Monthly Archives: September 2011

In Search of Food and Water, Part II

I’ve been aware since March or April that there was a lake, or something that looked very much like one, in Macha.,26.790695&spn=0.021456,0.016646&t=h&vpsrc=6&output=embed

And when we were looking at google maps back in Lusaka (actually to see where Alison is living, but while we were doing that, Kathy thought she’d show me where LinkNet is, too. The blue dots east and north mark LinkNet and the Wooden House), we wandered past the lake-like thing, and Kathy mentioned, “Oh, we’ve never found that dam. You can figure out where it is and take us to see it.” As I’d already had in mind that that might be something worth doing, I said that I probably would, or something to that effect.

So two weekends ago I set off for the lake. I examined google maps and determined that the lake was just past Mission, where the church is, so I biked there, first.

This is my bike, by the way.  The church is somewhere behind the building on the right.

This is my bike, by the way. The church is somewhere behind the building on the right.

I didn’t really know where to go, beyond ‘somewhere past Mission,’ so I picked a likely-looking path and headed down it.

A likely-looking path.  Note the burned area on the left.  This would be to clear the area for agriculture, or to encourage new growth for cattle.  Or perhaps accidentally.  Moses says the burned grass near the wooden house is accidental.

A likely-looking path. Note the burned area on the left. This would be to clear the area for agriculture, or to encourage new growth for cattle. Or perhaps accidentally. Moses says the burned grass near the wooden house is accidental.

The path went down aways, towards lower ground and slightly thicker vegetation that I could perhaps believe to be indicative of water, and then it flattened out into an attractive but not-so-likely-looking path.

An attractive but less likely-looking path.

An attractive but less likely-looking path.

I kept going. I still have some difficulty understanding exactly how much distance compares to how much map, and I wasn’t doing anything else that day. The path kept going, and eventually the lower area on the right flattened out into more grassland.

The area on the right

The area on the right

I kept going. There were a number of little paths going to the right, but none of them looked quite substantial enough that I felt like deserting my nice, solid path in favor of them, and I was not yet steeled to the idea of turning around.

I got to the road. There being no other road in the area, I was pretty sure that this was the road upon which one travels 14 unpaved kilometers in order to get to the turnoff to Macha. It’s also way past the lake (see that yellow line to the south?). I didn’t know how far it was, but I was pretty sure that I was a good ways past where I wanted to be.

So I turned right on the road, after carefully marking the particular trees and bump in the road that denoted my little dirt path, and attempting not to use the cows as a marker. There was a line of green on the map that maybe suggested a river, and I didn’t object to the idea of a river, either.

I did find the river. It was a bone-dry depression along the ground, with the usual indications that it might sometimes have water, but certainly didn’t have any right now.

About then I began to wonder why I was still traveling along the road, and what I expected to find. I turned around, and shortly after I passed the river again, I noted another dirt path going the same general direction that I wanted to go, and I decided that there wasn’t any particular reason to follow the dirt path I’d already seen. After all, the worst that would happen is that I would get sufficiently disoriented that I would have to retrace all of my steps, road and all. (The concept of private land doesn’t seem to exist here in the same sense that it does as home. Instead of stories about people who wander onto private property and have the owners shout at them, one hears stories of crazy expat joggers who get invited onto Tonga stools by the visitor-deprived locals and given glasses of chibwantu/ibwatu (Mind you, while chibwantu isn’t bad when fresh, if the cornmeal floating in it doesn’t bother you, offering several-days-old chibwantu to one’s guests might be as effective a deterrent as dogs or armed guards, from what I’m told).)

After a while my path meandered up to join the path I’d been on before, and then the paths divided again, and I took the left fork, not entirely sure that I hadn’t originally come from the right fork. That’s the thing about navigating here. There are no indicators of distance, no blocks, or plots of land, or even cultivated fields. I find that paths generally look much of a muchness, with variations in width, or ranging between grassy, or grassy-and-scrubby, or grassy-and-scrubby-and-trees, or grassy-and-trees, or burned remains of any of the above. There may be buildings, but I at least don’t find the buildings here particularly distinctive, and any one path can vary in any of these characteristics almost as much as two different paths. But I figured that if it was a different path now, I could go back to the fork and would get back to Mission reasonably quickly.

