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Trials and Tribulations of Moving to Boston, Part II

I opened the last box last week (and promptly shoved it back under my bed again, but baby steps), so it seems an appropriate time to finish the story of the epic Road Trip to Boston.

We embarked about when I’d intended to Saturday morning, leaving behind a muzzy, just-arisen Octopus Library.  (We nearly left without seeing her at all, since I didn’t want to wake her up, and had in fact gotten so far as to determine the the door would lock behind us, so we could in fact leave on our own.)  The drive out of town was uneventful, interrupted only by a brief and abortive stop at a gas station — we drove off again without getting any gas, because it seemed expensive, despite Octopus Library’s advice that gas was cheaper in town than it would be for a while.

I’d gotten the hang of the truck, more or less, and we made decent progress along the coast.  Presently we turned inland, and began seeing signs for our next turnoff, the Merritt Parkway.


Cue a discussion of whether we were, in fact, a commercial vehicle.  It was a truck, yes, but a small one, and didn’t have a trailer, just a back end.  Furthermore, we still had neither map nor functional GPS, and the directions told us to take the Merritt Parkway.

“This can’t be a commercial vehicle,” Isaac pointed out.  “You don’t have a license for commercial vehicles, and you don’t need a special license to drive this.  So it must not be a commercial vehicle.”  This was a sound argument, and anyway, I didn’t know how else to go, so we took the turnoff and hoped that any early-morning cops would be convinced by either logic or a couple of pitiable disoriented young people.  And resolved to keep a close eye on the bridge clearances.

The bridges were disconcerting, because they were much lower than anything we’d seen previously (with the exception of one really low one in Octopus Library’s town, but the first time we’d driven under that one it had been almost-dark and the end of a long day, and I hadn’t realized how low it was, so it’s a good thing it wasn’t another foot or so lower), and (I eventually concluded), only the first bridge (and any subsequent lower bridges) after an entrance ramp had signs.  They were all fine, if a trifle nerve-wracking.

The nerves were not helped by the elderly gentleman who shook his finger at me as he passed us.  “It’s not a commercial vehicle!” I wanted to tell him.  “It says so on my driver’s license!”  Still, I felt terrible conspicuous, especially when we stopped for gas (which, incidentally, cost more than the first stop that morning, where we hadn’t gotten any).  At that stop I also gained a bit more empathy for the New Jersey full-service gas station guy, since the pump kept clicking off at random intervals, generally not more than 15 seconds apart.  It was horribly annoying, but we eventually got the tank filled and escaped the station without generating a posse of angry locals demanding that we stop driving a truck on the Parkway.  Still, I breathed a small sigh of relief when we eventually got off the road without further incident.

If you’re curious, the optimal place to get gas on a trip of this nature is in far-northern Connecticut, or in the suburbs just south of Boston.  Central Connecticut is apparently only surpassed in price by southern Connecticut, but we were worried that the MassPike would be more expensive (it’s not).

After far too many hours, we started seeing signs for Boston.  Another hour or so beyond that, we were looking for our turnoff.  I was ready to stretch my legs and not drive the truck for a while.  I was ready for lunch.  I was ready to arrive.

We hit the first traffic that day about five minutes later.  It wasn’t awful, just some construction and a detour.  We entered Boston proper and started to see signs for Somerville.  “Hallelujah!” I declared.

I turned left onto an unlabeled street that was probably the one we wanted, and found that I was being funneled into a pretty riverside drive that declared, NO TRUCKS.  A loopy U-turn later, and we managed to find the pretty riverside drive we wanted, and were looking for Plympton Street.

And looking.  And looking.  I was pretty sure we’d gone more than half a mile, but I hadn’t seen any signs for Plympton Street, and none of the streets we’d passed looked big enough to have been Plympton Street.  (In retrospect, that was my first mistake, assuming that Plympton Street would be bigger than an alley.  Or no, my first mistake was assuming that it would be labeled.)  We went a few more blocks anyway, hopefully, looking for Plympton or some other largish likely-looking street.

After all, we were supposed to take a right on Plympton, drive a few blocks, and then take a left on Mass Ave.  I’d been on Mass Ave, and knew it to be a proper street of a street.  Surely we could pick it up a few blocks later.

