Tag Archives: 101 Uses Of A Chitenge

Trousers, work permits, and petrol

I’m wearing trousers right now. No skirt, no chitenge (okay, yes chitenge, but I’m wearing it as a shawl because there’s a lot of air-conditioning and I’m cold. Use #24 again), just a pair of jeans.

I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but it’s been over a year since I last went outside my house without a skirt.* In rural Zambia, women and trousers is . . . an interesting question. Women do wear them, especially young women, but I never saw an older woman in trousers, and even for young women it was usually pretty rare. No one would have said anything if I’d worn them, but it was optimally culturally correct to wear skirts, so I did.

When I got back from Zambia, I’d already gone almost 11 skirted months, and a year seemed a nice round number, and not that far away, so I went for it, just to be able to say I did. And now I have.

It was a bit odd, this morning, pulling my legs into a garment with legs, and then not putting anything over it (there were a few weeks where it was cold enough that I did wear trousers under a skirt, just for the warmth). Trousers fit and hug your legs in a way that skirts don’t, at least not the sort of skirts I wear. But perhaps what I found most surprising is how natural it feels to be back in trousers. I expected going out without a skirt to be like the end of the Spoon Assassins game I played in college, where it took an effort of will to walk outside my room without my spoon, because I felt naked without it. I guess absence of trousers is something I notice less than presence of spoon, and that even a year wearing skirts does not erase social norms formed over a lifetime, particularly since I wear a lot of skirts anyway.

But let me tell you, the pockets are really nice.

—————-

I had a request to tell about being threatened with arrest.

I’m fairly sure I mentioned our persistent work permit difficulties. The first instance of threatened-with-arrest is really Matt’s story, because he’s the one who rushed to the immigration office when we realized there was a problem, and took the heat and the arrest threats, so that when Chris and I came in a day or two later, no-one even batted an eye at our two-months-overdue visas. Matt said they threatened to arrest Chris and I, but since neither of us were there at the time, I don’t feel that that one really counts.

Fast-forward eight months, to the end of June. I had shown up at the immigration office in Choma every sixty days or so, to get my 90-day visa renewed for another 60 days, since my work permit was technically approved, I just didn’t have it. I was going down to Livingstone to see Mosi-oa-Tunya one last time, and also meet Chris’s family. My visa — I still did not have my work permit — needed to be renewed again.

What with one thing and another, I wound up waiting at the Choma bus station for several hours, because Matt hadn’t bought tickets beforehand, and I completely mis-read Chris’s next message, and . . . So I did a couple of errands for Matt in town. I did think about walking down to immigration (a bit of a hike) to get my visa renewed, but it was Friday, and the visa didn’t come due until Wednesday of the next week, and you’re not supposed to go too early, and I wasn’t sure when Matt was showing up, and my the time I realized that it would’ve been a good time to go, it was too late to. And after all, I would be coming back the other way on Monday and could do it then.

Only . . . Monday was Heroes’ Day. Tuesday was Unity Day. Neither of these were days upon which immigration was open. And this did not occur to me until later that weekend, partly because I’d been talking to someone who thought Thursday and Friday were the holidays in the upcoming week, not Monday and Tuesday (and by that point I wasn’t teaching anymore, so I was keeping a much less firm grasp upon schedules and holidays and things, since tutoring required less preparation and did not start as early in the morning).

On Tuesday, the other family got back from their own trip to Livingstone, also having failed to renew their visas (which all came due at the same time, since we’d all gone together the previous time, so I could show them the location of the Immigration Office). And they would be leaving for a workshop on the other side of Choma on Thursday, and did not feel that they needed to drive from Livingstone on Tuesday, go back to Choma on Wednesday, leave again on Thursday, and get back on Friday. Especially since there was a petrol shortage. Especially-especially since, as a result of the petrol shortage, they had not managed to get fuel on Tuesday, and, in fact, would need to dip into their reserve petrol in order to get to Choma at all.

So we were discussing this Tuesday afternoon. I’d been planning to take the minibus to town on Wednesday, which was an unfortunate waste of a day just to get a stamp on my passport, but seemed especially useless when there would definitely need to be an MCC vehicle traveling to Choma on Wednesday, somehow or other. Only the MCCers affiliated with said vehicle did not wish to go. Only the MCCers affiliated with said vehicle needed to go. It was a conundrum.

And THAT’s when I had my brilliant moment of inspiration. I turned to Natasha. “You have Mr. Robert Phiri’s telephone number.”

“What?”

“The Immigration official. You have his telephone number.”

I knew she had his telephone number, because the last time I’d been there, I’d poked my head back in the office, just as we were leaving, and asked what his name was, since it did not seem fitting that he’d been unfailingly nice to me for most of a year (visas are only supposed to be extended 30 days, but I’d never gotten fewer than 60), and I did not even know his name.

