16 Surprising Things About Parenting in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Our final country in this year’s Motherhood Around the World series is Zambia in southern Africa. Jessica Menon is a consultant on a variety of development projects, who lives in “happy chaos” with her husband, Satish, and their three children, Veda, Surya and Sahana. They also have two dogs and two cats. And she’s expecting another baby next year! Ahead, she talks about raising “wild” children, camping with hippos and backyard drum circles for kids…

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Jessica’s background: In 2014, our family moved from Chicago to Zambia for my husband’s job. He’s an engineer working on a five-year project to improve water and sanitation in the capital city of Lusaka. I’m a social inclusion and gender equality specialist also working in the development world. Back in Chicago, we were both constantly traveling internationally for work. Our kids were three and one at the time, and it was getting super hectic. When this opportunity came up, we were really excited.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On first impressions: When we arrived, I remember driving down a long stretch of road with nothing but blue skies and fluffy clouds. The clouds hang so low, it makes the sky seem so much closer than in the States. It always enthralls me. It’s gloriously lush all year round, temperate with warm summers, spring-like winters, and a short rainy season where the sun still shines. The sides of the roads are always busy with locals biking and walking. There’s a very friendly and communal feeling here — people chatting, shaking hands, smiling. Coming from cold, windy, damp Chicago, it felt like paradise — gentle and welcoming. Despite challenges and frustrations at times, Zambia still feels that way to us.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On the city: Lusaka is the capital of Zambia, so there are many shopping areas, plus a few malls with movie theaters. Although it’s not rural like many places in Zambia, it still feels like a village. Most of the roads are single lanes, and it often seems like the degrees of separation are one to two people maximum. We can’t get everything we want, but we know where to go to get what we need. On Tuesday, there’s an outdoor market with fresh produce; the Indian store sells rice, beans, spices and frozen paneer; the health food store has quinoa and almond butter. You often find out things through word-of-mouth, like a Japanese lady who sells sushi out of her home or the woman who makes amazing croissants and baguettes that you have to order and pay for a week in advance. We’re still on the hunt for a good auto-mechanic!

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On language: Despite the fact that there are 70+ languages and tribes in Zambia, almost everyone speaks English. The two other main languages are Bemba and Nyanja. Our kids have picked up a bit of Nyanja. My five-year-old sees herself as American, but my three-year-old son, Surya, only remembers living in Zambia and says he is Zambian when asked. He speaks English with a distinctly Zambian accent. He’ll replace “L” with “R” and “R with L” so that “lawn mower” becomes “rawn mower,” or he’ll say, “Me, I want blead and tea.” He’ll say “Theeese one,” for “This one,” or “Mommy, come heah.” When we were India last month the kids would bust out words and songs in Nyanja, and Surya became homesick and was asking for Zambian food.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in ZambiaSurprising Things About Living in Zambia

On Zambian decor: We love sitting outside and watching the kids play in the backyard. Our garden has fruit trees and a swing set for the kids. We’ve been adding Zambian pieces to our house. There’s beautiful wood here (mukwa, rosewood), and we have a handmade rosewood dining table and outdoor furniture with pillows made with Zambian textiles. Zambian art is rich and colorful and often inspired by the animals and baobab trees that are common here. We’re really happy to support local artisans and Zambian women.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On having help: Our daily routine is not so much different than in the U.S. — we work full-time, the kids go to school — except for one major factor: We have a lot of help in our house. We have two nannies, a maid, a gardener and a driver to help get the kids to and from school and activities. (Although we pay three times the going rate and contribute to their pension plans, it’s still less than having one nanny in the U.S.) So, when I’m home from work, I’m spending quality time playing with my kids and connecting with my husband. It’s such a difference from when we were in Chicago, where after the kids went to sleep, we’d be cleaning up, folding laundry, etc. It was hard to let go of the idea that if I don’t do everything myself to care for my children, I’m a bad mother. But now I just feel incredibly grateful that my children are loved by so many people that we now consider part of our family. Having multiple caretakers means my children each get individualized attention, too. In the evenings, I can have a quiet moment with my five-year-old talking about her day, while my husband plays soccer with my three-year-old and our nanny feeds Sahana — and then we rotate.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Each bed has nets to keep mosquitos away.

Our kids generally call their nannies by their first names, Joyce and Brenda, but sometimes it’s “Auntie Joyce” and “Auntie Brenda.” Joyce often refers to our youngest, Sahana, as “mama,” and sometimes refers to herself to Sahana as “ambuya,” which means “grandmother.” When she comes in the morning, Sahana’s face lights up. My kids are just as excited to show their artwork or science projects with Joyce and Brenda as they are with us. One picture Veda drew of our family included a house with sunshine, trees and big butterflies. She drew herself, her brother, a tiny person who is her baby sister (who wasn’t yet born), and an adult woman. She told me the adult woman was Joyce. When I asked where Mommy and Daddy were, she happily responded, “At work, they’ll be home later.” It made me a little sad at first, but then I realized here is a picture of how my daughter spends a lot of time at home in her sunny garden with her brother (and soon-to-be sister) and her beloved nanny — and she’s happy.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On wild kids: The slow pace of life here is magical with kids (albeit often frustrating for work), and with the weather it means 12 out of 12 months of the year, we leave all the doors of our home open during the day. The kids go to a French school during the week from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., but when they’re home they are generally roaming around the backyard. Of course, our nannies are here to take care of them, but there is not much directed play. It makes me happy that they can create fun for themselves. I realized this when I came home from work a few months back and my five-year-old exclaimed to me, “Mommy, Mommy, look what I can do!” And off she went on a two-wheeler bike without the training wheels — I thought we were supposed to teach her that but she just taught herself!

