Monthly Archives: July 2013

Further Thoughts from the Rocket Ship

When talking about re-entry into your home culture, people tell you that the culture shock may be as great as your initial culture shock in the country you visited.  They tell you that your home will look different and feel strange.  You are reminded that the people and places you knew will also have changed while you were away, so that you are not going back to the same place, and that you yourself are different, and will see them differently.

No one warned me that the US would remind me of Zambia.

I look at the Happy Holow Park or and compare it to a Hair Saloon or a Tarven.  What about Temptations Banquet Facility and Restaurant, near my house, or South Side Pizza — which, so far as I can tell, isn’t on the south side of ANYTHING, except perhaps the rest of the neighborhood.  What differentiates it from the Downtown Shop (on the side of a road with nothing else nearby) or any of the other incongruous store names that so amused me in Zambia?

Surely the fish truck at Wayne and Berkley, with the fish mural painted across one side, complete with a little ACCESS card in the corner, would be as charming and picturesque to a stranger as I found the man in Mazabuka, advertising his wares by grabbing the tail and waving them in the street?

The stores painted red and green, free advertising for Airtel or Zamtel, always seemed delightfully, uniquely Zambian.  But surely the product placement on the signs of many of the local beer establishments comes from a similar arrangement.

I am standing at the bus stop in the morning, and a young man wanders up.  “Which bus are you waiting for?”
“The 53.”
Silence for a bit, then, “You look nice.”
“Thank you.”  I did think that the black vest added a nice touch.
“I see you around sometimes.”
I nod.  “I live around.”  I wave a hand in the general direction of behind me.
“Maybe, if I see you around, I could get your phone number.”
“Maybe.”  I mean no, but why disturb the congeniality of the conversation by being blunt?
After a bit, he wanders off again, and I conclude that he wasn’t waiting for the bus — which implies that the entire point of that interaction was to chat me up.

That was a very Zambian conversation.  If we replace chat about the bus with chat about what country I’m from — both things immediately obvious to a casual glance — and replace the request for my phone number with a marriage proposal, it would only require a few changes to phrasing and syntax to make it one of numerous marriage proposals.  “No, I do not want.”  “All right.  Next time!”

I look at the people who set up stalls on Broad Street, selling clothes or shoes or this-and-that, and wonder how substantively different they are from street vendors in Zambia.  These stalls are usually movable, and collapse to be taken home every night, rather than sturdy, immobile constructions of logs, tin, and grass, and the vendors may be more or less officially sanctioned, but doesn’t it come down to the same thing?  My coworker G chats with the vendors at Broad and Girard as she passes; I just wave or nod, a brief acknowledgement.  She’s a better Zambian than I.


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