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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11 responses to “Adventure-filled trip to Lusaka

  1. Dottie Baumgarten

    Oh my! That beat’s my “bit the head off a pen in college” reason for a front replaced tooth that is my story!

    I’m glad you got to laugh at daily stories with your other SALT friends. I look forward to hearing your next adventure, and hope that it is not as eventful as this one was!!!!!

  2. Ken...

    Ouch!! Sorry to hear about your accident. Hope it doesn’t trouble you too much. Sounds like just getting around Zambia is quite an adventure.
    Love, Dad…

  3. R&R

    Oh no!! So sorry to hear you hurt your mouth. I’m glad you found a good dentist. You sure are collecting a lot of good stories and you haven’t even been there that long!

  4. Toby

    You are so unbelievably hardcore.
    “I appear to have broken my front teeth. Well, nothing can be done until the dentist’s tomorrow. I’ll just knit”

    • Aw, thanks.

      Really, knitting was the only thing I had to do. I hadn’t brought a book because I’d gone grocery shopping during the time other people were trading books they’d read for books they hadn’t read, so I didn’t have new ones yet (don’t worry, I’ve since fixed that), and I didn’t have paper/pencil for writing grumpy letters, since I’d made a conscious decision to leave my purse and the valuable things it contains safely at MCC Zambia central (which also meant that I didn’t have my spork, which was unfortunate because it would have been very handy for eviscerating my sandwich, and no one else had brought one either, because who needs a spoon for sandwiches and carrot sticks?). I guess there was the random book that Alison had brought, but at that point I needed something more than a random book, and anyway, Cynthia was reading it, and then Alison was.

  5. I FEEL YOUR PAIN! I broke my front teeth when I was 10, just before I started 6th grade in a new school. I walked straight into a metal pole while I was wishing on a star. GO FIGURE. Actually it didn’t hurt that much, but I knew almost instantly that my teeth were broken because I could feel the pieces, and then I freaked out. Our dentist refused to cap them for 5 years because he wanted to make sure the nerves healed before they started messing with them. I was devastated… but after 5 years had gone by I no longer cared, and one day he offered to file them so that they weren’t as noticeable. And that’s all that’s ever been done to them – I never did have them capped.

    About 5 years ago I broke them AGAIN when the wind blew an open car door into my face as I was strapping a kid in his car seat. That didn’t hurt much either, but MY GOD it made me swear. So I went to the dentist and after about ten minutes of telling me various capping procedures and possibilities, he said, ‘Or we could just file them’, and I went, ‘YEAH!’

    No one ever notices. But I suspect the damage to yours is a bit more dramatic than it was to mine. I’ll be interested to hear what the American dentists think when you get back.

    I had to drink through a straw for five years because they were so sensitive to cold and heat, and because I couldn’t bite into anything I got in the habit of eating corn on the cob one kernel at at time!

    • I certainly didn’t notice yours. But mine were pretty noticeable before the dentist messed with them (After the nature walk that I did not enjoy nearly as much as it deserved, I left the others investigating the weird red pods on an alien invasion plant and walked back to the island of towels and blankets, and got furtive looks the whole way from three little Indian girls who were walking in front of me. But that might also have been my fat lip, or even partly just the fact that I’m white (I saw more white people at the water park than in most of Lusaka, but that was still our group plus 3-5 other people)). Kathy took a picture, but I’m waiting until my lip is done healing so that I can do two good comparison pictures.

      Now they’re still very obvious to me, because the color match isn’t perfect, and they don’t look at all like my teeth (not really surprising, since the dentist never knew what my teeth used to look like, and she said that she would make them smaller to reduce the risk of them just breaking again), but when Maryanne asked after my teeth today and I smiled at her, she only guessed one of the ones that was broken, and seemed somewhat unsure, so it must not be as obvious to everyone else. They probably don’t know what my teeth are supposed to look like the way I do, anyway. I can also tell that they’re not my teeth because they feel wrong. The texture is very close, but it’s slightly too glossy, and the teeth are the wrong shape, and they aren’t sharp enough. I’m starting to get used to having the wrong teeth in my mouth, though.

      They’re still hot/cold sensitive (though I think/hope it’s getting better?) and they were VERY sensitive before the dentist did her bit — I could feel air with my teeth.

      I think I was really lucky in terms of hurting. It definitely looked like it should’ve hurt a lot, and Cynthia said that when she chipped one of her teeth, it hurt lots and lots, but my lip hurt a great deal more than my teeth ever did.

  6. …but actually, I should add that I no longer have any trouble with them.

  7. Esther

    oh dear, oh dear, you surely have a good attitude and thank goodness there was a good dentist.
    A friend of mine had this sort of thing happen when we were in high school. It was not full of adventure then. And you’re really good at reporting. I read every word!

  8. I hope your teeth are better by now. I’m glad you found a great dentist!

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