Monthly Archives: October 2011

Mboole picture post

Jacaranda Tree.  This was actually in Choma, but I'm including it because they're purple and gorgeous and I've been trying to take pictures of them since I got here.

Jacaranda Tree. This was actually in Choma, but I'm including it because they're purple and gorgeous and I've been trying to take pictures of them since I got here.

There’s an allée of Jacaranda trees leading up to Choma hospital. The effect is not quite like a formal garden, since the road curves, as do the trunks of the trees, but I’m sure that it must be GORGEOUS at its peak. They’re a little bit past, now.

Mboole was certainly a Rural Experience. I’d never seen a borehole before, for one. I was very pleased to discover that a good pit latrine is actually nicer than a so-so toilet-with-no-seat (Perhaps it’s not fair to compare a latrine used by one family to the toilets at the bus stations, but I’m doing so anyway. Aside from the cleanliness aspect, as Alison and I discussed at length, it’s much easier to really squat than to do the chair-sit-without-a-wall move that’s required for toilets without seats. I shouldn’t complain, though. Alison shares her toilet with fifteen other people, several of them small children). Maureen’s kitchen has no water (running water. There is a big bucket by the door), no way to heat things up, and no way to keep things cold, which are three elements fairly integral to my concept of a kitchen. In hot season, she does most of her cooking outside. Considering how hot it gets here (I found a thermometer. We hit 40 yesterday), that makes a lot of sense. There is a little three-sides-and-a-roof shelter where you can cook out of the sun. We always cooked supper in the dark, too, or with a flashlight.

Chire chopping greens.

Chire chopping greens.

That’s the shelter, not that you can really see it in this picture. In other things you can’t really see in this picture, Chire is using the best knife, which is a rectangle of metal sharpened on one side. I’ve discovered that it’s much easier to slice greens thin if you roll them, but I still need a cutting board.

Saturday afternoon, after things cooled down a little bit, we looped through the neighborhood to practice our Tonga a bit.



The Mboole area is really gorgeous.

We visited a compound with a number of small houses and two big thatched huts in the middle. There were a number of women in the cooking hut, but we, as visitors, sat at the man-hut and chatted a bit. I felt distinctly awkward, visiting with just the husband while all the women worked. Maureen pointed out that we could tell this was a polygamous family because there was a house for each of the three wives. “Polygamy maninge,” (“A lot of polygamy,”) she commented as we left. I think I’m still wrapping my head around this. I knew before I came that there was polygamy here, but knowing and encountering in a daily context are two different things.

Tambagale!  Or something like that.

Tambagale! Or something like that.

(Just to clarify, this is a woman and her sister-in-law.) At the next place, Maureen and I and these two women played something with a name like Tambagale, which reminded me of Eeny Meeny Miney Moe with knee-tickling, only it wasn’t to chose a person to do something; the last person with a leg in was the winner, end of story.

A lot like Kansas

A lot like Kansas

It was somewhere right around here that we discussed the similarities of this landscape to Kansas (Alison is from Kansas).



The next place we visited, we were invited to visit the garden, which I found very interesting. This is maize towards the front, and in the back there’s tomatoes and sweet potatoes and I forget what else. I asked, and the man said that this garden would produce 11 or 12 90-kg sacks of maize.

We were also introduced to the toothbrush tree.

We were also introduced to the toothbrush tree.

Maureen demonstrating proper technique.

Maureen demonstrating proper technique.

I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to try it myself — until I realized that it involved front-tooth biting. I could probably have managed with my fingernails, but it would’ve required explanations.

After you peeled one end, you chewed on it for a while until it became frayed and brushy.

Alison really liked her toothbrush.

Alison really liked her toothbrush.

Eventually we progressed to visiting the house.

We were introduced to samp, boiled maize. I rather liked it; it was a bit like chewy popcorn.

Toddlers and cell phones apparently have universal appeal.

Toddlers and cell phones apparently have universal appeal.

I’m not sure that these houses are even accessible by car. Mind you, I wouldn’t have said that Maureen’s house is accessible by car if I hadn’t arrived in one, so what do I know?

I do have a rather marvelous one of Alison making a face at me as she shows the picture she just took to the family, but I figure she deserves at least one normal-looking picture.  Maureen, Chris, Alison.

I do have a rather marvelous one of Alison making a face at me as she shows the picture she just took to the family, but I figure she deserves at least one normal-looking picture. Maureen, Chris, Alison.

Have I mentioned that Mboole is really a gorgeous place?

Have I mentioned that Mboole is really a gorgeous place?

Well, it is.

Well, it is.

I've been trying to capture the color of Zambian sunsets since I got here.

I've been trying to capture the color of Zambian sunsets since I got here.

And I think, with these two pictures, that I've finally managed it.

And I think, with these two pictures, that I've finally managed it.

