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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11 responses to “In Search of Food and Water

  1. Emily H.S.

    This whole post made me smile. It would have made me laugh, but I’m being well-behaved and not bothering the people who are studying in the library I’m sitting in (it’s part of the building Gwen lives in).

    What is nshima?

    I wish I could get someone to fix a bike wheel for less than the price of half a pineapple. Mine is currently making an odd chirping noise that doesn’t sound like it’s actually a problem, persay, but it’s annoying.

    Also, I love the name of your bike. Is it actually called that, or did you name it?

    • nshima/nsima is the corn porridge with a playdough consistency that’s the staple food here.

      Try oiling it?

      My bike is a ZAMBike (technically, it’s an Amaka Sana ZAMBike). Eric and Kathy say that ZAMBike is the best bike company here, and mine is yellow and says ZAMBike in red letters on the side.

  2. Anna Hoover

    Please describe The Wooden House 3. Is it three rooms and a kitchen? Who all do you share the kitchen with? Just Carrie and Moses? Is there a Wooden House 1 and 2?

    • So, The Wooden House (officially Zisamu House, but I haven’t yet gotten around to figuring out what Zisamu means) is sort of a motel-style apartment block. I haven’t posted any pictures yet, but here’s Gertjan van Stam’s pictures from when it was being built, so you can get some idea. There are three units, 1, 2, and 3, with an outdoor washroom on either end. The Wooden House 3 is a kitchen/common room and three room-rooms (Moses, Claire (plus baby K), and me). The other two units house families, in the same general configuration, but the room-rooms may be bigger. I haven’t actually wandered around outside counting panels to be sure.

      Don’t get the idea that I’m isolated. At any given time, there may be as many as six people wandering in and out of Claire’s room, and Moses usually has at least one friend around, if not two, and the ladies from Hospitality often eat lunch on the floor of our common room (probably because we aren’t cluttering it up with anything so decadent as furniture, just a pile of Claire’s wedding-gift boxes in one corner), and people who live in the Ark and work at MICS (the innovative school) or LinkNet may well stop by to cook their lunches here, rather than walking or biking back to the hospital complex. And there’s lots of flow of people between units. There are five girls who wander around (the oldest may be about 12), plus two babies, and numerous grownups, most of whom I have yet to properly locate where they actually live, beyond ‘in The Wooden House.’

    • Make that ‘a separate washroom on each end.’

      Also, here’s the link, because it doesn’t seem to be working properly:

      • Anna Hoover

        Thanks for the pictures of The Wooden House. Do you have to go outside to get to the kitchen? How close are the other Wooden Houses? Are they made from wood?

    • No, no, there is one Wooden House. All three units are inside it. (hence the motel-like arrangement). The kitchen is in the common area which is in the unit. And yes, the Wooden House is made from wood.

  3. R&R

    Never realized how important handles on lids were.

    5000 kwacha to the dollar! What are the common denominations of kwacha? Can you get anything for 50 kwacha which would be a penny?

    • Yeah, I had never previously appreciated how handy handles are, either.

      The smallest kwacha note (it’s all notes here, no coins) is 50 kwacha. I have not yet found anything than can be bought for 50 kwacha. Bush bananas (imagine a bitty banana, about half the length of a medium-small banana in the states) cost 250 kwacha, and regular bananas 500 kwacha. I eat a lot of bananas. The next note is 100 kwacha, and then I think 500, 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000, etc.

      1,000 kwacha is also called ’1 pin,’ because there was a time when there weren’t 1,000 kwacha notes, so the smaller bills were held together with a pin. And when talking about big numbers, people may just say ’250,’ meaning 250 thousand, and you just know from context.

  4. The Wooden House doesn’t look anything like I imagined it…more colorful. Thanks for sharing the photo link…
    I read this post thoroughly before leaving work last night at 9:00 and I dreamed you were sad and wanted to come home. I don’t think you are, but that is what I dreamed. I’m glad you got your pot lid and breakfast meal even if you had to get enought o last 6 months. At least you won’t have to go back for mare anytiume soon.

    Picture of your bike, please!

    I bet you can see some amazing stars there! What are the night noises like? People sounds or crickets or birds or what? At the moment we have lots of cricket sounds here which isn’t bad.

    When I was on Rhodes I had a banana grown on the island. It was short and fat–nothing like the bananas we get here. It was so different I took a photo of it. No wonder I ended up with 1758 photos!

    It sounds like you are going to run out of yarn with all the knitting you are doing while you wait for things to start! How is your supply holding up?

    • Moses also says that they sell meat at Gideon, so I may get over there more frequently than I expected. I’ve discovered that there is a store by the radio station that sells peanut butter (sometimes), though I need to check prices in Choma and see how much more I’m paying for transport. Now if I can just find somewhere to buy milk (I’ve seen little milk boxes here, so it’s probably somewhere. Maybe in Gideon.) and cheese (I suspect that there isn’t somewhere that sells cheese. I had cheese on my not-enchiladas yesterday, and Moses wanted to know where I got it (Lusaka).) and fresh fruit that isn’t bananas (though they just sell the little bananas (“bush bananas”) in Macha, and they’re fine, but don’t taste quite like I expect a banana to taste, whereas the bananas I got in Choma were The Best Bananas I Have Eaten in My Entire Life, what every banana you’ve ever tasted secretly aspired to be when it grew up. There’s a certain level of freshness that I don’t think you can get if you don’t live in a place where bananas are grown.), I won’t need to squeeze myself into the minibus to Choma hardly ever. And I wouldn’t object to fewer minibus rides. Maybe I can just stock up on cheese (It’s not as good as cheese at home, so I don’t eat as much of it, which should help).

      There is a picture of my bike in the works for the water part of the Food and Water post. (It’s a picture-heavy post, so I can only write it at home when there’s power and internet.)

      The stars are quite good. There are never clouds (I saw my first clouds in a month yesterday, and in the normal course of things, I would think them pretty pitiful samples). In The Wooden House, night noises are mostly people (and tv/radio/music) and mosquitoes and flies and the flying ants that sound like V-1s, cows and cowbells if they’re browsing close to the house, and a rooster if the wind is right. Also my fan Outside you can hear the rooster better, fewer people noises and more cows (and cowbells), and more insects. I haven’t heard crickets here, although I’ve seen things that look like them. If you’re walking around, add to that the sound of grass being trampled and the occasional small lizard scampering out of your way.

      I just finished row five of edging chart 1 on my Laminaria, and besides that I have sock yarn for maybe five pairs of socks. So I’m not going to run out imminently, but I’ll need to either find yarn here (people knit, so they do sell it) or get some from home. Maybe when I’m in Lusaka next weekend I can ask Kathy about yarn stores/other ways people acquire yarn.

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