Third mistake.  The road we eventually took curved and meandered, and did not encounter Massachusetts Avenue.  And did not encounter Massachusetts Avenue.   . . . And did not encounter Massachusetts Avenue.

Knowing what I know now, this would have been the time to turn around and try again for Plympton Street.  Knowing what I know now, we’d already passed the point of no return, and it was no longer possible to get to Plympton Street.

But we didn’t know, so when we quite conclusively did not encounter Massachusetts Avenue, but did come to an option to take Route 3 towards Somerville, I took it.  Things looked quite promising for a while, but then we stopped seeing signs for Somerville and decided we must be inside it — but nothing looked familiar.  We presently came to the Red Line station one stop west of mine, so I turned right.  NO TRUCKS, declared the street, a block or two after we’d gotten onto it.  Ooops.

We drove for a while, then turned right again (NO TRUCKS), because the station is a bit north, too.  I hoped to cross some familiar street, but didn’t, so we stopped and asked for directions.  (Not to my house, to my local T station cum square.  It isn’t remotely square.)  This street was one way, so we headed back up the next street (NO TRUCKS) and found the street we’d been on before, and kept going the way we’d been going.

In this manner, and several more NO TRUCKS streets later (one of the signs did eventually say OVER THUS-AND-SO TONS), we found the local square, which is a six-point intersection that someone stepped on several times and then scraped off the bottom of their shoe, and I successfully navigated us through it.  Then, in a comparably herculean task, Isaac got us back on the directions, and a few more streets (NO TRUCKS) later, we pulled up into my Reserved-For-Moving-Truck parking space.

We were an hour later than I’d told Calliope we would get there, and still arrived before her and her mother.  (But not so much before that they weren’t twiddling their thumbs until we got back with the keys.)  The move-in was not entirely uneventful. (The bathroom still wasn’t completely finished, and we discovered that three of the wooden pegs of the Incredibly Heavy Ancestral Table were broken, that the futon I’d been going to sleep on was mildewed and damp, and spent way too much time driving a large truck around Boston and surroundings.  But the truck got returned, the contractor eventually showed up, the table has been fixed, and I have a bed.)

I’ve learned my lesson: don’t drive in Boston without a navigator, a map, and a GPS.  If possible, don’t drive in Boston at all.

And I did eventually find Plympton street the other day, while walking near Harvard.  I didn’t see the sign, but don’t doubt that it was there: NO TRUCKS.

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Trials and Tribulations of Moving to Boston

Friday morning.  The boxes were packed, the last stuff had been carried down from my room (almost), and my worldly possessions were piled into a rectangular section of floor, waiting to be loaded into the van.  My wonderful librarian showed up to drive me to the UHaul place, and we headed off to North Philly.  (Yes, I know that there are closer UHaul places.  UHaul told me to go to that one.)

We arrived at THRIFT STORE on Luzerne street to find a lot of UHaul signs surrounding an unprepossessing warehouse.  It wasn’t open.  Okay, they opened at 10am; maybe it wasn’t quite ten yet.  Some more people arrived and hung out waiting for the store to open, and eventually a woman came with keys. 

The guy in charge of UHaul rentals wasn’t there yet, so we sat in the chilly hallway and shivered and chatted.  Presently it became clear that the UHaul guy wasn’t going to show up for a while, and also that there wasn’t a van for me to take; was it all right if they gave me a 10′ truck, instead?  I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of a larger vehicle, but more storage space was not unwelcome, and anyway, what was I going to say, “No, I will sit here until you give me a van”?  I had a vehicle to pack and upwards of three hours to drive, and it was already 10:30.

Driving home from North Philly was . . . harrowing.  It was not so much that the truck was large and unfamiliar (it was) or that I had no sense of where the right side of the vehicle was (I didn’t), as that North Philly has an interesting approach to rules of the road at the best of times, and any time you are driving a UHaul truck is not the best of times.  However, no pedestrians were run over, no bicycles were mowed down, no cars were hit, and no random stuff made contact with the truck.  But I perhaps did not arrive home in the best frame of mind to park a truck on a relatively narrow street with no assistance, and caused a minor traffic jam until my family figured out what was going on and came outside to help flag.

