Category Archives: Community and Culture

Courtesy, customs and kindness

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Zambians are noted for their friendliness and courtesy.  There are certain customs that need to be learned when speaking with the locals if one wants to avoid appearing rude or boorish.

When starting a conversation, no matter how urgent the matter, it is expected that you will first greet the person and ask after their health and family.  For instance, when speaking to the maintenance man, you would first say, “Hello, Mtwalo!  How are you today?  Is your sore throat better?  And how is your wife feeling?”  Then, after he had exchanged similar pleasantries with you, you could say, “My hot water pipe burst and my bathroom is flooded.  Do you think you could come take a look at it?”

This holds true even in emails.  You never just dive right into the conversation, but start off with “Hello!  I hope you are well today!”

There are also certain phrases and colloquialisms to be learned here.  You don’t “arrange” for things – you “organise” them.  When I need a ride to the bus station, I ask the person in charge if she will “organise it” for me.  When I was on a game drive and said that I would love to see a black mamba snake, my guide said he would “Organise a snake for me.”

“Only” is used as a modifier. When asking the price for goods or services (a taxi ride, a car repair, a box of mangos) the price is given followed by “only.”
“How much are you asking for half dozen avocados?”  “50 kwacha only, madam.”
I am not sure if this is meant to show how cheap something is (as in “ONLY 50 kwacha”) or to reassure you that there will be no hidden fees involved (as in 50 kwacha, including tax and delivery)

Then there is the phrase “just now” as in “I am leaving for the store just now.”  This does not mean, as one would assume, that leaving for the store is happening as we speak.  It means “I may be leaving for the store within an hour or so” or even “I am thinking about leaving for the store at some point today.”  If you want to be immediate, you would say “now now.”   Time tends to be a bit more relaxed in Zambia anyway.

Last weekend, I unexpectedly bumped into someone who had been very kind to me in a time of great stress.  You may remember my driving mishap, only three days after I bought my car.   I had turned the wrong way onto to a divided highway and hit another car head-on.  Luckily, both of us braked and no one was injured.  However, I was frightened and a bit dazed and the Zambian man whose car I had damaged was ranting and raving and carrying on about how I was going to buy his car right this minute and he would make sure of it. I was standing there by my wrecked car, with tears running down my face.  There I was, a white woman – an obvious foreigner in a strange African country being sworn at by a very angry man while a small and curious crowd gathered.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, another Zambian man stopped his car and got out.  He came up to me and gently took me by the arm and led me a little bit away from the scene and over to the side of the road.  “Now, madam,” he said to me.  “First of all, are you all right?”  When I nodded yes, he continued, “Well, now that’s good.  You are not hurt, that is the most important thing.”  He glanced over to where the other man was still fuming.  “Do not speak to him.  The police will be here soon to take a report.  Do you have anyone you can call?”  I nodded again and got out my phone to call the head of security at the school.  My rescuer smiled encouragingly.  “It was an accident.  No one has been hurt.  It will all be sorted out.”

And it was.  And though I thanked him at the time, and he even gave me his card, I misplaced it and never got to really tell him how much his kind gesture meant to me.  And then, as I was coming out of Game (a Walmart for Zambians) last weekend, I heard “Hey, I know you!” and saw him gesturing at me.  “I remember you,” he said.  “You were in an accident up on Independence Avenue.” And he smiled that very nice smile.  I admit that I got a little teary as I told him that I had thought about him so many times and wanted to thank him for coming to my rescue.  “It was nothing at all,” he responded, as I gave him a huge hug.  He asked if I had gotten it all sorted out finally, and I told him I had and he walked away with a wave and another smile.  “It was nothing,” he said again.

But it was something.  It was kindness;  kindness to a total stranger with nothing expected in return.

And that chance meeting reminded me once again of an incident that I wish I could forget.  A time when I was not kind.  A time when it would have cost me nothing to show kindness and…I didn’t.

