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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7 responses to “Further travels

  1. Ken...

    I got a good laugh when I read “how very Zambian.” I could just hear you saying that. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  2. R&R

    Great story! What do you miss from home? Is there anything you would like to have sent to you (of reasonable size and perishability)? You can send me an email if you want.

    • Unfortunately, the things I miss most are pretty perishable. Good cheese that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (the ‘cheddar’ I’ve had here is very soft (I almost couldn’t grate it), and has less flavor than the cheapest supermarket pseudo-cheddar at home, AND it costs an arm and a leg (Okay, maybe it just costs as much as it does at home, since 20,000 Kw for 250 g is about $4 for half a pound — but I could buy an entire chicken, clucking and all, for 20,000 Kw, or 40 tomatoes, or 2kg of beans, or 20 HUGE bunches of greens . . .). Milk is expensive, too, although not as bad as cheese, and it’s also complicated because I can’t bring fresh milk on my 3+ hour commute unless I have something frozen to keep it cold (the commute is only a little over an hour, but who knows when the bus will leave), and the boxed milk costs twice as much (I was very pleased to discover that the self-stable milk tastes like milk, and not like the parmalat-stuff (which is funny, because ALL dairy products here are parmalat; it’s the main company) we had in Spain, but I do have to wonder what they’re putting into the milk to keep it tasting that way, and of course there’s no mandatory ingredients list here). So I do buy boxed milk, mostly, but I don’t drink nearly as much of it as I did at home. Kathy says that there’s only one ice cream place in Zambia, and from what I’ve seen so far, I’m inclined to agree with her; the other stuff just isn’t as good — I think they make it with water somehow. And again, there’s the transport problem, but someday that I need a splurge, I’ll buy myself a container of ice cream in Choma. There is effectively no cream cheese here (I could buy a bus ticket to Lusaka for what a ~8 oz container of cream cheese costs), but there aren’t any bagels, either, unless I make them myself, so that hasn’t been a problem so far, and I’m not missing bagels too badly yet.

      I haven’t had any chocolate in a long time ( . . . okay, I had maybe 15 chocolate chips melted into a baked banana three weeks ago. It wasn’t very much chocolate, and that was a while ago) but it is available here, and I’m actually hording a bag of chocolate chips that I brought from home.

      cmoore was talking about croissants yesterday, and I’m STILL hungry for croissants, but those aren’t very portable, either. And I’m not sure that I could make them, even if I had the ingredients.

      I miss certain vegetables, like eggplant, but that’s just because I’m a cheapskate and decided that they were too expensive in the grocery store, when greens and tomatoes are so cheap. At some point I will have reached an equilibrium where I’ve decided what things are too expensive, and which ones are okay. It will probably include less cheese (unless the feta in plastic containers is better than the feta in bags) unless I make it myself, and more chocolate, and fruits and veggies that I can only get in Choma. I did have watermelon yesterday from my garden, and that was AMAZING. I should remember that watermelon is Worth It, even if it’s heavy and annoying to get home, if I ever see it in Choma and it’s not too expensive.

      • Vorindi

        My understanding of croissants is that mostly you need butter and flour and a place to keep things chilled, and there is a lot of folding and rolling out and leaving to chill and folding and rolling out — i.e. it takes forever but is not really difficult. Not that I’ve ever tried it.

        Can you obtain cocoa powder? I could send you the chocolate sorbet recipe, which is chocolate and sugar and water and (I think) cocoa powder, and I’ve made it successfully without an ice cream maker.

      • Maybe I’ll try croissants sometime, then. When I have cooking butter. And haven’t spent most of my food budget for the month.

        I can obtain cocoa powder. The real issue is freezer space, but I have perhaps one or two containers that would hold a reasonable amount of sorbet AND fit in the freezer, and it wouldn’t be that hard to eat all the food in my freezer (see: trying not to overspend food budget, and also: the freezer is not very big) in a good cause.

  3. Anna

    Please explain Ubuntu. It seems to be a place name. Is it smaller than Macha and bigger than the wooden house? Any relationship to the Linux-based computer operating system?

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