Tag Archives: Lusaka

On Cruisers and Time

The hours stretch by. Expand then contract again, bouncing in and out of time, out to forever then back again. Time stops being real, it moves at its own pace. It gets lazy then catches up with itself. The heat holds it down, presses it against itself. The hot tarmac radiates up and out and keeps stretching out, behind, back where we came from.

A year ago I was in this same cruiser, driving the opposite way. Driving the eleven hours from Lusaka to Solwezi. We were restless. We put in music. We checked the time. We tried to read, talk, play a game. We looked at our watches once more. We didn’t know that the time will go as it pleases, that this road won’t rush itself by until it wants to. We occupied ourselves, we counted the hours till arrival.

A year later we have learned better. We get in the car in the morning, we curl up against the bags lining the seats. We put in music. We fall asleep. We wake up and watch the road slink by. We watch it unfurl, a never ending river of black and grey and dirt. We push the piles of stuff down around us. The packs and purses and pineapples. We nestle into the holes, rest against the soft parts, punch away the hard. We push our knees against the door, press our toes into the glass window, fall a bit deeper into the nest we’ve made. We change the music, look up, nestle down, keep watching the road beyond. We read billboards and look at the trees. We don’t ask it to go faster than it wants. We let it take its time.

Our watches go faster now. Wake up, another city. Fall asleep, the smooth tarmac gives way to potholes. Another place, another province, another few hours tick themselves off quietly, no fuss, no acknowledgement.

We are more patient now. We know the ride will go as it pleases. We know the places now, we know the landmarks to look for. We don’t need to check the time because we know that the time will not make a difference, that the clocks are arbitrary will never change as we want. So we stop wanting. We let them move at their own pace, molasses speeding up after its initial slow decent, then pulling back into itself. Chovu chovu. Slowly slowly.

And soon we will be in Lusaka, where the time makes sense again. Where the roads will stop and give way to traffic. Where watches start up once more, we get out, stretch our legs, wonder at the day flown by. Wonder at the time snapping back to the finite. Wonder at how much more patient we have become, how much easier these rides get with time. Wonder at how months have gone by, a year has gone by, too quickly to imagine fully. Too quickly to comprehend now, so for now we will ignore that spectacle in time, leave it for another day.


Tears and Volunteers

It’s late morning, mid May. I’m frustrated. I sit in my house. I feel like I’m going to cry. I’m so sick of feeling like I can’t get anything done, like it is impossible to get things right, like I am alone in my village with nowhere to go. It’s just one of those mornings. One of those mornings that later on, when something goes really well, I will think back to, and think about how I spent so long thinking that nothing would ever go well. Thinking in hyperboles about how time was going to slow down to a thickly slowing standstill.

Things here come in hyperboles. Things are wonderful, until all of a sudden you feel like you are going to break. I count down the days until I have something exciting to look forward to, and all of a sudden, a month later, I don’t know where the time went. These spots come in waves, and sometimes it’s hard to realize that they always get better; they really always do.

And its hard to admit those tough days. Tough weeks. When things feel like they’re never going to be right again. When things feel like they are never going to work. No matter what you do. Sometimes we feel like we can’t talk about them. Like we shouldn’t talk about them, like we shouldn’t admit to them. Like once we do, everyone will know we’re a failure. We’re not strong enough. When really, these tough times are what make the experience out here real. They make it more than just a dream, an idealistic image of what we want to accomplish. They make it something tangible that we learn and grow from. That changes us in ways we never thought it would.

One of the tough things here is that volunteers tend to shy away from talking openly about their tougher experiences. We put a bright face on it all, show off the wins, hide the losses. And so we think that we are the only ones having a tough time. We think that we are the only ones going through a slump. I talk about it with a friend or two, they remind me to just wait, that it always gets better, just wait for the day where I will get that win again.

A day that I get excited because I can finally have a meeting, that I can finally get something done.

And then no one comes. I sit on the ground in the shelter outside, reading my book, greeting the people as they come by and they don’t stop. I know they are not going to stop, to sit down, to be part of the program today. Because today will be written off as a failure. And I am upset for that failure.