In the evening, as we were cooking supergate (‘soup-a-get-i,’ a traditional American dish introduced to Maureen’s family by the fellow they hosted last year) by the back steps over charcoal braziers, I happened to glance up at the sky, which was lit with an eerie orange glow.
“Oh my goodness,” I said. “What is that?” (Or maybe Chris said that; I don’t remember. We were both staring at it.)
“I think it’s a fire.”
Bush fires are pretty common here, especially this time of year, because burning the old growth encourages new greenery, which the cows like, and it fattens them up just in time for plowing, which will happen in the next month or so, just as the rains start. (Burning is a very controversial practice. Some of my books said that it was terrible and unsustainable, and some said that it’s a good traditional method, and perfectly feasible as long as the land is managed properly. I’m inclined to think that it’s less practical as the population becomes more sedentary, unless there’s a lot more effort put into soil renewal.)
“Shall we go look?”
The water wasn’t boiling yet, so we grabbed flashlights and trooped off in the direction of the Basic School (elementary), bare feet and all.

It was indeed a fire, flames clear against the darkness, and trees black silhouettes in the foreground.  Luckily I had my camera in my pocket, and there was a convenient wall to lean against while I took long-exposure pictures.

It was indeed a fire, flames clear against the darkness, and trees black silouettes in the foreground. Luckily I had my camera in my pocket, and there was a convenient wall to lean against while I took long-exposure pictures.

After watching for a while, we made our way gingerly back to the house, where we successfully cooked our two kgs of supergate.

The next morning I was lying awake in the room that I shared with Alison when I noticed a striking red light against one wall, almost a reverse-shadow. I puzzled over it for a moment before realizing that it was sunlight. I scrambled out of bed to look out the window, where the sun was a huge orange globe just above the horizon. Alison’s eyes were shut, but she’d been moving around a few moments before, so I said softly (because any noise we made could be heard clearly in the two rooms next to us, and slightly-less-clearly in the living room on the other side of the door, which was full of sleeping children (though I think those kids could sleep through anything. They would fall asleep on the couch with lights or candles on, while everyone was still talking)), “If you’re awake enough to get up to see the sun rise, you might want to.”
She scrambled up and peered out the window. (She hadn’t seen sunsets before this trip, either; there are too many buildings in the way, and she’s almost always inside by dark.) “Wow. Do you want to go outside to look at it?”
If anything, the sunrise was even more glorious than it had been on Friday. I really need to get up to see more of them. (And now we’re starting to have clouds sometimes, which makes them even more spectacular.) After watching the sunrise for a while, we walked over to see if there was still any fire where the bushfire had been the night before (there wasn’t any that I could see, just blackened stubble).

When we came back, I got to watch Chire light a fire of corncobs to heat the bathwater (Zambians bath every day, I think, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to stand too close to them. I do have to say that bucket-bathing is a lot easier when you’re not trying to keep the water confined to the bucket (But not necessarily enough easier that I’m going to start taking my bucket-baths in the dark, mosquito-infested shower room rather than my room. A shower is worth it, if there’s water pressure and it’s late enough in the day that the water isn’t frigid, but there are definite conveniences to bucket-baths in my room)), and then we helped Maureen bake a cake. She doesn’t use a recipe, just tosses stuff in until it looks right. The sieve is a square of wood with mesh on it (imagine those frames used for papermaking), which you hold on opposite corners and bounce back and forth between your hands (and believe me, it’s hard, even if Maureen makes it look easy. That was our pasta strainer, too). She does have an ‘oven,’ that consists of a metal box on sticks that you can put charcoal on top and underneath of, but we didn’t use it: she just piled charcoal on top of her pan and put it on the brazier.

Preparing the cake.  The picture is a bit dark, but she's spooning coals from the brazier (bottom left) to the pan lid (not-quite-so-bottom-left).

Preparing the cake. The picture is a bit dark, but she's spooning coals from the brazier (bottom left) to the pan lid (not-quite-so-bottom-left).

Have I mentioned that she doesn’t use hotpads, either? She just picks lids up off of heated pans by their metal handles. She does make a concession to the heat for the brazier with the shorter handle, which she picks up with a stick, and when she checked the cake, she picked the lid covered in hot coals up with the blade of a knife.

It was a gorgeous cake. Not at all burnt, came right out of the pan, tasted excellent . . . I have had many cakes made in ovens that were not nearly so nice.

Matt and Alison left before church, Alison because she wanted to get back to Lusaka before dark, and Matt because he’d agreed to help kill and prep 200 chickens for the biology exam the next day (I’ll see him tomorrow. I should ask how that went). Maureen’s husband drove them to the station (that is, where the dust road meets the paved road, and they could catch transport to Batoka), and Maureen, Chris, and I walked to church.

