Monthly Archives: March 2012

I’ve been silent for long enough.

I was waiting to post this, until the dust settled. But Monday will be a month after the second round of layoffs, and the dust hasn’t settled, and looks more likely to hang in the air for months, or perhaps even be swept up into a localized dust bowl, and I feel awkward and constrained, not talking about what’s been going on.

A while ago, the beginning of February, I think, all of the Machaworks pieceworkers were laid off due to lack of funds with which to pay them. Most of my fellow computer teachers at LITA were pieceworkers, so this was more than a little weird. But what was there to do? Belts were tightened, I started teaching an extra class a week, and we kept going.

In mid-February, Moses and Clare mentioned to me that they were still waiting for the paychecks that should have come at the end of the month, and that their December paychecks came in mid-January.

On March second, all of my remaining coworkers — all of the Machaworks people, with the exception of the teachers at MICS — were summoned to a meeting and told that there was no longer any money to pay them.

Hypothetically some people would be rehired in two weeks, but we’re coming up on four weeks this Friday, and I haven’t seen any signs of it.

And last week the excitement was that the ZESCO bill had not been paid, and our electricity (which powers both the water pump and the computers I teach on) would be shut off on Monday. It’s still here, and possibly the bill, or some portion thereof, was paid yesterday, but I don’t actually know that, because a) there are no formal avenues of communication (officially, I don’t even know that anything is going on) and b) a bunch of the former Machaworks employees formed a mob yesterday over at the restaurant, asking for the guy in charge of the company and the expatriate who set up all the Machaworks stuff before turning it over to Zambians, and demanding either their jobs back or the paychecks that Machaworks is in arrears on (all of February, I think).

I don’t feel personally in danger. Everybody knows that I wasn’t ever getting paid, and while there’s anger and frustration, it’s not directed at me or at white people in general. I haven’t even seen any signs of disturbance. I just keep teaching, because LITA is still open, not because anyone there is being paid, but because my teaching boss decided that it would be better, both for the students and for the long-term future of the school, if classes continued. I think that’s a very responsible decision on his part, but flows of money and accountability are getting increasingly weird, and for myself, I’m more and more dubious that Machaworks can hold it together long enough that we’ll finish this term.

Clare left on 4 March, and Moses left the Wednesday after. I have new neighbors who moved in right away, and we get along okay, but we still don’t really know each other, and there are a lot more kids and a lot more chaos than there ever used to be. I miss Moses’ friendly companionship, and the joy in Clare’s voice when she’d come home and hug baby K. The new baby cries a lot more, and I miss baby K’s near-constant cheerfulness and huge smiles.

I’m managing. I teach, and try to work out boundaries with the new batch of kids, and try to figure out who all the kids belong to, and how many of them actually live here and how many live somewhere else. I go over to Ester’s and take shifts as company/extra baby holder, and wonder how people ever survive twin babies. I’m beginning to be able to believe that the power won’t disappear forever with each new power outage. Life goes on.

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All Creatures Great and Small

If you don’t like insects, arachnids, and other creepy-crawly critters, then it might be a good idea to stop reading right now. Especially if you don’t feel like coming face-to-antennae with photographic forms of some of them in the next few minutes.

Still with me?

All right. You have been warned.

———

Did you know that there is a Little Five in addition to the Big Five? The elephant shrew, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, and ant lion. (See, safaris in Botswana are educational!) None of those fine fellows feature in my post today, but I have rounded up a collection of my smaller neighbors to share with you.

Inswa, or, The Morning After

Inswa, or, The Morning After

At the start of rainy season, these fine fellows attacked any light source and mobbed it. They were impossible to keep out of buildings, and for about a week you usually needed a basin of water sitting in the house somewhere so that when you caught the inswa, you could toss them in the water, where their wings would get wet so that they would stop flying around (and sometimes hitting people in the head). They are LARGE (bigger than a baby’s finger) and have a double set of wings with a span almost as wide as my hand, for the big ones. We would sweep a carpet of wings and de-winged bugs off of the verandah every morning. This is the collection underneath the light at the side of the house.

They’re edible, but Tongas don’t eat them. I was keen to try some, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to prepare them (toss them in a pan and let them fry in their own fat. Or collect them in a bucket of water, dry them, and then fry them in their own fat. Either way, they seem to be eaten as a snack food, more than a main course, and I’m told that they’re an excellent source of protein, but give some people digestive problems because of the high fat content), and I was away from home most evenings that week, and also having diarrhea and not keen to eat something that has a reputation for giving people diarrhea — and then they were gone. It stopped raining for a few days, and one night there suddenly were not inswa everywhere. I’ve possibly seen a few small ones now and then, but not on nearly the same scale as that first week. I was told later that they’re larvae underground, and all hatch at once when the first good rains come. There are other insects like that, too: one day as I was walking to the hospital, a particular sort of small fly just seemed to be cascading out of little holes in the ground.

