The six of us are crouched underneath some roadside scrub trying to seek relief from the blistering sun and heat. We’d spent the past hour walking the 500 meters of the M10 between the road to Lion Encounter and the turn-off to Dambwa, picking up trash and getting the oddest stares from the cars, semis, and random bicyclists who happened to pass us by. It was okay, though; this is one of those activities that, while it might have me grumbling about the heat, it wouldn’t have me complaining about the work. (In fact, Kim was actually smiling and happy to be out picking up trash. She is an odd one, that way.)
Deus impeditio esuritori nullus.
(No god can stop a hungry man.)
Why? Similar to spending a morning refilling one of the Dambwa Pride’s water pans, it’s work that makes a direct and tangible difference. As well, it’s good public relations for both ALERT and Lion Encounter. It’s not walking lions for the photo pay-off, it’s walking along the side of a busy highway under an unrelenting African sun, picking up trash that’s been thrown out of passing vehicles and showing that we’re good citizens of the world concerned with something more than how our pictures turned out.
We thought we had enough garbage bags to cover whatever roadside trash we’d encounter, but it was obvious almost from the outset that we were woefully unprepared to clean up even this small stretch of Zambian motorway. So while the pickup truck was off getting more bags we took respite from the pounding heat, and as a way to help pass the time I asked everyone a simple question.
“What would your last meal be?”
Steak and eggs? Pancakes and bacon? Ice cream and cake? Scotch and a cigar? After overcoming a few Are you asking us that because you’re about to kill us and leave our bodies to rot out in the middle of nowhere? looks, everyone around the circle offered up the culinary choice they most wished for. Mulenga, LE’s assistant vol manager and one of the most outwardly emotive people I’ve encountered on my travels, offered up some form of nshima as his choice of Last Meal. Comfort food, of course. It reminded me of what Mackay, a lion handler at Antelope Park, had said when I asked him and other staff there the same question a year ago. Most replied with sadza, opting for a familiar and defining culinary dish, same as Mulenga. But not Mackay. “I think I would like some meat,” he said. “And beer. Definitely some beer.”
Boiling under the hot African sun at ten in the morning I thought about what I’d want most. “Gazpacho, paired with a nice rioja rose,” I said. Simple, fulfilling and refreshing, and apropos to the heat and the weather. However, after returning from our siesta and completing our chain gang litter duties, I’d like to submit a revision. Regardless of the time, place, or circumstance, I would like to request the following as my Last Meal: Ice cream. Specifically, a soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone from the Hungry Lion fast food restaurant on the Mosi-oa-Tunya road in downtown Livingstone, Zambia.
Low-rent food from a questionable dining establishment might have you scratching your head, especially given the not-so-fine dining encounter I had with Chicken Inn only a few days prior to this, but scout’s honor I have never tasted anything so delicious and heaven-filled as I did when we convinced Mulenga and our driver to detour to get some ice cream after we completed our roadside clean-up work. The back of the pickup filled to the gills with trash – and all of us amazed at how much trash was strewn along a half-kilometer of roadside – we made our way towards the landfill outside of Livingstone. (Which was, sadly though unsurprisingly, a field where trash was simply dumped and burned. We’d merely relocated a few kilometers what we’d picked up.) After emptying the back of the pickup I realized that at no other point during our volunteering stint in Zambia had I ever felt more sweaty, stinky, filthy, and sunburnt than I did then. In fact, I’m fairly certain we all felt that way. So, following on the theme of our Last Meal conversation, and as a reward for our begriming endeavors, it was put forth that we should stop off in town and get some ice cream. Ummm… ice cream! Cold, delicious, tasty ice cream!
We badgered Mulenga relentlessly on the drive back to stop and let us indulge our fantasy. “We deserve ice cream! You deserve ice cream!” Like a car full of kids, repeatedly demanding more than asking, Can we? Can we? Can we? Mulenga finally gave in to our lamentations and we soon found ourselves pulling into the shopping plaza where the Hungry Lion was located. As we ravenously devoured our soft-serve cones and the ice cream began to melt and drip across our filthy fingers and hands, we all looked at each other and smiled – as much as a ravenous pack of wolves could smile, that is. At that moment, nothing could possibly have tasted any better or have been more appreciated. I had found the perfect Last Meal.