I continued on my path. After a while, I took one of the paths leading down to the left and discovered . . .

Water!  Also cows.

Water! Also cows.

I decided that this was the river below the dam again, and continued along my path, feeling more confident that I was on the right path. There was also more traffic (although you shouldn’t come away with the impression that it was ever devoid of people, with the exception of that smaller path I took off the road), which seemed like it might be indicative of something.

It was somewhere along in here that a scrawny dog took offense at my bicycle, or my pale skin, or my skirt, or the sequins on my skirt, and took this offense out with his teeth, but my skirt took the damage (unexpected advantage of riding bicycles in skirts. This perhaps balances out the fact that when I was nearly home, I managed to catch the skirt in the back wheel in such a spectacular way (in the brakes, I think) and tied myself to the bicycle so thoroughly that I almost fell over while trying to get off the bicycle in order to untangle myself). That skirt is one of several articles of clothing that I am coming to the conclusion will not survive a year in Zambia. Things just wear harder here (and I thought handwashing was supposed to be good for clothes!). Have I mentioned that I completely destroyed one of those recycled-plastic-bottle reusable grocery bags on the way back from my shopping-and-language-lessons trip to Choma? The owner yelled at the dog, and no damage was done to my person (and the skirt has been mended and everything), and we all continued along our ways.

At some point I stopped for water and made the discovery that my water bottle was closer to half-full than all-full, an oversight that was all the more distressing because I did not entirely know where I was, and it was getting hot. I had just decided that pretty soon I should give up on looking for the lake (surely the river, such as it was, was enough for one day?), and this football pitch, unfortunately, was not the same as the football pitch just below Mission, because this one had two goals, rather than only one.

I took one last look to my left and saw the unmistakable shimmer of water through trees.

More trees than this.  But you get the idea.

More trees than this. But you get the idea.

Well! I could hardly get this close and turn around now, especially since there was a well-trodden path and everything. I followed the path, feeling quite hopeful, and came upon a pump standing in a small grove. That explained the people carrying buckets and basins that I had passed earlier. A bit further on, I passed the enclosing bramble-barrier that protects gardens from cows (That’s one of the things that strikes me most about these rambles. Even in what seems to be the most desolate areas, there are signs of habitation. Looking like everyone’s ideas of The Wilds Of Africa or not, one can’t forget that people have been living here for a very long time), and then, at last, to water. It was a sort of gray, cloudy water, surrounded by thick clumped mud, but it was deliciously wet to eyes that have been staring at brown dusty country with occasional clumps of green.

I started to lock my bicycle to a convenient tree, realized that I’d left the lock at home, and so my bicycle and I took a ramble around the edge of the lake and up onto what I guess was the dam (which seemed to me to be on the wrong side, and I don’t entirely understand the geography of the place, but it was a high wall of earth, broken by a shorter brick wall, and there were little brick houses and power lines (perhaps they do some sort of hydroelectric?) and beyond that banana trees).

Sorry folks, those aren't Wild African Beasts, they're cows.  Though the cows here do seem a bit more noble than any cows I ever met at home.

Sorry folks, those aren't Wild African Beasts, they're cows. Though the cows here do seem a bit more noble than any cows I ever met at home.

Dry, cracked earth

Dry, cracked earth

On my return, I discovered that the path across the aforementioned football pitch led past a basketball court and almost directly up to Mission. I’d just taken the wrong path when I picked my original likely-looking candidate.

My neighbors, L and N, helping me make approximation-naan that afternoon (see bowl of rising dough to the side).  Any cooking project outside the scope of nshima/meat/vegetables is likely to acquire assistants.  L helped me make peanut butter crisscrosses for my birthday, too.  This is my room, and beyond that some of the common space.