It was a few years ago and I had gone into Boston to meet up with some friends and see a show.  I remember that I was tired and a bit cranky after a full day of work and had gone into a local burger place for a bite to eat.  All I wanted was to sit undisturbed for a little while.  I had my food and a cup of coffee and had just sat down when I looked up to see a woman standing right in front of my table.  She had long, unkempt hair and was wearing a nondescript cloth coat and what seemed to be slippers on her feet.  She looked at me and said, “Hello, how are you this afternoon?”  I assumed she was homeless and begging and I was annoyed at being disturbed inside a restaurant when all I wanted to do was be left in peace.  So I said, “I don’t think you’re allowed to beg in here.”  The woman blinked and then said, with some emphasis, “Well, I am not begging.  I am selling.”  It was then that I noticed that she was holding some beaded necklaces in one hand.  Maybe she had made them.  But all I could think about was my desire to just be left in piece, so I responded, quite sharply, “Well, I don’t think you’re allowed to sell in here, either.”

She blinked again, obviously startled and hurt. As she backed away from me she said, “That is so mean…  Why don’t you…you….go and take a nap, you witch.”  And she left the store.

And left me alone.  And left me feeling horribly, horribly ashamed at what I had done.

How much would it have cost me to speak kindly to her?  To answer her timid “How are you?” with a polite “Fine, thanks.”  To look at her necklaces before declining?  Maybe to even buy a necklace, for God’s sake.  To treat her like a human being who needed help, instead of like an intrusion into my oh-so-important life.  To just show some common courtesy. 

I can never take that lack of kindness back.  I can never find that woman and apologize.  I can never make it right.  I think unkindness to a stranger is even worse than being unkind to someone you know.  You know you will see a friend or a relative again; you’ll have a chance to say you’re sorry, to explain how you were having a bad day, to admit you were being an ass.  To ask forgiveness.

But you don’t get a second chance to be kind to a stranger.

Somehow, I think that’s an important thing to remember.

 

 

 

 

The American Commissary

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Because I work at the American International School (which is part of the Embassy) I am entitled to sign up at the commissary.  I could have done this months ago (and I should have!) but this weekend, I finally decided to go and get my paperwork in.  It’s not enough to simply be American to join the commissary. You need to be a card-carrying American School teacher (and a U.S. citizen) or a direct or indirect U.S. government employee.  And they are very strict about it…if you are found buying stuff for non-members, they can kick you out of the super-sekrit club!

Getting to the Commissary is like going on a spy mission.  You have to know where it is.  It’s on a residential street, there is no sign outside the gate and it looks like somebody’s house from the outside!  You almost think you might have to know a password and secret handshake!

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The commissary is a terrific resource for Americans here.  They get four shipments a year of all of your favorite American foods/brands that you can’t get anywhere else.  You can even request certain items, or put in for a full case which gives you a discount.  (For instance, you can buy 6 bags of Starbucks coffee beans and get 10% off the price!) Although I have been pretty satisfied with what I am able to buy at the local shops, it was a real pleasure to see some “stuff” that you just can’t find here! The prices at the commissary are very reasonable and in a few cases items are cheaper than they would be at the local grocery stores.  Of course, other things are more expensive but not outlandishly so.  And it is all “duty-free” – one of the reasons they are so strict about who gets to shop here!

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Never thought I’d be so happy to see Campbell’s soup…or decent paper towels!  (The paper towels here are more like thin toilet paper.)

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And honest-to-god laundry detergent and household cleaners!

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They also rent DVDs – TV shows and movies.  $2.50 a day, but if you rent on a Friday, you can keep it all weekend!

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They have a great selection of liquors and beers…however, teachers are not allowed to purchase these!  Apparently, these are considered “luxury” items and everyone knows teachers don’t need any luxury!  (I tried to tell the guy who runs the commissary that booze is a necessity for teachers…he laughed, but wasn’t moved.)  So all I was able to do was look with great longing.

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I left with about $70 worth of items…and plans to make a tuna-fish casserole.
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(On the way home, I was waylaid at the stop light and ended up buying 5 beautifully ripe avocados and some grapes the size of golfballs…)

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I am glad I finally joined the commissary – my only regret is that now I am likely to spend more money on things I didn’t even realize I was missing!

