Monthly Archives: June 2012

Zambia in 160 characters

Texting is very cheap here, about four cents a text. It’s also convenient, since I have a QWERTY keyboard on my phone. Alison still has the annoying phone with the T20 keyboard, but we both sometimes find a need to share elements of our lives with SOMEONE, since we can’t necessarily say it to the people we’re with. Here’s a selection of the text message conversation I have stored on my current phone:

2 February 2012
A – This lady on the bus has a bag that says semire cat instead of siamese cat

7 February 2012
A – I just got locked into the office bathroom so I tried to climb onto the sink to get over the wall but the sink started to break off the wall… But luckily someone came and rescued me

14 February 2012
M – I feel very self-conscious when random kids I don’t know (who would not greet me) stare at me the ENTIRE time I’m washing my bras and pants. (underwear)

A – that’s awkward but not as awkward as listening to your host parents having valentines day sex

M – You win. Congrats. Despite thin walls, I NEVER hear my neighbors. Maybe b/c I go to bed earlier than they do. (College was worse. And these people are married.)

19 February 2012
A – I went to a club last night where they played la macarana and were dirty dancing to it. didn’t realize it was possible

M – My neighbor Moses, while washing his clothes this morning: “I wish Adam and Eve didn’t sin. We could just walk around naked and not have to wash clothes…”

5 March 2012
A – I just met this reallllly hot guy from sweden that I might need to make out with at some point.

M – Got home yesterday to discover that my neighbor Clare has left for good and gone back to Mazabuka. Trade you stories on Friday.

15 March 2012
M – I feel in need of absolution: today I taught my students the Windows pinball game. In my defense, they did ask.

18 March 2012
A – The sermon today was on evil angels who live among us. One characteristic is they can eat lots of food and still hve small bodies This is why I hate church here

3 April 2012
A – I bought the whole cabin (for train trip to Tanzania) so if you change your mind you can come ­čÖé im just trying to tempt you to spend to much money like an evil angel! how’s life? Zesco?

M – Still no, evil temptress. Would miss 2wks work. Life pretty good. Teaching lots. ZESCO not gone off yet today. Turned down bigger place w/ nice Dutch roommate.

24 April 2012
M – Was walking to church last week w/ the U—-s. Natasha paused to survey the land and exclaimed, “This looks like Kansas!”

25 April 2012
A – Haha I told you so!you’ll be happy to know chris and matt had to listen to me say the same on the train. how’s work for you?

M – It’s been good. I’ve taught a lot and am tutoring three women (two in math and one in computers). The past 4 sermons have been on Colosians 3. You know, life.

26 April 2012
A – Haha thata change! Im going crazy right now with the 16, 11, 7, 4 and 2 year old living in our house right now especially since they’ve been forbidden from going outside for some unknown reason!

27 April 2012
M – You missed an interesting talk from Rev Soko on peach/conflict in home as microcosm for nation. Also a loud, complaining, inaudible talk on fruits of the spirit.

A – So does interesting mean good? Also s——- (Alison’s host brother) ended up throwing up on me! Gross!

M – Yes, it was good. So was Kathy’s talk on gender. And ew.

30 April 2012
A – I just put on some peach chap stick and now I crave peach cobbler

M – Oooh, peaches. Gemmeke had some last week but they weren’t very good.

4 May 2012
A – Im pretty sure I have a parasite.

M – Alas. Just one? I’m housesitting for a cat that has hot running water and a shower.

A – The cat does!? That sounds like the u.s. Also we have a training choma next week wed through sun. If you happen to be around. I miss seeing you:-(

M – The cat’s house does. I miss seeing you, too. Will see what can be arranged.

19 May 2012
A – I’m on the 6 bus. Also theyre playing bible o. Audio but at a part where they are just listing ancestry.

23 May 2012
A – This morning I sat on the bus by someone who smelled like sweet pickles and now im by someone who smells like german potatoe salad and its making me both hungry and disgusted

M – Currently looking at a recipe for chocolate chip peanut butter cookies: y/y? But the real question is if I should add hazelnuts, too.

10 June 2012
A – Church was only 2 and a half hours today I don’t even know what to do.

16 June 2012
M – Just emailed you a creepy story I wrote. How’s your Saturday going?

A – Great we have beautiful weather here! Ill look forward to reading monday! how’s your day?

