A Travellerspoint blog

Last Thoughts on Lusaka

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.

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Posted by Ofelia 02:14 Archived in Zambia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

How to Catch a Criminal

Just before Marianne, my Finnish friend, went back home, her backpack was stolen in Manda Hill, from Subway (out of all places), from under her seat as she was telling Sari and me about her plans for her last week.

A complicated, week-long pursuit commenced. She received a call from a man, who had, allegedly, found her belongings- nothing valuable (of course) such as her Mac laptop or brand new mobile, but small things such has her calendar, work permit and note book. After many trips to the police station, many meetings with the Manda Hill security company, and a trap was set- Marianne was to arrange a meeting with the mystery man outside one of the shopping mall's fast food outlets, and the plain-clothed security staff would be watching (It all came down to the private security company; the police's official statement was, How could you have been so stupid?). A man came, tall, thin and nervous, and he desperately wanted Marianne out of the public and into his car. The security guards jumped on him as he got hold of her, smacked him around in the full view of rich housewives doing their mid-morning shopping, and dragged him into the office where he was shoved around a little more, slapped and kicked, and then asked for his name and eventually questioned.

Marianne was obviously a bit shaken up by it all, and as Sari was due to leave for Chipata, I stayed with her a few nights, which I didn't mind, as they live in a nice area and have a hot shower. The family renting the place to her didn't seem too alarmed to find out the keys to the gate and house were missing, since they had, after all, performed voodoo on the premises to keep the thieves out, so they were pretty sorted.

When I got home to Chawama, and the drip-drip-drip of the tap, Purity told me her phone had been stolen from the kitchen counter where she'd left it lying for a moment. And that night, I couldn't find my favourite T-shirt, and after turning the whole place upside down, I noticed quite a few things missing- such as my credit card, an emergency $20 note (which had been stashed away in my spare bag while I was in Malawi), some more clothes and various other bits, such as my thermal socks (who takes socks? Old socks?) and a nearly-finished shower gel.
I mean, seriously.
I was incredibly pissed off, not so much for losing the stuff, but that someone had had the nerve to go through all my stuff, choosing what they might get away with, and seeing what they like, as if my backpack was a bloody Sainsbury's.

Sunday I walked through Chawama's main road, on the way to meet Beata. It had rained for days, and the path was completely flooded; a small passageway had been cleared next to a very loud pub, and it included stepping onto the terrace of the bar- a narrow way, barely wide enough for one person to cross at a time. As I passed, a tall man decided to start passing at the same time from the opposite direction. What an arse, I thought, he can see there's only enough room for one person. He squashed quite close to me, lost his balance, and fell knee deep into the puddle. I walked on as two young boys suddenly run up to me, shouting, madam, madam, your phone's gone. The tall man took it.
What, I said. I can be painfully slow in situations such as this. I felt for my pocket, and realised it was empty.
And then that horrible, empty feeling sinks straight down to your knees when something is so irretrievably gone. But really, I'd had enough- I'd spent enough time in police stations, feeling sorry for myself and my friends, and I ran back to the pub, asking everyone if they'd seen the face of the man who passed me on the path.
Sure, I saw him, said one of lads, a local drunk who spends his entire life on that terrace. He was, quite surprisingly, very upset on my behalf, and gathered a few guys around him, taking me from one pub to the next, looking for the thief. When we finally found him, he had the nerve to claim that he'd simply found my phone in a ditch, demanding for money as a "reward"- the outraged blokes with me were demanding my phone back, and when he looked away, I simply snatched it, before a huge fight broke out between Us and Them. I set off again, and after the first bend in the road, the thief ran up to me, grabbed my arm and started demanding 10,000 kwatcha from me again, and by that time, I'd had well and truly enough, and did something I didn't even think I was capable of- I turned, jumped, and in one sharp kick to his stomach (not unlike Karate Kid or similar) I knocked him on the ground. I'd had enough of being an ATM to every single Zambian who felt like they could just take whatever they liked. Sure, I was late and still fuming when I met Beata, but in an odd way, I felt better getting my phone back than losing the money and the clothes. After all, my phone is almost as important to me as my favourite T-shirt.

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Posted by Ofelia 02:13 Archived in Zambia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Week in the Life of a Volunteer

Ever looked back at something, thinking it was just so odd? As my time in Lusaka is rapidly nearing it's end, the oddness of everything seems to have trebled. I keep seeing things that I wish I could just tape and bring home; maybe they're just strange to me, but the life here has kept me quite amused.