United Nations Day

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October 24 is “United Nations Day” and we, as an international school, were of course bound to celebrate it!  (Pictures by Heather PIllar…click to enlarge! )

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I have celebrated UN Day before, both in the USA and at my UK school…but it has never felt like this.  Our school has students from 53 different countries.  For UN day, everyone – from the 2-year-old “play school” students to the 18+ year old seniors, gathered in the gym.  Everyone was seated by country.  Many students were dressed in traditional dress from their country or had their faces painted in the colors of their flag.  Some of the elementary students had hand-made flags to wave; some had painted their faces.

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There was a parade of countries, similar to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.  Selected students carried their country’s flag and everyone cheered as they walked into the gym.

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Finally, it was time for Zambia, our host country.  There was a huge cheer…and my little “orchestra” was ready.  We played the Zambian National Anthem as everyone sang with great gusto!  (That’s me on the clarinet.) The rest of the “orchestra” consists of a trombone, a violin, a snare drum, a rhythm  guitar and another clarinet. Hey, it’s a start!  We also had a vocalist.

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The student council president spoke, and there was some traditional Zambian drumming and dancing!

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We also had a surprise visit from the AISL mascot (a leopard!) as we prepared to host the upcoming ISSEA Volleyball Tournament.

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We left the gym to partake of a feast – an “international food festival.”  I have to say that the parents oputdid themselves…I have never seen so much food!  Each table was labeled with the country or area and there was plenty for all!

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It was a great way to start our October break!  I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work at this school!

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Widows, water and a walk across the plains!

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In Maasai culture, women are traditionally not permitted to remarry.  Once they are married, they become part of their husbands family and their cattle and possessions belong to him.  Because many times young women (and girls) are married to much older men, it is common for a women to become a widow at a young age, often with several children and her options are few.

Salaton was encouraged by his mother (a  “medicine woman”) to do something about this – to help the widows and to discourage child marriage and female circumcision (or FGM – for female genital mutilation.) His mother, he told me, was a very strong woman, a very wise woman and he knew he had to do as she asked.  He has donated land for a “Widow’s Village” where widows can live together as a family, own their own livestock, build their own houses and make and sell jewellery.

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We were greeted at the entrance to the village by some of the widows, who sang a welcoming song, and then brought us into the middle of the group of houses; into an enclosure where they keep the cows at night.  This is the most important place of all, because the cows are so important.  There, they sang another song and had me and the other girl in our group join in the singing and the dancing.

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We were invited to see the inside of one of the homes – this is a very traditional Maasai house, with a low door and no windows.  Inside was a cook fire and two beds, one for the mother and young children and one for older children and any guests.  In addition, there was a space for the goats and young sheep.

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The women had spread all their wares out on individual shukas and we were invited to look and buy.  Everything was beautifully made.

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There is also a refuge center at the Widow’s Village.  This is for girls who are being forced into marriage or circumcision.  The girls can stay here safely and go to school.  After they have passed their secondary school exams, they are old enough choose their own husband and path in life and they can be reconciled with their families.

“I am not changing our culture,” Salaton told me.  “I am stopping harmful practice.  Many young girls are injured through FGM and some die when giving birth; and the babies die, too.  Far better for young girls to get an education that lasts forever than to be married off in exchange for a few cows that could die in a year.”

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Another project in the works is a conservation plot.  Many trees have been cut down and burned to make charcoal, which is a cheap source of fuel.  However, for the Maasai, many plants and trees have holy or medicinal purposes…not to mention that they hold moisture and keep the soil from eroding.  Salaton has started a small plot with seedlings and Coila is their custodian.  Although he cannot read or write and speaks only Maa, (and some Swahili) he is an expert at caring for the plants.  We helped with the daily watering.

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The next day, we packed for our walk.  Thankfully, we had several strong warriors to carry all the tents, sleeping bags, cookware and food!  It was hot and dry, but walking really gives you a great sense of the land and the surroundings.  We encountered other Maasai walking to get water, or caring for herds of goats or cows.   And we saw many small groups of mud houses…blending in with the land.

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After about 6 hours of walking, Salaton declared that we had reached our campsite.  We collapsed, exhausted, while our warriors pitched the tents, made the fire and prepared afternoon tea.  (Seriously, we had tea and biscuits!)  We saw evidence of elephant, warthog, lion and other animals and heard the sounds of the bush around us.  It was a beautiful evening…and we even got some rain to cool things off later that night.