He told me, and asked for my telephone number, which I did not give him (“I’m afraid I don’t know what it is”), because there was no reason he needed my telephone number, and I don’t give my number out to people who have no reason to need it, especially not in Zambia. (The man is old enough to be my father, and I don’t think that was an Advance, just . . . the weird-usual friendliness when interacting with white people. But he didn’t need my phone number.) So he wrote down his, on a little slip of paper, along with his name, and gave it to me.

I gave it to Natasha, because I was almost done in Zambia, and she would still be there most of a year.

“You wrote it down in your notebook with the other Immigration information.”

“OH!”

Sure enough, there it was.

They made me call, because they were convinced that I have the Choma Immigration officials, like the Choma police, wrapped around my little finger, something that I am still dubious of (especially the police).

We were having cell network problems at the time, so it took about 20 tries before I got through, but eventually I did.

I’m not at all sure that he knew who I was (there are a lot of people in the Choma area who go to Immigration, you know?), but he was friendly and willing to be persuaded. When I suggested that we could perhaps not come in until the day after our visas came due, he threatened me (all three of us, actually) with arrest, but then asked if Thursday was when I could get transport, and I said yes, and he made me promise promise PROMISE to definitely come in on Thursday, and said it would be okay. (I am still not at all sure if he’s a nice guy and being extra-nice because I asked, or if they really just don’t care at all.)

So I felt pretty proud of myself, first for remembering that we had the number, and second for pulling it off, and Ingo and Natasha are even more convinced that I can bend all government officials in Choma to my will with a single word. (Are you folks still reading this? I bet they’re nice to you now that I’m gone, too.)

We arrived in town . . . not without adventures. With no more adventures than usual.

The usual culprits.  That funnel is made from the top of a Zamanita Oil bottle, part of a bicycle inner tube, and some string.

The usual culprits. That funnel is made from the top of a Zamanita Oil bottle, part of a bicycle inner tube, and some string.

Everything went just fine in the Immigration office. No one even commented on the day-late thing. We got to see a work permit, unfortunately not mine. (They look like little passports. I still WANT one, drat it!) I brought them biscuits as a thank-you/goodbye. (It was not a bribe. I gave it to them after, and I wasn’t going to interact with them probably ever, anyway.) I even found two new foods I hadn’t eaten on the way out.

Tuyumu (top) and freshis (bottom).  Tuyumu are a sectioned . . . fruit/nut/thing, where you throw out the seeds and chew the woody divider inside the pod.  It tastes very much like dates, and foams up into a sticky goo that makes them very difficult to spit out later.  Tasty, but lots of work.  Freshi are soft and squishy, with a small seed like a cherry pit inside (for scale, tuyumu are a little bigger than cherries. Maybe the size of limes).  They taste like dried apricots.  Wet and juicy dried apricots.

Tuyumu (top) and freshis (bottom). Tuyumu are a sectioned . . . fruit/nut/thing, where you throw out the seeds and chew the woody divider inside the pod. It tastes very much like dates, and foams up into a sticky goo that makes them very difficult to spit out later. Tasty, but lots of work. Freshi are soft and squishy, with a small seed like a cherry pit inside (for scale, tuyumu are a little bigger than cherries. Maybe the size of limes). They taste like dried apricots. Wet and juicy dried apricots.

And, when we stopped to get petrol, we learned that a truck had just come through the night before to fill up several of the petrol stations, and that it was a good thing we hadn’t come the day before, because we didn’t have enough petrol to get the vehicle home again, and we wouldn’t have been able to get any in town. The lines at the petrol stations were only about six cars long, which was quite reasonable, considering.

Petrol shortage.

Petrol shortage.

I took the minibus home, my last ride (to date) on a Zambian minibus.

This post brought to you by Mr. Robert Phiri, Lemon Creme biscuits, and the Puma station in Choma, on the Lusaka-Livingstone road.

————

*I have worn a bathing suit on perhaps three occasions. But mostly only while in the pool.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rocket Ship

Life on Earth can be an adventure too… you just need to know where to look!
Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen), The Sarah Jane Adventures

I’ve been back in Philadelphia for almost two weeks now, visiting people, unpacking (my room was rented out while I was gone, so this involves not just a fairly modest two suitcases, but instead almost everything I own), hanging out, and looking for work. I’m over jetlag, but my life has been moving at a leisurely pace, with few events that seem blog-worthy. I love being back in Philadelphia (more on that later, perhaps); I’d never been away from home for as long as 11 months before, and while I didn’t feel it in Zambia, I certainly felt it upon my return.

We went to a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor last week, which was lots of fun, and raucous and bawdy, and the whole trip reminded me of the diversity and the vibrancy I love about Philadelphia . . . and round about Act III or IV, the sky got very dark and it started pouring. So I never did see the end of the play, but my chitenge served very admirably as a semi-permeable raincape (Use #22 of a Chitenge. #23 is padding for carrying things on your head, #24 is a shawl when the room is over-airconditioned and you’re cold. Chitenge is pronounched chi-teng-gee, chi as in chimpanzee, teng like ten with an extra g, and gee like ghee, clarified butter), and all-in-all we had a very satisfying evening.

