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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.


There is no such thing as a “better” country

February 09, 2016


That’s my perspective.  When Zambians get me talking about Canada I sometimes get comments like “Canada is a much better country than Zambia” or “why would you choose to come here?”  They are usually puzzled when I respond with an explanation that I don’t think Canada is any better or worse than Zambia or any other country for that matter.  But they seem to appreciate my perspective, especially since many of them have lots of national pride.  In my mind, statistics such as GDP per capita and average life expectancy may be an indicator of a place’s livability but that does not mean that one place is “better” than another.  Every country, regardless of its size or amount of development, is unique and special in its own way.  Who am I to say that one country is better than another?

On the subject of celebrating the things unique and special about each country, I would like to share some of my observations of the Southern African people and culture, intermixed with some pictures of the places I’ve visited.  In addition to living in Zambia, I have been fortunate to spend a little over one week traveling in Namibia and Zimbabwe over the holidays, plus one week early in the new year working out of South Africa.  My hope is to leave you with a stronger appreciation for the diversity across Southern Africa, and by extension Sub-Saharan Africa – a region which I find Canadians sometimes mistake to be relatively homogeneous.



One of the things I find most fascinating about Zambia is that the country is composed of over 70 different ethnic groups.  Considering that Zambia contains only a little over 1% of Africa’s population, this puts in perspective the number of different ethnicities that might exist across the continent.  Equally as fascinating is that all of Zambia’s ethnic groups not only live together harmoniously, but there is a lot of intermingling among them.  Everyone I’ve encountered identifies first and foremost as Zambian regardless of whether they are Bemba, Tonga, Lozi, or another ethnicity.  Lusaka is a cultural “melting pot” of sorts.  A vast majority of Lusaka residents weren’t actually born in Lusaka, rather they have moved here from one of the many villages across the country.

A brave soul paddling towards a big group of hippos in an effort to improve the success of his fishing trip.  This photo was taken at the Luangwa River, which contains the largest concentration of hippos in the world.



When I think about the Zimbabwean people the first thing that comes to mind is how well-educated they are.  In the short two days I spent in Zimbabwe over New Year’s, I had many intelligent conversations with the locals.  These included philosophical discussions, conversations about macroeconomics, and even a lengthy detailed conversation about Canada.  One person I met had taken Canadian Studies at school and was listing for me the Canadian Prime Ministers in chronological order along with what good he thought each brought for our country.  He then started asking me what Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien were up to nowadays, and how the Toronto Blue Jays did in the AL East this year.  I was very impressed by his knowledge.

Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  I prefer the local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders”.



I got my first taste of Namibian friendliness before I even arrived in the country.  When waiting to depart from Lusaka, the flight attendants aboard my Air Namibia flight were eager to strike up conversation, past the point of the usual pleasantries one might expect.  Similar interactions with the local people continued throughout the week.  In all cases the locals were very attentive and engaged during conversations, their interest in what I had to say was genuine, and if I ever said anything that wasn’t clear, they would always ask questions to clarify.  One highlight of my time there was being welcomed into a friend-of-a-friend’s home one evening for a “braai” (Southern African barbecue).  This evening really showed me how hospitable Namibians are and was a wonderful opportunity to learn about life in Namibia from the locals.

Namibia is filled with incredible desert landscapes. A good friend of mine travelling with me said it best when she said that “driving in this country is like driving into a painting”.


South Africa

With eleven national languages, South Africa is another example of a country with an ethnically diverse population.  What I find most interesting about this country is that all of the South African cultures together have had a hand in the building of an identity that is distinctly South African.  One small but good example of this is ‘biltong’, which is a South African food that I would describe as a tastier version of beef jerky.  Biltong was started by indigenous South Africans as a means of preserving meat.  It was then adapted by European settlers who added ingredients such as spices and vinegar.  The end result is a South African food that several cultures have had a hand in developing that is enjoyed by seemingly everyone.

Ever wanted to hike up a mountain in the morning and relax on the beach in the afternoon?Cape Town provides that opportunity and may be the spot for you!

Have your travelled to any of these African countries? How do your impressions compare? If you have questions about my experiences in Zambia or in any of the other countries I have visited, or if you would like to learn more about what makes Southern Africa a fascinating region of our planet, I encourage you to reach out to me!



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