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In the morning, we heard the distinct sound of a motorcycle…it was someone from the camp, with extra water for cooking and drinking.  I have no idea how he found us!  After breakfast, the warriors packed up and brought all the heavy equipment and supplies back to camp, while we walked on a bit further to a second camp, where we could have a proper shower and enjoy a night right on the plains.  This is a newer camp that also includes a widow’s village, again with land given by Salaton.  We had a delicious dinner and shared a bottle of wine, brought out by Hellen, an extraordinary woman with a hearty laugh who runs the camp, and also the school (which will be described in another post!)  I loved this camp – my little mud house looked right out onto the plains.  It was so peaceful and stunningly beautiful.

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The next morning, I was picked up bright and early to drive into Masa Mara Game Reserve for my SAFARI!

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A week with the Maasai!

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Map of Maasai camp

 

Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp

The Maasai are an ancient people with ancient traditions.  I read an article in the New York Times travel section about the “Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp” and I decided to spend my October break doing something…well, a bit different!

Through the Eyes of the Maasai 

I got into Nairobi on Friday evening and was taken to a small hotel near the airport.  Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and a fairly developed city, with a number of sky-scrapers, a bustling downtown and huge traffic jams.  Tiampati, my Maasai driver, picked me up promptly at 9:00am for the 3 and a half hour drive to the camp, which is outside of Narok and just on the border of the Masa Mara game reserve.  We stopped at a viewpoint along the way at the Great Rift Valley, which extends almost 10,000 kilometers from the Red Sea all the way to Mozambique.

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There were many sight-seers at the rest stop…you could purchase crafts and souvenirs, tea or coffee and take pictures.  Some locals saw their opportunity and approached anyone who looked like a tourist (ie: any white person) to try to sell their wares.  One man kept appearing behind me and saying “Hakuna matata!” while pointing to the shop behind him.  Another man was selling roast corn on a stick (a very common road-side snack)  He would hold it up and shout “Yum yum!  Yum yum!” and was very persistent, even following me as I got into the car.  I politely declined, buying only a cup of tea.

We continued onward through the valley and past tiny towns and wide open spaces.  Cows, goats and sheep were everywhere.  Finally, we reached the town of Narok; a fairly large town by Kenyan standards and the main town for many Maasai.  From here we turned onto a dirt road, which became incredibly bumpy and dusty…we were heading into the Mara.  After about 45 minutes, we turned at a small sign that said “Maji Moto Maasai Camp” and the road became even narrower.  Small groups of mud huts could be seen here and there and there were many flocks of goats and sheep, usually tended by a small boy.  Finally we arrived at the camp and were greeted by a group of Maasai warriors.  They sang and danced for me and I was given a shuka (traditional Maasai shawl)

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The camp consisted of several buildings, all constructed in the traditional manner of mud, ashes, cow dung and timber.  These had been “westernized” in that they had windows, stone floors and a door you could walk through (rather than crawl.)  They were quite cool inside and very comfortable.

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There was a wash-station and a toilet and outdoor shower, which was filled from the hot springs of Maji Moto (which means, literally, “Water Fire”)  Everything was very clean and neat and it really felt like you belonged to the earth.

There were many plants and trees and animals around the camp and you could see the Loita Hills rising above you.  All the food was cooked in the outdoor kitchen on a wood fire and was simple and delicious.
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I walked down to the hot springs with Rose, one of the volunteers at the camp.  There is a large windmill that pumps the water for two communal showers there (one for men, one for women.)  The women come to fill their water barrels – huge plastic containers that they carry with a strap around the forehead back to their village (sometimes several miles away.)  Some people have a donkey or two to carry more water. Clothes-washing is done here as well, and there is a watering hole for the animals a bit downstream where the water is cooler.

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That night, the warriors demonstrated how they traditionally started a fire, using a stick and a piece of tinder.  They twirled the stick in their hands, rubbing it against a flat piece of wood with the tinder underneath and their machete under that.  When the tiny tinder was lit, they would carefully transfer it to a larger clump of dry cedar shavings and then gradually add wood until the fire was blazing.

