It's getting ridiculously hot. I know I've been a bit smug about the nice weather here, but the last few weeks, it's gone past my comfort threshold. In the evenings, I sit outside on the porch of the electricity-less house, and listen to the pop music from the bar next door blair out in bemba, a language which I don't understand. It does mix nicely with the chittering of the cicadas, and I drink beer, stare at the stars and wait for the rains. Any week now, they'll come.
I feel funny here. I have seriously had to slow down. Everything happens so much slower- It takes me ages to wash my clothes, and I sit with Purity on our doorstep, with a big soapy bucket of water, chatting and scrubbing, wearing a chitenge, a traditional long wrap-around cloth in bright colours, which I love. Handsen, the father of the family often remarks that we look like a stereotype of two African women going on about our daily things. I find that comforting. Their family has been so welcoming to me, and I feel incredibly relaxed living with them. I never thought I'd be quite so happy in a family accommodation. The odd thing is that it took me about four days to realise that the house does not have a mirror anywhere. I left my little hand mirror in London, thinking it was an unnecessary vanity, and now, every time I step into a lift or go to a slightly nicer store and come across one, I get a slight shock. Each time, I am browner (skin) and lighter (hair).
One thing I seriously hate though is Kanyama, the not-so-nice area of Lusaka where I happen to work. Lusaka is an ugly city, built by Dr Seuss, where nothing works and no logic is put into anything. The city sprawls to every possible direction from the few main roads, creating a shack-like buildings right next to the high risers. The road to Kanyama is full of vendors of everything imaginable, and as the road is dangerously narrow, pedestrians often get hit by cars, wheelbarrows or bicycles. People call out to me all the time. I feel like putting a sign on my neck that says "yes, I am white, and yes, I am still the same white woman you saw yesterday. And last week. And no, I will still not give you my phone number".
A strange man keeps coming into my office. I swapped offices now, and sit with Oscar, our accountant, who is hilarious, and who lets me play my mp3 player on the company laptop. This little man, who's name I cannot make out, comes in, sits down, and occasionally chats. Usually, he just stares at me. Eventually, a few days ago, he asked me if I was "engaged". I almost slipped a sarky remark, before I remembered that people here really do not get sarcasm. They are just too nice, almost in a naive, in a slightly child-like way. I used to get some very odd looks about my sense of humour. Now I just do it to entertain myself.
"No", I told him, "I'm not"
"Ooh." This seemed to delight him. "So, if you are not with anyone, you can go out with me. I"m sure I can show you some new stuff"
I bit my tongue, and hurriedly said "Oh, you meant a boyfriend. Yes, yes, sorry, I do have one"
He seemed a bit down. Then he looked at me up and down, and said "Really? What's his name?"
I panicked. I couldn't, for the life of me, think of a single male name, except my brother's and father's, and let's face it, that's just weird. But he was staring at me, expectantly.
"Vernon", blurted, and immediately mentally kicked myself. Who, I ask you, is called Vernon? Who, under the age of ninety?
"Vernon", he said. "What does he do?"
Vernon bloody kicks your arse, I thought darkly, but said, slightly pompously, "he is a doctor".
"Really? How great. What kind of a doctor"
"A paediatrician" Lets face it, children's doctor is by far sexier than, say, Ear, Nose and Throat consultant, right?
I got a little carried away, and explained that Vernon was setting up a new practice and therefore incredibly busy. But when I went back, we would get married. I think I stressed this point a few times, and now there seems to be a rumour at work that I am, indeed, engaged.
Not that it matters. I am quite happy being almost-married to a handsome, witty paediatrician. And, the great thing about Vernon is that whenever I want to, I can simply file him away somewhere in the back of my consciousness and not worry about toilet seats being not put down.
Friday night, I went to the Spar supermarket in Chawama to buy presents for the kids, beer (not for the kids, but me, of course) and liquorice allsorts, and had a shock of my life. There were, not one, but two white girls looking at me over the frozen chicken tub. TWO WHITE GIRLS! How strange. Chawama is a lower-class suburb where people have outside toilets. It's no place for a tourist. Apparently, the two girls were polish, absolutely lovely, and working as volunteers in an orphanage. They'd planned a trip the next day to Munda Wanga Environmental Park, and invited me along. So we swapped phone numbers over the rice sacks, like it was the most natural thing. I've picked up a girl in the supermarket. How many guys can claim the same?
We had a wonderful day. We had 35 children with us, and as soon as we let them loose in the park, we didn't see them till the evening. The gardens are stunning, and after the hustle and dust and orange dirt everywhere that makes up Lusaka, it was paradise. The kids swam in the two massive pools, and we all had a tour of the zoo. The polish chicks were joined by a bunch of others, all Polish, all volunteers. They were loud and happy and totally took over the whole park I called them the Polish mafia, as the normal Zambian families seemed a little frightened by us all. On the Sunday, one of them introduced me to a free internet at the local church office, and we got stuck inside, after everyone left and forgot about us. We opened the electronic gate from the inside, then pressed it shut, and ran across the yard to get out before the gate closed in again, and fell into a fit of giggles when we made it out. Ok, it did make us feel a bit like we were in mission impossible or similar. See, I did say there were very few evening entertainment possibilities here.
From the top: Flowers in Munda Wanga botanical garden, the Polish Mafia.