Tag Archives: life in Macha

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.

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Not, in fact, melting my camera

This post was written some weeks ago, but for several reasons, I didn’t post it at the time.

Due to a fortuitous combination of a much-delayed graduation gift (thanks, Dee!) and opportunity knocking, I have a new camera. And not just any new camera, but a really, REALLY nice camera, the sort of camera that I used to sigh over in the back room of the computer labs and promise myself, Someday, I will get a camera like that.

One of the very nice things about really good cameras is that they take much better pictures than reasonably nice cameras.

We’re starting to get into the season for grassfires. Not the big, uncontrolled, terrifying grassfires (mostly not. There was one a few weeks ago that was a bit scary when the wind was blowing our direction; luckily it shifted), not yet, not until things dry out more, and people start burning the land to encourage new growth to feed the cows. But things are dry enough to burn, and there are fires, either accidental, or intentional — just a few days ago I looked out of my window and saw a wall of fire in the direction of the Wooden House.

Of course, I rushed outside to make sure that the Wooden House was not actually on fire, and discovered that they were burning the grass around it, so that they would have a firebreak, “for when the big fire comes.”

One of the things that fascinates me about these fires is that they usually don’t burn the whole way up the grass stems, but just clear out the undergrowth, leaving the stems standing, slightly scorched at the bottom, but mostly untouched at the top. These fires burn HOT, though. It’s a good thing the camera has a good zoom lens, because I often did not want to get any closer.

There was another fire about a month ago, too.

If some of these pictures lead you to doubt my sense, I assure you that no Miriams were harmed in the making of this post. The only lasting effect was a sooty smear of burnt grass on my skirt, which is easily remedied in my next load of laundry.

———————————

I fly out of Lusaka International Airport this afternoon, and arrive in Philadelphia tomorrow via Johannesburg and Heathrow. We’ll have a few days of Re-entry Retreat with all of the SALTers from various countries, and then disperse to our homes.

The physical travel is almost finished, but I intend to continue posting on things that catch my eye as I reintegrate into American culture. I’ve also promised several posts over the course of this year that I never got around to writing, and there are a number of other things that I could write about, like food and living in an officially Christian country and the Peace Clubs Fair I went to last weekend, not to mention posting more of the zillions of pictures I’ve taken. So my question to you is: are there things you would like to read? Either about Zambia or about returning to the US?

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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.

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On being white in Zambia

I am in Livingstone, walking alone on the back way to the hostel where I am staying. This neighborhood is grittier than most of the other parts of Livingstone I’ve seen, and feels to me more like the rest of Zambia I have come to know.

I pass a man, and greet him, “Hello.”
“Hello. You are beautiful. Marry me.”
“No.” (Woe betide any American man who might ever wish to marry me. I have become incredibly blas├ę about turning down proposals.)
“You do not want?”
“No.”
“Okay. Next time!”

I will admit that I could not hide a smile at that last — AFTER I’d walked past him and he could no longer see my face. And this is definitely the Best Marriage Proposal I Have Received, although competition is stiff from things like “I have always wanted to marry a white woman like yourself; is this possible?”

These interactions are common. And I’ve gotten off lightly; Alison stopped counting after she reached 100 marriage proposals sometime in February.

What does this have to do with race? This doesn’t happen to Zambian women. In fact, Zambian women may not believe me when I talk about marriage proposals. This is not the way things are done here.

I would say that about 80% of the proposals I’ve received have occurred within the first five minutes of meeting the man in question (all within the first half-hour). I’m sure this percentage is even higher for Alison. (Piece of advice for hypothetical suitors: even if you do fall madly in love with me after one glance across a crowded room, it might be a good idea to wait until you actually know me to pop the question.)

“Would you marry a Zambian?” is a question I get even more frequently, from both women and men. I think that the least flippant answer I ever gave was, “I wouldn’t want to live here for the rest of my life, and I would not feel comfortable demanding that someone else undertake a relocation of the same scale for me.” (Not to say that all the cultural difficulties — which compose the rest of my answer — aren’t serious, but they invariably become a joke. “Oh, but I would not polish his shoes or wash his pants! I would want him to cook and clean. He would be very unhappy, and my in-laws would hate me.”)

That’s not just because I would miss the biting cold of winter, the sharp smell and vibrant color of new-fallen leaves, the modest, homey flowers of early spring, cheese and tree nuts and ice cream, friends and family and places, and a decent internet connection, because I would. I’d miss them terribly. But more than that, it’s just too hard to be white in Zambia.

It’s true that I have gotten used; it’s not as hard now as it was when I came, and perhaps, if I stayed here another year, another two years, another ten, it would continue to get easier.