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That first night, I sat around the fire with four Maasai warriors.  The stars came out one by one and the warriors sang traditional songs.  Most of the songs were a kind of chanting call-and-response and most were about cattle and women.

In the Maasai traditional religion, their god Enkai stretched a long piece of bark from heaven and all the cattle were able to walk down to earth on it.  Enkari gave all the cattle to the Maasai.  A jealous  god broke the bark and so young Maasai warriors often jump as high as they can to try to reach the cattle still up in heaven.  Apparently, high jumpers also attract young women.

The next day, Salaton, the tribal chief who runs the camp and another warrior named Coila, took me on a hike up Loita Hill.  On the way, the two warriors demonstrated spear-throwing.  A Maasai warrior almost always carries a spear.  The narrow end is for practice and the wide end for protection.  After they had thrown their spears at a tree and missed several times in a row, Salaton turned to me and said gravely, “You are not safe!”   He and Coila thought this was very funny.
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Loita Hills once were part of a vast volcanic range and the rock formations are strange and beautiful.

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There were many colorful trees and flowers…even in the hot, dry climate.

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There are over 40 varieties of acacia tree…this one is called a “whistling acacia.”  The hard, black bulb-like things on the tree are made by ants as a nest.  When the ants leave the nest, they make holes in the surface.  And then, when the wind blows, it whistles through the holes.

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On the way back, we came across a young boy looking after the goats.  In Maasai culture, when you meet a child, you touch their head and say “Supa.”  This is a sign of respect.  Most young children will come up to you and lower their head to be touched.

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When we got back down to the camp, I was hot and tired…I looked up to where we had climbed and felt like I had touched the sky.

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Next: Visiting the Widows Village, the Conservation Project, Warrior Training and a two-day trek across the Loita Plains.

Vroom, vroom – driving in Lusaka!

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Lusaka city map

NOTE: Pictures from various sources!

It’s now been 3 months since the unfortunate mishap with my car, and I’ve been back on the road for about 2 months.  I figured it was time for a short description of what it’s like for a right-side of the road Yank to be driving on the left…and to be driving in a “frontier town” like Lusaka.
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Paved roads and car ownership are both fairly new to Lusaka.  Although the roads in the downtown area are nicely paved, with neatly painted lanes, traffic lights, directional signs, sidewalks and shoulders, and even colorful billboards, the rest of the city is not so well equipped.

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Most of the roads that are paved are very narrow, with no shoulder to speak of and a huge drop-off where the pavement meets the side of the road.  In addition, there are ditches lining the road to accommodate the rainy season.  Right now, there are workers out on almost every road, making these ditches even deeper…the rains are coming!

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Much of Lusaka’s population still walk almost everywhere (or grab one of the mini-buses…more about that later)  Since there are no sidewalks, the people walk on the side of the road when they can.  But many times the people walk along the pavement.  And because there are so few “main” roads, most of the traffic in the morning and evening is all going on the same road in the same direction as the people walking to work.  This includes bicycles, small passenger cars, larger 4-wheel drive vehicles, pick-up style trucks (often with a dozen or so people sitting the bed) larger construction trucks and the ubiquitous mini-buses. There can be some spectacular traffic jams.

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Learning to drive on the right instead of the left would be a nerve-wracking experience under the best of circumstances.  (I managed to live in the UK for 4 years without ever driving!) On a straight away, it is fairly simple…you drive on the left, constantly thinking to yourself, “Stay on the left!  The LEFT!  Stay to the left!”  and if there is some traffic, it is not too bad, because you are simply going along with the traffic.

But then you might have to turn!   First, you put on your directional signal…only sometimes you put on the wipers by mistake.  Now, a left-hand turn is easy.  You turn left and you stay on the left.  A right-hand turn is a little trickier.  You turn right, but you stay on the left.  My right-hand turns are usually bit wider than they should be.   But then…there are the rotaries.  (Round-abouts to some of you.)  Here’s where things get a bit dicey.  Everything is reversed and your instincts about where to merge, where to exit, when to yield, when to accelerate…it’s all backwards.