I think the service would have been entirely in Tonga had we not been there. As it was, they translated the sermon, and read the bible passage in both Tonga and English, which was nice, but left us fumbling a bit for the rest of the service. (Was ‘visitors’ banzu or banzi? And inyiimbo is song . . . oh, they want us to sing!)
We stood up and introduced ourselves in Tonga:
“Ndamwaniya muzina lya Jesu Christo. Mebo ndime Miriam. Ndi kala ku Maja. Ndibeleka ama computer.”
(“Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ. Me, I am called Miriam. I stay at Macha. I work with computers.”)
We were not laughed at, which we had been warned would happen (everyone stresses that we should try to learn Tonga, and that when people laugh as us, it’s not making-fun-of laughter, they’re just surprised and pleased that we’re speaking Tonga at all), and I got an “Amen” for the “Greetings” sentence, and Maureen told us later that everyone was commenting on how we’d been here such a short time and were already speaking such good Tonga (Yeah, I can manage the sentences whose form I have memorized (I don’t actually have the sentences memorized, but I know what words need to be in them, and I know the words. It’s a bit weird), but applying them in conversation is much harder. It usually takes me a good three seconds to parse a question someone asks me, even if I’ve learned it, and unless the person is specifically trying to help me learn Tonga, they’ve probably repeated it in English by that point), so I think they liked it. And then we stood up front and sang (with Maureen and her husband): “Father, I Adore You” and “Luyendo Leza Dupati Maninge” (God’s love is very wonderful), which they’d taught us the day before. (I have another songs post coming on one of these days, and I’ll give you the words and music then.) The sermon was preached by a woman, which I haven’t seen here before.

The other thing that struck me about that church is how young the congregation was. While there wasn’t a total dearth of old people, as I’m told happens some places, half of the church was filled with school-aged children (and many of the highschoolers are elsewhere at boarding schools). And I’m not counting the babies on laps.

After church we did the handshake line, which I’m coming to think of as typical in Zambian churches (though we don’t do it at Macha BICC; there are just too many people), and stood around awkwardly for a bit. Maureen showed us the new church they’re building (Have I mentioned how small the church was? You could probably fit the whole building three times over into the Germantown Mennonite sanctuary, and still have plenty of room left to walk around.) and described the difficulties they’re having paying for cement. (They make the bricks themselves, but cement costs 50,000 Kw a bag, and they have to buy it.) Then we hung around a bit more and admired the guinea fowl (We had guinea fowl eggs in the cake, and have I mentioned that I had quail eggs at Kathy and Eric’s?), and eventually it transpired that there would be no ibwatu (a cornmeal-based drink. If it’s sweetened, it’s not bad, but the texture is a bit disconcerting) forthcoming, for which the pastor apologized profusely, and we promised to come back later and be fed ibwatu.

We spent the afternoon hanging out, and then Chris and the kids dug cassava and we cooked it (cassava is pretty good. Taste similar to potato, but a bit more interesting, and more textured. We ate it plain and I didn’t find it boring), and Chris biked home before it got dark, because he needed to teach in the morning. (This was actually really cute, because the youngest boy didn’t want him to leave, and kept insisting that he shouldn’t go back to Sikalongo, he should stay with them.) After he left, it occurred to me that I was almost certainly the only white person within a radius of seven kilometers, which I don’t think is something that’s ever been true before in my life (except possibly for a few points in transit on the minibus, maybe).

In the morning, they drove me to the ‘station,’ where they secured passage for me in the cab of a truck going to Choma. I think it was a passenger-truck, but I’m very glad I was in the cab, because I don’t think I would’ve been capable of clambering up the wheel, up a couple of metal rungs, and into the bed of the truck. After we’d been onto the road a bit, it occurred to me that I could not imagine a situation in America in which I (or my escort) would flag down a passing truck, and I would climb into the front with three strange men, and feel completely safe. (Well, as safe as anyone feels with an un-vetted driver in a vehicle on any road in Zambia, which is actually quite a far cry from ‘completely safe,’ but it’s incredible how quickly one suspends normal standards and expectations of safety.) I can’t say that I was completely comfortable, especially not the buttock that had slid off of the pad and was slowly roasting against the I-don’t-even-know-what (although that got better after I pulled out my chitenge for Use #7 Of A (Cotton) Chitenge: Rear End Insulation (The first six uses are: #1, Wrap Skirt; #2, Baby Carrier; #3, Bathrobe; #4, To Hold A Parcel Together; #5, Hotpad, #6 To Tie Down A Goat)). But I was quite confident that any danger that befell would happen to the entire truck as an entity, and not to me, personally. And we did indeed reach Choma just fine, where I hung out with Ron and Erma again, who loaded me down with avocados and lemons, and I caught a ride back to Macha with the pilot and his family.


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Further travels

Last weekend we went to what I’m trying really hard to not think of as ‘Tonga Cultural Camp.’ It’s not camp, because that’s Maureen’s life, but it sure felt like it. The other three SALT kids and I got together (Alison, in Lusaka, is learning (chi)Nyanja, not (chi)Tonga, but it seemed like she was getting left out when the rest of us were getting together for a break and cultural experiences, and she was stuck by herself in the city, so they billed it as a rural experience, which it certainly was (This was the first time she’d managed to get out of the city. While I don’t really appreciate the 14 kilometers of unpaved road that separates me from the rest of the world, I’m very thankful that I’ve had a chance to get out and see the country on my assignment).) and went to Mboole, where we stayed with Maureen and her family (husband, six(?) kids ranging from 3 or 4 years old to at least college-age, and a niece). It was a break from our normal lives here, and we just hung out and had cooking lessons and Tonga lessons and went visiting to practice our Tonga and were instructed in this-is-how-you-live-life-in-a-village, and didn’t really do any work aside from studying, hauling water, and helping with cooking and cleanup (And even that we didn’t really do our fair share of; kids here do a lot more work than kids at home. Though I have to hand it to Maureen that the guys did just as much of the housewife stuff as Alison and I. I’m not sure if this is the person she is, or because she had a (guy) SALTer staying with her last year).

