Tag Archives: community

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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A backyard barbecue…

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This weekend, the tenants in the flat next to mine had a big barbecue in the common backyard and invited everyone in the surrounding flats to come.  Apparently these weekend barbecues were a regular thing last year, but this was the first one since I have been here.  It was attended by a large number of ex-pats, mostly in their 20s and 30s and most of them working for some service organisation or other.   (These service organisations are called “NGOs” for “Non-Governmental Service Organisation.”)

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And they were from all over the world, too…some Americans, but also folks from Spain, Holland, France, Venezuela and several other countries.  There were also folks from Zambia; some were service workers as well and some boyfriends/girlfriends of the ex-pats at the party.

The three little girls who are daughters of the on-site manager were also invited.  They had made (with help from one of the girls who lives next door to me) a delicious chocolate mousse.  This was devoured within 15 minutes of being put out on the table.  Other folks had brought offerings such as cous-cous salad, baba ghanoush, some kind of spicy popcorn, fresh pineapple with rum and mint and other kinds of salads and side dishes.

But the real deal was the meat.  The huge grill was filled with charcoal and after the coals had turned to embers, piled with meat of all kinds.  Marinated ribs, sausages, steak, pork, chicken, shrimp…there was even a kind of cheese that could be grilled.  Unlike a typical picnic where the meat is eaten along with the rest of the food, this was like a separate meat course.  Good thing, too, as there was no room on the plate for such things as salad.

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A lively game of Beer Pong was set up and played with great gusto throughout the evening.  I was informed that the red Solo cups being used were “regulation” and had actually been shipped over from the states.  Over near the pool, a more sedate game of Jenga was taking place.  The little girls darted in and out, always somehow having a full plate of food.

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It was fun talking to everyone about where they’d come from and where they’d been.  After a few hours, I went back to my flat, but the party continued into the night and I could hear the laughter and the cheers from the Beer Pong game for quite some time.

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A walk through an “unplanned settlement” in Kabulonga

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Today I took a long walk…not towards the city, but the other way, into what is called an “unplanned settlement.”  These settlements are areas that have sprung up over the past 40 or 50 years, as people build houses and other structures on vacant or unclaimed land.  The Kabulonga Dam (also called the Kalikiliki Dam) was built across a stream in a marshy area in the 1960s by the owner of the plot.  After several people drowned in the resulting lake, hostility towards the owner (a white man) caused him to give the plot and dam to someone else, who later died. Because the dam is on private land, it has not been maintained since 1990. The current condition of the dam is hazardous. According to Lusaka City Council Engineering Department, seepage has been detected at the base over the past few years and it is in danger of collapsing. The dam wallhas also been heavily eroded as people have built right into it; they have even used soil from the dam wall for construction purposes. The current structure of the wall would not withstand strong currents were the dam to be allowed to fill up.

You can read more about the dam, the settlements and what the government is (and is not) doing about it in this study done in 2007.  CLICK HERE.

I took a right out of my driveway and walked down Sable road.  I crossed the (unnamed) paved road at the end of the street and walked onto the dirt extension of Sable road.  There was a lot of new construction; big houses with yards and carports.  Lusaka is expanding.  I got some curious looks, but mostly smiles and “hellos.”  Then I turned onto the road going towards the dam.  There was a school, with a colorful sign and a group of boys playing soccer with a tattered ball.
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Although the dam shows up like a blue lake on the map view, in reality it is a marshy area, with piles of trash on either side and houses crowed along the edge.  One of the larger piles of trash was burning, and there were people picking through the smokey rubble.  Where the “lake” would be in the rainy season, someone had planted a large garden, with what looked like cabbages and other greens.
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As I walked further into the settlement, the looks became more curious.  Several times I was asked “Where you going, Madam?”  Apparently the answer “Just taking a walk” was very odd, especially for a white woman dressed in hiking shoes and shorts, carrying two bottles of water in a waist pack and wearing a floppy LLBean sunhat.  I am sure I looked ridiculous.    There were houses crowded in together on the side of the “dam” and little stores – there was even a bar. Lots of grinning children ran up to me, saying “Hi!  Hi! How are you?” and then running away again.  Some of them let me take their picture.  I was apparently quite a curiosity.

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There was trash and rubbish everywhere.  Plastic bottles, tin cans, styrofoam packaging from food, milk cartons.  All just lying in piles or on the road.  There is no trash pick-up, no place to put the refuse of the fancy packaging from the first world.  Plastic cannot be composted or burned.  People pick through it and sometimes make things…I complemented a little boy who had created a credible truck out of a couple of old milk-cartons and another boy, later on, who had constructed a vehicle out of a wire frame.  But the settlement is basically on top of a garbage dump…and there is no way to get rid of the mountains of trash.  And yet…colorful flowers still seem to grow…

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And then, I took a turn towards town and suddenly I was on a wide paved road with a sidewalk…a rarity outside of the main part of the city.  I made my way towards home, and the sign for the “luxury housing” so close to the settlement I had just come from seemed incongruous.  I stopped at the little stand on corner of the dirt road where I had started my walk and bought some fresh tomatoes, eggs and roasted peanuts.

CLICK HERE to see a map of where I walked!

Scenes from the road

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One of the interesting things about Lusaka is that you are literally right at the edge of the bush.  Unlike other capital cities, which gradually get less crowded and more suburban as you drive away, Lusaka goes from congested, crowded city to sparsely populated landscape in a matter of minutes.  There are very few paved roads and even the new “main road” I took out of the city was basically a strip of asphalt with occasional speed bumps to slow traffic down when you reached a small group of “stores” on the side of the road.  These stores were usually home-made affairs, sometimes a simple lean-to made of branches to sell tomatoes or corn, sometimes a bit more elaborate building with white-washed sides and hand-painted signs.  And even in the most remote stretches of road, there were little shacks where you could purchase “top-up” cards for AirTel or another Zambian cell phone service.

I turned off the main road about 20 km from Lusaka (thinking I would find the Blue Lagoon Park…) and drove for another 10 or 15 km on a dirt road.  Here and there were turn-offs with sign for a school or a church.  And there were groups of houses – huts, really – every few kilometers, always with bagged coal at the edge of the road to sell and sometimes with a stand for vegetables.  People lived here.  Most walked everywhere, although the blue and white vans which serve as public transport were in evidence here, too.   No electricity, no running water that I could see.  Most kept goats or chickens and I also saw cattle and oxen.  I assume everyone had a garden plot and the kids went to one of the schools along the road.

Everyone was friendly.  Everyone waved  and smiled at the white lady in the small silver car, slowing down to take a picture.

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