When I left our centre on Friday, fighting my way in the dusty heat into town, occasionally beating a leering man with my umbrella, I suddenly realised I only have to walk there and back five times- an incredibly uplifting thought, as I hate walking to Kanyama, and especially hate the narrow road leading there- but then again, by next Friday I'll be free. I felt like a prisoner whose sentence was nearing its end. Suddenly, the sun seems a bit brighter.
Last Saturday, I stayed at Beata's place in Chilanga, a little outside of Lusaka. We sat on her door step, in the middle of trees and bush and green stuff, watching a thunder storm so far away in the Western plains that it didn't even make a sound. The insects buzzed, and the day finally cooled. I twirled my red wine, Beata smoked, and we sat there in a companionable silence, staring into the distance. Beata shares my intense dislike for Lusaka, and so it's almost acceptable to hate it; it's not just me being bitchy. We both feel bored and numbed by the exhaust fumes, the rudeness, the boringness of it all. She's jealous. I'm leaving, and I couldn't stop smiling. She waved her hand dismissively towards the little house (very nice, with a washing machine which she graciously let me bring weeks' worth of laundry along) and to the general direction of Lusaka. Fluttering around in her red dress, she looked like an exotic caged bird.
A while ago, I went to a party by a relatively famous Zambian singer, Matthew Tembo, (Nice party, free food and drink- my backpacker heart positively sang out) and met a Canadian teacher, working in the American secondary school in Lusaka. She was surprised I didn't like Lusaka; she didn't think it was "any better or worse" than a lot of other places. Sure, but then again, she lived and worked in the two nicest, leafiest suburbs in Lusaka, Kabulonga and Woodlands, and drove her air-conditioned 4x4 between the two, had a swimming pool, a maid, all mod cons and a lot of disposable cash. I'm sure you can make your life nice anywhere, and if I was here long-term, so would I. But for now, I live in a compound with no shower, most days no water at all, no trees, a leaky tin roof, next to a noisy pub. I fight with over-charging bus conductors, fiend off people who want money, want me to buy something, want to simply touch me (my umbrella's completely bent from beating men) I eat maize porridge twice a day, every day, and hand wash my clothes, waiting up to four days for them to dry in the rainy season. I can't remember what it felt like to eat salad or just nip to the shop for a chocolate. But still, as an experience, I wouldn't swap it- maybe it's the Finnish masochism, or the English "mustn't grumble" in me, but I'm glad I didn't live the same life in Lusaka as all the dozens of pampered EU or UN workers. It's been wonderful to see how people really live.
But even if I had worked in an air-conditioned office with a broadband, and lived in Kabulonga, I doubt I'd feel different. Lusaka is still, essentially, a boring provincial town, with no cultural scene, where pubs empty at 8pm and people are rude. Although most of Zambia is interesting and beautiful, Lusaka will never be on my list of "places to return to", nor would I recommend it to anyone There's so much more to see in Africa- as I'm hopefully about to discover next week.