I think that Mboole is closer to a paved road than Macha, but it is MUCH more rural. It’s seven or eight kilometers from Sikalongo, where Chris is, and he says that it’s even more rural than Sikalongo. This is not surprising, since there’s a BIC-run seminary in Sikalongo, and Macha has the hospital and the malaria research center and Machaworks (which is to say, a lot of Western influence, and a lot of foreigners in and out all the time). Mboole is off the grid (Maureen and her husband do have solar panels, but they have only limited usefulness right now because the battery needs some sort of maintenance. I saw solar panels on one of the neighboring houses, too.) and all the water is fetched from a borehole (hand pump) about 3/4 of a block (not that there are blocks to measure by) away.

So. My adventure began Thursday evening, when I called the minibus to take me to town the next morning.
“Hello. I would like to go to Choma tomorrow. I stay at Ubuntu. Will you come and pick me?”
(I have to say that it’s really nice that the minibuses come and pick you up. Last time they picked me up at seven, so I didn’t need to leave the house at five-thirty to be at the market at six.)
“I am not going to Choma tomorrow. I have had a blakedown.”
“Er — Is someone else going?”
“I am not going. I am sorry.”
“Yes. Is Someone Else Driving To Choma Tomorrow?”
Silence. “I don’t know. I will ask my friends.”
“Thank you.”
Rustling noises for a bit, and then the line went dead with no further response. Just as well, really, because it was eating my talktime.

So I went to plan B: show up at the market and hope someone was going to Choma. I asked Claire how early I should get there, and she assured me that six was early enough to get a truck, and that I didn’t need to be there at five-thirty.

And so I saw my first Zambian sunrise. The sunsets here are always marvelous, and I am pleased to report that the sunrises are just as nice. I may need to shift my schedule in order to see them on a more regular basis. (Also, it’s not hot at 5:45 am, and there’s always running water and mostly-always electricity.) I arrived at the market and encountered a minibus that seemed almost to be waiting for me. It transpired that they were in fact waiting for Koen’s parents, who had been visiting and were going to see Livingstone (Victoria Falls), but one mugoa is much like another, and what’s a difference of thirty or forty years? The bus driver was pretty sure that there ought to be two of me, though. I got to pick my own seat, which meant that I could sit in the front and have enough leg room/be slightly less squished, and this trip I packed in such a way that I was comfortable handing my backpack and extra bag to be tied to the top of the vehicle, and so just had containers of shoofly pie on my lap, rather than everything I owned). After waiting for a bit, we wandered over to Ubuntu and picked up Koen’s parents, and then swung by the market to get more people, and we were off.

I’ve become quite blasé, one might even say sanguine, about Zambian roads. I realized, as we raced along the narrow verge of almost-flat orange-y gravel between the ditch at the side of the road and the lumpy gully towards the middle, that two months ago I would’ve found it quite terrifying to be racing along a road of this quality at such speeds. On Friday, I merely glanced over at the speedometer to figure out how fast we were actually going. The speedometer was broken. Oh, I thought, how very Zambian.

We got to Choma about eight, before the grocery store was even open (though they seemed to be opening it when I came by later at twelve-ish, so I’m not sure what’s up with that. I’m pretty sure it’s been open in the mornings before), so I showed Koen’s parents to the bus stop, successfully retrieved the package that I didn’t manage to get two weeks ago, and trekked out to Nahumba, BIC Church headquarters in Zambia, and spent a very pleasant few hours with Ron and Erma (she fed me strawberries! And gave me three ripe avocados to take to Mboole (they have a tree. I still cannot get over the fact that avocados just grow on trees here in Zambia. Though there don’t seem to be that many trees, and finding avocados can be a bit hit-or-miss).

On my way back to town, I fell in with a fellow who offered to take some of my bags, which I tried to refuse as politely as I could (It’s not that I didn’t trust him. But they weren’t that heavy, and they were layered in such a complex way that it was much more work to extract any of them than to just keep carrying them), and had a very interesting conversation that ranged from the stages of Revelation to immigration policies of the US and Zambia to interracial marriage.
(“In America, can a black man marry a white man?”
This question threw me momentarily, but I eventually concluded that we were using ‘man’ in the ‘kind of person’ sense, or perhaps just having gendered noun confusion (I don’t know how many times I’ve heard ‘he’ for ‘she’ and vice versa), and talking about race relations, not homosexuality. “Er, yeah, a black man can marry a white woman. Or the other way around.”
“And in Zambia, can a black man marry a white man?”
“Um, yes? I know some people who have.” (This is stretching it; I know of such couples here, but haven’t actually met any of them, that I recall.)
“They shouldn’t do that. It is wrong.”
“The Bible forbids it.”
“You tell me where in the Bible it says that.”
Silence. “It is because black men are troublesome.”
“Is that all? I know plenty of troublesome white people.”
“You are saying that all people are troublesome?”
“Well, if you know that, it’s okay.” Pause. “But YOU shouldn’t do that; it’s wrong.”)

