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Engineers Without Borders


WSP is excited to partner for a second year with Engineers Without Borders (EWB)! Meet Janelle de Vries, Geomatics Proposal Office Lead from Calgary, Alberta. Janelle embarked at the end of September 2016 on a journey that has taken her to Toronto (for EWB training) and then to her fellowship in Zambia until March 2017. There are more ways to follow our Engineers Without Borders fellow this year via social media (Instagram and Facebook) and Janelle’s blog (both written and video) can be found on Janelleinzambia.ca.


A Closer Look at Lusaka

April 11, 2016

As my time in Zambia has come to an end, I can honestly say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my life in Lusaka and grew to think of this city as home. Upon realizing that I haven’t yet written much about Lusaka in previous blog posts, I thought that it would be a great time to describe the city in some more detail. It may not be a Rome or a New York City, but it’s a special place to me and hopefully there are some bits and pieces of what I’m about to describe that you will find fascinating.


Lusaka is located near the geographical centre of Zambia and was constructed on a plateau resulting in a more temperate climate than in other parts of the country such as the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi valleys.  It is Zambia’s capital and largest city at a little over 1.5 million inhabitants, and it is growing rapidly.  People from all over Zambia have moved to Lusaka and are now living and working there, and the city is well connected to the rest of the country with major thoroughfares branching out to the north, east, south, and west.  An interesting fact about Lusaka is that it, in a sense, has its own language.  The “Town Nyanja” spoken in Lusaka is noticeably different from the Nyanja spoken elsewhere in the country.

The Freedom Statue is a Lusaka landmark.  It was erected to commemorate Zambia’s independence.  The man breaking the chain symbolizes the country breaking free from colonial rule.

Lusaka is a city of extremes.  Some areas have nice houses and malls.  When you’re inside them you don’t really realize that you’re in Africa.  It is quite pleasant to walk around outside in these areas.  Lusaka does not have much in terms of parks and green space, but by walking down a tree-lined avenue in one of the wealthy neighbourhoods, you can easily forget this fact.

A picturesque boulevard in an upper class residential area of Lusaka.

These areas also have lots of places to eat out.  There are Italian, Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Thai restaurants, and more.  It would be pretty easy to relocate to Lusaka, buy yourself a generator, and continue to have the same lifestyle you left behind in the western world.  My accommodation in Lusaka was located in a nice area, but it was a relatively simple accommodation compared to many of the others nearby.  Initially I went to the shopping malls for everything I needed because that was what was familiar to me, but over time I became more Africanized.  For example, I stopped buying fruit and produce from the grocery stores once I realized that the people selling these same items at the side of the road were selling them not only cheaper but were also selling fresher and tastier varieties.

A nice shopping and eating area of Lusaka.  The structure on the left contains a few restaurants including a favourite place of mine for brunch on a Sunday.

Other areas of Lusaka consist of shanty towns, called “compounds”, which are essentially areas of high density housing that often lack basic amenities such as proper sanitation.  They are unlike anything that can be found in Canada.  If you were to take a walk down one of the main streets of the compound, it would not be unusual to see somebody welding something at the side of the road, next to a barbershop that is essentially just a person with a shaver in hand standing beside a chair, next to a person selling sandals, next to a group of people with several buckets of water washing cars, etc.  In the compounds, there are often not distinct residential, commercial, and industrial land uses.  Everything is sort of blurred together and can be rather confusing if you’re not used to it.  But at the same time, I must say that my walks through the compounds have been some of my favourites.  Residents of the compounds aren’t used to seeing muzungus (white people) walking around, and it is here that I encountered some of the friendliest locals and had some of my most pleasant spontaneous conversations while in Zambia.

Along a main street in one of Lusaka’s compounds

Lusaka’s city centre consists of a moderate number of businesses and government buildings, and a large number of markets.  The city centre is quite easy to get to and from, as the city has a network of minibuses that follow the hub-and-spoke model – all routes seem to either start or finish at the city centre.  Minibuses are frequent and inexpensive, but if being packed tightly into an uncomfortable vehicle isn’t your idea of a good time, taxis are quite readily available as an alternative.

A view of the city centre of Lusaka.  There is not much here in terms of tall buildings, but I quite liked the Samsung building as it is rather unique.

There are 3 main markets around the city centre: Soweto Market, Lusaka City Market, and Kamwala Market.  Soweto Market is the largest and densest of the markets, and pretty much any object you can think of can be found here… somewhere!  It’s important to ensure you don’t come to Soweto Market too soon after it rains, otherwise the mud and puddles can make it very difficult to walk around.  My favourite of the markets was Kamwala Market for the simple fact that it seemed to offer the best selection of the beautiful African chitenge fabric.  I made sure to pick up some fabric and have some clothes tailored before I left as a nice souvenir of my wonderful experience in Lusaka and, more broadly speaking, in Zambia.

On a walk through Lusaka City Market.

Have you ever lived in an African city?  If so, please reach out as I would love to hear more about the city and your experience there!  And if you are interested in learning more about Lusaka and my experience there, I’d be more than happy to share some more details and experiences – don’t hesitate to contact me!



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