So I haven’t eaten inswa yet.

The Large Black Beetle

The Large Black Beetle

Ever since the rains started (are you noticing a theme here? There are a lot more insects since the rains started), we’ve periodically found one on these things on the verandah in the morning, typically stuck inside a plastic tub or stranded upside-down like a miniature beached whale with lots of wiggling legs.

Possibly this is the same sort as the other one earlier.  It's a different specimen, though (probably).  I'm much better at etymology than entomology.

Possibly this is the same sort as the other one earlier. It's a different specimen, though (probably). I'm much better at etymology than entomology.

This is not the sort of fuzzy caterpillar that causes awful itchy rashes.  Thankfully I have not encountered any of those recently.  But it was so fuzzy that I'm afraid the picture is not entirely in focus.

This is not the sort of fuzzy caterpillar that causes awful itchy rashes. Thankfully I have not encountered any of those recently. But it was so fuzzy that I'm afraid the picture is not entirely in focus.

Okay, this is more a picture of one of the skinks that lives in the office than of whatever unfortunate insect it's caught.  Usually they're too shy to have pictures taken of them, but I guess having something to defend makes them braver.  Say hi to my officemate!

Okay, this is more a picture of one of the skinks that lives in the office than of whatever unfortunate insect it's caught. Usually they're too shy to have pictures taken of them, but I guess having something to defend makes them braver. Say hi to my officemate!

I've encountered these a couple of times.  They may be the weirdest insects I've ever seen.

I've encountered these a couple of times. They may be the weirdest insects I've ever seen.

This one is probably as wide as four fingers, with great big translucent wings that made it really difficult to get an in-focus picture.  I had another one in my room last week.  It spent the night perched on my mosquito net.

This one is probably as wide as four fingers, with great big translucent wings that made it really difficult to get an in-focus picture. I had another one in my room last week. It spent the night perched on my mosquito net.

Spiky bug!

Spiky bug!

These big, stripy grasshoppers are EVERYWHERE, and probably jump a meter in the air at one go.  Unfortunately, I'm told that they're a nuisance as far as crops go.

These big, stripy grasshoppers are EVERYWHERE, and probably jump a meter in the air at one go. Unfortunately, I'm told that they're a nuisance as far as crops go.

Chongololo! (Pronounced Jon-go-lo-lo.)

Chongololo! (Pronounced Jon-go-lo-lo.)

These giant millipedes can be found all over in rainy season, and curl up into a neat roll as big as your hand when touched or disturbed.  Unfortunately, this one had gotten fed up with curling into a ball because I had to keep rolling it out of the ditch while I got my camera out, and refused to pose.

These giant millipedes can be found all over in rainy season, and curl up into a neat roll as big as your hand when touched or disturbed. Unfortunately, this one had gotten fed up with curling into a ball because I had to keep rolling it out of the ditch while I got my camera out, and refused to pose.

I wasn't going to post this picture because it's a bit blurry, but I stepped on one this afternoon, and OW, do those things hurt, even if the stingers are only about the size of a splinter.  (And I'm lucky that there was only one of them.)  So stay away from African Honeybees.

I wasn't going to post this picture because it's a bit blurry, but I stepped on one this afternoon, and OW, do those things hurt, even if the stingers are only about the size of a splinter. (And I'm lucky that there was only one of them.) So stay away from African Honeybees.

This one has been tentatively identified as a mantid (praying mantis), which may make the brown ones mantids, too.

This one has been tentatively identified as a mantid (praying mantis), which may make the brown ones mantids, too.

One of my Wall Crab Spider friends, also known as flatties.  Unlike the insects, these guys and ladies have been around since I got here.  I figure that we must be pretty close, because how many spiders do you strip naked in front of on a regular basis?

One of my Wall Crab Spider friends, also known as flatties. Unlike the insects, these guys and ladies have been around since I got here. I figure that we must be pretty close, because how many spiders do you strip naked in front of on a regular basis?

Friendly local moth hanging out under the eaves.

Friendly local moth hanging out under the eaves.

I usually prefer to pursue lepidopterology outside the home.

I usually prefer to pursue lepidopterology outside the home.