I have been known to look at a map and drive well out of my way to avoid a rotary.  But sometimes it cannot be helped and usually my inner dialogue goes like this, “Oh, God, here comes a rotary!  Okay, just stay to the left.  The LEFT!  Now, blend into the traffic!  Why is that guy beeping at me!  Okay, just m-e-r-g-e right into the lane.  Look, there’s the exit…so…careful now…just put on your signal – no, those are the wipers!  Put on your signal and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y get over to the left and there you are! See, you did it!”   There is no way to be relaxed while driving, because letting your guard down could mean that you react instinctively and your instincts will be WRONG!

In most places, only the main road is paved…dirt roads are still the norm in Lusaka, and  indeed, in all of Zambia.  And you often share the road with livestock; even right outside the main center of the capital city!

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Even in the middle of the city, where there is a divided highway, people tend to treat the road like a walkway and vendors spread their wares out right on the pavement.

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Potholes are common and often ridiculously deep.  And if the dirt road isn’t properly graded, it can become nearly impassable in the rainy season.

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Driving at night has its own special challenges.  There are no street lights and people drive just as fast and turn just as suddenly as they do in the daylight.  In addition, the walking traffic does not abate…and people have not yet learned about wearing light colored clothing for visibility.  So you have dark-skinned people, wearing dark clothing walking along a dark road with no sidewalks or shoulders. So far, I have avoided driving at night unless absolutely necessary.

And the mini-buses…ah, the mini-buses.  This is Zambia’s local public transportation and used by most of the citizens to get around.  They are 18 – 34 seat vans, usually blue  and they go everywhere!  How do you know where a particular mini-bus is headed?  Well, the bus drives down the road and the “conductor” is leaning out the window, shouting the destination, while the driver beeps the horn.  “DOWNTOWN!  DOWNTOWN!”  or  “CROSSROADS!  CROSSROADS!”  The locals seem to know which bus is going where and often the bus is stuffed full of many more passengers than there are seats.

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Anyone can flag down a bus and they will stop almost anywhere, although there ARE some designated stops.  The bus will pull over, bumping over the edge of the pavement and onto the side, sometimes narrowly avoiding a ditch.  If the traffic is going too slowly, a mini-bus will often drive on the wrong side of the road, until they come up against oncoming traffic and have to pull over.  It is not unusual (but a bit disconcerting) to be driving along a paved road and see a mini-bus approaching you, head-on.  I have seen them driving over curbs, onto sidewalks and grass strips, along the dirt by the side of the road and squeezing past the traffic by driving into places that you would think a motor vehicle simply could not go.  Many of the mini-buses are in a state of disrepair and there has been movement to regulate them and require the owner/drivers to obtain a license.  But they remain a cheap way to get around Lusaka and almost anywhere in Zambia.

However, plans are moving forward to improve the roads, add sidewalks, better pavement, street lights and a “ring road” around the city.  The engineers I met in Ndola a few weeks ago were very enthusiastic and positive about the work being done and about how Lusaka is moving forward.  Just down from my school, on Leopard’s Hill road, the project to create a 4-lane highway is well underway (financed by the Chinese, who do a great deal of business with Zambia.)

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I do not expect to ever feel fully comfortable driving in Lusaka…as much as I love adventure I would much prefer to let someone else be behind the wheel for my travels!

“Everybody Ought to Have a Maid…”

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Meet my wonderful maid, Mary.

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In Zambia, as in many parts of Africa, it is very common (and expected) that anyone making any kind of decent living will hire household help.  A maid, a gardener, maybe a cook and a nanny if you have children to look after.  Sometimes a person might do more than one job.  If you have a large family and a big house and yard, you might have a couple of gardeners and maids.

At first, this seemed very odd to me and a bit uncomfortable.  After all, couldn’t I pick up after myself?  I am perfectly capable of doing my own laundry, aren’t I?  Wasn’t it lazy of me to hire a maid for my little flat?  Would it be condescending for me to hire someone to fold my clothes and make my bed?