Kids playing by the borehole

But I also know that that failure is okay. That failing every day for a month is okay. I don’t think I knew that in the same way before coming here. I don’t think I realized, too, how even though I know it is okay I am profoundly upset by it. By the idea that I can’t seem to get through to the people how much I want to work with them, if they will only find the ability within themselves to come and ask me for help.

But then, when I have given up, there is that one meeting that works. Where the mothers come two and a half hours late, but I am still sitting there with my Zambian counterpart, and we have written off anyone coming, but all of a sudden three mothers show up and sit down beside me and pull my diagram that I have drawn over to them and start listening to what I have to say. And they start coming up with their own ideas.

We want them to start collecting eggs from the chickens running around in their yard. And they ask how to build a home for the chickens and I show them the sketch. And they ask how many eggs, and I tell them. And they start talking: if they sell some and save the money, they can buy more chickens. If they sell some fritters they can use that money, too. They can pair up and work as a team. They can make this idea that they came up with just a few weeks ago into a reality.

“You can form a women’s group,” I say. They look at me. “You can start an official group to do this, too. Make it a real thing, not just a few of you keeping chickens.”

They make plans. They tell me they are going to start collecting supplies in two days. They can’t understand how excited I am, how this is the first time I have had people motivated to work on something, how even just the three of them starting this project is more than any other village has accomplished.

How they have not only learned what their kids need to eat, but they have realized that they like feeding their kids eggs, they can’t always buy eggs, so they want to lay their own, and all of a sudden we have a project that may fail in a few months as so many do, but the important thing is that we have made the first steps towards trying. And it is because of them that we are doing so, not because of me. They are the ones who can make this work, and they may just be starting to understand that. And I walk away, grinning, cheeks hurt so bad. And I know that moments like this are what make all the tougher ones worth it. That this is what I was waiting for. And this is what I am here for.


On Malawi Vacation

Bounce around in the back of the truck, wind blowing through your hair. Pause the truck to let the baboons cross the street (why did the monkeys cross the road?), more like a tiny dirt road. Pick up some people, drop some off. Stop for a hitchhiker: a forty-five minute ride can take three hours.

Malawi is beautiful. Small hills covered in big rock faces and newly green trees. Gardens and farms line the road, soil prepped and ready for the rainy season to come in full force to grow the maize. White sand beach, small islands popping up in the middle of the lake which looks like an ocean. Clear blue water lapping the edges, the amaamas washing the clothes and the dishes in the lake, little naked kids diving in and out of the water.



Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.
Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.

Its dry here still, like in much of south eastern Zambia, where the rains are still just starting, a month later than they should have. You can see it in the trees and the fields and in the rivers thirsting for water. You can feel it in the heat, which constantly needs a good rain to break it up into something more bearable. Something less heavy feeling. The hot season has gone on way too long here.

Of course, being from Northwest, I am not used to the heat. Our rainy season has been going for at least a month or two now, and I worry more about the hole in my roof than about my neighbors’ farms not being able to grow food. I worry about the snakes that might come in through the forest of ferns that grows up around my house before I ask someone to come and slash my yard. Dry is a foreign concept at home when I cant get my clothes to dry, when I am in bed in my sweatpants and a sweater.

Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi
Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi

But, then again, this is our beach vacation, and what is a beach vacation without too much heat and sunburns and skipping over the burning sand into the cool water to cool down?

And here we are: in Malawi. On the lake, the crystal clear lake that is so big it seems like an ocean. We lie on the beach and read our books and drink our beers and life on vacation is good. We wait while the morning clouds clear out, we catch a ride into town to get money from the atm. The breeze in the truck bed cuts the heat for the moment, and is a nice break from the rest of the day.

And we return to the beach. We watch the boats in the water, multiplied at night while they shine their lights and go fishing. We watch the amaamas go down to the edge of the water and wash the clothes and the dishes and themselves. The little boys run down to the edge of the water, strip their clothes off on the way and dive into the waves. We count the chickens running around in the sand with the kids, and it is so much like home, like the village, but with sand instead of dirt and lakes instead of streams. It is vacation.

Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.
Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.

To the Rain

On rainy days we don’t go anywhere. We don’t go anywhere because there’s nowhere to go. Sit in the corner, watch the water fall, the whole world is in my head. Listen to the sound of the drops on the thatch. Listen to the sound of the drops coming in through the holes, land in the bowls and the pots and the pans lining the floor to catch the strays as they come into the hut. Block everything else in the world out and just listen.

On rainy days the ground is happy, the heat slinks away. The dust finally settles and the green returns to the earth. The ferns start to unfold and rise slowly up, up towards the sky. The dry earth turns to puddles, the paths turn to mud. The stream levels rise, the banks slink away.

On rainy days we watch the storms come in. We look up at the clear blue skies and spot the dark cloud moving towards us and guess about whether it will hit us soon or pass us by. We go for walks. We wash our clothes. We fetch water and take a shower and get caught in the storm as it comes in. We head back inside. The clothes get slowly damper on the lines as the storm washes off those bits of soap that never come off while bucket washing my laundry.

We walk slowly inside, enjoying the drops, we dry off and bundle up and leave the door to the hut wide open to allow the breeze to cool the inside of the room. We move the candles out of the way of the wind, we sweep the dust from the corners where it continually collects. The wind blows it back inside and we finally get the larger pieces out the door or into the puddle on the stoop. We move back inside. We dry off our hands.

On rainy days we take the brazier inside to cook on, we let the fumes fill the room with smoke. We pile on extra small pieces of charcoal so that the fire will catch without needing to be swung. We wait for it to heat up, we let it warm the room. We make soup or stew and sit on the bed eating and watching a movie. We make popcorn with the extra hot coals. We put on music, we take turns putting on songs. We find the perfect songs. We stop taking turns and listen to the perfect songs one right after another. We sit on the concrete floor, hands around our knees. We sit on the floor and listen to the music and the glow of the candles lights the hut with long shadows and soft hisses. We turn off the sound. We listen to the rain.

The rain stops and we wish for it to keep going. We wish for the soothing soundtrack to the day. The excuse to be as slow as possible. The calm way in which everything stops in deference. We fall asleep and it starts raining again.

The rain continues through the night, and slows to a stop sometime in the early morning. The storm has come and gone, come and gone again, and it is dry. The leaves shake off the drops and drops of dew and it is a new day, bright and blue skies once more.

The rain has stopped and the sun has returned and we go outside, blinking into the sun, the clouds burning off again, the world returning to what it was before. The sky turns from dark to grey to blue and we wait. We wait for the rains to return. We wait for the rains to return to the skies once more.

The storm cloud coming in towards Samuteba, blue skies on the ridge in Mundwidji.


A Glimpse of Hitching

So on Monday me and my friend, Travis, hitched over to Mwinilunga from Samuteba, the town between the two of us, and where another volunteer, John, lives, too. We were going  to bike, but since we realized that we both needed to go to both Solwezi and to Mwinilunga, and they are in opposite directions on the tarmac, we decided to just catch the first hitch that came along going to either city and make a game of it. We managed to get a hitch in around ten minutes (record time!) going to Mwini. It was in a large truck, they were almost full but we convinced them to let us squish in.

The driver was pretty interesting. And a bit crazy. He would make these huge sweeping statements about things. Like that all Americans sell arms to the Angolans. And that HIV was created in America and brought over to kill Africans. But he was interesting to talk to nonetheless. And he didn’t charge us for the hitch which was nice of him. He was coming from Lusaka two days before, and heading a few hundred kilometers into Angola with what he said was  “groceries” No expansion, but the truck was huge, and loaded up in the back with stuff.

We got in right before the rain hit, and headed to a place at the bus station to get chicken and nshima. This place sells it for 15 kwacha (~$2.50), and its really good. We stayed there until the rains petered out a bit (the rainy season is really starting to hit, with rains at least every other day if not multiple times in one day), and headed off to do errands. Pick up money at the bank, talk to various government officers, and pick up packages!