I did laundry this morning, and when I pulled my sheets in off the line, I found a small passenger.

I think it's a juvenile lacewing.

I think it’s a juvenile lacewing.

I had a terribly difficult time getting him (her?) off, too: I persuaded the little fellow onto my finger, but then it did not wish to get off, and I eventually had to use a maple seed as a miniature spatula. Even so, it was difficult to get the lacewing onto the maple leaf, rather than throwing it to the winds.

Are curious minds satisfied?

Are curious minds satisfied?

When I was walking to the library later, I passed a woman doing ballet in the Citizen’s Bank parking lot, using a vertical yellow pole as a makeshift bar. She did not have the typical ballerina figure, but there was a grace in the strength of her movements all the same, and in the calm poise with which she was practicing pliés and relevés alone, standing by the sidewalk, holding a chunk of yellow-orange cement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Never Had I Ever

I leave Macha on Friday, and Zambia in a week, which unsurprisingly has occasioned a good deal of reflection on my part. I’ve learned a lot, and probably changed in many ways I don’t even know yet. Zambia has been educational in all sorts of ways, and I’ve had any number of new experiences during my time here.

Before coming to Zambia, I had never:

– Ridden a motorbike (as a passenger)

– Broken a tooth (I’ve now broken two)

– Eaten any number of foods (this is about three blog posts in its own right, and hopefully I’ll get around to writing them eventually)

– Had lunch after 4pm in the local timezone

– Received an offer of marriage (I’ve now had twelve, and expect a few more before I leave)

– Handwashed sheets and a towel and a week’s worth of laundry, all in one go

– Lost a grandparent

– Chopped tomatoes without a cutting board

– Made yogurt

– Knit a shawl in a week

– Sat for hours on a hot, crowded minibus

– Paid for my own ticket to a movie

– Cooked with margarine (and given my druthers, never will I ever again)

– Carried 17 liters of water on my head

– Babysat infant twins

– Listened to the same song on repeat for over seven hours

– Worn out a pair of flip-flops

-Washed long hair in a bucket

– Sat through a three-hour-plus church service (that I recall) or listened to sermons for an entire day

– Danced at a wedding

– Funneled petrol into a car

– Washed and rinsed dishes in less than a cup of water.

– Taught a two-hour class

– Cleaned a water filter

– Baked without a recipe

– Listened to four consecutive sermons on First Corinthians

– Climbed an approximately 300-meter ladder

– Assisted in a starlit shower at an outside faucet (use #21 of a chitenge: impromptu shower stall)

– Provided eight hours of unrelieved child care

– Climbed a sand dune (larger than a minivan)

– Used text messages as a primary means of communication

– Really lived on my own

– Heated bathwater over a fire

– Killed a chicken (or any meal, for that matter)

– Ridden a bus for 20 hours

– Carried toilet paper in my bra

– Been a millionaire

– Embarrassed my translator

– Danced in front of a thousand people

– Been threatened with arrest by someone with both authority and cause

– Lived 70 kilometers from the nearest grocery store (perhaps only 50 as the Fish Eagle flies)

– Seen African animals in the wild

– Lived without running water for any significant length of time

– Been an illegal immigrant

– Dealt with wildly unreliable power

– Participated in a break-in

-Emptied a mousetrap

– Sweet-talked immigration officials (and many thanks to the excellent fellows in the Choma office, without whose good will I would not be here today)

– Seen a cotton plant

– Bathed in rainwater

– Lied so regularly or so frequently

– Blown up a battery charger

– Sifted weevils out of my food

They say that travel broadens the mind. It certainly broadens the experiences. It’s been an interesting year.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

PARTY!

I’ve been in Zambia for nearly eight months now, and have not yet managed to get to a Zambian wedding. Twenty-four hours ago, I had not gone to a kitchen party, either. Kitchen parties are the Zambian equivalent of bridal showers, and Alison has been telling me since October or so that I really ought to go to one, but the few that were held in Macha, rather than various locations out of town, were for one reason or another inconvenient to go to.

But my boss is getting married. And his future wife’s kitchen party was today. And, since I am not currently in Tanzania (this was a possibility. The other SALTers are in Tanzania right now), I found it perfectly convenient to go.

The party was scheduled to start at 13 hours, but the new MCC family was moving in today, and I was supposed to feed everyone lunch, and Macha Girls is a bit of a trek from here, so what with one thing and another it was close to three by the time I showed up.