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On kids’ classes: The kids have music, art and sports in school and extracurricular activities, but one term, we organized our own drumming class with a well-known Zambian musician. I had met Moses Sakala at a music center for kids in town and we ended up chatting about how he wants to focus on teaching music and making music more accessible to children and more diverse groups of Zambians. I suggested doing something for the neighborhood kids and he said sure — he’s pretty famous, but things are that informal here. We gathered in our backyard with about ten four- and five-year-olds. It was basically an outdoor drumming circle under the jacaranda tree.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On health care: A large majority of the Zambian population lives in poverty in rural areas, which are long distances from clinics with lack of transport, equipment and adequately trained health personnel. Through my work, I have seen that the biggest challenge many mothers face is the lack of access to family planning and good health care — hence high maternal and infant mortality rates in Zambia. Delivering a baby is dangerous prospect for a lot of mothers in this country, and, along with many others, I’m working to help change that.

We are very lucky to have a great Zambian pediatrician that our kids visit for routine check-ups, vaccinations and the occasional flu. If there’s anything more than a minor ailment, expats and Zambians who can afford it generally medically evacuate to Johannesburg, South Africa, which is a few hours flight.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On delivering a baby: For high-quality medical care, we flew to Cape Town, South Africa, a month before Sahana’s due date. We rented an Airbnb, and our whole family came. I delivered her there — I had a water birth at a birthing center. My husband took the older kids home to Zambia a week after she was was born, and I stayed until her passport was sorted. We’ll do it again with the new baby. We have international health insurance which covers medical anywhere in the world, other than the U.S. and Singapore, and Cape Town is an amazing place with top-notch health care and great medical facilities.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Catching a double rainbow in the mist.

On Victoria Falls: Victoria Falls is a 45-minute flight on a puddle jumper. It’s a magical place. Zambians call it “Mosi-o-Tunya,” which means “The Smoke that Thunders” — since the mist can be so thick it looks like smoke and the sound of the water crashing is as loud as thunder. We walk around little trails, where we’ll be greeted by some warthogs, baboons or monkeys. The monkeys can be assertive — once they grabbed a package of cookies from my daughter, but she was totally delighted. The kids think it’s the funniest thing in the world.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On camping (but not swimming) in the wild: The kids love camping, and we go almost every month. On one trip, we found a beautiful spot near a river. The kids liked “bouldering,” or climbing over the rock formations to get to a rock pool, where we could swim. (We usually can’t swim anywhere in Zambia because of crocodiles or hippos.)

We also go camping right on the river in Lower Zambezi. At night, we zip up our tents and listen to the wildlife around us. You can hear hippos chomping on grass right next to our tent. Although we’re camping in the wild, it’s still a very well-managed park with a guard who makes sure any predatory animals, like lions and leopards, stay away. We feel protected, so we’re never scared, just excited. During a recent trip to the U.S., our kids were squealing with delight when they saw squirrels. Rodents are exotic creatures to them, while they take impalas and zebras for granted these days!

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia


On Zambian food: For lunch, many Zambians eat the traditional food of nshima every single day. It’s pounded corn maize, commonly served with a stew of tomatoes and onion and rape (like kale). Sometimes it will be served with chicken, goat or fish. My son loves it and misses it when we go to the U.S. For breakfast, Zambians usually have white bread and rooibos tea — my son loves that, too (it’s decaf). For dinner, many people will have more nshima or more bread and tea.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On having diverse friends: One thing we love about Zambia is how easy it is to meet friends from diverse backgrounds. We are a mixed-race family (I’m white American with European heritage, and my husband is first generation American from India), so we value how easy it is to expose our children to an environment that is very racially and culturally integrated and generally tolerant. The French school my kids go to is so diverse — it’s 50 percent Zambian, and 50 percent every other country in the world. I’ve made friends with a lot of moms — my closest friends include a Zambian, a Burundian, an American and an Italian. I think there are many more similarities between Zambians and people in other countries than there are differences. My close friends, no matter where they’re from, enjoy eating different cuisines, chatting about our experiences and families, parenting, etc.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia


On taking a village: There’s definitely a more laid-back approach to parenting and an “it takes a village” mentality. We hang out a lot with other families — we’ve found it easy to meet people because things are so relaxed and informal here. Because there’s not much else do here, it seems there’s always an invitation to a “braai” (outdoor barbecue) at someone’s house, which usually involves grilling meat. We lay out picnic blankets and play croquet and bocce ball.

If there’s a conflict between two kids, a parent friend is just as comfortable reprimanding my child as their own. It feels like we’re all in it together. My kids also feel comfortable asking other parents for things — to give them a snack, to play a game, even to watch the dance performance they’ve created. They take the hands of other parents and go sit in their laps, and other kids will do the same with us.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On power outages: Last fall, we started having daily power outages that lasted from eight to twelve hours. Every day! Zambia uses hydropower, and drought and governmental mismanagement have created widespread power issues that affect everyone, especially the poorest people. At first we found candlelit family dinners romantic, but after three months of changing a newborn’s diaper in the dark, it got old! We installed a solar system with inverters so our power doesn’t go out completely anymore; we just can’t use the bigger appliances like the washing machine, the microwave and the hot water heater during the outages. It’s been a great way to teach the kids about energy conservation. We’re working to help others figure out solutions, too.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

On wanting to stay: My husband’s contract is up at the end of 2018, but we’re trying our best to find a way to stay longer. As working parents with three (soon to be four) kids, Zambia offers us a slow-paced, family-focused, sometimes boring life. But it’s a great quality of life. The first words out of my husband’s mouth when I told him I was pregnant with our fourth child? “Well, I guess we’re never leaving Zambia.” When we went home to Chicago last year, the kids enjoyed going to kids’ plays and children’s museums; I sometimes wonder if they’re missing out on those types of experiences. But Zambia is so beautiful, and the vibe is peaceful and calm and freeing.

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Surprising Things About Living in Zambia

Thank you so much, Jessica!

P.S. Our Motherhood Around the World series, including Brazil and India.