Loading the truck went excellently.  I had four marvelous people helping to carry stuff, we were done in two hours, and, in fact, if I were to identify problems, the greatest one would be that the assistants could carry boxes faster than I could figure out where to put them (since my oh-so-careful Furniture Tetris plan had been upset by the addition of about a foot of space in several directions).  After lunch, I made my last sweeps of the house, we stuck a few more items in the back of the truck, and Isaac and I clambered in and headed off.  Truck spacing relative to road width was a lot easier with a passenger to provide feedback, and I got enough of a sense of the mirrors to begin to judge for myself.  We took Route 1 north.

One realized exactly how many potholes there are in a road when driving a truck containing everything one owns.  It’s also a good way to figure out just exactly how long a road is.  It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, but traffic was already pretty dense, and as I commented to Isaac, taking Roosevelt Boulevard out of the city is a really excellent way to be entirely ready to leave.

And that was before we almost had my first serious accident with a crazy driver who’d confused the definitions of “cut in front of” and “sideswipe.”  (May I remind you that I was driving a 10′ truck?  Admittedly, not the world’s largest truck, but considerably bigger than a compact car.)  Apparently he wanted to get to the laundromat.  I laid on both brakes and horn, and he lived to do his laundry.

It was with a good deal of relief that we reached the Pennsylvania Turnpike and left the state.  New Jersey was uneventful, aside from our foray into a rest area.  Since I was, technically, driving a truck, we took the “trucks” section at the divide, and found ourselves in an alternate universe full of absolutely enormous vehicles and very few parking spaces.  Eventually we decided that there weren’t enough buses for anyone to mind if we parked at the very end of the line long enough to use the restroom — and realized while walking to the building that the Trucks Universe was distinctly lacking in gas pumps dispensing anything other than diesel.  After a bit of investigation, we decided that a small section labeled “do not enter” would allow us to cross over into the cars side, and this was the last rest stop in New Jersey, and I wanted to buy gas before we left.

That worked just fine — until we were pulling out of the rest stop and I realized that the gas tank didn’t seem to be any fuller than when we’d entered.  By the time Isaac confirmed that the fellow had only put a gallon of gas in the truck, we were already heading back to the highway, so we made some grumbling comments about mandatory full-service gas stations and headed over the bridge to Manhattan.

Which was . . . nowhere near as bad as I expected, considering that it was now 5pm on a Friday night.  The roads were even worse than Philly (the whole trip, we could tell when we entered cities by the way the roads deteriorated), but aside from a few slowish miles, we got out of NYC much faster than I expected to, and spent a very pleasant evening with my friend Octopus Library (not her real name).

And that’s when I realized that my passport was still in Philadelphia.

To be continued . . .

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In Search of Food and Water, Part II

I’ve been aware since March or April that there was a lake, or something that looked very much like one, in Macha.

And when we were looking at google maps back in Lusaka (actually to see where Alison is living, but while we were doing that, Kathy thought she’d show me where LinkNet is, too. The blue dots east and north mark LinkNet and the Wooden House), we wandered past the lake-like thing, and Kathy mentioned, “Oh, we’ve never found that dam. You can figure out where it is and take us to see it.” As I’d already had in mind that that might be something worth doing, I said that I probably would, or something to that effect.

So two weekends ago I set off for the lake. I examined google maps and determined that the lake was just past Mission, where the church is, so I biked there, first.

This is my bike, by the way.  The church is somewhere behind the building on the right.

This is my bike, by the way. The church is somewhere behind the building on the right.

I didn’t really know where to go, beyond ‘somewhere past Mission,’ so I picked a likely-looking path and headed down it.

A likely-looking path.  Note the burned area on the left.  This would be to clear the area for agriculture, or to encourage new growth for cattle.  Or perhaps accidentally.  Moses says the burned grass near the wooden house is accidental.

A likely-looking path. Note the burned area on the left. This would be to clear the area for agriculture, or to encourage new growth for cattle. Or perhaps accidentally. Moses says the burned grass near the wooden house is accidental.