Nothing had really started yet. The party was held in a big empty classroom (I mean BIG. Longer than the sanctuary at Germantown Mennonite, and probably 3/4 as wide, with five rows of benches on the long sides.) in, I assume, the home ec wing. There was a sort of dais at one end with a few pieces of kitchen furniture and a lot of plates and whatnot, which I never did decide whether it belonged to the kitchen party or the classroom (There were an awful lot of plates. And nobody needs 20 of the same size of pan, do they? But everything seemed shiny-new, with original stickers and packing materials . . .). When I got there, there was a music system set up and blaring the usual blend of Zambian (Tonga?) non-religious dance-y music, a number of people working industriously in the industrial-size kitchen one room over, and a few women sitting in clumps on the benches.

I was the only person in the room not wearing a chitenge or chitenge suit (outfit made from chitenge fabric. A really nice chitenge suit is the fanciest outfit most Zambian women own) — I’d known that I would want my chitenge for the wedding, but hadn’t realized I should bring it for the kitchen party, too — so I pulled my chitenge-fabric headscarf out of my purse and put it on, which had the dual benefits of keeping my hair off the back of my neck and making me feel marginally less underdressed.

After I’d been there a bit, a mattress and a bamboo mat were spread out on the floor just in front of the dais, and people seemed to be leaving gifts there, so I added mine (a small short but very wide shawl) to the collection and found myself a spot. A few more women arrived, and a woman I’d taken a minibus with one time demanded that I sit next to her, which I did not particularly object to (and it turned out to be a good thing. If I’d stayed back where I could use the wall as back support, I wouldn’t’ve been able to see anything). Before too long a bunch more people trickled in, among them the team of drummers, distinctive for their matching blue, orange, and yellow chitenge skirts, and heralded by ululation and jubilation.

After the drummers had set up — these drummers were unique, in that I think they’re the only female drummers I’ve seen here — there was another fuss and more ululation, and the woman who’d demanded that I sit next to her informed me, “The girl is coming! Let’s go!” So we all crowded to the door and formed a clump outside it, around, I realized after a bit, a woman with a double- or triple-length of the really high-quality chitenge fabric, the stuff they make the good chitenge suits out of, draped over her head and shoulders, and over another person behind her, and spreading out behind them as a train. By process of elimination, I decided that the person completely hidden by the fabric must be Patience, the bride-to-be.

Everyone tromped inside, cheering and clapping and ululating, and the group half-danced, half-walked over to the mattress, which was cleared of gifts so that Patience, still swaddled in fabric, and her guide could sit on it. Most people reclaimed their seats at this point, but there was enough of a crowd still standing that I couldn’t always see what was going on. Eventually people dispersed to reveal Patience, the guide sitting next to her, and the Mistress of Ceremonies.

Zambian weddings have a Matron, an older married woman or widow who’s in charge of everything, and also of properly instructing the bride in her duties and how she ought to behave to her husband. I’m pretty sure that the Matron was either the guide or the MC, but I’m not sure which.

I’m not managing to convey the sheer organized chaos of this event. Any group in chitenges or chitenge suits is a riot of color. The ceremony switched randomly between English and Tonga, with the crowd heckling or ululating as the mood took them. Either the music or the drums were going whenever no one was actively speaking, and sometimes over and behind whatever speech was happening. I didn’t take pictures, because my camera is shot, but I found a youtube video that conveys the scene on a much smaller scale, and a photograph that conveys a bit of the color of the occasion.

There was a prayer, then some talking, alternating with dancing. And, yes, Patience is still sitting on the mattress on the floor, covered in fabric. I should make a point about the dancing. To western eyes, Zambian dancing is EXTREMELY sexual. A good Zambian dancer can articulate muscles and ranges of motion that most American women don’t even know they have, almost all of them in the hip/abdomen region. And it’s not just perception: Zambian dancing is very sexual (also, I’m told, a preparation for childbirth). Hip bumps and circles and pelvic thrusts may not be as inherently sexual to a Zambian as they look to us dirty-minded westerners, but when dancers get close and the crowd whoops as those pelvic thrusts turn into crotch bumps, there’s no way you’re telling me that’s not sexual (and, I think, inherently heterosexual, never mind that both of the dancers are women). Use #14 of a chitenge: phallic object. #15, triangular sash. #16, long-ways sash, to emphasize the hips while dancing (the sashes are also a convenient place for someone to stick money while you’re dancing, if they feel so called). While I’m listing, #17, picnic blanket, #18, elaborate knotted headdress that I think used the entire 2 meters of fabric and didn’t look sewn. #19, to wave in the air if ululating does not sufficiently express your emotions.

But at the same time, it’s completely okay, by Zambian standards. Sex may be less taboo in Zambian society than in American, but it’s still somewhat taboo, and yet these extremely explicit dances are completely family-friendly, and it doesn’t even occur to anyone that this could be problematic in any way. Girls will dance like this in school (though I haven’t seen it in church); young girls will copy their elders while bathing naked in front of the house. It’s like the way a Zambian woman is completely unselfconscious about showing her breasts, but a proper Zambian woman would never show her legs, or even go about in trousers (at least for the older generation). And also, I think, like flirting in western society: flirting may sometimes get quite raunchy, but as long as it’s only flirting, it’s okay, and you may flirt extensively with someone you won’t have sex with.