The next day we left and caught a cantor (the name of the trucks here) to Solwezi. It was actually pretty perfect…it was already 13:00, and we were heading past the bus station to grab some meat pies for lunch and then to come back to look around for a cantor or mini bus or something going to Sol, and just as we were passing the bus station a cantor was pulling out with room on it heading to Solwezi! So we all piled in, me, Travis, John and his bike, and headed off.

We dropped off John and his bike in Samuteba, and then maybe fifteen minutes later picked up a giant load. A farmer was heading to Kisasa (a mining town around halfway between Mwini and Sol) with seven bags of cassava (probably 1x2x4 feet each) and five bags of charcoal to sell. So we filled up the little cantor and headed off! Now that it was full we could sink down into the holes between all the bags and take a nap. The sky was clear, the breeze from the moving truck was perfect.

We were almost at Kisasa, though, when the storm hit. It had been starting to get a bit cooler for a while, but around here seeing storm clouds doesn’t mean its going to storm on you, it very well could be passing nearby and never hit. It did hit, though, and hard. So we pulled over, and the drivers pulled some tarps over the load, and all the passengers hitching got out and hung out under an awning of a small shop by the side of the road. For a while. It was probably 15:30 by that point, maybe 16. When the storm had mostly passed we loaded up again, and sped out from under the cloud. It was pretty cool seeing the clear skies ahead and knowing that thats where we were heading!

At Kisasa we stopped to unload. Travis stayed on to help the guys unload the truck and I went searching for food. Cause we hadn’t gotten a chance to eat yet that day (remember, we were in search of food when we ran into the cantor and hopped on). I couldn’t find much savory, but did manage to buy some fritters and two bags of salted peanuts, which would tide us over. We were about to get back on the cantor when we ran into another volunteer! Turns out she was in a private vehicle hitching to Sol, too. Her drivers offered to take us, too, cause she was the only one in it (since it was a government cruiser and they don’t usually pick up hitches). That was nice, cause our cantor drivers gave us half our money back (25 kwacha each! Score!), and we got to ride in a car out of the wind, and a lot faster, too, the rest of the way.

So, in the end, we made it to Solwezi around 18. Most things were closed because of the funeral, but we did find a pizza place that was open, and a small liquor store, and so got some whiskey, a pizza, and fries, and made our way to the lodge. It was quite the day.

Thunder on a Slow Day

It’s thundering outside. Rainy season is still (officially) a month away, but this is our second thunderstorm in a week and a half.

The storms here roll in quickly. First it is beautiful blue skies outside, hot, but clear as far as you can see. Then there are a few clouds, and then the thunder comes as a warning from the distance. Quickly now. Thunder, then a few drops of rain, and then the storm. It crashes down, all at once. My thatched roof, finally expanded and settled in from the last rain, is successfully keeping me dry as the storm rages around my little hut.

An ambulance came to the clinic this week. The nurses from the Boma (the name for our district town, Mwinilunga) hopped out and quickly wrapped chitenges around their white uniform pants before continuing with their job.

Life is slower here. When the in-charge at my clinic calls for an ambulance from the Boma, 45km away, at 9am, it arrives around 11:30. The nurses walk in, they chat with the in-charge, slowly. They take a look at the woman lying on the bed before slowly lifting her into the ambulance to take her away.

The woman is having complications with her pregnancy, is bleeding, and needs a blood transfusion.

Life here is all at a different pace. My mornings are filled, because I design them that way, filled with fetching water, making breakfast, doing my dishes, going to the clinic, but then I get to the afternoon and need to think of things to do. Work on my hut, or go to the headmasters house to buy vegetables, or wash my clothes or go for a run. Or read. I do a lot of reading here. It’s a good routine. It gives my days some semblance of structure, which I need so that I don’t go crazy.

The first three months here are community entry, where I’m not supposed to do any programs, but am just supposed to hang out, get a feel for my village, what it needs, set up my hut, settle in in general. So it is all a bit slow, but that’s life. I figure out ways around being bored, and slowly slowly it’s not so bad. It’s really okay.