M – Pretty good. Did laundry, wrote, visited, proofread stuff. You?

A – I was extremely lazy and then my scarf caught on fire but its okay.

28 June 2012
A – I just watched my mom pour a cup of oil onto beautifully steamed cauliflower… And while texting this she added more!!

M – We eat veggies tomorrow! BTW, can I put some of your texts on my blog?

A – Duh! I text you these things otherwise id go completely crazy!


Life here is okay. My roommates are adjusting, the pump has been broken for two days so there’s no water, and tomorrow I’m going to Livingstone for a much-needed break and hot shower.



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In Memoriam

A year and a half ago, after family Christmas celebrations with my mother’s side of the family, I said to myself, This will be the last Christmas like this one.

Six months ago, after an eclectic hodge-podge of people, food, and gifts with the pilot’s family and other expatriates, I thought that I’d been wrong, and there had been another Christmas like that one, I just wasn’t there to see it. Of course, when the power came back on and I checked my email, I had an email from my mother, informing me that the family was having Christmas at the hospital, in and out of grandpa’s hospital room.

My mother’s father died yesterday morning.

The last time I saw him was at orientation in August. He and grandma came by to say goodbye to me, and to bring me hugs and a game of Dutch Blitz. We walked to the park nearby, and along a wooded trail. One of the other SALTers, at this point I don’t even remember who, wandered by as we were saying goodbye and took a picture of the three of us. They sent it to me for my birthday, and it hung on the wall of my room in the Wooden House. He looks the same as he ever did, or perhaps only slightly different.

I feel far away and a bit lonely, though surrounded by many excellent people. I’ve been reading comfort books and eating the chocolate that’s been stashed in the freezer since January in expectation of this eventuality. I feel weird telling people, and weirder still not telling them, and have somewhat managed to arrange things so that other people tell people for me. Hugs are easy to accept, condolences are harder. I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to say, if there is anything other than “Thank you,” and both Miss Manners and No Nice Girl Swears are in Philadelphia, and No Nice Girl Swears is intended for d├ębutantes and probably doesn’t have a section on bereavement, anyway.

I’m managing, I think.

People keep asking, “Were you close to him?”

I don’t know how to answer that question. Closer than many people are to their grandparents. Not as close as some. I loved him, and I know he loved me. He was my grandfather. I wasn’t as close to him as I am to my parents, or to my maternal grandmother, I guess, because of the person he was and the person she is.

There’s a white wooden bookcase in my room at home, six (seven?) shelves high and exactly half an inch higher than my taller hardcovers, that was my birthday present from him back when I was in high school, made to the specifications I requested: to contain all of my books, and to fit into the space between the wall and the window. In front of the window is a shorter bookcase with higher shelves, that he made some years later, when I needed somewhere to store school binders and my few really big books. Grandpa installed the ceiling fan in that room, fishing around, halfway inside the ceiling, with grandma feeding him wires, because I wanted one. I must have been at school at the time, because I don’t remember this, and have only heard of it from mom.

Whenever the two of them were coming to visit, we always needed to come up with a list of household tasks, things with the right combination of tinkering and engineering and manual labor, because grandpa wouldn’t be happy just sitting around visiting without any work to do.

He taught me to sharpen knives, something my mother, despite her twenty-first century emancipation, has always thought of as men’s work, and my brother wasn’t interested in learning. Apparently I can sharpen kitchen knives without ruffling gender roles, as long as mom doesn’t have to do it herself.

When I was a kid and would go on summer visits for a week at a time, we’d work in the garden together, or he and/or grandma would walk along as I rode the bicycle they got for me. When I was cleaning my room last year, I found a charmingly misspelled journal from 1995, describing an upcoming visit to gramol’s house and gleefully anticipating a bicycle. I remember that bicycle; it was red. I don’t know what was so special about it, as I think I had a bicycle at home. That grandma and grandpa got it for me, I guess.

Until just a few years ago, whenever we visited, grandpa would climb up the ladder built into the wall of the hall closet to fetch down sleeping bags and air mattresses for my brother and I. Those shallow rungs always seemed very intimidating to me, but he climbed up them without fail until the time that Isaac did instead. The transition was natural and easy, but I remember being very aware at the time that it was One of Those Signs.

