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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6 responses to “Mboole picture post

  1. Vorindi

    Okay, I remembered the question. That sounds like a lot of maize to suburban-American me, but how much is it in terms of feeding people? Is this person (and his family?) living off this garden?

  2. It is a lot of maize. I’m not sure how many people it would feed for a year (but if you think about it, that’s 90 kgs a month, which is something like 200 lbs, and while people eat a lot of nshima here(maybe between one and two cups of mealie meal a (grownup) person a meal? I’m not sure what that is in weight), I would think that that should be more than enough for the family, even though they have six kids. And he did say that he sells it.

    Really, 25 kgs is a LOT of mealie meal. It’s maybe a torso-sized bag for a medium-sized person. And you add water and relish, too.

  3. Emily H.S.

    Hurrah for pictures! I am particularly impressed by the recipe-less cake baked between coals and a brazier.

    Did YOU tie down a goat with your chitenge? Or are you just listing uses you’ve seen them put to in general?

    • Yeah, that cake really impressed me, too.

      I did not tie down the goat (I have not got a goat, and I think that I’ll let my chitenge wear out a good bit more before I use it to contain livestock), but I did see it.

  4. Hi,
    Wonderful photos as usual. I love the purple tree and the fire! Sounds like quite an adventure. Seen any meerkats?

    • Zambia isn’t part of the meerkat range; the internet says that they mostly live in deserts, and there aren’t any here. I did see one thing that I think must’ve been a mongoose, though it was more slender than most pictures I see of mongooses (mongeese?).

      I will be going on a game drive in a national park in Botswana next month, but I don’t think that’s in the meerkat range, either, although it’s closer than I currently am.

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