The path went down aways, towards lower ground and slightly thicker vegetation that I could perhaps believe to be indicative of water, and then it flattened out into an attractive but not-so-likely-looking path.

An attractive but less likely-looking path.

An attractive but less likely-looking path.

I kept going. I still have some difficulty understanding exactly how much distance compares to how much map, and I wasn’t doing anything else that day. The path kept going, and eventually the lower area on the right flattened out into more grassland.

The area on the right

The area on the right

I kept going. There were a number of little paths going to the right, but none of them looked quite substantial enough that I felt like deserting my nice, solid path in favor of them, and I was not yet steeled to the idea of turning around.

I got to the road. There being no other road in the area, I was pretty sure that this was the road upon which one travels 14 unpaved kilometers in order to get to the turnoff to Macha. It’s also way past the lake (see that yellow line to the south?). I didn’t know how far it was, but I was pretty sure that I was a good ways past where I wanted to be.

So I turned right on the road, after carefully marking the particular trees and bump in the road that denoted my little dirt path, and attempting not to use the cows as a marker. There was a line of green on the map that maybe suggested a river, and I didn’t object to the idea of a river, either.

I did find the river. It was a bone-dry depression along the ground, with the usual indications that it might sometimes have water, but certainly didn’t have any right now.

About then I began to wonder why I was still traveling along the road, and what I expected to find. I turned around, and shortly after I passed the river again, I noted another dirt path going the same general direction that I wanted to go, and I decided that there wasn’t any particular reason to follow the dirt path I’d already seen. After all, the worst that would happen is that I would get sufficiently disoriented that I would have to retrace all of my steps, road and all. (The concept of private land doesn’t seem to exist here in the same sense that it does as home. Instead of stories about people who wander onto private property and have the owners shout at them, one hears stories of crazy expat joggers who get invited onto Tonga stools by the visitor-deprived locals and given glasses of chibwantu/ibwatu (Mind you, while chibwantu isn’t bad when fresh, if the cornmeal floating in it doesn’t bother you, offering several-days-old chibwantu to one’s guests might be as effective a deterrent as dogs or armed guards, from what I’m told).)

After a while my path meandered up to join the path I’d been on before, and then the paths divided again, and I took the left fork, not entirely sure that I hadn’t originally come from the right fork. That’s the thing about navigating here. There are no indicators of distance, no blocks, or plots of land, or even cultivated fields. I find that paths generally look much of a muchness, with variations in width, or ranging between grassy, or grassy-and-scrubby, or grassy-and-scrubby-and-trees, or grassy-and-trees, or burned remains of any of the above. There may be buildings, but I at least don’t find the buildings here particularly distinctive, and any one path can vary in any of these characteristics almost as much as two different paths. But I figured that if it was a different path now, I could go back to the fork and would get back to Mission reasonably quickly.

I continued on my path. After a while, I took one of the paths leading down to the left and discovered . . .

Water!  Also cows.

Water! Also cows.

I decided that this was the river below the dam again, and continued along my path, feeling more confident that I was on the right path. There was also more traffic (although you shouldn’t come away with the impression that it was ever devoid of people, with the exception of that smaller path I took off the road), which seemed like it might be indicative of something.

It was somewhere along in here that a scrawny dog took offense at my bicycle, or my pale skin, or my skirt, or the sequins on my skirt, and took this offense out with his teeth, but my skirt took the damage (unexpected advantage of riding bicycles in skirts. This perhaps balances out the fact that when I was nearly home, I managed to catch the skirt in the back wheel in such a spectacular way (in the brakes, I think) and tied myself to the bicycle so thoroughly that I almost fell over while trying to get off the bicycle in order to untangle myself). That skirt is one of several articles of clothing that I am coming to the conclusion will not survive a year in Zambia. Things just wear harder here (and I thought handwashing was supposed to be good for clothes!). Have I mentioned that I completely destroyed one of those recycled-plastic-bottle reusable grocery bags on the way back from my shopping-and-language-lessons trip to Choma? The owner yelled at the dog, and no damage was done to my person (and the skirt has been mended and everything), and we all continued along our ways.