My neighbors, L and N, helping me make approximation-naan that afternoon (see bowl of rising dough to the side). Any cooking project outside the scope of nshima/meat/vegetables is likely to acquire assistants. L helped me make peanut butter crisscrosses for my birthday, too. This is my room, and beyond that some of the common space.

The next day, one of the may salamander-things.  I encountered this one on my walk to church,

The next day, one of the may salamander-things. I encountered this one on my walk to church,

The Wooden House, with blurry Claire and baby K in foreground.  My room is the third blue panel from the corner, the window to the left of that, and the panel left of that.  The doorway on the far left of the picture is The Wooden House 2.

The Wooden House, with blurry Claire and baby K in foreground. My room is the third blue panel from the corner, the window to the left of that, and the panel left of that. The doorway on the far left of the picture is The Wooden House 2.

And in other sorts of searching for water, one day the running-out-of-water was so bad that we didn’t even have water in the faucets behind the house, and the kids hailed me on my way home from work to help them carry the water. Carrying a wide, shallow basin of water on your head is really difficult. I’m getting better, though; about half the time I wind up watering my garden with a similar (smaller, thankfully, so easier to manage) basin.

Courtesy of Marit. L, Me, V, and N.  Not shown: all the drips and splashes of water between the faucet and Zambezi House.

Courtesy of Marit. L, Me, V, and N. Not shown: all the drips and splashes of water between the faucet and Zambezi House.



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This is an interesting time to be in Zambia

Most of you are probably unaware that Zambia inaugurated a new president on Friday.

Zambia gained independence in 1964, and was a one-party “democracy” under President Kenneth Kaunda until 1991, when other candidates were allowed to run, and there was a peaceful transfer of power to Frederick Chiluba of the MMD (Movement for Multiparty Democracy). The next two presidents were also MMD.

Tuesday was Election Day, which meant that I didn’t teach on Monday, and had a holiday on Tuesday (I spent it reading, puttering, cooking, knitting, and planting seeds in my new garden). Wednesday arrived, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know who had won the election. At some point either that afternoon or Thursday, I realized that no one knew who had won the election. This was bizarre to me.

There were mutters that the then-current administration was dragging things out longer than strictly necessary. We heard rumors of roving bands of rabble-rousers in Lusaka, and while I wasn’t aware of violence that people had been concerned might occur, there was a distinct feeling of unrest (though it was a very diluted and sleepy sort of unrest way out here in Macha).

Thursday night I stayed up rather later than I’d intended to, making a poor attempt at enchiladas and chatting with David about elections and politics and government in Zambia and the US.

Friday morning, as I was readying myself to go teach about multiple worksheets and frozen header rows, David greeted me, “Good morning. We have a new president.” It had been announced sometime during the night: Michael Sata of the PF (Patriotic Front) had been elected.

Friday afternoon, Beauty passed me on her way out the door: “We are going to watch the President!”


“In the back.” (And this was how I discovered that the back door to the Wooden House leads into an extra living room. I still haven’t figured out if this is Wooden House 4, or if the bedroom also connects to the front.)

It was shortly after fourteen hours, and I was fairly certain that whatever the president was doing, it wouldn’t be done in 20 minutes, but I decided that this was more important than work, collected my knitting and my bag and plopped myself on the psuedo-linoleum with a collection of women whose names I still mostly haven’t figured out to watch what turned out to be the inauguration ceremony.

I’m glad I wasn’t in Lusaka this past week, and glad that our planning meeting was rescheduled so that I’m not in Lusaka right now. But it’s very exciting to be in Zambia.


I’ve been struck a number of times recently by how raw democracy is here. I’ve certainly never seen billboards of President Clinton (or, for that matter, Reagan or Bush) urging people to campaign and vote peacefully. I was told that this election might be volatile because emotions were running high, but I didn’t see any sign of it until Friday afternoon, sitting on the floor with my neighbors. I’ve driven past Highcourt, where the ceremony was held, but I did not recognize it (my neighbors did). It was filled — flooded — in every direction as far as the camera could see with people. When I arrived, the footage was mainly focusing on the progress of a car (perhaps containing the party with two living presidents and president-elect?), surrounded by a massed throng on both sides, with soldiers or police or both persuading the crowd to condense just enough for the car to progress at a snail’s pace.

