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.
“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).