Zambia has an incredibly high rate of unemployment and many people who are employed live well below the poverty line.  When you hire a maid or other household help, you are giving someone a job who otherwise would not be employed at all.   Some of the people who work as maids or cooks  have been doing this their entire life – they are trained, experienced and knowledgeable about what they do.  And they are proud of the quality of their work.  Some younger people work as domestics in order to put money away for college or training school.  And while the expected pay is very low compared to what you might pay in the states, it is enough to make a living and put some money aside.  The minimum wage for a maid in Zambia is 550 kwacha per month, full time (usually 5 and a half days per week) however, most experienced maids charge more and deserve it.  I pay 50 kwacha per day, plus money for weekly bus fare and lunch.  (One kwacha is a little less than 20 cents.)

My block of flats has a communal garden and the gardeners are hired by the landlady.  However, everyone hires their own maid.  The two other folks who live here and work at the school “share” their maid (thus giving her a full-time job.)  Mary was recommended to me by one of the teachers who knew her.   Having never had a maid I wasn’t sure what to expect or what to ask her to do and I felt a little shy about it.  Luckily, Mary knew exactly what she was doing.  The first day, I showed her how to use the washer and dryer, where I kept everything and how the flat was set up.  She took it from there.  She is the kind of person who just “feels” comfortable and although her English is not the best and I speak no Nyanga, we can talk about our daughters and our ex-husbands and our lives and laugh together, just like two women anywhere.

She comes 3 days a week and cleans, washes, folds, irons and in general, makes the place sparkle.  Because we rarely cross paths, we leave little notes for each other!  It is absolutely wonderful to come home and have the flat all organized, the laundry done, ironed and put away (neatly folded!) and the bed linens changed, the towels fluffed, the dishes all clean and in the cupboard.  I came home a bit early today and was able to take her picture in her new uniform (they sell them at the grocery store and she had specifically asked for one.) When I told her I wanted to take her picture, she made sure to put her apron on to look “professional.”  After the picture above, she went and got a dust-rag so she could pose as if she was “working.”  She asked me if I would show the picture to my children and I told her yes…I would show the picture and tell everyone, “This is my wonderful maid, Mary!”  She beamed.

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(PS: For those of you who are Broadway musical challenged, the title of this post is a song from Stephen Sondheim’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”)

Leopards Hill Park and a new fruit!

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On my drive to work each day, I pass an old and crowded cemetery, known locally as the “Old Leopards Hill Cemetery.”  Graves are crowded together in what seems to be a haphazard fashion.  Markers are made of slate or even wood.  There are no real roads or even pathways amongst the graves. 

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Funerals are big here in Zambia, and at least once or twice a week, I will see a large group of mourners gathered in this place, standing amidst the dirt and the dust.  But a new cemetery is being developed, literally right in the middle of the old one.  Called “Leopards Hill Memorial Park” it is privately owned and purports to “offer world class facilities and a tranquil final resting place.”  The front page of their website states “Rest in Peace – FINALLY.”  It is apparently going to be quite a comprehensive cemetery with a “full range of burial products.”

Read more about it HERE.

Today I drove into the park to have a look around.  There is an imposing entrance, a guardhouse and a group of solid-looking headstones near the front gate.

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Most of the cemetery is still “under construction” but it is not an unattractive place.  There are wide swaths of open field and some new graves scattered here and there – some covered with mounds of flowers.  There are also some headstones set under the trees.

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As I walked further into the park, I saw what looked at first like a set-up for a wedding and wondered if the park was doing double-duty.  As I got closer, I realized it was for a funeral…obviously a big one, as the large monument was covered in white cloth as if for an unveiling and there were several large tents and canopies set up, along with a portable podium and sound system.  I asked the groundskeeper about it and he told me that it was a memorial service for a former member of Parliament who had died last year.   (I made sure it was okay to take pictures!)

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Across the park, I could see another, less elaborate, pavilion set up for a service, with the family getting out of a car and a long stream of mourners walking down the path to the site. 

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Walking back to my car, I noticed fruit trees here and there.  At first I thought they were apples.  Perfectly round, green fruits with a hard shell, about the size of a grapefruit.  Some had fallen on the ground and there were dried husks lying around.  I took one and cracked it open to see what it was.  Another groundskeeper saw me and I asked him what they were.  He told me they were a fruit called “mazhanje” and he showed me how to eat it.  The pulp inside is actually many small pits – you scoop it out with your fingers and suck the pulp off and then spit out the pit.  It was delicious….sweet and juicy; like nothing I had tasted before.