(Photos courtesy of Jessica. Interview by Megan Cahn.)

  1. Wow ♥️♥️♥️♥️

  2. Lily Efthymiou says...

    I am about to move with my husband to Zambia (lusaka) and i have a baby 4 months old.
    Does anyone knows the name of the pediatrician that is written on this article? Also, is there any good children’s hospital?

    • There are many hospitals that have pediatric services. Pendleton Fairview ..CFB just to mention a few. Do not dispair we are a modern country 😉

  3. Katie says...

    Jessica funnily enough I just read your gypsy momma blog about settling in Lusaka some time ago and as a mother of a baby and toddler thinking of moving there I asked if you could write another one – and here it is!! Thanks so much for you insights!

  4. Nathan Chibwe says...

    I have to say living in zambia is a best experience ever.
    one more thing i would love to say thank you to Jessica for sharing this.

  5. I love this post!! This is like my dream, I don’t have any kids yet…perhaps one day. I’m a health professional and would love to go overseas and work with my family :)

  6. Size The net weight of the standard – sized
    box of Kelloggs Frosted Flakes Cereal is ounces. When they are firm enough to move,
    transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 40 grams in cups

  7. liza says...

    I loved this piece thank you!! Yes, it made me homesick too. Living on a greek island originally from South Africa life is simple and things are very different to back home. Makes me also think are my children missing out on that ‘civilized western’ experience or is this more meaningful, making them more grounded? I love being able to give them both and hopefully it will make them adaptable and flexible human beings. thanks again!!

  8. Mukwati Akufuna says...

    Made me home sick, especially with the impending Winter approaching; though St Louis is not as bad as Chicago. when you get a chance try Visiting Chobe National Park in Botswana, an absolute gem of a Park! best of luck.

  9. I love this series each time you do it Joanna! It is so fascinating thank you!

  10. Anna says...

    I’ve been to Zambia twice and reading about how her son speaks was so tender for me because that is just how all the Zambians speak. I loved this interview!

  11. Nkondelina says...

    This was an Interesting read. Hilarious too. I’m Zambian but reading this made me realise the things I’ve become so accustomed to and lost appreciation for by virtue of having lived here most of my life.

  12. Grace says...

    I was born and bred in Zambia, now living in the US, single mom with two kids. I wish my kids could have the experience I had growing up in Zambia. Unfortunately I can’t afford to take them to good schools there or I would still be living there.
    We didn’t have power outages then… glad I don’t have to experience those (sad for everyone that does ). Child care is so expensive in the US, where as back home family, friends, neighbors gladly help and help is quite affordable. Children are taught to respect their elders and talking back is not an option.

  13. Chali Chibesa says...

    Wow…. A truly amazing well told experience,of a place I was born and raised, you have really caught the true nature and heart beat of my motherland and your story has made me nostalgic and proud to be Zambian…. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Liz says...

    I wish I could take my job and my earnIng power to Zambia , then I would move without a blink.
    So happy to hear the narrative of your experience raising your kids in Zambia ! I can assure you being a Zambian living in USA the past 16 years that I miss the aspect of “village raises a child, ” and other mothers chipping in to caution other kids with love, kids can play outdoor without fear, and other mother can look on and help without worries of being accused of any thing , it’s a laid back community , nanny and garden boy issues are the best and affordable !!! Zambia is a uniquely beautiful place am proud to call home ! Enjoy it

  15. Meamui says...

    Great read, Jessica. I actually work on the same project as Satish and hoping you guys get to have more positive experiences.
    Very glad someone appreciates my beautiful Zambia for what it is,despite our challenges of course.

  16. Cristina says...

    Just wanted to say thank you so much for developing this series. My husband and I are Canadian expats living in Europe and working in the development sector. We don’t have kids yet, but I really appreciate this look into the expat family life in a variety of settings (North and South), which helps me imagine all the possibilities for our future family and living internationally and unconventionally. Thanks again!

  17. Jen says...

    appreciated this post! i’ve lived the last 5 years in johannesburg, south africa, and some of the experiences really resonate!

    i have just one question–what international health insurance does jessica and her family use?? the one i was on was not great (and also not ACA-compliant). i’m in the states this year on a sabbatical so i have american health insurance, but i’d love to find better insurance when i return next year!

  18. Dalia says...

    I love this series and have enjoyed it every summer since I had my son! Please continue it!
    My family travelled for my dads work and I grew up in Indonesia in the 80s and Romania in the 90s (just after they killed Ceausecu). Living in those countries had a significant impact on my view of the world, government, human rights and animal rights. I would love to move my kids to live in another country and since I did my vet degree in Australia I am eligible to practice in lots of countries – now to figure out which one and to get my husband in board;)

  19. Danielle says...

    I served in the Peace Corps in rural Zambia, so this post makes me nostalgic! I do want to point out that very few people speak English in the rural villages (Lusaka and Livingstone are extreme aberrations) and it’s actually quite safe (hippo- and croc-wise) to swim in many of Zambia’s numerous waterfalls. Jessica – be sure to check out the beautiful hot springs at Kapishya in Mpika and gorgeous Chshimba falls in Kasama!

  20. Jessica this is an absolutely fantastic and refreshing read. As a child of Lusaka, Zambia that is now studying in Boston, USA, it is enthralling to read one’s perspective from the other side of the Atlantic. I believe you have given such a true depiction of my hometown, and it brings me a great amount of joy in reading that you wish to stay longer! Wishing you and your family all the happiness in this gemstone of a country!

  21. Roshen Balachandran says...

    Loved reading this … took me back to so many many years ago when i grew up there (1970 to 1982) …. the vibe seems so much the same … i really believe that my siblings and i were blessed to have grown up there
    Will always cherish the place, the people and the experiences we had in Zambia ….