At some point I stopped for water and made the discovery that my water bottle was closer to half-full than all-full, an oversight that was all the more distressing because I did not entirely know where I was, and it was getting hot. I had just decided that pretty soon I should give up on looking for the lake (surely the river, such as it was, was enough for one day?), and this football pitch, unfortunately, was not the same as the football pitch just below Mission, because this one had two goals, rather than only one.

I took one last look to my left and saw the unmistakable shimmer of water through trees.

More trees than this.  But you get the idea.

More trees than this. But you get the idea.

Well! I could hardly get this close and turn around now, especially since there was a well-trodden path and everything. I followed the path, feeling quite hopeful, and came upon a pump standing in a small grove. That explained the people carrying buckets and basins that I had passed earlier. A bit further on, I passed the enclosing bramble-barrier that protects gardens from cows (That’s one of the things that strikes me most about these rambles. Even in what seems to be the most desolate areas, there are signs of habitation. Looking like everyone’s ideas of The Wilds Of Africa or not, one can’t forget that people have been living here for a very long time), and then, at last, to water. It was a sort of gray, cloudy water, surrounded by thick clumped mud, but it was deliciously wet to eyes that have been staring at brown dusty country with occasional clumps of green.

I started to lock my bicycle to a convenient tree, realized that I’d left the lock at home, and so my bicycle and I took a ramble around the edge of the lake and up onto what I guess was the dam (which seemed to me to be on the wrong side, and I don’t entirely understand the geography of the place, but it was a high wall of earth, broken by a shorter brick wall, and there were little brick houses and power lines (perhaps they do some sort of hydroelectric?) and beyond that banana trees).

Sorry folks, those aren't Wild African Beasts, they're cows.  Though the cows here do seem a bit more noble than any cows I ever met at home.

Sorry folks, those aren't Wild African Beasts, they're cows. Though the cows here do seem a bit more noble than any cows I ever met at home.

Dry, cracked earth

Dry, cracked earth

On my return, I discovered that the path across the aforementioned football pitch led past a basketball court and almost directly up to Mission. I’d just taken the wrong path when I picked my original likely-looking candidate.

My neighbors, L and N, helping me make approximation-naan that afternoon (see bowl of rising dough to the side).  Any cooking project outside the scope of nshima/meat/vegetables is likely to acquire assistants.  L helped me make peanut butter crisscrosses for my birthday, too.  This is my room, and beyond that some of the common space.

My neighbors, L and N, helping me make approximation-naan that afternoon (see bowl of rising dough to the side). Any cooking project outside the scope of nshima/meat/vegetables is likely to acquire assistants. L helped me make peanut butter crisscrosses for my birthday, too. This is my room, and beyond that some of the common space.

The next day, one of the may salamander-things.  I encountered this one on my walk to church,

The next day, one of the may salamander-things. I encountered this one on my walk to church,

The Wooden House, with blurry Claire and baby K in foreground.  My room is the third blue panel from the corner, the window to the left of that, and the panel left of that.  The doorway on the far left of the picture is The Wooden House 2.

The Wooden House, with blurry Claire and baby K in foreground. My room is the third blue panel from the corner, the window to the left of that, and the panel left of that. The doorway on the far left of the picture is The Wooden House 2.

And in other sorts of searching for water, one day the running-out-of-water was so bad that we didn’t even have water in the faucets behind the house, and the kids hailed me on my way home from work to help them carry the water. Carrying a wide, shallow basin of water on your head is really difficult. I’m getting better, though; about half the time I wind up watering my garden with a similar (smaller, thankfully, so easier to manage) basin.

Courtesy of Marit. L, Me, V, and N.  Not shown: all the drips and splashes of water between the faucet and Zambezi House.

Courtesy of Marit. L, Me, V, and N. Not shown: all the drips and splashes of water between the faucet and Zambezi House.


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In Search of Food and Water

Two weeks ago I gave myself a steam burn while trying to get the lid off my pan (don’t worry; it healed very nicely). This is because my largest pan has a lid without a handle. I had been using a knife or fork to pry the lid off the pan, but even if I use two implements as if they are tongs, I wind up dropping the pan lid on the floor far more frequently than I consider optimal or desirable. I burned myself while attempting a new system incorporating hotpads. This moved Find Someone Who Can Weld A Piece Of Metal Onto That Pan Lid from something that it would be nice to do at some point in the future to a task with a certain amount of urgency. As has become my habit, I asked the advice of Moses.