I got to town and acquired groceries for the group (and have to say that the vegable and meat samosas they sell in the grocery store are pretty yummy. But samosas are a lot harder to eat if you’re not biting with your front teeth), and then hauled my then-very-heavy bags to the Book Room, where we had been told that we could get a truck that would drop us off at Mboole. There wasn’t any sign of a truck, but since Matt and Alison hadn’t gotten there yet, either, I figured that was just as well. I did encounter Moses sitting on one of the benches in front of the book room. Presently Alison showed up, and then Matt, but there was still no sign of transport. Eventually one of the people we’d been sitting with (who’d heard my discussion with Moses) came by to inform us that there wasn’t any ride to Mboole forthcoming. Well. We were investigating options for getting to Batoka (the turnoff to Mboole) when then same person came back with one of the teachers at the Mboole school, who would give us a ride. At sixteen hours, was that okay? Since we weren’t sure how else we were getting to Mboole, we said that sounded fine.

There were no breakdowns, and we got to Maureen’s house just as it was getting dark. We’d missed the killing and plucking of the chicken, but Maureen had been holding off on disemboweling it until we got there.

More later, after I get the pictures off of my camera.


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Thoughts about gender

My next post was going to be about my (unexciting) trip back from Lusaka; Brother Evangelist, traveling; the fact that my teeth have been doing very well aside from an occasional faint ache; the Lwiindi ceremony I attended on Saturday; and perhaps a mention that we’ve had six power outages since Saturday night (the one on Sunday was at least ten hours long) and that the no water situation is currently as bad as it’s been since I got here (I suspect that this may be related to the power thing. I haven’t noticed a direct connection between absence of power and absence of water, but I assume that there must be electricity involved in the pump situation somewhere). That post requires getting pictures off of my camera, though, and the unreliability of power/internet during not-work time makes it difficult to do things like upload pictures. Though if you’re impatient, Dan-the-radio-DJ promised that he would put the videos he took of the Lwiindi ceremony on youtube, and while I’m not in a position to look at the actual videos at this point in time, it does look like there’s some stuff up there.

And yesterday Catherynne Valente wrote about gender, inspired by a Dorothy Sayers quote from, I believe, the essay “Are Women Human?”

The stuff Valente is seeing, perhaps even what Sayers saw, is nothing compared to daily life in Zambia. The messages and beliefs and attitudes that are quietly and insidiously whispered to children and college students and grownups in the United States are blatant and overt and almost entirely unquestioned here.

Now, I’m not working directly on gender equality issues, aside from the obvious fact of being a woman in a technology field. Although I was pleasantly surprised to discover that half of the students in my ICDL classes are ladies (Not women, because they aren’t married. Womanhood is a class reserved for wives and/or mothers. I am not a woman, either.) and close to half of the teachers and staff at LITA (LinkNet Information Technology Academy) are women, the A+ Engineering class is strictly guys only, and only one of my coworkers over here at the hardcore computer-blood-and-guts building is a woman. And Machaworks (Macha in general, really) is unusually westernized. And I’m never sure to what extent being white allows me to move in spaces that I would not ordinarily enter if I were a Zambian woman (race is a topic for another day). Which is to say that not all of this is from firsthand experience, and I’ll try to identify my sources as much as possible, and that this is not so much a cohesive essay as a collection of impressions.

Alison, who works in schools, says that when something comes up at home, or there’s extra work to be done, it’s always the girls who are kept home, not the boys. (And based on what else I’ve gathered here, it’s probably the live-in niece before the daughter. The service worker term for these children is OVCs, Orphans and Vulnerable Children, and it’s a constant struggle to keep them from falling through the cracks.) She says that there are girls who are late to school every day because they’re washing dishes, or their brothers’ school uniforms. Chris and Matt are teaching, too, and I haven’t asked them if they see it, but they’ve mentioned the way girls in their classes don’t dream of becoming a doctor, or even a nurse or a teacher; they’re going to get married and be a mother and housewife, because that’s what girls do.

Jonathan told me that there’s been research done (maybe he participated in it?) that 45% of girls drop out of highscool (10th-12th grade) because they’re pregnant. And this in a country where HIV/AIDS is a rampant problem. No statistics on what portion of those relations were consensual. One of the women who works at the innovative school told me that when she’s done gender equality work with girls, the idea that one can fight back, or even just try to say no, in an abusive situation is a radical concept. A guy at Macha hospital collected data that the hospital sees something in the range of 90 women who have attempted abortions per month (abortion is illegal here), and that’s just the ones who make it to the hospital. I’m told that in many Zambian marriages, there is no concept that a woman can tell her husband no. (According to one of the books I read before coming here, probably the Gender and Power one, although it might have been the Countries of Africa one, even if a woman knows her husband is sleeping around, if she refuses to sleep with him, that’s grounds for divorce, which means she loses status and support and of course it’s her fault. And even if a woman somehow won a marital abuse case, she would still lose the security and support of having a male breadwinner, so who’s going to even try?)