After some more talking and dancing, my boss Elton showed up, accompanied by five or six guys, and they slowly danced their way towards the dais-and-mattress, surrounded by a whooping crowd of women. There was a good bit of stuff I couldn’t see, but somebody, presumably Elton, removed the fabric from Patience, and then he pulled her to her feet and led her to a row of chairs, where they sat for the next bit of the ceremony. This whole time she had her face expressionless, or even sad, and her gaze downcast, according to custom (something about offending the future mother-in-law, I think), and moved in an slow, oddly fluid way (this was clearly stylized, but may also have been just that her dress was so closely tailored as to be very difficult to move in). To my eye, the overall effect of the downcast face, fancy dress (which matched Elton’s outfit) and elaborate hairdo made her seem almost more like a wax doll than a person.

More speeches, more dancing, periodic rolling about on the floor, usually to great applause, a sermon that turned out to be more of a cutsey recipe for ‘how to cook a husband,’ featuring ingredients like ‘a handful of generosity’ and ‘a dash of laughter,’ ritual gift-giving to both Elton and two women (the mothers? Or perhaps her grandmothers? Or other signifiant members of the community?), and then the couple was danced back to the doorway, where he gave her a quick kiss before being spirited away by his attendants, leaving the room occupied only by women and children too small to be left at home.

The next while was occupied by dancing, either a few people dancing in the center, or large numbers of people getting up and milling about in the center of the room. At once point the lead dancer pulled me out onto the floor (I don’t know if my neighbor ladies tipped her off to the fact that I am capable of Zambian-style dancing, or if she just grabbed me because I’m white), and while I was very aware that I had nowhere near the skill of basically everyone else on the floor, the crowd loved it. I don’t think Zambians see bakuwa dancing very often, and even less frequently Zambian-style dancing. Patience was sitting on the mattress again for this part, eyes dutifully downcast.

After a while, a portion of “ba committee” came forward and started sorting through and opening the gifts. The MC would then call out the name of the giver, who would come forward and show the gift to Patience, still calm and downcast, and then dance a bit. It took me a bit to work this out, since the instructions where a hodgepodge of Tonga, English, and nonexistent, but I eventually figured out that this was what was going on, and that if you didn’t dance you could pay 5 pin (the cost of a butternut squash, if you buy it from a vendor in town) to not dance. I had not been aware that giving a gift signed me up to dance, but I have no shame, which is lucky, since at that point the lead dancer was manhandling a chitenge around my hips, and I don’t think she would’ve taken no for an answer. Conclusion: Zambians like bakuwa dancing even better than bakuwa speaking Tonga.

While the gifts were being gone through, eight or ten people at a time were given plates to go get food. I was at the end to be very last for food, which I did not mind, because this was supper, rather than lunch, and it meant that I didn’t have to juggle food in order to get up and do my obligatory gift-giving dance.

There was an enormous quantity of food. The rice was cooked in a pot — a cauldron — big enough to hide a body (I have no idea how they got it onto the table), and they probably dumped close to two cups of rice onto every plate. And chicken. And beef. And cabbage. And ‘soup’ (gravy-ish), chicken or beef. And potato. And potato salad. And cake. It was enough that even the ladies sitting next to me were wrapping plates in plastic bags to take home (and Zambians can put away a prodigious amount of food. I think eating nshima all the time really does stretch your stomach or something).

After the gifts and the food, there was more dancing while a group of ladies led Patience up onto the dais and showed her all the kitchen equipment, explaining what it was and how to use it, never mind that she’s been using all of this stuff for at least ten or fifteen years. That completed, there was another prayer, a bit more talking, and then people went home or danced more, as they wished. I could hear distant music and ululations for half my walk home.

And the wedding is tomorrow.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Place of Emptiness

For a town named after one’s rear end, Swakopmund is actually a charming place. It’s huddled between the sea and the Namib desert, colonial architecture squeezed in next to rugged industry. (We did not get a group picture in front of the two-story warehouse proclaiming its manufacture of SALT in enormous capital letters. But we did think about it.) I was surprised at how much I liked it, given that it’s a tourist beach town, and December-January is the big summer holiday and the height of the tourist season. I was also surprised at the feeling of history that I felt there, when the desert erases most older traces (though the museum did suggest that there’s a surprising amount of information in the middens and refuse of trade routes, not to mention some really cool purple glass) and few buildings sport dates older than 1900. But it felt like a European city, steeped in history, an impression furthered by the large population of Europeans residents and tourists, not to mention the German spoken amidst the English and Afrikaans. It certainly didn’t feel like the Africa I’ve gotten to know in Zambia, with its broad, sunny, almost-empty streets paved in tarmac or cement tiles; the cheese in the grocery stores at halfway reasonable prices; the stretch of lawn next to the beach that was watered by a sprinkler system; the posh, modern stores catering to people with money to buy; the lack of open-air markets selling everything from mangoes to clothes to plastic containers (though there was a craft market, which, I discovered in chatting with the vendors, drew people from all the neighboring countries to sell goods); the gelato (OH MY GOODNESS, the gelato!); and around the fringes of it all, just past the edges of the back (mostly rock-and-cacti) gardens, low, rugged, scrubby plants quickly replaced by . . . nothing. Empty landscape. No people, no animals, no plants. Perhaps an occasional tangle of dry, dead branches, or the tracks of some previous wanderer or quad bike (or, more rarely, some other animal), a lone cloud briefly casting its shadow over the dunes, a gull or hawk gliding high over thermals before vanishing into blueness.

