Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

Are you familiar with the words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

These are the famous words of H.M. Stanley, a Welsh journalist who travelled across the African continent in search of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871. Livingstone was a Christian missionary and one of Africa’s most famous explorers, but at the time Stanley came to Africa, Livingstone’s whereabouts had been unknown for quite some time. When Stanley finally found the elderly gentleman near Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, he approached Livingstone with reservation and, despite the fact that Livingstone was the only white man for hundreds of miles, formally addressed the explorer with the words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Even though I had researched and read about some of Livingstone’s journeys prior to arriving in Zambia, I was eager to learn more about the renowned explorer.

David Livingstone was born in Scotland and grew up in a modest cotton mill community. Although he began to pursue a career in medicine, he was later inspired by visiting Christian missionaries to travel to Africa. There, in 1840, he began his lifelong quest to share his Christian faith with indigenous tribes, building trade networks across the continent and seeking the eradication of slavery. He was known to travel light and held good rapport with the different tribes he encountered. Livingstone’s travels took him nearly 46,700 kilometers (29,000 miles) across the African continent, and he is credited with mapping much of the land that had previously been unchartered by Europeans.

On one of his many expeditions, Livingstone became the first European to encounter Victoria Falls, which was known to locals as “Mosi-oa-Tunya,” meaning “the smoke that thunders.” Though he usually called the places he visited by their local names, Livingstone did rename the falls in honor of Great Britain’s then-reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. After experiencing this natural wonder for myself, I can definitely imagine the sense of awe Dr. Livingstone must have felt when he first came upon Victoria Falls!

Zambia has seen great change since the days of Livingstone, however. As I walked through the streets of the capital city of Lusaka, I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of seemingly endless traffic and crowded market places. It was quite a contrast from the rural villages I had visited, where I saw houses made from mud-brick and thatch, and shopped at small, outdoor market stalls.

In one village, I could catch whiffs of rice cooking over open fires and saw children squatting in front of their homes, eating maize (corn) meal and beans. The sounds of singing and dancing beckoned to me, and I came upon a group of women who warmly beckoned to me to join them. I am not much of a dancer, but I definitely enjoyed learning some of the moves the women taught me! So far, Zambia has been a nation of contrasts and I’m certain that an entirely different experience awaits me on safari.