It was in many ways a very odd experience for me. The press did not have a good vantage point, which meant that we, as the viewers, had a worse one (so bad, in fact, that through I heard the news anchor announce that the ceremony had started, I though I’d misheard her, because she just kept talking about background information and we didn’t shift from images of a massed sea of people). Presently we switched to an awkward sideways angle around several people’s heads and shoulders, and were able to watch President Sata taking the oath, and hear enough of the words to believe that he was saying an oath sort of thing.

We could hear the speech that followed only slightly better, except for the times when the sound cut out entirely, but that did not deter the enthusiasm of my neighbors. “Banish poverty, WHOOHOO!!”

The other thing that surprised me was the obvious affection towards President Kaunda. Most of the books I read had not had a highly complimentary impression of him (“one-party participatory democracy” for twenty-seven years, anyone?), and our hostess, who might have been Mercy, freely admitted that he’d been arrested on corruption charges during the first week of Chiluba’s presidency, but as Michael Sata sat down, Beauty grabbed my knee to be sure I saw:

“That is President Kaunda! He fighted for freedom in Zambia! We are free because of him! We are free because of that man!”

I hadn’t expected that. In the faces of my neighbors, I saw that even though he won less than a quarter of the vote in the 1991 election, he is not merely beloved, he is an icon (at least in that crowd, in this part of the world). I don’t think that any of those women were alive before Zambia became a Republic, much less old enough to remember, but the idea of freedom is important in a different way than it is at home. US Americans will say that freedom is important to them, but I’ve never seen anyone on her feet, almost-shouting, because the US is a free country.

That’s what I mean about democracy being raw. I mean that it is fragile, that it is precious, in a way it’s not in a country where the wheels of democracy have run pretty smoothly for over a hundred years.

This election was important. Not just because it was a (mostly) peaceful, (mostly) hitch-free transition of power from one party to another, only the second in Zambia’s history as a republic. But because it happened, because it was more-or-less fair and open, because people had a chance to participate in the franchise and feel that they made a change in their government. And there is a magic in that that holds eight women spellbound staring at a poor picture on a little tv, listening to nearly-inaudible sound that may cut out entirely, with two or three more people hovering in the doorway to catch a glimpse of an historic moment.

Will Michael Sata be a good president? I don’t know. I know almost nothing about his political ideology. What I do know is that his election was important because he was chosen by the people of Zambia.

(The next part isn’t important, but you can read it anyway.)
As I was sitting on the floor, trying to hear Michael Sata’s inauguration speech, I became aware of a flaw that had never occurred to me in Alexander Hamilton’s plan for 12-year presidential terms (despite the fact that I spent half a semester refuting it in any way that I could). Elections are important. Presidential elections are important. And I think that it is vitally important for the health of any democracy for most of its citizens to feel that they have contributed to a positive change of government. With a twelve-year presidency, if you were lucky (and no one died), you’d see two presidential elections before the age of thirty-five. If you weren’t lucky, you would see only one before the age of forty. And that’s not enough; not enough people can win while they can still believe, before they reach whatever age occasions jaded cynicism about politics. People need elections. It’s one of the ways that they believe that their government means something.


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In Search of Food and Water

Two weeks ago I gave myself a steam burn while trying to get the lid off my pan (don’t worry; it healed very nicely). This is because my largest pan has a lid without a handle. I had been using a knife or fork to pry the lid off the pan, but even if I use two implements as if they are tongs, I wind up dropping the pan lid on the floor far more frequently than I consider optimal or desirable. I burned myself while attempting a new system incorporating hotpads. This moved Find Someone Who Can Weld A Piece Of Metal Onto That Pan Lid from something that it would be nice to do at some point in the future to a task with a certain amount of urgency. As has become my habit, I asked the advice of Moses.

