After you have tried to get what you need in Zambia, you sometimes are faced with the realisation that what you need is not available here and can only be found abroad or overseas.
How do you bring stuff over here?
There are a number of different ways to bring stuff over and I will run through a few of them.
When you are granted an opportunity to travel abroad for work, do your best to make a shopping list in advance of the kinds of things that you need and make a plan for where you can get them. It is always good to ask someone more likely to know where to get hair products and tools, especially for natural hair. Do not assume that every person will be able to advise you. In the same way that most women here wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about buying products and tools for natural hair, it is not every black face you see in Sweden that will be able to help you out. In a similar way, I had two Zambian friends living in Nigeria. During a visit, I learned that one regularly bought raw Shea butter and knew exactly how and where to get it. The other had no idea what I was talking about when I asked her where I could buy some raw Shea butter.
2. Friends and Relatives
You can send friends and relatives who are travelling with money and instructions of what to buy and where. It is always helpful to be as detailed and specific as possible. No one wants to travel miles and change money and then not get what they wanted.
If you have friends or relatives who are coming to visit, this is also a good way to get what you need. You never know when an opportunity will come up, so I think it is a good idea to have a brief wish list so that you are not taken unawares or forget something really important that you would like.
3. Order Online
The best option for me is ordering online. Most banks in Africa now offer internet enabled debit cards such as Visa Electron. Note that not all Visa Electron cards are internet enabled. You need to check with your bank. Some require you to maintain a minimum balance of about $2,000 in order to be able to make online purchases. For those banks or countries that offer credit cards, you usually have a minimum balance of $5,000 and above.
I have always been advised to open a PayPal account or stick with bigger companies such as Amazon, because both of these invest in good security measures. Online buying for me opens up a world of opportunities. For example, all my hair books and magazines I have bought this way. Zambia has a highly efficient and reliable postal system, so ordering online and having things deliver to Zambia is not a problem at all. Just be sure that you have access to your post box and are able to check it regularly. Using your work postal address may not be the best idea if you work in a huge office, unless it is one of those with a very efficient mail-room/system.
The advantage with ordering online is that if you are travelling somewhere and you may not have time for shopping, you can get the address where you will be staying and order the items online. Usually, in-country shipping is free for orders over a certain amount. This way, when you arrive at your destination, your package will already be waiting for you. Similarly, if you have friends or relatives travelling abroad or coming to visit you, they will be much more willing to carry stuff over for you if they do not have to have the hassle of going from shop to shop searching for your perfect items.
4. Courier Companies
You can use these companies when you buy items abroad and need them sent to Zambia or wherever it is that you are based. I find that this works very well when you buy certain items online that companies such as Amazon will not deliver internationally (they only deliver books, CDs and DVDs). You can have the items delivered to a friend or relative and they can have them packaged and sent to you. International companies such as FedEx, have a n option where the recipient pays. So, your sister in Chicago just drops off the items for you at the courier office (or they can come to collect it from her). She is given a code which she sends to you. You take that code to the local courier office and make a down-payment. When the package arrives, they weigh it and you pay (or are refunded) the difference. Courier companies deliver to physical addresses. So the office is best, unless you live in one of those areas that is easy to give directions to and that courier companies are willing to service. Potholed roads and dodgy city planning are a turn-off for many companies.