One of the women who’s always around The Wooden House 3 is Beauty, who I found very puzzling for the longest time. I’d concluded that she was Claire’s househelp, because she arrived when Claire did, and it’s Claire’s baby she hauls around all day, but she cleans up after the rest of us, too. (I will admit it, even me. I do wash my own dishes, and if I spill something, I clean it up, but I don’t do my fair share of cleaning off counters or stovetops (except for the (nonfunctional) gas stove, which I tend to use as my counter space, so I give it a good cleaning at least once a week, since I’m usually the one who got it dirty) or bending over to sweep the floor with one of those itty bitty brooms, or fetching the communal jugs of water that sit by the sink for the days that the water goes out (I do go out back to fill them sometimes, and I’ll definitely fill an empty jug if there’s running water in the house and the sink is free, but I probably don’t haul as much water as I use). And if I’m cooking and have dirty dishes sitting on the counter when Beauty happens to be washing, she’ll ask me if she can wash my dishes, and I’m never quite sure what to say to that. I mean, I will wash them. But I’m not going to tell her that she can’t.) She’s unfailingly helpful all the time. She gets more water when we’re out, she demonstrated proper handwashing technique on the meters and meters of the dusty hem of my most voluminous skirt, and she holds the water jug whenever someone needs to wash their hands and there isn’t any water, and she’s the one who actually walked me through making my own nshima the first time I really did it by myself (though she took the stirring stick away from me at the end because I can’t yet do it properly). I spent a long time being really puzzled by her, and the way she’s practically always working (and work that shouldn’t be only her responsibility). It finally occurred to me to wonder if this is just what she expects her life will be like, and when she gets married, she’ll keep doing the same things, only it will be her baby and her family’s clothing and her husband’s shoes (or maybe she’s already married and does all those things before 7 hours and after 17 hours, I don’t know).

One of the guys that I’ve found to be very good to talk to, and interested in crosscultural stuff, and really good at explaining Zambia and Zambians, told me (and a group of Zambian women) that when he gets married, he’ll expect his wife to make all his food, even water for his tea whenever he wants it, in addition to tending to all the normal household things. The guy’s thirty years old, and while he’s no great chef, he manages his own meals and his own tea and has presumably been doing so for several years. And while the general consensus seemed to be that maybe the waiting on him hand-and-foot with the tea seemed a little bit much, the rest was just the normal expectations for a married couple here. (And believe me, if I’m ever in a relationship where I’m doing all the cooking, I’d better be getting something out of it work-wise, like never washing any dishes ever.)

Moses does fetch water from the spigot out back sometimes. But in the mornings, it’s always the women filling basins and buckets so that they can wash the children and the clothes and the dishes and make food (and Moses is one of the few guys I see doing any significant amount of real cooking. Unless it’s a braa, because even in Zambia barbecues are apparently Men’s Territory. Though I’ll admit that I don’t really hang out in the kitchens of the other units). I may see a guy watering a garden, if there’s enough water for that sort of thing, but not filling buckets in the morning. Of course, hired gardeners are men.

There is at times an odd sort of chivalry here (though as I mentioned before, it can be hard to tell what is gender-related and what is race-related). When we went to Chikanta for the Lwiindi ceremony, the four ladies squeezed in the back seat while the men piled into the bed of the pickup, and even though Janine wanted to ride in the trackbed, she was gently chivied and guided into the back seat. But at a traditional meal, the order of handwashing and being served is old men, young men, old women, young women (I’m not sure where boy-children fit in. Children may just always eat in another room, and perhaps get only broth, not meat).

The women’s bible study cleans the entire church, a building which holds six or seven hundred people of a Sunday, not to mention chapel for the secondary school three times a week, right down to on their hands and knees cobra-ing (polishing) the floor around the pulpit, before they get to the bible study part, which is about 1/8 bible study and the rest a lesson on household management. I don’t know what the men’s bible study does, because that’s one of the spaces where even my whiteness does not allow me access, but there definitely isn’t any cleaning involved. (I’m going to go to the youth bible study the next Saturday I’m here — thought that won’t be for a few weeks — and I’m curious to know what that’s like.)

One of MCC’s objectives in Zambia is to work towards gender equality (though I don’t remember if it falls under the umbrella of AIDS or Education or just general Development. Probably it was AIDS, since they said that’s one of the things that it’s easiest to get funding for), but at the same time I’m trying to live in this community, not come in from outside and impose my values upon it. So I wear my long skirts and speak when I feel like the moment is right, and never find an answer to whether I ought to help the women in the kitchen or not. And at least once a day it comes home to me forcefully that Zambia is a very, very different place than Smith.

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Adventure-filled trip to Lusaka

Okay. Quick like a band-aid, I guess. I broke my two (upper) front teeth yesterday afternoon. We saw the dentist this morning, and she put on . . . not caps. But I do have teeth. I’m not allowed to bite with them for a while, and if they’re not hurting or otherwise presenting problems I can start biting soft foods. So far they don’t hurt. They do feel weird.

This next paragraph will have gory details, so if that will gross you out, maybe you should skip it.
I was at a water park and hit my face on the slide, and the teeth broke. (No, I don’t know what happened to the pieces.) I broke off about the bottom half of the enamel, and had a tiered break on the left side, so that there was a wiggly bit behind, which the dentist removed this morning. I was fairly uncomfortable yesterday, not so much because my teeth hurt, but because my mouth felt weird and it was hard to swallow while avoiding putting my tongue anywhere near my front teeth, and my bottom lip (which I bit, or something, when I hit) was making a nuisance of itself and I felt generally blah.