This is Moses, by the way.  He's quite fond of sitting out here, and I think brought the tire specifically for that purpose, because it wasn't here when I arrived.

This is Moses, by the way. He's quite fond of sitting out here, and I think brought the tire specifically for that purpose, because it wasn't here when I arrived.

“Ah,” he said. “I think they can do that at Gideon.”

“Where’s Gideon?” By this point I had some sense of geography, and I knew that where I live is Ubuntu Campus, and where the hospital and the market are, and that MAIM (the malaria research institute/houses with hot and cold running water and lawns, even if they’re made of dirt, said Mai-yim) was somewhere in that direction, and that the area with the BIC church I go to is Mission, because it’s the oldest (Western-influenced) part of Macha, but I had not heard of Gideon.

“Oh, about five kilometers away. I go there sometimes, and I can take it. I’ll remind you when I go next.”

So I figured that that was that, although not necessarily something that would happen in the immediate future.

Last week I decided to have nshima and relish as my meal-of-the-week (it’s too much work to cook a new dish every night of the week. I am apparently incapable of cooking one-person servings, and need a smaller pan if I’m even going to try, so I just make one or two a week, which is easier, even if reheating can be challenging). Moses promised that he would teach me to make nshima, even though he doesn’t like it, and said that greens and onions and tomatoes and beef would be sufficient to make some relish (relish is whatever you eat with nshima. So far I’ve had chicken, beef, offals, unidentified greens, unidentified greens, pumpkin leaves with groundnut sauce (I need to learn how to make this. Also to identify pumpkin leaves, and where to find groundnut flour), beans, and beans and mince (ground beef)). I’d gotten beef in Choma during my Tonga lessons, and knew that I could buy onions, tomatoes, and greens at the market. (Speaking of greens, I’ve discovered that the stuff I’ve been calling kale is in fact rape leaves. I’m disappointed; I was looking forward to trying new vegetables, and while this stuff isn’t exactly like kale at home, it’s more like kale than lacinato kale is like curly kale is like red russian kale.)

“Er, I can get breakfast meal at the market, right?” I hadn’t gotten any mealie meal in Choma because I was in a hurry at the grocery store and didn’t fancy the idea of hauling an extra 2.5 kilos back with me, and people eat mealie meal two or three meals a day here, so I figured that it must be available.

“Ah — You can get it in Gideon.”

So Friday morning I brought up Google maps and got Moses to show me how to get to Gideon, and then ate a quick lunch and set off on my bicycle.

“If I don’t come back by classtime, you’ll know I got lost.” (I was sitting in on the A+ Engineering class that afternoon, which started, at least hypothetically, at 15 hours. My lunch break is hypothetically until 14:30 (actually, Moses says it’s supposed to end at 14 hours, but everyone takes until 14:30), but I frequently arrive at 14:30 and sit and knit for at least half an hour before whoever has the keys today shows up to unlock the door, so while I try for 14:30, I don’t consider it imperative.) Lunch is two hours here (but we start work — at least hypothetically — at 8 hours. In the morning I’ve sat and knit for over an hour before whoever has the keys manages to show up), so I figured that two and a half hours minus the time required to eat a quick lunch was probably sufficient to bike ten kilometers and do some shopping and possibly make a few wrong turns.

I headed off with my trusty fairly reliable ZAMBike, my helmet, my purse, my backpack, and one pan lid missing a handle. I followed Moses’s directions and my memory of the satellite imagery, and with only one small detour to a cluster of buildings (it didn’t look like the sort of population center that would sell mealie meal and fix pan lids. But the paths seem to wander on indefinitely here, and I didn’t want to miss it), a few pauses to walk the bicycle (three weeks in, I’m proficient in biking through moderately deep sand. I still can’t always manage deep sand, but I’ve gotten very good at avoiding it), and two conversations to ascertain that I was going the correct direction, I arrived at a gaily painted cluster of buildings. This looks more like it, I thought, but just to be sure, after the customary greetings with two young men wandering by, I asked if this was Gideon.