He was an excellent cook. There are some dishes that are particular to my grandmother, but for anything beyond those, we’d have to ask to be sure who made any item of food found in a meal. In particular, I remember him standing over the electric skillet, tending pancakes or french toast for a big family breakfast.

He was not a game-player by nature, though the rest of us are, and usually sat in his chair and read or napped while grandma terrorized everyone at Parcheesi, or we all tried to out-bland and out-cunning each other at Clue. I recall that he particularly despised Fluxx, describing it as “a very postmodern game.” It wasn’t until I got to college that I gained an understanding of postmodernism that is more nuanced than my teenage impression of it as something approaching a curse word in my grandfather’s vocabulary. It was probably Easter a year ago, though it might just have been an ordinary family get-together, that we discussed postmodernism and biblical scholarship over the dinner table, skirting close to the edges of The Topics We Did Not Talk About.

We Skyped a few times since I came to Zambia, but it grew harder and harder to find times when he was alert and aware and not befuddled with sleep. But even then he was still my grandfather, if vaguer and more obstreperous.

He was ready to go, and for several months now, this is what we’ve been praying for.

But it’s still hard.

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Not, in fact, an unusual story.

My new roommates arrived today. Okay, techincally they’re housemates, since I still have my own room, and the three of them are all sharing the big bedroom.

I knew they were coming — or at least, knew that roommates were supposed to be coming. (Mind you, I also know that I have a next door neighbor who was coming last week this afternoon goodness knows when. So while I neatened up a bit and made sure there was plenty of water and enough food that I could feed four people if necessary, I’ve had an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude towards their arrival.) But the neighbor who was supposed to come this afternoon was coming this afternoon, and anyone flying into Lusaka generally doesn’t get here until afternoon, so I just went about my morning routine as usual.

I was sitting over at the school, writing a letter, when Gil called, “Miriam?”

I came outside to find Gil with three (white) women I did not recognize.

“They’re supposed to be working with LinkNet . . .”
First I’d heard of it, and, so far as I can tell, first any LinkNet people have heard of it. But there were three of them, and I was expecting three women, so I asked their names, and sure enough, they were the expected roommates.

For various reasons, they’d flown into ABFA Airport (Macha) with a pilot other than the local pilot, one who was just turning around again and flying off. The airport is a piece of beaten earth in the middle of a grassy field, with a “reception lounge” made out of a modified shipping container (I don’t think I’ve ever seen it open), and a few buildings visible in the distance.

Wind sock at ABFA

Wind sock at ABFA

Three women and a significant quantity of luggage flown into a nowhere-airstrip in a rural village in Zambia. No one expecting them.

In fact, there would not have been anyone there to see the plane arrive at all, except that Gil was getting a delivery of some paperwork from Lusaka, so he and a small bus of a Land Rover were there to act as an elderly knight in shining armor.

I would like to point out that they met up with me not because anyone was aware that they were my roommates, but because I’m the only representative of LinkNet Gil could find on short notice. (He’d called the fellow in charge of Hospitality, who was coming from the other side of Macha, hypothetically with keys. In reality, there are only two keys, one in my possession and one that the Hospitality cleaners used on the highly irregular schedule that perhaps made sense to them. Luckily I was aware of the existence of this key, because I’m not sure we would have more than one key between the four of us if I hadn’t known who to ask for the second.) But, in the it-all-works-out-in-the-end manner that seems to govern much of life in Zambia, or at least in Macha, I can not only give them a sense of what’s going on, but also let them into their house.

They seem like perfectly nice people; I think we’ll get along just fine. But they’ve had this trip planned for months, and no one bothered to inform them how crazy things have gotten in the meantime.

Welcome to Macha, my new friends. It’ll be an adventure.

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Picking up the kids

This picture is from a while ago, back when I still lived in the Wooden House and everything was green green GREEN from the rains. It’s mostly brown again now, although not as brown as when I first came here. Some of the grass is still tall and brown, some has been slashed or burned or has just fallen over. Macha is beginning to once again look the way it did when I first came here. I suppose it’s appropriate: coming full circle.