I was sure that I had photographs of the leaf-camouflage insect, but I’m not finding them right now. Perhaps it’s hiding. Instead, I’ll leave you with a picture of my least-favorite housemate:

Cockroaches.  At least these are small.  Alison has big ones.

Cockroaches. At least these are small. Alison has big ones.

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Further Things I’m Learning in Zambia (II)

Lots of people have been laid off and things are a bit weird at Machaworks right now, but I’ll post more about that later, when the dust has settled. Meanwhile, I’d like to talk more about things I’ve been learning in Zambia.

To Just Drop By
We were told before coming that visiting is very casual in Zambia — in most ‘hot climate cultures,’ in fact. You don’t make an appointment, you don’t arrange to come beforehand, you just show up, and if you happen to show up over mealtime, your hosts ought to feed you.

I know this. I’ve been told it. I’ve seen it happen. It’s still really hard to do. All of my training goes against just walking up to the house of someone I don’t really know, calling “Hodi” at the open doorway, and settling down in their living room once I’m acknowledged. Still, that’s the way things work here, and if I waited for an invitation, I’d never go anywhere. (I still haven’t actually been inside the apartment next door. I know that I should just walk in . . . but it’s very difficult.) I am getting better at it, though, and I often find that when I can get over my trained inhibitions, these impromptu visits often feel like some of the best examples of the feeling I describe as why I’m really here.

How to Wait
I was warned about this, too. Life happens at a different pace in Zambia than it does in the US. Part of my answer to this is to carry knitting (and perhaps a book as well) whenever I leave my room, but there’s a more gradual attitude shift that’s also required. I’ve needed to learn to accept that I will occasionally have to wait half an hour or even an hour sitting on the porch of the office in the morning until the keys arrive. I frequently leave the house when I’ve told someone that I’ll arrive. One time I arrived at Monica’s house several hours after I said I’d be there, and she still wasn’t quite back from the morning’s trip to Choma — and this isn’t disrespect, it’s just the way timing works here. Two weeks ago I was expecting a (Zambian) visitor at 14 hours, and quite contentedly lingered over lunch with the neighbors until 14:30 at least, sure that my guest a) wasn’t there yet and b) would wait, if he, by some bizarre circumstance, arrived remotely when he’d said. And then it rained and he didn’t come at all.

Bra Stuffing
This may seem incongruous: those of you who know me probably consider me one of the last people you know who would care enough to stuff my bra, and rural Zambia seems an unlikely place to learn to do it. But women wear skirts in rural Zambia. I have not worn trousers out of the house (and only once even in the house, and most of that with a chitenge over them) since 3 September or thereabouts. For the most part, I don’t miss them. But I do miss pockets. Some of my skirts have pockets, but not nearly enough. What with the fact that Zambian toilets and latrines (even in private homes) cannot necessarily be relied upon to contain any toilet paper tissue one did not necessarily bring oneself, it becomes necessary to store a stash of tissue somewhere upon one’s person . . .

To Drink Fanta
I don’t like soda. I don’t like pop. Carbonated beverages by any other name are still as unpleasant. But water in Zambia cannot always be trusted, and carbonated beverages are more readily available than tea (which has, by nature of its preparation, been boiled), and cheaper / more common than the excellent fruit juices, and I occasionally find myself stranded somewhere without my water bottle. Lacking any other options, I’ll drink Fanta as the least of the available evils. Pineapple Fanta (particular to this part of the world, I’m told) might even be half-decent if it weren’t carbonated, but when I’m reduced to drinking Fanta, usually I lack the resources to de-carbonate my beverages.

To Sort Beans and Lentils
Ever since I was old enough to read recipes on my own, I’ve been aware that there are things the cookbooks say to do that we didn’t. Rinse rice. Sort beans before soaking. Before coming here, I’m not even sure that I would have known what I was looking for when sorting legumes. I’d certainly never washed an egg before I got here. Now I know better.

All of those lentils fit in this container.  And all of this random junk is the stuff I picked out of the lentils while I was sorting them.  Beans have fewer stones and many fewer random bits of stuff, but more half-eaten and/or rotten beans.

All of those lentils fit in this container. And all of this random junk is the stuff I picked out of the lentils while I was sorting them. Beans have fewer stones and many fewer random bits of stuff, but more half-eaten and/or rotten beans.

How Not To Care That People Think I’m Incompetent
This one is interesting. I like to say that I don’t care what people think of me. This is not true, because not only do I care about what people think, I don’t believe that I would want to be the sort of person who entirely did not care about what other people think. But I think that it is true that there are a lot of ways that I care less about what people think than the average young American woman, especially when by ‘people’ we really mean ‘random strangers on the street.’