“But of course!” one replied, as if Gideon were the only place in the world one would want to go to, and an air that implied that the flourish and bow had been omitted merely due to the heat.

I thanked them, “Ndalumba,” parked my bicycle under the generally accepted bicycle-parking tree-bush, and made my way to a large building that upon closer inspection bore the label “Gideon General.” The inside of the store consisted of a small, empty area surrounded on two sides by mesh and one side by counter, for customers, and a u-shaped space filled with a large selection of worldly goods one could possibly want, and shelves containing more of the same. It reminded me of nothing so much as the recreations of company stores one occasionally encounters in historic towns, although the selection of goods was slightly different.

On my turn, I greeted the woman behind the counter (they were pleased with my rudimentary Tonga) and inquired about someone to fix my pan lid. After some rapid discussion with the other patrons that I did not follow, she informed me that the man who could fix it wasn’t working today. Alas, but that’s how things go here.

“Also, I would like some breakfast meal.”

“Ten kgs or fifty kgs?”

” . . . ten kgs.” I had considered the fact that I might have to buy as much as five kilograms, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I might need as much as ten, but I wasn’t going to bike the whole way to Gideon and back and not get either of the things I wanted, and I certainly didn’t want fifty kgs. Anyway, how else was I going to make nshima? Ten kilograms is a LOT of grain. It fit in my backpack — barely. I found myself wishing for the rope that I’d blithely left on top of my desk, which I would have been able to use to tie the sack to the back of my bicycle (People carry EVERYTHING on bicycles here. I’ve seen stack of thatch as big as a person, and a goat that may or may not have been still alive).

As I was unlocking my bicycle, someone called, “Madam!” I’m getting used to the fact that the person hollering some distance away probably is talking to you, and anyway, they were talking in English. I went back into Gideon General and was informed that if I turned left and walked until I reached a building with a grass roof, I would find someone who could fix my pan lid. At least, I think that’s what she said. I find here that even though we both speak English, half the time we don’t understand each other.

I walked past a building that I can only assume to be the local bar (the doorway said “Over 18,” or something to that effect, and there was loud, cheerful music blasting), and around a large thatch-fenced enclosure. I seemed to be getting outside of town, and I didn’t see anywhere with a grass roof, but in front of a building with a tin roof was a fellow with welding equipment. (Or maybe he was soldering. I don’t know. He was working metal and there were sparks.) I made the usual greetings, showed him my pan lid, and asked if he could fix it. (This was a nontrivial question, as the only portion of the pan lid not covered by enamel was two rusty little stubs where the handle used to be.) He said that he would try, refused to give me a quote because he wasn’t sure he could, and wandered off and reappeared a bit later with a short bit of iron. He then proceeded to shape it into a U using a hammer, a pliers, and a large hunk of metal sitting around the yarn that might once have been part of a car, chatting all the while. So I had entertainment and while-you-wait service while he crafted a new handle for my lid. I think he was displeased by the amount of solder around the base (though he gave me the usual line about what a delicate job it was), but I’m very glad to have something to hold on to and think he did an excellent job. I particularly liked the part where he banged on it with a hammer while he was trying to get the extra solder off. It cost me 5,000 kwacha, which is slightly more than a dollar. I don’t know if this was a fair price (not, I expect, that there is a going rate for attaching pieces of metal to pan lids), but the bike mechanic charged me 2,000 kwacha for labor and 1,000 for parts to fix the valve on my bike wheel, so I figure it’s not too bad, but even if it wasn’t, it’s still much cheaper, both actually and comparatively, than a comparable job would cost in the states (Do you know anyone who would do a tinkering job for the same price as ten tomatoes or half a pineapple? Yeah, me neither), and I’m still enjoying what a pleasant experience it was.