(Since you’re probably wondering, if you don’t know already, I’ll just say it and relieve your misery: I fly back for reentry retreat in slightly less than a month, and will go home-home in late July.)

How’s my life these days? Settling into new patterns, but one day never quite the same as the next. I finished teaching a couple of weeks ago, and my students were officially done today — though they still have to write the exams, just as soon as they’re ready. I’m proud of how well they’re doing, though I will admit to some doubt, particularly regarding Module 5: Databases, and, to a lesser extent, Excel, because I’m not sure how math-heavy the exams are.

But I am not at loose ends! I’ve increased my work at MICS, doing remedial math with a Grade 7 who will be entering US 10th grade in September (If you’re confused, no, the numbering is not different. Hence the remedial math), and doing English/Reading/Phonics with Grade 2s, plus other assorted tutoring on the side. Right now mostly MICS, though.

So this picture is appropriate, because it’s a picture of afternoon dismissal.

In the morning, streams of kids come by on bicycles, some singly, most in clumps, frequently with two or three to a bicycle. First, somewhere between 7 and 7:15, comes E, a Dutch boy who lives over on the other side of the hospital, absolutely booking it down the path, legs pumping.

“E!” calls Chilala, or one of the other teachers staying at the wooden house, not a greeting but an alarm clock. “Hurry, you; we will be late!”

By the time the teachers are ready to go, the rest of the children are streaming in: E’s sister and her best friend, L who often leads Kid’s Choir in church, many others who I don’t know, or at least can’t identify at that distance.

The kids bike home again in the afternoon, too, but as we get close to dismissal time for the lower grades, a small crowd of men and bicycles collect under the scrubby trees at the edge of the schoolyard: the (I presume) dads waiting to pick up their kids. There are two or three parents who pick up their kids in cars, and one man on a motorbike, but mostly it’s bicycles. I like watching them.

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Musical interlude

Here are two of the songs we sang on the bus ride to the conference:

“Come and See What the Lord Has Done” (Second link)
(Leader in italics, followers plain, all in bold)
Come and see — oh
Come and see
Come and see — oh
Come and see

Come and see what the lord has done x2

Boola mubone
Boola mubone
Boola mubone
Boola mubone

Boola mubone Leza cita x2

(The actual Tonga may be closer to “Amuboola mubone Leza kacita,” but what I’ve written above are the parts that you can really hear when it’s being sung.)

I assume that most of you know “Siyahamba/We Are Marching” — I myself have known it since I was a small child, and we sing it a lot at my home church. What I had not before encountered was Tonga lyrics for it. (In fact, when I ran this past my students for a spell-check and translation of some of the words, Barbrah told me that even she only knew it in chimukuwa (white people language, aka English).)

Tulayenda munzila Leza x4
Tulayenda oo-ooh
Tulayenda munzila Leza
Tulayenda oo-ooh
Tulayenda munzila Leza

(We are walking in the way of God — and actually, the chimukuwa version we sang was, in fact, “We are walking.”)

Tulapona mungunzula Mwami x4
Tulapona oo-ooh
Tulapona mugunzula Mwami
Tulapona oo-ooh
Tulapona mugunzula Mwami

(We are living in the power of the Lord)

Tulakula mungunzula Leza x4
Tulakula oo-ooh
Tulakula mungunzula Leza
Tulakula oo-ooh
Tulakula mungunzula Leza

(We are growing in the power of God, and tulakula is pronounced “tu-la-gu-la”)

Tuyoosika mungunzula Leza x4
Tuyoosika oo-ooh
Tuyoosika mungunzula Leza
Tuyoosika oo-ooh
Tuyoosika mungunzula gwe

(We shall reach the power of God
. . .
We shall reach his power.
And tuyoosika is “tu-yo-si-ga,” with a long o in yo, held extra-long.)

If I understood the translation correctly, this one is pretty interchangable: if you’re having trouble making mungunzula fit the music, you should be able to replace it with munzila for any verse except possibly the last one. Leza and Mwami can be swapped at any time, and you can stick -gwe onto the end of any of the verses.

I have more chitonga lyrics in the works, but they still need spell-checking and translation.

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