This is Moses, by the way.  He's quite fond of sitting out here, and I think brought the tire specifically for that purpose, because it wasn't here when I arrived.

This is Moses, by the way. He's quite fond of sitting out here, and I think brought the tire specifically for that purpose, because it wasn't here when I arrived.

“Ah,” he said. “I think they can do that at Gideon.”

“Where’s Gideon?” By this point I had some sense of geography, and I knew that where I live is Ubuntu Campus, and where the hospital and the market are, and that MAIM (the malaria research institute/houses with hot and cold running water and lawns, even if they’re made of dirt, said Mai-yim) was somewhere in that direction, and that the area with the BIC church I go to is Mission, because it’s the oldest (Western-influenced) part of Macha, but I had not heard of Gideon.

“Oh, about five kilometers away. I go there sometimes, and I can take it. I’ll remind you when I go next.”

So I figured that that was that, although not necessarily something that would happen in the immediate future.

Last week I decided to have nshima and relish as my meal-of-the-week (it’s too much work to cook a new dish every night of the week. I am apparently incapable of cooking one-person servings, and need a smaller pan if I’m even going to try, so I just make one or two a week, which is easier, even if reheating can be challenging). Moses promised that he would teach me to make nshima, even though he doesn’t like it, and said that greens and onions and tomatoes and beef would be sufficient to make some relish (relish is whatever you eat with nshima. So far I’ve had chicken, beef, offals, unidentified greens, unidentified greens, pumpkin leaves with groundnut sauce (I need to learn how to make this. Also to identify pumpkin leaves, and where to find groundnut flour), beans, and beans and mince (ground beef)). I’d gotten beef in Choma during my Tonga lessons, and knew that I could buy onions, tomatoes, and greens at the market. (Speaking of greens, I’ve discovered that the stuff I’ve been calling kale is in fact rape leaves. I’m disappointed; I was looking forward to trying new vegetables, and while this stuff isn’t exactly like kale at home, it’s more like kale than lacinato kale is like curly kale is like red russian kale.)

“Er, I can get breakfast meal at the market, right?” I hadn’t gotten any mealie meal in Choma because I was in a hurry at the grocery store and didn’t fancy the idea of hauling an extra 2.5 kilos back with me, and people eat mealie meal two or three meals a day here, so I figured that it must be available.

“Ah — You can get it in Gideon.”

So Friday morning I brought up Google maps and got Moses to show me how to get to Gideon, and then ate a quick lunch and set off on my bicycle.

“If I don’t come back by classtime, you’ll know I got lost.” (I was sitting in on the A+ Engineering class that afternoon, which started, at least hypothetically, at 15 hours. My lunch break is hypothetically until 14:30 (actually, Moses says it’s supposed to end at 14 hours, but everyone takes until 14:30), but I frequently arrive at 14:30 and sit and knit for at least half an hour before whoever has the keys today shows up to unlock the door, so while I try for 14:30, I don’t consider it imperative.) Lunch is two hours here (but we start work — at least hypothetically — at 8 hours. In the morning I’ve sat and knit for over an hour before whoever has the keys manages to show up), so I figured that two and a half hours minus the time required to eat a quick lunch was probably sufficient to bike ten kilometers and do some shopping and possibly make a few wrong turns.

I headed off with my trusty fairly reliable ZAMBike, my helmet, my purse, my backpack, and one pan lid missing a handle. I followed Moses’s directions and my memory of the satellite imagery, and with only one small detour to a cluster of buildings (it didn’t look like the sort of population center that would sell mealie meal and fix pan lids. But the paths seem to wander on indefinitely here, and I didn’t want to miss it), a few pauses to walk the bicycle (three weeks in, I’m proficient in biking through moderately deep sand. I still can’t always manage deep sand, but I’ve gotten very good at avoiding it), and two conversations to ascertain that I was going the correct direction, I arrived at a gaily painted cluster of buildings. This looks more like it, I thought, but just to be sure, after the customary greetings with two young men wandering by, I asked if this was Gideon.