  22. David says...

    Very candid presentation of life in Zambia as I lived it. If I had written this, someone would have accused me of bias towards my country of birth. I know what your kids feel when they ask you for Zambian food. I too miss “Nshima”. Do you want an acre or two? I can make it happen.

    • Maddie says...

      Hi David, which part of the World are you? I wanted some info from you. How do I get in touch with you?

  23. Really enjoyed reading this (as a South African)
    Hope they get to stay on the continent!

  24. What a beautiful post. As a Zambian, it is refreshing to hear of an American who is enjoying her stay in Zambia in spite of the challenges my motherland has. I have lived both in the Europe and the States and it is sometimes disheartening to hear Western people (who have never travelled from their own countries) disparage African countries. I hope you will be able to stay much longer in Zambia.

  25. Rachel says...

    Oh this has brought back so many memories. I lived in Zambia from when I was 10-14 years old. And I reflect so often now, while my kids are growing up, on how much simpler and slow yet rich my time was growing up there.

  26. Fiona says...

    I am a Zambian, born and bred there; but now living in the UK. Loved your article – your detailed descriptions took me back to my youth, my childhood! Liked the fact it is a fair, balanced account of my home, your home.

    It is a particular lifestyle you described which, with the right governance structures in place as well focused economic development, could be enjoyed by millions of Zambians. But sadly this continues to be one for continued hope.

    And you are so right about the power outages; total mismanagement! Hard to believe that for a country such as Zambia, which is endowed with a vast array of high-value minerals, natural resources, and to boot exports electricity, we have power outages for nigh on 8 hours daily! This sends me electrically mad when I am there!

    The impacts on business must be immense, debilitating. And it is not just the businesses that suffer; but those too who are fortunate enough to afford charcoal. Think of their lungs; blackened by daily exposure to the fumes. And all the food that is wasted/ goes rotten because of power cuts. The costs of such are buried.

    But what about the environment – the felling of trees for firewood.? Problems of flooding come to mind. And dangers that come with using petrol generators in the homes. High-class concerns I know, but there is no reason why this should be so.

    The electricity problem and others is preventing Zambia from being the world class player it could be. It does not have to be so.

    Thanks for your article!

  27. The world is SO SO small. I read this and instantly bells were ringing – I sent this to someone at the firm I used to work for and sure enough he knows you guys! So cool!

  28. Libbynan says...

    I love what many posters have said about the feeling that in the U.S. you feel so alone in your parenting. I grew up in a large extended family in which all adults parented all children. Even the older children were expected to step in and parent the littles. It took me a good while to learn that it was not acceptable to parent any child that came into my orbit. I feel that American children are losing out by not being parented by a whole community. And our society is suffering from having all these alienated and lonely young people who feel that no one cares.

  29. Talor says...

    I absolutely love this series. I became a first time mom in December 2015 and started reading this series when I was pregnant ( I went all the way back to the beginning to read them all!). It really inspired me (and continues to inspire me) to do things differently as a parents. To take a little bit from each mother’s experience and see if its something that I can incorporate into my own parenting style. Reading this particular profile I’m reminding of how grateful I am that my mother and mother-in-law are willing and able to watch my son during the day while my husband and i both work full time. He loves them so much and I never (well not usually) get jealous when he seems to want one of them more than me at a particular moment. They’re his grandmothers and they adore him (and at the end of the day he still loves his mama). I’m often discouraged by living a fast paced and demanding life in New York but reading this series helps me learn new ways to take a step back and help my son grow up to be a happy, imaginative and kind child. I’m so grateful for this series and look forward to more (and I’ll probably just reread older posts until new ones come out!). Thank you!

  30. John Mambwe Tembo says...

    Great article great balance to it. I am a Zambian born and raised in Zambia but currently working in China. This article reminded me of my childhood so much sans the electricity outages because we didn’t have them when I was growing up. Nice to read about my country from someone else’s perspective and see that they can love it like I do! Can’t wait to finish my contract here and go back home!

  31. Dinesh Nair says...

    Very beautifully articulated Jessica. Happiness is seen on the kids faces & it is evident that you guys are having the experience of your life. I am sure the kids will grow up into model global citizens with great empathy & understanding of other cultures & practices. You have shown us a picture of Zambia as we could never imagine, having never had the opportunity to step foot in that country. Congratulations on the news of the awaited new arrival to our family. God bless. Cheers

  32. Ravi Krishnan says...

    Wow !! so fantastic to read such a beautiful article with the pics of family. Really like this slow laid back pace of life…it brings in more quality to one’s life when you respect, admire & appreciate Nature alongwith your work.

    The children infact grow more robustly, learn better when you teach them the precious importance of Nature, its animals and also mixing alongwith different races of children in school…wonderful, really wonderful !!

  33. Sharon wicks says...

    I grew up in Chingola Zambia and it was an awesome experience . Hardly wore shoes and we were always outside . The best 15 years of my life . I live in South Africa now and would never leave Africa .

  34. Janna says...

    Love this post so much! I grew up in Kenya and the Congo, and I loved growing up in Africa so much. I definitely have similar stories of camping near hippos, although we swam in Lake Navaisha, even with the hippos. My worst camping experience was when I could hear hyenas outside the tent, and I was convinced it would be my last night on earth (dramatic high schooler, but hyenas are scary). So good to read someone with a similarly positive outlook on raising kids in Africa- even though I live in the states now, living overseas (particularly in Kenya) has stuck with me.

  35. Amy says...

    Hi Jo, I’m not the first commenter to suggest this but just wanted to second the many calls for a “Motherhood…” book! I would buy it in a heartbeat for myself and would include it in a gift basket for any pregnant friend. XO

    • Klara says...


  36. Daynna says...

    This might be the first, or one of at least, where the family sounds like they love their host country so damn much they really, really don’t want to leave. It gives the entire article such a lovely, cozy feel.