I liked the dentist a lot. She was friendly and calm and really seemed to know what she was doing, and told me what she was doing as she did it, which I appreciate, and she did an unusually good job with the novocaine. And if everything goes okay, I’ll go back in December to get permanent caps.


Let me give you a bit of background. The MCC planning meeting was this weekend, which means that we four SALT kids; Eric and Kathy; Cynthia and Jonathan and J1 and J2 and J3, the other MCC family; and Mr. Keith and and Mr. Aubrey, two of the Zambians on the advisory committee, all gathered in Lusaka at MCC Zambia central for meetings and hanging out.

The plan was as follows: Mr. Keith is a chaplain at Macha Hospital (and the assistant assistant pastor at Macha BICC). He would pick me up Friday Morning, we’d drive to Choma, where we would drop off the car and meet up with Chris and Matt, and we’d all take the 12:00 bus to Lusaka. On Monday, Jonathan would be driving to Macha to do computer help (he was a techie whiz before he moved to Zambia, and he’s still probably one of the more computer-able people in this country) at the nursing school. He would take a carload of us, drop Matt and Chris and Mr. Keith off in Choma, and take me to Macha.

It was a very nice plan. Mr. Keith and I agreed to leave at 8 Friday morning. That would get us to Choma in plenty of time, even if we were operating on Zambian time, and give me a chance to run some errands.

Thursday evening Koen, one of the Dutch students, knocks on my door. “You’re going to Lusaka tomorrow?”
“Are you stopping in Choma?”
“Can I get a ride with you? The bus driver is sick.”
I breathed a sigh of relief (if Mr. Keith had opted not to come to the planning meeting, I would have been on the minibus that would not be running Friday morning) and gave him Mr. Keith’s number.

At 7:30 Friday morning, I get a text that we’ll actually leave at 8:30. Fine by me. I spend the extra time cleaning my room very well. Koen shows up at 8:15, wondering where our ride is, and I let him know that it’s delayed. By 9:15, my room is cleaner than it’s been since I moved in, and I’ve made significant progress on my knitting. Mr. Keith shows up right about then. I am not worried. It’s 70k between Macha and Choma, and the roads are good, aside from the first 14 kilometers. The trip takes a little over an hour, and we will have plenty of time. Koen gets the front seat, because he’s taller, and I share the back with the backpacks. We stop to pick up one of Mr. Keith’s friends who is also going into Choma. (Hitchhiking is very common here, and no one seems to worry that it might be dangerous. You need to get from point A to point B somehow.)

Thirty or forty minutes into the trip, the engine cuts out, and we coast to a stop at the side of the road. When Mr. Keith turns the key, the car revs, but nothing catches. He and the friend get out to look under the hood. Koen and I exchange glances, decide that we have nothing useful to contribute, roll down the windows the whole way and stay in the car. I get out my knitting.

After ten or twenty minutes, I come to the conclusion that Mr. Keith is not going to get the car going again, and wonder if I should be worried about this. I send Matt a text:
Car has broken down perhaps halfway to Choma. Not sure Mr. K can get it going again. You know anything about cars?
I notice that he’d sent me one inquiring about our progress. Mr. Keith flags down another cars, which happens to be friends of his. (The first car to pass us, mind.) “Car trouble, pastor?”

The crowd of men peering into the hood mutter about engines and cabrulators. I knit, and try not to pay too much attention to the time (it’s now well after ten) and recall Emily’s suggestion that Smith really ought to offer a class on basic do-it-yourself car mechanics during j-term. Not that knowing how to change a flat tire would qualify me to speak knowledgeably about cabrulators, carburetors, chokes, cylinders, or anything of that natures. Mr. Keith flags down another car, which happens to contain one of the fellows who helps him keep his car running. The men roll the car around a bit, leaving Koen and I feeling like so much ballast, and determine that the timing belt has broken. Mr. Keith calls a mechanic from Macha, and the friend takes off in one of the other cars. Mr. Keith suggests that perhaps Koen would like to go too, but he says that he’s not in a hurry. I wonder if I should point out that a ticket has been purchased for me on the 12:00 bus, but there is still time, and Mr. Keith is also going to Lusaka, and the car leaves before I reach any decision.

I walk along the road to find another area with cell phone service and text Matt an update. At that point, I also pick up his response:
Chris and I are experts in engines it was a chapter of the 8th grade we teach. No I’m not much help if it’s not out of fuel. The bus is at 1230.
I make my way back to the car, share this information with my travel companions, and knit a while longer. Presently I ask if Mr. Keith thinks that we’ll make the bus, and he doesn’t think so. I knit some more.