Namib literally means "Place of Emptiness."  I think it's an incredibly fitting name.

Namib literally means "Place of Emptiness." I think it's an incredibly fitting name.

(Most of the pictures are better if you click on them to get a bigger view, although they all suffer a bit because I made them smaller for ease of uploading over local internet.)

I have never in my life been anywhere like the Namib Desert.  So empty, so barren, whole stretches of nothing but dirt and rock and sand rising to distant sand dunes or hunks of stone.

I have never in my life been anywhere like the Namib Desert. So empty, so barren, whole stretches of nothing but dirt and rock and sand rising to distant sand dunes or hunks of stone.

On the first day of this new year, a few days into our stay, when the others went to the beach (again), I decided that I was going to find the sand dunes that rose and shimmered at the edge of every vista. Armed with my water bottle, sunscreen, hat, chitenge, camera in a ziplock bag, various useful and useless things that I always carry in my bag, and a consultation with the hostel hostess to be sure that this was not a completely unreasonable idea, I set off to find adventure.

A 90-degree disconnect between my understanding of the lay of the land inside and outside the building resulted in going in the wrong direction, but as there’s desert around every edge of Swakopmund that doesn’t border the Atlantic, this was not actually a problem. I got a scenic route through a residential area that I would not otherwise have seen, discovered the source of the solar system (and thereby answered a question that had been puzzling us since we arrived), and got a first-hand acquaintance with some of the plants that cluster around one of the few sources of water.

Edit: Desert Life.

Edit: Desert Life.

I also avoided the protected bird-nesting area that I would’ve encountered if I’d followed the “over the bridge and along the road” advice of the hostess, and found myself in something much closer to untrammeled wilderness than the footprint-strewn dunes close to the shore and the road.

I don't think that I'm managing to convey how LARGE these things are.  You could fit houses in them.  Gymnasiums.  Office buildings.  These are not merely hummocks, but small mountains of sand, mountain ranges of sand, running and meeting and melding and dropping off abruptly into steep slopes that are closer to vertical than horizontal.

I don't think that I'm managing to convey how LARGE these things are. You could fit houses in them. Gymnasiums. Office buildings. These are not merely hummocks, but small mountains of sand, mountain ranges of sand, running and meeting and melding and dropping off abruptly into steep slopes that are closer to vertical than horizontal.

I had a marvelous hike. I stood alone on ridges of sand marked by no footsteps before mine, watched the wind in the sand that blew over a sharp peak, marveled at the colors and patterns of the different weights and compositions of sand, slipped and slithered down slopes, and followed the tracks of unidentified mammals between scruffy lowland plants and along the dry streambed. Eventually I made my way back to the welcome shade of our accommodations. I was thrilled, flushed, hot, and sun-wearied, and my calves and hamstrings absolutely ached — there are very few stairs in Zambia, and my legs have not been called upon to do nearly as much work here as they were accustomed to at home. But there was something almost magical about that solitary ramble through the dunes.

————

Swakopmund is trying very hard to make itself one of the adrenaline capitals of the world. Chris went skydiving, Matt went surfing, and even Alison rented a wetsuit. I contented myself with a brief tumble — I can’t really call it a swim — in the rough and gritty ocean, which was a bit like playing with a very large cat that may or may not really understand how fragile you are. I’m told that the actual swimming beach was rather more subdued and gentle, but I’m not all that much of a beach person, so I confined myself to a few treks down that direction, a marvelous bit of watching dolphins playing in the breakers, and a game of frisbee with a gang of German (?) highschoolers (?) — and the ache in my arms afterwards informed me that I’m out of practice with that, too.