On Monday night I loll on the sofa. The children are sitting on the kitchen floor eating from a huge communal plate- they are not allowed to eat in the dining table with the adults. A Nigerian film is on, and Purity is engrossed. I write my journal. Suddenly, she perks up. I've always wanted to go on one of those, she says, and points at the screen. I look up at the screen. What, I say, to a shopping mall? No, she says, one of those moving stairs. She jabs her finger on the screen, and at the escalator. Suddenly it occurs to me that there are no escalators in the whole country, not even at the airport.

I go to get my toiletries bag from my room, and two huge cockroaches climb out and scurry under my bed. I throw away my toothbrush, and scrub the bag so long the colours come off.

Tuesday Prince, who is eight, asks me if I have some paper. He loves to draw and is currently using a back of a receipt to draw a tortoise. Sure, I say, and tear out about fifteen pages of my notebook. I go to get a glass of water, and as I come back, he is gone. Five minutes later, he runs back in with Claire, his cousin from next door. Look, he says, and points at the blank papers to Claire. Look at all this paper auntie gave me. He is positively glowing with happiness of all the blank drawing paper.

Thursday I supervise an exam. The class is silent, and the girls leaf through the exam sheet. A mobile phone rings, and one of the students, Faidess, picks it up and heads to the door. I tell her to put the phone away, and to switch it off. She looks at me, incredulously. Sit down, I say, and she cannot understand why she can't take a break from her exam in order to call her friends. Another girl, Anastasia, beckons me over. She points at question number five, "What is banquetting?". I don't understand it, she says. I tell her she needs to define the meaning of banquetting. She says, this is what I don't understand. Can you tell me what it is? I tell her that I can't, because I would then be giving away the answer. She looks at me, her face blank. I don't want you to tell me the answer, she says, I just want you to tell me what banquetting means.

I leave my work in an old pair of gumboots, and the ubiquitous love songs blear out from every passing minibus and pub, of which there are plenty in the compounds. I have a constant soundtrack of sad love songs following me, which does nothing to improve my sad romantic outlook in life, and for once, I wish they would just turn all the music in Lusaka off, off, off.

Saturday I meet Beata, my friend, who, for all her sins, volunteers in a convent ran school. One of the sisters offers me lunch, and as I squeeze the maize into a tight ball in my palm, she chats to me about the school. She is smiley and intelligent, and it is quite funny to watch her expression change when she finds out I'm an atheist; she is well into her forties, and I am the first atheist she's met. She quizzes me for over half an hour, and I answer patiently. She cannot understand it. And that I have no desire to be converted? No. And my parents? Don't go to church either? No. She looks defeated and deflated. I cannot believe you are an atheist, she says. You're so nice.

Sunday night Theo calls from Mazabuka, inviting Beata and I to visit for another weekend. He is excited. They have four new engineers, all young single men. Theo is about sixty, and desperately wants to "see Maaret happy and with a nice chap". I laugh and tell him we can come and visit in a few weeks, but no, I'm still not looking. He is upbeat and tells me there is a guy I'll just love. I tell him, jokingly, to send me a picture, before I commit to a whole weekend. He laughs and I hang up.

Five minutes later, my phone beeps and a photo of four smiling young men appears. I turn my phone off, laughing, and go to sleep.

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photos of my Zambian family: the various photos have the kids in it, Claire, Thabo, Maleleko and Prince- Esther with a small baby (who belongs to one of the many cousins) and myself with Melody. Also Purity and Handsen with Maleleko.

Posted by Ofelia 02:12 Archived in Zambia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

...But a Black January

In January, everything is quite bleak. It is, by far, the most boring month; people return to their offices, bleary and depressed, to find that the tinsel that circles their desk and which looked so festive last month simply seems tacky and cheap now. Christmas is over; no more early finishes and bottles of wine being passed around the office- New Year has started, and despite all the resolutions, it looks scarily just like the one before. The credit card bill has arrived, prompting even more empty promises. In London, people who have partied through December, turn sombre, opt to have quiet evenings at home, saving money, saving their livers, making promises to finally change their lifestyle, only to forget it all by February. They are suddenly "serious" about their careers (note: not jobs, careers) and the sales of veggies and organic yogurt explode. The gyms are bursting at the seams but no one wants to go out anymore. London hibernates.

Coming from Finland, where January is the coldest, darkest month, it's no surprise I've always hated it. I used to plan trips to somewhere, anywhere, just to keep me from that terrible, never-ending January. In Zambia, it's not so different. I came back from Malawi a bit late, to find an unusual buzz of activity. And I realised. People were actually working. I could almost hear the non-existent phones ringing, and the faxes we've never had humming. It seems that after a lazy November and December, everyone had copious amounts of work to be done. Even the budget that has lain on the desk for months, half-done, is finalised. Everyone is busy; agendas are being drawn, meetings scheduled. On the first day back, I received more payments than I had done in the whole of November (I tend to double up as a sort of an accountant sometimes as well as a teacher- both being jobs which I know nothing about, nor particularly enjoy), and people had to queue to get to mine and Oscar's tiny office. I wish they could keep this up the whole year. It'd definitely be the first step towards self-sufficiency; seeing people work hard and take responsibility.