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When I got home, I looked it up…I THINK the fruit is an Uapaca kirkiana or sugar plum, although the picture on the Wikipedia page did not look quite like the trees I saw.  It is an indigenous fruit and grows wildThey do not cultivate it, but allow the trees to remain when ground is developed.  I have never seen them in stores or markets; apparently they are a big favorite with the locals.

 

Friday market…and lunch at Sugarbush Farm

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Fridays at the school tend to be somewhat more relaxed than the other days.  The students have an activity period called “Global Issues” which is usually an assembly or other activity.  It’s a half-day – we get out at 12:30.  And…there is the Friday market.

Early in the morning, a few of the local farmers bring their produce and set it up outside the canteen.  You have to be quick – it starts at 7:00am sharp and people are ready for it!  Everyone brings their own large shopping bags and coolers to fill.

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There are bags of potatoes and onions, bins of cabbage, cukes, lettuces and packages of tomatoes (which are year-round here) and a variety of other produce and herbs – today there was fresh spinach, scallions, dill and parsley.  My haul included a big sack of smallish onions,  some plum tomatoes, a bag of spinach, some spectacular carrots and more…and it cost only 50 kwacha (about $9.00)

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They also sell beautiful fresh flowers…

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At lunchtime, there is a different kind of market.  Local restaurants and privately-owned business come in to sell their wares.  In addition, there are a few other produce-sellers.  You can buy corn, pineapples, big bags of apples or pears and avocados.  There is the “Italian Guy” who sells chunks of Parmesan and mozzarella, and packages of prosciutto and other Italian delicacies. And you have a smorgasbord of options for lunch – including food from an Ethiopian restaurant or hand-made burritos from an authentic Zambian-owned Mexican restaurant.  (No joke!  The guy who originally owned it went back to Guatemala and before he left, he taught his employees how to make all the food – and now they run it!)  There are fantastic home-made cookies, fresh-made bagels and snacks like popcorn and muffins. And this happens every Friday!

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Today was the first Friday of the month, and so we had the “Ladies Who Lunch” – just a group of us who meet at the Sugar Bush Farm for a glass of wine (or two) and a nice lunch.  Sugar Bush is a local farm, craft shop and restaurant and it was a great way to unwind from a busy week.

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Hard to believe that I’ve been here more than a month – and that the first few weeks of school have gone by so quickly!

 

Signs and gates…walking a different way!

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Walking in Lusaka is always an adventure in and of itself.  Although a huge percentage of the population walks everywhere (when they are not taking the little blue mini-vans!)  there is a decided lack of sidewalks or places to walk next to the road.  Most roads have no shoulders and because of the torrential rains during the wet season, there are ditches for the run-off on either side of the road.  Some of these ditches are lined with concrete or pavers, but more often, they are simply dug out of the dirt.

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Every once in a while, there is some kind of sidewalk.  Sometimes it is merely a dirt path, but sometimes, the owner of the building will create a sidewalk in front of their property as the Anglican Church has.  It is kind of odd to be walking in dirt and ditches and then suddenly have a proper sidewalk for 100 yards or so before going back to the dirt!

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Most of the houses and complexes in my area are walled and gated – that is, they have a gate or a sliding door at the entrance that is opened for residents by a guard.   Some are quite simple, like the one at my flat.

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But others are much more elaborate affairs, with ironwork and scrolling.  Some of the walls have pieces of glass at the top, to prevent anyone from gaining entrance.

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There are security companies that will provide guards for the complexes and some of the “fancier” places and the embassy residences hire a whole slew of them.  Being a gate-guard may seem like a boring job, and perhaps it is…but the unemployment is so high here that the more jobs that can be created, the better.  One guard saw me snapping pictures on my walk and asked if he could pose!

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The signage along the main roads is quite interesting.  Many of the signs are produced locally and lack the uniformity we are so used to seeing at home.  But some look just like any busy corner in any city.

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Lusaka is really in transition and a period of growth…but sometimes the money runs out and people abandon their building project, leaving the skeleton of the house or complex incomplete and taken over by the wild flowers.

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And always, there is a riot of color amongst the trees and flowering hedges.  Even in this dry season.

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