What I did do is go on a boat trip, along with Chris and Alison. The morning trip was full, so we went on the afternoon trip, which was shorter (didn’t go to Bird Island, which was mildly disappointing, but on the whole I felt like I had as much fun on two and a half hours of boat trip as I would’ve on four hours of boat trip), cheaper, and just had complimentary drinks instead of complimentary drinks and lunch, including fresh oysters. And the drinks included the really excellent fruit juice that they have here, which pleased me very much, since I didn’t really feel like paying extra so everyone else could drink as much alcohol as they wanted. (In the States, ‘complimentary drinks’ would mean ‘one per person.’ One of the groups who went on the morning trip told us that when their group ran out of alcohol (twice), they just pulled up next to one of the other boats and resupplied. And you probably wouldn’t take children on your boat trip with complimentary alcoholic drinks.)

The seagulls would take fish right out of his hand, too, but I didn't get my camera out soon enough for that.

The seagulls would take fish right out of his hand, too, but I didn't get my camera out soon enough for that.

It was the wrong season for whales, and we didn’t see leatherback turtles or penguins (though none of us had any clue if it was the right season for those, either. The other group said that they didn’t see turtles, either). But we DID go out to the Creche, the seal “kindergarten,” where thousands (literally thousands. The fellow feeding the fish in the above picture estimated 50,000) of seals congregate on the beach, and the pups learn how to swim and hunt and do other important seal things.

One of the things I love about seals is that they know how to have fun.  That's what it looks like to me, anyway.

One of the things I love about seals is that they know how to have fun. That's what it looks like to me, anyway.

A number of the male seals have figured out that if they climb up the steps at the back of the boats, they get fed fish. Some of them are chill and comfortable enough with humans to be petted. I’ve now petted and hand-fed a wild seal. The guide also told us that when seals balance things on their noses for tricks, they aren’t actually balancing them: they’re holding them with their whiskers, which are large and thick and cane be raised forward or squished back against the sides of the face.

This is Saki.   "How do you tell them apart?" I asked the guide, because Saki looked just the same as the younger, more skittish male we'd had on the on board a few minutes before. "He's the one as shakes hands.  A few have scars or markings that you can distinguish, but Saki's the one that shakes hands."

This is Saki. "How do you tell them apart?" I asked the guide, because Saki looked just the same as the younger, more skittish male we'd had on the on board a few minutes before. "He's the one as shakes hands. A few have scars or markings that you can distinguish, but Saki's the one that shakes hands."

AND we saw dolphins.  I know that seeing dolphins isn't unusual, but I love it anyway.  I like dolphins even more than seals.

AND we saw dolphins. I know that seeing dolphins isn't unusual, but I love it anyway. I like dolphins even more than seals.

Usually I'm pretty blasé about seagulls, but I had more fondness for them in Namibia than I normally do.

Usually I'm pretty blasé about seagulls, but I had more fondness for them in Namibia than I normally do.

We also went for a hike as a group out to the sanddunes, on the "Along the road and over the bridge" route, which featured this excellent sign.

We also went for a hike as a group out to the sanddunes, on the "Along the road and over the bridge" route, which featured this excellent sign.

For scale.  And that was a SMALL dune, one of the ones close to the sea.  That slope is probably about 70 degrees, too.  I "walked" down it by standing still and just alternately lifting my feet one after the other, and letting the sand carry me down.  Alison said it looked like I was floating down the hill.

For scale. And that was a SMALL dune, one of the ones close to the sea. That slope is probably about 70 degrees, too. I "walked" down it by standing still and just alternately lifting my feet one after the other, and letting the sand carry me down. Alison said it looked like I was floating down the hill.

Are you tired of vistas of sand yet?

Are you tired of vistas of sand yet?

I'm modeling Use #12 of a Chitenge: Desert Ranger Sand Cape, and Alison is sporting a somewhat dilapidated version of Use #13: Indian-Style Head Scarf, authentically learned in India (but not with a chitenge).  Matt is doing Desert Bandit Fusion, and Chris is showing off Even Better Ways to Get Sunburned.   If you're curious, use #11 is Beach Towel.

I'm modeling Use #12 of a Chitenge: Desert Ranger Sand Cape, and Alison is sporting a somewhat dilapidated version of Use #13: Indian-Style Head Scarf, authentically learned in India (but not with a chitenge). Matt is doing Desert Bandit Fusion, and Chris is showing off Even Better Ways to Get Sunburned. If you're curious, use #11 is Beach Towel.

Unlike the rest of Namibia, the west coast gets cool weather from the ocean, and Swakopmund generally has sun between approximately 10 hours and 15 hours, before and after which it's cloudy and may be cold, even in summer (I slept in my sleeping bag every night).  However, on our last day, there was enough of a break in the clouds that we had a partial sunset for our beach supper picnic.

Unlike the rest of Namibia, the west coast gets cool weather from the ocean, and Swakopmund generally has sun between approximately 10 hours and 15 hours, before and after which it's cloudy and may be cold, even in summer (I slept in my sleeping bag every night). However, on our last day, there was enough of a break in the clouds that we had a partial sunset for our beach supper picnic.

