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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.


What’s Zambia Like? Brian Shares his First Impressions of his Home-Away-from-Home

November 06, 2015

I’ve arrived in Zambia! After my first week in the country I’d like to share three of my initial observations.


My home for the next few months.

1.    Zambians are a pleasure to chat with!

It is difficult to write about what Zambians are like after only experiencing the country for a week, and creating generalizations and stereotypes is the last thing I want to do. But what I can say is the thing I’ve enjoyed most about the country so far has been the people. In my limited experience, Zambians have been quite reserved and sometimes slow to initiate conversations, but once you get talking they can be incredibly friendly and are happy to chat about pretty much anything. They have big smiles and are respectful, always giving their full attention to the person speaking. And whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or meeting up with someone you see on a regular basis, the icebreaker is always a sincere handshake. The handshakes are quite intriguing – some are simple and others are elaborate; some are “North American length” and others seem to go on for almost the entire duration of the conversation. I’m still trying to figure this out.

In addition, my initial perceptions are that Zambians have a lot of pride, both in their country and in themselves. Despite Zambia being a developing nation that is currently struggling with a limited supply of electricity (more on this below) as well as dry season and a devaluing currency, panhandlers seem less common here than in North America. Many people here live in poverty but at the same time many seem to be perfectly happy with what they have, no matter how much or how little it may be.

Happy 51st Independence day, Zambia!

Finally, Zambians seem to be a very peaceful people. Thanks to the media, North Americans tend to associate the African continent with wars, dictators, and corruption among other things. But Zambia has never experienced any wars or dictators, and there is relatively little to worry about in terms of corruption and personal safety. Having said all this, my accommodation in Lusaka does have a wall, burglar bars, an electric wire, and guard dogs – one can never be too safe!

My accommodation as viewed from the street.

2.    Electricity is not to be taken for granted.

Zambia is undergoing something referred to as “load shedding” which is a result of the country’s demand for electricity being in excess of that which can be supplied by ZESCO, Zambia’s electricity supplier. As a result, the entire country is placed on a timetable which acts as a guideline as to when one can expect to have or not have power, based on location.

My load shedding schedule for the month of October.

When I first found out about load shedding I actually smiled a bit. I saw this as another challenge (I like challenges), as well as a way for me to unplug and live off the grid a little more. I figured that load shedding wouldn’t affect my ability to contribute, as my office has a generator, nor would it affect the frequency with which I communicate with my loved ones. But what load shedding would do is help me cut down on hours wasted watching TV and the like. So far, I haven’t minded load shedding, at least not during the day. At night, it can get pretty hot when you’re living in a tropical climate (daily temperatures range from 28- 34C!), and your fan won’t work because there’s no power. There have been nights where it’s been difficult to fall asleep but it’s something I’m sure I will get used to!

3.    Living sustainably will require some creativity.

It may be surprising to some that I’ve included this as one of my three initial observations, but as somebody who tries to live an environmentally friendly life, it’s something that I’ve definitely noticed in my first week. After grabbing a bite at one of Lusaka’s malls, I threw out my garbage but hung on to my plastic bottle in search of a recycling bin. I did a couple of laps around the mall before it dawned on me that there were no recycling bins here... which led me to reluctantly throw the bottle into the garbage. Doing some online research afterwards, it seems like there is a recycling program in Lusaka, only I’ll have to bring everything to a collection company – they won’t come to me. Maybe I’ll make a game out of this and see how close I can come to breaking even on the cost of the taxi ride to the collection spot with the money I’ll be paid by them for delivering the recyclables.

Though for now I’m starting smaller. On my second grocery shopping trip, I brought with me the plastic bags I was given on my first trip. I told the bag lady that I didn’t need new bags and asked her to please use my old ones instead. She looked confused, then exchanged a laugh with the cashier, and then proceeded to happily reuse my old bags.

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If you’d like to share with me any tips for leading a sustainable life in a developing nation, I’d love to hear them. Please reach out!

Also, connect with me on LinkedIn.



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