But the first thing anyone sees about me is the color of my skin. I could speak Tonga perfectly, I could learn to balance 20 liters on my head, I could make nshima and relish the equal of any woman in Zambia — but I would STILL be white, and that would still be my most identifying feature. I am not my gender. I am not my age. I am not my religion. I am not my job or my education or my friends or my accomplishments. I am a white person. Anything else I might do or be is added as an afterthought to this most basic state of my being.

If you are white in the United States, it is possible to never think about race. There are places where awareness of your race will be pushed into stark relief, but most white people can chose not to go there. Most white people do choose not to go there. Race is not our problem, because we aren’t aware of it. We have to learn to see it and its influences, and whenever we’re tired of dealing with it, we can go back inside our safe, comfortable, homogeneously white bubble, and it’s not on our radar anymore.

On the whole, this is not the experience of people of color in the United States. There are areas where this acts in reverse, but there are many fewer of them, and they are much smaller, and the chances are much higher that the people who inhabit them will have to leave these spaces and become aware of race. How do you describe a friend or colleague or acquaintance who is a person of color? Black/African American man. Asian woman. Race first, anything else after.

That is what it is like to be white in Zambia. I am a mukuwa (Tonga), or perhaps a muzungu (Nyanja and many other Bantu languages); musimbi is an afterthought, if at all. If someone needs to describe me beyond that, it’s always “The mukuwa who . . .” I can’t forget about race here. Even if I could, someone walking past me on the path would remind me. I see racial lines much more clearly than I ever did in the United States, even when I was one of only two white children in my class. “Why don’t you move in with Gemmeke” because you are white and she is white and white people huddle together? The little rectangle of Canada, like embassy immunity, enclosed by the pilot’s fence. The areas of Lusaka or Livingstone filled with white people. Namibia, full of white people, all moving in neatly prescribed circles, seeming to interact with black Namibians only in carefully defined points of contact: at the craft market, or when talking to the househelp.

I get marriage proposals at a rate worthy of a celebrity. Children run out of their houses to shout “How are you?” and are not content until I have responded to each individually. People on the street call me “mukuwa” as if it were my name. People — colleagues, strangers — reach out to touch or finger-comb my hair. Street vendors materialize at my elbow: “Buy narchis, very nice, very sweet, you don’t want? They are good, very sweet, only ten pin, you can try one, buy narchis!” “Face cloth, talk time, Rub-On Vics, ma sweeties, I give you good price, madam! You don’t want to buy? Give me something, Madam. What will you give me? Give me five pin.” Drunk men sit down next to me to start long, rambling conversations. Children walk past a hundred Zambians to beg from me — adults do it, too, only the quantities are bigger. People may try to charge me more, especially in Lusaka, because of the color of my skin. Toddlers cry when I approach. Alison was subjected to a screaming diatribe after nearly being run over by a truck (while standing on the sidewalk).

It’s not all bad. I would even say that it’s mostly positive (aside from the endless, endless begging). I am courted for my custom on the minibus (the conductor will greet me as I step off the inter-town bus, and insist on carrying my bags to his vehicle), though I pay the same fare as any Zambian. People break into delighted laughter at an attempt to speak Tonga, or engage in any other culturally appropriate behavior. Complete strangers ask to have a picture taken with me. Before I came here, I had never in my life — never expected that I would — caused a room of a thousand women to scream with delight by climbing up on a stage to dance. Positive or not, it can be exhausting. Sometimes I just want to be a person, not a white person. I don’t know how to respond when people want to give me special treatment because of my race. Can I eat in the main food line instead of the VIP room, or is that refusing hospitality? And I like sitting in the front seat of the minibus (reserved for the most important people on the minibus); there’s more leg room, and you’re not as squished.

It’s as if cultural rules don’t apply to me. Zambians ask friends for money, rather than begging from strangers. Zambians men don’t propose marriage to women they’ve never met before. One of the Grade Twos I tutor played with my toes yesterday as I read them a story, because they’re white toes. It’s horribly rude not to greet someone when you enter a gathering, but when I was at a funeral, one woman came in and greeted every person in the room except for me — not to be rude, just because I was white. I can play pool, or wear trousers, or walk around with dusty, unpolished shoes, because I’m white. Sometimes I feel that being white means I’m not really a person.

I know that this experience has been good for me. It is valuable for me to be forced to live with knowledge of my race; for the rest of my life, I will have a much better understanding of the experience of visible minorities.

But no, I don’t want to live here.

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Zambia in 160 characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————

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

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Not, in fact, an unusual story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wind sock at ABFA

Wind sock at ABFA

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

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

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

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

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

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Picking up the kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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