The power went out ten minutes ago — although the flickering porch light tells me that the generator is on — this entry is already really long, and I’m hungry, so I think I’ll try to seize what resources there are and cook my supper, and you’ll have to wait until later to hear about my search for water. (Actually, you’ll have to wait until later to read this entire entry, because no/limited power means no internet.)

Edit at posting time: I was late to class. But not very late (okay, fifteen minutes. But that’s not very late here. And one of the actual students was later that I was).


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Hold on and pretend this was your decision

Life is going, here in Macha. The electricity has behaved admirably well since Tuesday night; it’s water that we ran out of for the past three nights, instead. People here are accustomed to that, so there are buckets sitting around for just such an eventuality, but I do hope this isn’t a permanent feature of hot season, because I do like having running water later than fourteen or fifteen hours.

I haven’t seen any rats for a while, but I suspect that is because Claire and her infant son have moved in, along with a number of people who I think don’t actually live in her room, but are around all the time, thereby more than doubling the ambient number of people present in The Wooden House 3. It keeps things lively and increases the amount of Tonga being spoken in my immediate environment, which I think is all to the good, just as soon as I figure out who all these people are.

I had supper Monday night with the pilot and his wife and their three children (all under the age of five). It was an interesting meal, including this highlight:
“L, Auntie Miriam is new here, and doesn’t know everyone. Will you pray that she gets settled in?”
“Dear God, help Auntie Miriam meet a nice man . . . that she wants to be friends with, and some people to give lettuce to.”

I really don’t know where that came from, especially the lettuce.

And last night I had supper with the boarding kids at MICS, the innovative school right across the street from The Wooden House. If I go back it certainly won’t be for the food, which made college dining halls look like the height of style, but it was fun after the kids warmed up to me a bit.

Today’s big news is that I started teaching the International Computer Driver’s License class. I’d been told that I would start teaching it on Monday, and sit in today (I sat in on Wednesday, too), but it got to 40 minutes after the time for class to start, and there was still no sign of a teacher, so when it came to a choice between me teaching the class or there being no class, I taught the class. They’re doing Microsoft Word right now. Even if it is Office 2007, how hard can it be?

I think it went decently. I was, unsurprisingly, horribly unprepared, but I know my way around a computer pretty well, and it helped to have the textbook sitting in front of me. Eviis (Avis?), the actual teacher, showed up about halfway through and sat through the rest of it watching me teach. She told me afterwards that I’m a good teacher. I don’t know if I would go that far. We’re still having accent difficulties, so about half the time I need to repeat myself twice before I’m understood, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I also have some tendency to assume a higher level of basic computer literacy than some of the students actually have (Yeah, I’ve taught grownups who know NOTHING about computers, to whom you need to explain the concept of double-click, but mostly just one-on-one, where it’s easier to tell when you’re losing the student. I’m not accustomed to a group of people my own age who need to be told to highlight text before you try to change its formatting. One of the guys is still having trouble just with mouse navigation). But I draw pictures of the icons on the board, and walk around a lot to see that everybody is more-or-less on the same page.

We start Mail Merge next week, which I don’t know how to use, but hey, I have the textbook all weekend, and maybe when I copy sample letters and mailing lists to each of the computers, I can fix the display settings so that none of them have that ridiculous running horse, which is really too big to be practical when trying to navigate ribbons in Office. I think I’ll need to emulate smb and start carrying around my own tea towel or washcloth for the board, because not only is chalk dust and computers a TERRIBLE mixture, the eraser provided is several eons beyond being on its last legs.

This afternoon I’ll be sitting in on the A+ engineer training class. Just as long as they don’t want me to teach that one, because while I have a general understanding of the material covered, I certainly don’t know it well enough to be able to stand up and teach it on the fly.

I do seem to recall saying that it would be very nice if someone gave me some work to do.


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This is an interesting place to live.