  37. This is amazing! I don’t know if you’ve read much on repatriation, Jessica, but it is horrible. It’s like the heartbreak of a break-up or the grief of losing a loved one. If you’re happy and your children are happy, find a way to stay. Adjusting to life back in the States after a positive stay abroad is almost impossible. Quality of life should never be confused with standard of living. It sounds like you’ve got a good thing going. I’m so happy for you! You and your family look positively joyous! Stay put. Trust me. xo

    • Thanks for that, Lindsey! When we visit the US these days it is a mix of longing (mostly for the friends and family we dearly miss), and a reminder of how much we feel our lifestyle here is better suited for us then the one we left behind. We are definitely rooting here and hope to stay, and you’re foreboding warning definitely urges me to dig in :).

  38. My husband and I spent 3 weeks in Zambia before we had children. We planned to spend a summer there the next year but I was really sick during pregnancy. We often thought about moving our family there although we would be in a village it is interesting to see what family life is like in Zambia! I love this series!

  39. Miriam says...

    Jo – love this series so much, and I’ve often thought that you could get a great book deal where you and your family spend some time traveling and living around the world and writing about motherhood around the world. I would buy a copy for everyone I know, and I’m not even a parent :)

    • Alicia says...

      Miriam, that is an amazing idea!

  40. This was a lovely post- I definitely always enjoy this series! It’s very interesting to hear what people in other countries do, as well as life as an expat in those countries.

    I am very disappointed, however, to read the common Western idea that the solution (and one of the TWO most important) to poor foreigners problems is that they have too many children and one of the most important things they need is more birth control. Do they see it this way? Or do they see children as a blessing? Perhaps they fear childbirth because it’s not safe: isn’t it more important to make it more safe, to combat malaria, etc? This is the epitome of Western ideology imposing itself on people from other cultures, yet those who say that they most want to respect other cultures can’t see it.

    • Lula says...

      I didn’t read it like that at all; family planning is all about empowering women to make choices about when they want to have children, and unfortunately, in many developing countries this is not an option for many women.

      Some of these communities and/or cultures have a very traditional patriarchal hierarchy which means that women have very little control over their reproductive health.

      Offering choices to women is just that – enabling them to have a choice, rather than being limited to narrow, and potentially life-threatening, options. Seeing children as a blessing and the existence of birth control are not mutually exclusive.

  41. Love love love this post and series as a whole xx

  42. Loved reading this one! I’m American and lived in South Africa for three and half years. My South African husband and I moved to the States two years ago. We don’t have kids yet but there are certain aspects of life in Southern Africa that I miss terribly. There are certain things I don’t miss though; I think, the challenge is finding the balance of all the good things right where we are now.

  43. camping by the river, with hippos nearby and just a zipper keeping the wilderness out: balls.

    as a city slicker, i cringe when i see pigeons outside my window.

  44. Rachel says...

    These are always my favorite posts! Sad to hear this is the last one for the year!

    • Anya says...

      Yes, I agree! :) I don’t have kids but I was raised in Asia by American parents so I love hearing about other parenthood experiences around the world. One of my favorite types of posts!

  45. Orsolya says...

    I loved this piece and have loved the whole series – thank you for providing these amazing perspectives on family and parenting!

  46. This is so lovely. Nearly all the entries of this series have made me think that pretty much everywhere else in the world is preferable to raising a family than the US! Or maybe it’s just the lovely people you profile.

    • Isabella says...

      I feel the same way! There’s such a focus in the U.S. on doing things on your own and doing without help, either as an ideal or as something considered totally normal, and a year into raising a beautiful but VERY high-energy boy and still recovering from postpartum depression and the physical issues brought on by pregnancy and childbirth with no family, friends, or help at hand, my husband and I are on the verge of packing our bags and emigrating to almost anywhere but here!

  47. Lauren says...

    The posts in this series are always a favorite of mine (and I don’t even have kids). I would also love to see a series about single women around the world, how attitudes toward that differ in various cultures, what the dating experience is like in other countries, etc.

    • Liz says...

      I’ll second that! As an American woman who moved to Sydney, Australia 6 years ago in her mid-20s, I was actually quite surprised by some of the often pretty material differences in socialising — dating, making friends, interacting with coworkers, etc.

      First time commenter but have been reading for years! I absolutely adore this series, and pretty much everything else the CoJ team does too! x

  48. Love love love this series and can’t wait for it’s return!

    And a big yay for cloth diapers!!

  49. Lauren E. says...

    This is my favorite entry to date! What a fantastic window into a life and place I know so little about.

  50. Lisa says...

    What a great post! I’m South African living in the UK, and now that I have a child I frequently think that maybe I should move back to SA because they’d have a much more chilled out childhood, with space to roam and just discover. In the UK it can be so high pressured (like trying to get your kid into a good school at 4 so they’ll get into a good university at 18, which leads to things like people putting their children’s names down for schools before they’re even conceived!). I spent so much of my childhood just hanging out in our garden in the sunshine

    One thing to note – it’s spelt “braai” (double a)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds so wonderful, lisa!

  51. Shannon Schnurr says...

    My mom i from Zimbabwe (Zambia’s neighbor) and I still have cousins who live there (they run a hunting safari business). So a lot of this rang true for me and brought back memories of the long trips we’d take visiting Africa when I was a kid. It is a magical place! I think my mom still has trouble getting used to the lack of help here in the states as for half of her life she had nannies and cooks and helpers all around the house.

  52. Jo, you could totally publish a “Motherhood Around the World” book. Having all the stories and photos in one place would be awesome.

    As a Canadian mother in Texas – hardly around the world, I know – I’ve even found *this* motherhood experience fascinating. Texas is practically another country, ha! It’s amazing to hear even more adventurous stories. Love this series. xx

    • Ha! I live in a Dallas suburb and this makes me laugh. Before this I went to high school in El Paso, which is so completely different from the rest of the state. Texas is almost like several small countries combined into one unique place when you consider the differences between the major cosmopolitan areas, the rural towns and the border cities.