I also don’t care about making a fool of myself. You need someone to get up and be the only white person standing with the choir, doing dances she’s never done while singing songs she doesn’t know in a language that she has only a rudimentary grasp of? I’m your gal (though I could really have done without the song that we sang while holding a knees-together low crouch that’s perfectly comfortable for Zambians but is, within a very short period of time, downright painful for this particular American).

One thing I do care about, however, is other people thinking that I’m incompetent. (Possibly ‘looking like a fool’ consists of anything that makes one seem more human and approachable, whereas ‘looking incompetent’ consists of anything that makes one seem like a useless human being — even if only in a very specific context.) Even worse that people thinking I’m incompetent is actually being incompetent, or feeling like I am — what Maddie Brodatt would describe as “letting people down.”

And the simple truth is that here in Zambia, a lot of people think I’m incompetent. By Zambian standards, I am incompetent in all sorts of things. Any ten-year-old girl in Macha can wash her clothes better than I can, cook (Zambian food) better than I can, speak Tonga better than I can, tie a baby to her back better than I can . . . any of a thousand things, half of which I don’t even know I’m bad at. And half of the ones I know I’m bad at, I simply don’t care enough to be good at, or don’t care about at all. (Yes, I could go through 750ml of cooking oil in a week. I could spend hours washing my clothing. But I don’t want to.)

I have accepted my incompetence, and the general perception of my incompetence, and, for the most part, I don’t care. This is not my culture. I was not taught these things as a child. I could live here for sixty years, and at the end of the day, there would still be things that I wasn’t as good at as someone who grew up immersed in Zambian culture, and I’m okay with that. I don’t need to be good at everything, and I hope that that’s a conviction that I can bring with me when I return to the US.

How To Be Hungry
I have always been someone who needs regular meals that consist of real food. My mother needs regular meals even more than I do, and I was raised to expect them. Historically, when not fed, my mood plummets rapidly, and I can be unpleasant to hang out with. Delayed meals have proven the best method of making a camping trip significantly less enjoyable — more so than constant rain. Within the past few years, I’ve achieved enough poise, self-awareness, something, that I can sometimes realize that I’m getting grumpy because I’m too hungry, and to some extent mitigate that effect, but it takes a lot of work, and I don’t always notice or manage to do anything about that knowledge.

In Zambia, I’ve found myself hungry on a scale I’ve never encountered before. Spain operated on a drastically different food schedule than I was accustomed to, but Pepi was aware of this and as a result gave me more food than I was used to for every meal, plus at least one snack a day. I make my own food here, and to some extent set my own schedule, but there are times when things are out of my control. I was told upon arrival that the workday started at 8 and lunch break was at 12:30, so I learned to let five or sometimes six hours stretch between breakfast and lunch. When I went to the Lwiindi Ceremony, we got there at 9 or 10 in the morning, and at 16 hours we were still sitting watching people dance. I was desperately hungry, and had concluded that we just were not going to have lunch. (We did eventually eat around 16:30 — 4:30 for those who aren’t used to a 24-hour clock.) When I go to Monica’s, she usually feeds me supper, but on a Zambian schedule. Left to my own devices, I generally eat by 18:30 or 19 hours, because the power seems more reliable earlier in the evening, and because I’m used to eating then. Monica’s family usually eats by 20 hours, but one time it was after 21. Meals at Mboole can get pretty late. The last time we were there, we didn’t have lunch on day until after 15 hours. We’d been fed bananas and mangoes while visiting, but not lunch.

I think part of the difference here is that being hungry is, to some extent, a choice in these situations. I almost always have the option to throw a prima donna fit, declare that I am unbearably hungry, and demand that I be fed. There is usually some sort of food around — often it’s in the process of being prepared as I wait hungrily, and some portion of it is ready. My whiteness usually makes me an honored guest (one of these days I’ll give you a post about race as a white person in Zambia), and my hosts would be appalled that I was agonizingly hungry.

But, but, but — that would be rude. It would be privileged and spoiled. I have never in my life been as hungry as thousands of Zambians are every day. I’m not aware of having met anyone who can’t afford to eat three meals a day. But I know that not all Zambians do.

So escape is almost always an option, but one that I consider untenable, and therefore do not take. And I think that the deliberateness, the intentionality, of that choice has been the crucial element in teaching me that yes, I can be hungry. And somewhere along the way, the state of being hungry has mostly become disentangled from my mood and the way I interact with other people. And if I learned nothing else in Zambia, I think that the discovery that I can be hungry and nevertheless behave like a reasonable human being would be worth it.

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