We reached the southern entrance to Kafue National Park in good time. Marked by two square buildings with high, pointed thatch roofs and single-arm gate, our arrival is clearly the event of the day. The gate area is its own village, although there were concrete block houses, rather than the mud brick structures with the thatched roofs. Chickens, laundry on the line and a crying baby all told us this was an occupied outpost.
Three young men came down to meet us at the gate, one in the official green ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) uniform. Steve went into the gate house to take care of business while I stayed in the rover, and made pleasantries with the other two men. Two more men joined them, and I started to wonder what was taking Steve so long. I had already handed over $260 in cash for entrance and camping fees for four days.
I got out of the rover, and walked around to see Steve talking pleasantly with the ZAWA gatekeeper, who was filling out forms in triplicate with carbon paper. As Steve collected all the proper forms and permits, I walked around back to the passenger side of the rover, and greeted the men in English. They were polite, but their English was not well-practiced. One man asked about my camera. I looked confused as I had been very careful to stash as much of our equipment as possible. He then gestured to the top of his head, indicating that he meant my sunglasses, which I had pushed off of my face to the top of my head. (I did this as a regular practice when talking to people – talking to people with my sunglasses on just seems rude.) I said, “Oh, my sunglasses,” and he said, “You give to me?” I was startled by the request, and my instant reaction was, “Oh no, I need them!” Everyone laughed, but as I got in the rover, I realized that I reacted that way because I needed the sunglasses to shield my eyes with contact lenses from the dust. But, how was he to know that? Rather, he was trying to score something from the wealthy American tourists. Or was he? Did he think to set up a trade, not understanding the price of a pair of sunglasses? According to the visitor log at the gate, the last people to come through were four days ago. Clearly, traffic is light through this gate. But, this man had enough experience with tourists to ask for sunglasses. It was the first time we had experienced more than smiles, waves and polite greetings from the local Zambians. It gave us something to think about – is this usual, or a result tourism, or aid?