Zambian ambassador speaks at West Orange High School after calling student by accident
April 22, 2010, 5:11AM
WEST ORANGE -- Logan Svitzer was sitting in his U.S. history class here when his cell phone rang. He answered, but didn’t understand the person on the other end and hung up. He subsequently received a text message, which he ignored. Then the phone rang two more times.
Annoyed by the disruption, Svitzer’s teacher, Robbin Sweeney, grabbed the cell and called back the number. On the other end was a man saying he was Lazarous Kapambwe, the Zambian ambassador to the United Nations. Sweeney was certain it was a prank or a con.
But after 10 minutes on the phone, Sweeney became convinced Kapambwe was telling the truth. Kapambwe was urgently trying to get a hold of a fellow diplomat from Sierra Leone to discuss a proposed reform of the UN Security Council. But the phone number he had stored in his phone was one digit off.
"He was eloquent and apologetic, and he had a vast knowledge of Zambia," Sweeney said. "I made a deal with him. I said, ‘Since you’ve taken up so much of my class time, why don’t you come speak to my school?’"
That was in the fall. Today, Kapambwe went to the school to make amends. He spoke to about 300 students, encouraging them to consider careers in diplomacy.
"I apologize for what happened, but nothing happens without a purpose," he said. "Many of you are about to graduate. Today I hope I will recruit a few people into diplomatic service."
Kapambwe spoke cheerfully about his home country of Zambia, which he described as a peaceful place that boasts 74 languages. Zambia, which is landlocked by Tanzania, Zimbabwe and other larger countries, is about the size of Texas and has about 13 million residents, Kapambwe said. Zambia is also home to the Victoria Falls, a renowned tourist spot.
Zambia has also had its share of internal strife.
"You remember how in your country you were fighting for your independence? Well, we had the same problems," Kapambwe said. "We were under colonial rule until 1964, and for a poor, new country, diplomacy through the United Nations can mean life or death."
As for the confusing phone call last year that eventually brought Kapambwe to West Orange, they can now laugh about it."I learned that anger and annoyance at a wrong phone call will never get you anywhere," Sweeney said. "Maybe a wrong call can make you a new friend."