There are more stories from this trip. It’s possible that I’ll post them here, but I probably won’t. Suffice it to say that we did get home again, safe and sound, despite a very typical timing misadventure due to our bus home leaving Lusaka a day late (and subsequently leaving Namibia a day late) and adventures with my visa. (N.B. When you’re asking for days, you need to count both endpoint days, not just how many days away the departure date is. And if you’re traveling by bus, the day the bus departs may not be the day you leave the country. And you should just ask for at least an extra half-week, anyway. The exit immigration gave me a bit of a hard time, but it could’ve been worse. It’s very difficult to effectively lecture someone when you won’t talk loudly enough for her to hear you through the glass window.)

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

White Girl Speaking Tonga

(Musimbi mukuwa ulawamba ci Tonga.)

We’re told that we should expect to be laughed at when we try to speak in Tonga, and that this laughter isn’t laughter per se, but rather pleasure that we’re trying to speak the language.

This time, I’m not sure about.
On Thursday, our recent heat wave finally broke slightly, so I walked to the market to get milk and bananas. There were no bananas, but I was successful in the acquisition of milk, which is what I’d really wanted, so I was pleased as I walked slowly home through the bright sunlight. Because the innovative school sends children home for lunch later than my work does, I was in time to encounter children walking home for lunch as I returned.

A short distance from my house, there was a group of about ten or fifteen children horsing around. One boy stood apart from the rest, a sort of sentry, as it were, because as I came within earshot I heard the cry trailing along through the group: “Muguwa, muguwa!” (white person), although there was no obvious reaction to my approach beyond a gradual shift from playing to walking along the path towards me in a sort of drifted clump.

As is my custom, I greeted them in Tonga as as I passed:
Mwalibiyze.” (Afternoon, and pronounced ‘mwa-lee-bee-hey.’)
Ee, mwalibiyze.” (Yes, afternoon.)

Mwalibiyze.
Ee, mwalibiyze boti?” (Yes, how is your afternoon?)
Kabotu. Mwalibiyze boti?” (Good. . . .)
Kabotu.

There was some laughter, and the next child along the road greeted me:
Komuli.” (You are there.)
Kotuli.” (We are here.)

I had a certain sense that I was being put through my paces, and it was only confirmed as the next child produced yet another greeting:
Muli bayumu?” (You are fine?) Although I didn’t recall the meaning at the time, I knew that the response was an emphatic:
Ee!

There was only one child left in front of me, a small child trailing along behind the others, on a path at a different angle to mine. As he approached, he called out, “Kamwamba!” (Talk/tell how you are!)
Kabotu!” (Good!)

The laughter rang out behind me as I walked the last 1/5 k to my house, but that was all right; I knew that I had passed with flying colors.

———

Other noteworthy features of this walk included two new uses of a chitenge: #9, backpack; and #10, makeshift bicycle basket. (Use #8 is to screen one’s head and arms from the sun while walking home from church (because of course you wore a chitenge to church like a decent woman, only it was really hot over the other skirt, so next time you’ll probably be indecent and not wear another skirt under it, even if it means that you go without pockets), in the style that I think of as Madonna Iconography).

Use #9 of a Chitenge.  This is one of the President Rupiah Banda MMD chitenges, that they gave out free in the lead-up to the election.  Alison says that they were all burned in Lusaka and that even wearing an MMD shirt can get you beaten up in the wrong part of town, but I still see the chitenges around here.  You can just see part of MMD over her shoulder, and the only distinct word in the big circle is an inside-out 'PROMISE,' around a picture of RB.  The little circle on the bottom is clock with the words 'THE TIME HAS COME -- MMD' around the outside, not that you can see that.  Note the skirt: Use #1 of a chitenge.

Use #9 of a Chitenge. This is one of the President Rupiah Banda MMD chitenges, that they gave out free in the lead-up to the election. Alison says that they were all burned in Lusaka and that even wearing an MMD shirt can get you beaten up in the wrong part of town, but I still see the chitenges around here. You can just see part of MMD over her shoulder, and the only distinct word in the big circle is an inside-out 'PROMISE,' around a picture of RB. The little circle on the bottom is clock with the words 'THE TIME HAS COME -- MMD' around the outside, not that you can see that. Note the skirt: Use #1 of a chitenge.

———

This isn’t about Zambia, but I’m here and I made it and I’m very proud of it, so I’m going to show it off.

Laminaria shawl

Laminaria shawl

You can also see my new teeth. For the curious, here’s the damage when I broke them a month ago. (There is some blood and broken teeth. It’s not too bad, but if I look less than entirely happy, it’s because I’d just broken my teeth.) This is actually the first look I got, seeing the picture on Kathy’s camera, because if anyone had a mirror with them, they didn’t offer it to me.

(Update on the teeth situation: I ate banana bread with my teeth Thursday night. They were somewhat tender, and after a piece or two, I decided that it was easier to keep breaking the banana bread and putting small pieces into my mouth.)

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Reservoir

Reservoir

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).

Garden

Garden

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized