross all of those years ago was the same thing that would win the hearts of these villagers. Love. They just needed to taste and see the goodness of Jesus through my love.

We slept on these great big thoughts in anxious anticipation for the next day’s journey into the bush. Stay tuned for the next post and recap of our trip into the first village!

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