    • Fiona says...

      I was actually thinking that it would be really lovely to include a “motherhood in the US” post, from the point of view of expats (people in the US on short-term stints) to see what they would notice as different or curious!

    • I love the idea of a book, too, and I would buy a copy for myself and many to give as gifts. I’m a mom and native Texan, and I still feel isolated here. I really enjoy this series because it gives such an honest and open perspective on mothering, and helps me realize that we’re all going through the same things, just in different places. Keep up the amazing work!

  53. (And my kids are also obsessed with squirrels! Haha!)

  54. I love this post, and I LOVE this series! Thanks for sharing your beautiful family with us, Jess!

  55. M says...

    I love this series! Thank you for sharing. Question: I noticed your children have mosquito nets around their beds-has malaria been a major issue while living in Zambia? How does it affect your daily life?

    • In Lusaka malaria isn’t too much of a concern, although there are still a few cases. We take precautions with bed nets at home. Malaria is a concern in other parts of Zambia- it is life threatening, a leading cause of under-five and maternal mortality, especially for the most impoverished in rural areas of the country. As expats we have access to prophylaxis that we can take when we travel to hot spots, although we generally just practice mosquito bite prevention (long sleeves and pants, under nets after dark, bug spray) and easier access to health care and treatment than the majority of Zambians living in the country. That’s to say malaria is definitely a serious concern not to be taken lightly. Because we live in Lusaka and take precautions and have access to health care it is not something that we are overly concerned with personally on a day-to-day basis.

  56. Kim says...

    Poor taste might be a little strong, in my opinion, but I have to respectfully agree that a simple line acknowledging that this lifestyle and comfort is extremely privileged (reserved for expats and elite Zambians) and not the “norm” would have been a nice addition. For example, that drum circle doesn’t exactly look like its for the disadvantaged neighborhood kids (correct me if I’m wrong!).

    I say this as an American expat who has lived and worked in development in West Africa for six years and knows the expats in Africa schtick quite intimately (and has partaken in it!). I love my life here (and don’t fault anyone for enjoying it), but I know its largely awesome because I make exponentially more than local people and, as an outsider, I am not beholden to less desirable social norms (patriarchal impositions on single women, for example). Just my two cents!

    • Lauren E. says...

      I know next to nothing about Zambia and while reading this I felt like it was pretty clear that this is not the norm.

    • Chiara says...

      I second this, not as a fellow expat but as a reader who feels a bit… underestimated? The ‘padded’ language and repeating how awesome it is to live in Zambia.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you so much for this feedback! I always appreciate it so much.

      We definitely would never want to imply that everyone’s experiences are the same in each country. I apologize if we didn’t communicate that well. Each women we interview has a situation (with number of kids, finances, jobs, etc.) that is unique to them. These interviews are meant to be a slice of life and show what it’s like for each particular family.

      In case it’s helpful at all, here’s the post where we first launched the series:

      The post said:

      “We decided to speak to American mothers abroad–versus mothers who were born and raised in those countries—because we wanted to hear how motherhood around the world compared and contrasted with motherhood in America. It can be surprisingly hard to realize what’s unique about your own country (“don’t all kids eat snails?”), and it tends to be easier to identify differences as an outsider.

      “Also, we wanted to hear from these individual mothers about their particular experiences, but of course everyone’s impressions, circumstances, socioeconomic levels and lifestyles are different, so these interviews are in no way meant to describe or reduce entire cultures. (I can’t imagine if someone tried to explain America as a whole!) These interviews are more about women’s personal stories and observations. We also chose women who were more or less from the same demographic so we could see what it was like within that similar demographic around the world. I’m curious to hear from people born and bred in each country as well, in terms of what you think rings true and what surprises you.”

      Thank you so much, as always, for reading, and for commenting and giving feedback! Really appreciate it, and definitely hear what you’re saying. Thank you again xoxo

    • Yael says...

      Thank you, Kim, for the thoughtful post. I’m sure many of us have this feeling but don’t quite know how to put it into words. I think it may be because the title refers to “Parenting in X” country, and in some posts parenting as an American in that country is going to give you an experience quite similar to many locals and in others not at all. I’ve worked in international development too, and am familiar with the expat lifestyle and its ethical complexities. I would be curious to hear how this impacts parenting specifically. Inequality can be dehumanizing to both sides — how do we address this with young children?

    • Kim says...

      Thanks for the reply, Joanna! Firstly, just want to clarify I was responding to another comment that has since disappeared – I definitely didn’t think the post was in poor taste! ;) Secondly, I really don’t find issue with the family’s personal situation at all (their circumstances, finances, number of children, etc) – their life looks lovely and they seem to be doing really important work!

      I just think its important – especially to people perhaps less familiar with the expat/local elite dynamic in African capitals (and surely many other places) – to explicitly mention that our idyllic lives (mine included) are directly linked to financial and “outsider” privilege. I don’t think a crippling guilt complex is useful, but as Yael mentioned, the dynamic is ethically complex and at least worth mentioning.

      And Yael, I agree it would be really interesting to hear how it impacts expat parenting in countries with severe inequality. How do you explain to your 5-year-old sitting in an air conditioned car with a personal driver, the barefoot, 4-year-old begging outside his window? Its an every day scene here (in Dakar, I can’t speak for Lusaka) and I have a difficult time processing it myself. Do you shield children? Acknowledge the disparities head on? All I can echo is that it is ethically complex and I’d be genuinely interested to hear a parent’s take on the matter.

    • Kim- as the privileged expat who was interviewed for this piece, I’ll chime in with a few thoughts on my own.