But even though the sun shines unseasonably hot in Lusaka, January stretches on indefinitely. I remember looking at my journal back home and knowing January would be the toughest month- my last full month in Zambia, and there is already an air of finality about. Everyone seems to be moving, all the volunteers, all the foreign students, even the people I met in Malawi who work in Zambia and were just there to spend Christmas like me. They all seem to be back in Zambia only to pack up their stuff and catch a flight home. Everyone is restless; this is the New Year and it's time to move on. Focus is no longer in work, but in the next venture- backpacker's hostels around Southern Africa are filling up again, and I hear more phrases like, "Have you been to Livingstone yet? You should really go to South Africa!", and things are positively stirring. Most of my friends have left, Hanna to the Malawian bush, Marianne almost home now, Sari to Chipata and even Beata is whizzing about the neighbouring countries. I'm alone but it's ok; I'm planning my next move to Namibia, and also gradually, though very gradually, I'm starting to think (or fear) finding a flat in London. I think about my favourite coffee from my favourite over-priced coffee shop, and how great it's going to taste, I think about the temp agencies I'll approach. I think about the pub along the Thames which I really like, where you can sit with a book and a glass of wine forever and no one will hassle you. I miss the London men never approaching me; I can't believe I used to moan about it. It's going to be great.

But first, the important part: travel. Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, and who knows what else I'll come up with. I'm really not in a much of a hurry to get home, but just to be moving again.

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Few photos from Kanyama, then the catering students doing their computer lessons, and the front gate of our school.

Posted by Ofelia 02:11 Archived in Zambia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

A Pretty Good Year

We spent over a week by the stunning Lake Malawi, all through from Boxing day and the gap-week (Finnish name for the week between Christmas and New Year) until New Year. I left on the third; Hanna stayed. I don't quite know how I spent all the days- I didn't read any of the books I'd brought, nor did I write in my journal; but the days flowed past, easy and fast.

New Year's Eve was nice (what a horrible word, nice, boring and full of air) but nothing unusual; a big party, on the sun deck overlooking the lake, and later, at a bar in town. All the backpackers brought out their most flattering and cleanest clothes, long-forgotten make up bags, and I helped Amanda straighten her hair, and Sari lent me her eyeshadow. We felt gorgeous. Everyone got drunk, nearly missed the stroke of midnight, danced, stayed up till dawn whilst sending random texts to loved ones back home. It was just a party, but it was a party in Malawi, and I'm sure that in years to come, I'll look back and think of it fondly.

On our last day, we went on a boat trip, Hanna, Sari, I and a few Dutch, few Danish people. I'm not much of a water person; I've never been interested in diving, and I don't care much about swimming, but went along anyway, to do cliff jumping. Cliff jumping is exactly what it sounds like- you climb up to the amazingly sharp rock formations along the lake, and jump off into the water. I went to the highest summit, of course, with the boys (it's always with the boys; never with the girls. At home, I don't even have many male friends. Odd.), stared into the crystal clear water, scared and still, and ran off it.
Being airborne in any way is the most fantastic feeling- there's nothing quite like it. When I hit the water and sank, I opened my eyes and looked around, and everything was turquoise and bubbly, and I felt weightless and happy.
Back at the hostel I went to comb my hair and almost didn't recognise the girl looking back at me- this one was tanned, blond, slimmer and glowier, and turning thirty this year, in Africa, alone, but finally feeling good about it.

I stayed in Lilongwe a few days after the arduous bus journey from the north, mainly because I didn't feel like going back to Lusaka just yet. I sat drinking and talking shit with the guys at the bar, and during the day I went sightseeing and shopping at the markets with a lovely Irish girl Evie. Lilongwe is far more pleasant than Lusaka- cleaner, greener and friendlier, and somehow much less affected by the western culture. I bargained at the carver's market, and bought bookends for the house I don't have, and, quite unknowingly, beads which are meant to signal fertility (a guy at the hostel told me this, but he might have made it up to get everyone laughing). Anyway, it doesn't matter; I've come to expect the unexpected; after all, I never thought I'd ever spend Christmas in Malawi.
So far, it's turning out to be a pretty good year.

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Posted by Ofelia 02:11 Archived in Malawi Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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