“But of course!” one replied, as if Gideon were the only place in the world one would want to go to, and an air that implied that the flourish and bow had been omitted merely due to the heat.

I thanked them, “Ndalumba,” parked my bicycle under the generally accepted bicycle-parking tree-bush, and made my way to a large building that upon closer inspection bore the label “Gideon General.” The inside of the store consisted of a small, empty area surrounded on two sides by mesh and one side by counter, for customers, and a u-shaped space filled with a large selection of worldly goods one could possibly want, and shelves containing more of the same. It reminded me of nothing so much as the recreations of company stores one occasionally encounters in historic towns, although the selection of goods was slightly different.

On my turn, I greeted the woman behind the counter (they were pleased with my rudimentary Tonga) and inquired about someone to fix my pan lid. After some rapid discussion with the other patrons that I did not follow, she informed me that the man who could fix it wasn’t working today. Alas, but that’s how things go here.

“Also, I would like some breakfast meal.”

“Ten kgs or fifty kgs?”

” . . . ten kgs.” I had considered the fact that I might have to buy as much as five kilograms, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I might need as much as ten, but I wasn’t going to bike the whole way to Gideon and back and not get either of the things I wanted, and I certainly didn’t want fifty kgs. Anyway, how else was I going to make nshima? Ten kilograms is a LOT of grain. It fit in my backpack — barely. I found myself wishing for the rope that I’d blithely left on top of my desk, which I would have been able to use to tie the sack to the back of my bicycle (People carry EVERYTHING on bicycles here. I’ve seen stack of thatch as big as a person, and a goat that may or may not have been still alive).

As I was unlocking my bicycle, someone called, “Madam!” I’m getting used to the fact that the person hollering some distance away probably is talking to you, and anyway, they were talking in English. I went back into Gideon General and was informed that if I turned left and walked until I reached a building with a grass roof, I would find someone who could fix my pan lid. At least, I think that’s what she said. I find here that even though we both speak English, half the time we don’t understand each other.

I walked past a building that I can only assume to be the local bar (the doorway said “Over 18,” or something to that effect, and there was loud, cheerful music blasting), and around a large thatch-fenced enclosure. I seemed to be getting outside of town, and I didn’t see anywhere with a grass roof, but in front of a building with a tin roof was a fellow with welding equipment. (Or maybe he was soldering. I don’t know. He was working metal and there were sparks.) I made the usual greetings, showed him my pan lid, and asked if he could fix it. (This was a nontrivial question, as the only portion of the pan lid not covered by enamel was two rusty little stubs where the handle used to be.) He said that he would try, refused to give me a quote because he wasn’t sure he could, and wandered off and reappeared a bit later with a short bit of iron. He then proceeded to shape it into a U using a hammer, a pliers, and a large hunk of metal sitting around the yarn that might once have been part of a car, chatting all the while. So I had entertainment and while-you-wait service while he crafted a new handle for my lid. I think he was displeased by the amount of solder around the base (though he gave me the usual line about what a delicate job it was), but I’m very glad to have something to hold on to and think he did an excellent job. I particularly liked the part where he banged on it with a hammer while he was trying to get the extra solder off. It cost me 5,000 kwacha, which is slightly more than a dollar. I don’t know if this was a fair price (not, I expect, that there is a going rate for attaching pieces of metal to pan lids), but the bike mechanic charged me 2,000 kwacha for labor and 1,000 for parts to fix the valve on my bike wheel, so I figure it’s not too bad, but even if it wasn’t, it’s still much cheaper, both actually and comparatively, than a comparable job would cost in the states (Do you know anyone who would do a tinkering job for the same price as ten tomatoes or half a pineapple? Yeah, me neither), and I’m still enjoying what a pleasant experience it was.

The power went out ten minutes ago — although the flickering porch light tells me that the generator is on — this entry is already really long, and I’m hungry, so I think I’ll try to seize what resources there are and cook my supper, and you’ll have to wait until later to hear about my search for water. (Actually, you’ll have to wait until later to read this entire entry, because no/limited power means no internet.)

Edit at posting time: I was late to class. But not very late (okay, fifteen minutes. But that’s not very late here. And one of the actual students was later that I was).


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