      First, I agree that the dichotomy of a privileged expat lifestyle in a developing country, where usually 90% of the population lives in poverty, is an important and worthy discussion to have. Modern-day colonialism, leveling the playing field, exploitation–all of these are issues discussed among development professionals in the expat community we are immersed in here and that conversation is important for ongoing self-reflection. It’s a daily confrontation as an expat in development, I think in most countries, and not just Zambia.

      Second, I also agree that the conversation is especially important to have with children of expat families. I feel like I could write an entire book on that subject as its an important part of our own parenting philosophy and we’ve had so many heart-breaking, encouraging, and emotional learning experiences with our children on this. Children are incredibly observant, and my five year old, in particular, asks a lot of questions and we have the very difficult but welcome challenge of figuring out how to talk about socio-economics, human rights, life and death and fragility of life, respect, etc. in a way that a five year old can try to wrap her mind around. It would indeed make an interesting blog or series. I am not sure if that is the orientation/ purpose of this specific series, but it would certainly be something I would be interested in reading.

      Third, as a development professional working specifically in the field of social and gender equality, poverty and inequality is what I spend 80% of my waking hours thinking about, talking about this both with colleagues and directly with disadvantaged impoverished men, women, girls and boys in Zambia and other countries where I work. Maybe because I am so entrenched in this world, it seems incredibly obvious that this expat experience described is a unique one and not a reflection of how most people live in a developing country. I would like to give readers the benefit of the doubt that they understand that most poor people in Zambia don’t live the life described. For those readers who may not understand that poverty is a real thing in developing countries, hopefully they also picked up on the several contrasts made to the difference between our access, for example, to health care and medical evacuation and power vs. most of the country living in impoverished rural areas.

      This is just to say I completely agree with the need for expats to have ongoing self-reflection and discussion about privilege, and in particular ensure that we are raising children as empathetic and respectful global citizens. I am not convinced, however, on this specific series, it’s the orientation. As someone who has tried to move away from feeling guilty about my lifestyle (and found it difficult to make a public admission about the amount of help I have!), a requirement to explicitly justify or qualify that experience definitely feels really close to that.

    • RS says...

      As someone who has read and thoroughly enjoyed all these Motherhood Around the World posts, I have to say that if anything, there seems to be pressure to portray life in the host country as idyllic, rather than realistic. In past posts, expats who have said anything critical about their host country tend to be skewered in the comments for being so negative and critical. I think we all know that there are some aspects of living in an African country that are less than ideal. When I read all these “Zambia is so awesome!” paragraphs in the interview, I think if anything, the writer is trying not to appear critical of her host country. Certainly, she has some frustrations with living there. I think that in a sense, the women being interviewed can’t win because they will be criticized for being too ideal or for being too negative, no matter what they say. It is what it is. Every country has its pros and cons and I admire these women for embracing the good where they are living. When I lived overseas, it was much easier for me to complain about all the negatives than to embrace the benefits of my host country so major kudos to them!

  57. very lovely read.. i live in cape town (but am american) and zambia sounds incredible. nice to see light shed on these places!


  58. Im sad this series is coming to an end for a year, it’s always so interesting to read about the raising children in different cultures around the world. This one was such a fun one to read.

  59. Kate says...

    It’s correctly spelt “braai” which makes me laugh because its an Afrikaans word (from South Africa) that seems to have travelled further than the more common “barbeque”! I loved this. Motherhood in South Africa is fairly similar, and I love how she emphasised the love her children have for their nannies. My son loves his nanny like a grandmother as well, and it makes being a working mom much easier to know he is so loved and cared for at home.

  60. Katherine says...

    Beautiful! I absolutely love this one.

  61. Amy says...

    This year’s Motherhood Around the World Series seemed short, I’m sad to see it end! Is it difficult to find expat families who are willing to open up about their lives abroad? You could even duplicate countries (for example, 3 different posts about 3 different families living in England), and I would still devour it.

    • Nicole K. says...

      So would I!! Love that idea.

  62. Catherine says...

    Thank you! What a gift to the children. Sounds idyllic.

  63. Elizabeth says...

    Surprised to hear that you thought this – reading through it seemed to me she took care to acknowledge the privileges her family has and to point out that their life is clearly not representative of the life of most people in the country.
    Cup of Jo has always been clear that the series is about the observations of American mothers living abroad, meaning that those interviewed clearly have access to resources most don’t. To me this one seemed much more sensitive to that than some of the others.
    “Of course everything is great when you have the economic resources to get what you want.” Isn’t this true everywhere, especially the US?

  64. Such a beautiful interview. It’s always nice to see people enjoying their new environment and adapt to it instead of shunting it because it’s not ‘on par’ with where they came from :)

  65. catherine says...

    so lovely to hear more about life in zambia :) this is my favourite series – so sad it’s the last one for the year!!

  66. What a great post! I grew up in Ghana in the 1980’s and there are so many similarities. Perfect childhood!

  67. Laura says...

    I am so thrilled to read more about Zambia! I sponsor an orphaned child there, and while I try my best to keep up with what she is doing, it’s been hard to imagine what life is like there. Thank you Jessica for your exquisite descriptions! What a lovely family you have.

  68. This is absolutely beautiful. I don’t know much about raising a family, but it seems like Zambia is a wonderful place to raise one. It looks like a great place for children to grow up in. Loved this post!

  69. Betsy says...

    My future mother in law just left on a trip last Wednesday to Zambia to visit her sister who runs a bush hospital there. My future MIL can be a bit dramatic so we hear so much about the dangerous parts of life in Zambia, the things you can’t get, like peanut butter, and lots about the power outages. Her sister has lived over there for almost 15 years on and off now. It’s been so long that she’s picked up and accept. I feel like reading this I finally have a glimpse into why “Auntue Lin”, as we call her because of said accent, loves it there!

  70. Sophie says...

    I’d love to also see a series on foreign mothers parenting in the U.S.!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      just for this summer! we’ll do another round next summer, and we’ll be switching it up a little. excited to share :)

  71. This may the most fascinating installment yet. I’m always left with such a feeling of admiration for these families. They all seem to carve out a life in a foreign country with such grace, gratitude, and a sense of fun.