The power was out this afternoon when I got home from church. I did not immediately notice this fact for two reasons: one, at 13 hours the natural sunlight is perfectly sufficient for lighting needs, and two, my neighbor Moses was watching a medical drama on his computer, so the building was hardly devoid of mechanical noises. It came back again before I had to lunch on sunlight-thawed frozen leftovers (I wasn’t trying to freeze the rice, but I did want to make sure that the sausage stayed frozen while I was in Choma last week, with the result that I accidentally froze just about everything in the fridge), which I was quite pleased about. The power went out again while I was showering, or possibly before that, while I was doing my laundry (I didn’t notice for much the same reasons as the first time), and I think it was very decent of it to allow me to make lunch. Here’s hoping for supper.

I spent four days in Choma last week learning Tonga. I have decided that the most difficult thing about Tonga (at least initially), aside from a total lack of cognates and commonality to English or Germanic or Romance languages, is that the consonants are not the same. They may look the same when written down, but it seems to me to be a convention generally agreed upon that sounds that are not really present in the English language will be represented by certain letters. K, for example, is rather more like G than like K, although softer than actual G (which is also present), so that the word kwena (nothing) is said more like ‘gwena’ than like ‘kwena,’ though not as forcefully as the name Gwen. Except for the occasions when it isn’t; I’m pretty sure that ndakuta (I am full/satisfied) is ‘dakuta,’ not ‘daguta.’ There’s also the sound that I’ve been calling ‘nyah’ in my head. No one seems to agree on how to spell this one, though the book we’ve been using most seems to use ng’, as in ng’anda, home. One of the other books says that it’s like the first N in ‘onion,’ which is sort-of is, but it’s more nasal than that, and it hangs longer.

There’s no distinction in Tonga between the letters L and R. It’s all written L, but in speech it may range anywhere between the two, and won’t necessarily be the same for two instances of the same word. (This carries over into English, too, so that Chris is as likely to be ‘Chlis’ as ‘Chris.’ No one’s tried to call me Miliam, though.) And B is a much softer sound than in English; like a Spanish B, it’s very close to V. At least for this one, I have practice in softening my Bs. And then there’s C, which is pronounced more like J, or perhaps Y, except for certain situations in which it’s CH, which possibly happens when it follows N? So the word cuuno, stool, I want to spell ‘juno,’ but with a soft j.

The other thing that’s difficult about Tonga is that there are different classes (‘modes’?) of nouns. I haven’t even been able to figure out if we’re declining them, or if they’re like gendered nouns, only there are too many genders, or what. But things change based on what noun you’re using, and I never know how. Luckily for me, I understand this so incompletely that it is not yet troubling me at all.

In good news, so far as I can tell, Tonga doesn’t conjugate verbs at all, just sticks extra little words in to indicate past or future, and adds a pronoun-prefix to indicate the subject (ndalumba is ‘I am thankful,’ and twalumba is ‘We are thankful’). And I don’t have to learn numbers, because Tonga only has numbers up to five, so everyone just uses English numbers.

Our lessons included cultural content in addition to just language.

Maureen, our teacher, showed us how to make two relishes, one cabbage and one bean-and-meat

Maureen, our teacher, showed us how to make two relishes, one cabbage and one bean-and-meat

Including the terrifying way to chop cabbage without a cutting board.

Including the terrifying way to chop cabbage without a cutting board.

We also made nsima (‘shima’), cornmeal dough. It’s white, and thicker than cornmeal mush (though also smoother), and the flavor is similar, but not as pronounced.

Chris isn't quite as tall as he looks in this picture.  But I do only come up to his shoulder.

Chris isn't quite as tall as he looks in this picture. But I do only come up to his shoulder.

All in all, we had a good time, and I look forward to more lessons with Maureen over the next few months. I had minor adventures on the minibus getting back to Macha (seventeen people in a van with five rows of seats!), but there is not a permanent ridge in my legs, the mysterious greasy smear wore off, and the utter destruction of my new canvas recycled plastic bottle bag was not more than a minor inconvenience, the milk did not leak too badly, and was not sour when I got home.

In culinary adventures, I made yogurt last night, and I have five avocados that I saw on the tree.


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