At perhaps 11:00, Mr. Keith suggests that we try to flag down the next car to take Koen and I to Choma. The next car is also friends of the pastor’s, but happens to be full. The car after that is a truck, one of the extra-big pickup trucks that are used for people transport as much as anything else. Mr. Keith asks if we’re willing to take that. I don’t really know how I’ll get into the truckbed, but say that I am, since I’m pretty sure I can make the bus if we leave now, but don’t fancy the idea of losing track of Mr. Keith and missing the bus. The truck people agree to take us to Choma for ten pin each, and stick us in the cab in front, probably because we’re white. I’m just glad to not be out in full sun, or have to experiment with clambering into the cab in a skirt. We stop a few more times to pick up extra people on the way to Choma (which always seems to involve inexplicably backing up), but we get there, and I decide to ignore the fact that at least half of the people in the vehicle probably assumed that Koen and I are a married couple. I arrive at the bus station at 12:05 and meet up with Matt and Chris, and even have time to eat some of the food I brought with me, drink sparingly of my water (since no one is really sure how long it will take to get to Lusaka, although we guess about four hours) and find the pay-to-pee toilet before the bus leaves at 12:50.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I can’t say that the meeting part of the planning meeting was thrilling, but it was not nearly so deadly as I feared it might be, I got lots of knitting done, and it was really good to touch base with everyone. I’m surprised (but pleased) to realize that the SALT group has really coalesced into firm friends after only knowing each other for a month and a half, most of it in very disparate locations. I enjoyed eating food that I didn’t have to cook myself, and just generally sitting and talking.

Cynthia and I traded “being heavy in Zambia” stories. Have I told you this one? No one here asks me if I have a boyfriend; they ask me if I’m married. The Dutch girls say that they get asked if they have a boyfriend, or marriage proposals. Alison says the same. But everyone here wants to assume that I’m married. Last week I finally figured it out. I went to a bible study, and the first woman I met asked if I lived with my husband at Ubuntu.
“No, I’m not married.”
“How old are you?”
“Oh, you’re still young! But” –and she accompanied this with a hand gesture to indicate that I was impressively heavy for one so young.

Alison and I shared a room, and spent far too much of the night just talking, trading stories, and laughing with each other. She pointed out that many things here are really funny, but that she doesn’t laugh at them because she has no one to laugh about them with. I realized that this is true about me, too. We did our best to make up for this lack over the past few days. We were talking about getting used to things (or, as they say here, “getting used,”) and I mentioned something about how quickly it’s become normal to have a room infested with cockroaches.
“I’ve decided to name the cockroach that lives in the oven Otis.”
(I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t respond.)
“It’s my coping mechanism, okay? He has a thing for Gwen, who lives in the cupboards, but the cupboard cockroaches don’t associate with the oven cockroaches.”
I manage to breathe enough to ask, “So it’s a Romeo and Juliet thing?”
“Yeah, West-Side-Story-other-side-of-the-kitchen.”
“I’m not even sure if I’m rooting for them to live or die.”
“I don’t know how it ends.”
After a while, ” . . . Is Gwen short for something?”
“Hmm. It might be short for Gwyneth.”

Chris and I led singing for worship on Sunday (“Here in this Place,” “Sweet By and By” in Tonga, “Here I am, Lord,” and “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant”). He apologized for picking all hymns; I didn’t. After that we assembled picnic lunches and went to the water park.

The really sad thing is that the water park is a pretty cool place. Aside from the pools and slides, there was a well-watered but semi-tended jungly garden area extending for quite some distance on little winding paths. Unfortunately we went for the water slides first. I hit my mouth on perhaps my fourth trip down (at the top, no less, so I spent the whole way down going Oh no, oh no, what did I just do to myself, this is not good, this is Very Bad . . .), but managed to get to the bottom without hitting the bunch of girls at the foot of the slide, made it to the edge of the pool with my hand over my mouth, checked to ensure that, yes, my hand was covered in blood (but not nearly as much blood as it might’ve been), and made my way over to the towels and blankets, hoping that there was a responsible adult who could take charge of things. I kept my hand over my mouth the whole way, since I really didn’t know how bad it was (or how bad it looked).

Eric and Kathy’d had errands to run and showed up later, so Cynthia was guarding the fort. I don’t know where I’d gotten the idea that Cynthia was not the ideal person to turn to in this sort of emergency, but she was the one there, so Cynthia is was.
“Cynthia, don’t freak out,” and I lowered my hand.
“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness OHMYGOODNESS!”
“Have I knocked out both my front teeth?”
To do Cynthia credit, despite being very much Not A Blood Person, she really rose to the occasion and found an old towel that we could use to wipe my face, and got water for me to wash out my mouth, and really did manage to not have the freakout that she very clearly would’ve liked to have.

So that was the end of that day, as far as enjoyment went. I very gingerly ate the egg salad out of my sandwich with my fingers, bypassing the front of my mouth as much as humanly possible, and then I sat there and knit for the next several hours. There wasn’t really anything else to do. We established that my teeth were sensitive, but that there weren’t any exposed nerves causing awful horrible pain, and dentists aren’t open on Sundays. I would rather have liked to go back to the house, but we’d only just gotten there and everyone else was still having fun, and it wasn’t as if there was anything at the house that would have made me feel significantly better (aside from a lack of company and need for social interaction. Want to see if someone is an introvert? Break two of her teeth and then leave her with several very nice people that she doesn’t know all that well for several hours).

It really was a very nice park, but I wasn’t in much mood to enjoy the gardens. I did get a lot of knitting done.

I’m hoping that the rest of the trip will be uneventful.


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