  72. Jody says...

    I love these posts and am sad to see that it is the last one for a while! They remind me that we ARE indeed a village, us mothers in the trenches. We are our own tribe, us mothers. I love feeling like we are all in this together.

    • Lisa says...

      I agree! I didn’t realise it until I became a mother, but being a parent is truly a unifying experience, across all classes and cultures. When out and about with my child , I’ve ended up chatting to people I would never have spoken to (or likely had anything in common with) before, and this is in London where generally people keep to themselves

  73. Jessica says...

    Love this series and hope it comes back again. To compare and contrast parenting with ex-pat Americans is really interesting.

  74. Suzanne Brault Pagel says...

    Imagine my delight seeing our wonderful “Jessie” as a featured mother in a foreign land! Jessica was a wonderful companion to my three or was it yet four girls for our family. I’d lost the thread of her life and am not surprised a bit to learn of her love for her family and important work. Wishing you many continued blessings Jess, thanks for sharing your life now, lovely to see you all.

    • Suzanne!

      How amazing to see your comment here! I miss you! I keep track of Lauren, Elise, and Hana on Facebook. I did indeed spend much of one summer with Sara, but she probably doesn’t remember me. You’re one of my mommy mentors- it would be great to see you the next time we are in the US! Please get in touch through Lauren or Elise on Facebook! So good seeing your name.

  75. Sara says...

    The Frozen backpacks made me giggle. Even halfway around the world the obsession is real!

  76. Tinna says...

    Such a fun read. Thank you Jessica (and yay! cloth diapers :) ).

    Also, thank you Jo for this series. I have read it with great interest since the start and hope for more next year :)

  77. I love this series so much!

  78. this was such a great interview. it’s interesting how the place is so coloured by the perspective of the person living there, and their worldview. I was reading the India interview, and compared to this one, you can tell how much Jessica loves Zambia and accepts it for what it is. Brava !

  79. Kate says...

    There is so much beauty in diversity! How wonderful of these posts to open our eyes to different, and lovely experiences! Thanks for sharing!!

  80. I love reading these! I just spent the last month in Paris with my husband and 2 little girls and it is so interesting watching how different parenting is all over the world! When we were in France nearly everyone at the playground had nannies, because the cost of childcare is so low there. Therefore life with children felt so different. Rarely did you see children out at restaurants or accompanying adults on boring tasks, I found it both amazingly convenient and also a little sad. But overall it is so different than the struggles we have in the US.

    Hearing that they speak 70+ languages is unbelievable! And also so surprising how English is the predominant language in so many foreign counties.

    Love the series!


    • “also so surprising how English is the predominant language in so many foreign counties.”

    • AK says...

      I’m not sure I’d say the cost of childcare is “so low” here in Paris…public day cares, yes, because they are heavily subsidized. But nanny rates are not all that different from the US (if you are paying a decent wage…).

    • Lisa says...

      “Hearing that they speak 70+ languages is unbelievable!”
      This is one of the reasons why, as a South African, I get so annoyed when people ask if I speak “African” or refer to Africa as if it was a country, not a continent

    • madame says...

      It is not less expensive to have a nanny in France. Minimum wage here is higher than in the states. There is completely free daycare available, but Paris is a wealthy capital and many people can afford it.

  81. Ingrid says...

    As a grandmother, I feel sorry for the grandparents in the States, missing their grandchildren. Then I worry about the sadness the kids will feel when they leave their nannies behind when they move back! But I can see the benefits for everyone too; the world experiences, the understanding of different cultures and people, the learning of so many different things….sigh. I guess the secret is just to enjoy life now, and not worry so much about what’s missing. And maybe I’m just envious of the young!

    • I appreciate your perspective, Ingrid! I’m American but my husband is South African and we currently live in the States. We don’t have kids yet, but that is something I’m already so aware of – our families missing out on various life events. (I lived in SA for 3.5 years before we moved Stateside.) It’s a hard balance to find; which I’m not sure I’ve found yet. For now, I’m grateful to be near my family.

    • Ingrid- you are spot on. This is probably the hardest thing about being abroad- being away from grandparents and other family and friends. We miss out on intimate relationships with new children of family and friends, our kids miss out on it, and vice versa. Some of our friends have moved back to the US specifically to be closer to family. It can be hard. We do try to visit once a year, and Skype really makes it a bit easier to stay connected. Many expat families in our community have parents and family that also make a point to come to Zambia annually and visit for 2-3 weeks at a time. People make it work- it’s not ideal and definitely a hard and personal decision to make. I appreciate your comment!

  82. lavidabuena says...

    Ah, this one has made me more wistful than any so far! Sounds like a dreamy life. I’m not sure I could take the months-long power outages in stride with the same grace, but I like to think I’d give it a shot :-P.

    Thank you so much for this series, Jo! It’s been a huge inspiration to me and my husband. Along with our infant, we are actually dipping a toe into the expat life next year for a short time (husband got a 3 month opportunity in Latin America)! I think reading this series probably helped me be so supportive of the idea where I might otherwise think it was crazy.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so exciting! good luck with your sweet family!

  83. Jackie says...

    So great. My husband and went on our honeymoon to Zambia and South Africa, but it’s wonderful to read about people actually living their lives there. They have a sweet and enviable life! So sad this series is coming to an end!

    • Kate says...

      My husband and I were married and honey mooned in South Africa as well! Such a beautiful country!

  84. Vicki says...

    I love these! Love, love, love them — it makes me appreciate what we have (I can run my dryer anytime I feel like it!) and inspires me to try new things with my own family! It really struck me how the important things for her kids were the people who love them, the beauty and wonder of nature, and a peaceful, free life. I would take love and beauty and peace over museums! Right?!