A Travellerspoint blog

First Day of School

Ever had one of those middle-of-the-night sudden awakenings when you can't remember where you are? I have them often, sort of an occupational hazard, I think. I couldn't think who I was or, indeed, place myself for the life of me, except I knew I was somewhere far, far, far- I could hear insects buzzing away instead of London sirens blearing. I reached for my alarm, realising that 4.49am was too early for an existentialist crisis. And then I remembered- after a mind-numbingly boring, painful flight, I was in Lusaka. And I wasn't quite sure what I was doing there.

The next morning, I stood by the dusty roadside of my hostel, in a pretty yellow morning light, flagging down every single minibus that came up the road, still not sure why I was there. They all look the same, blue, battered, and there seems to be no logic in routes, fares or suchlike. Yet the zambians negotiate these with such grace and knowledge, leaving me flapping my arms at every passing car. I like the mornings here. They are fairly tranquil compared to the normal hassle of the day, and they are cool. I like watching women coming out of huts in their colourful dresses, placing chairs in the shade before commencing their day of gossip and shelling beans.

Lusaka itself is hardly gorgeous. In fact, it is ugly. Very, very ugly. It is full of concrete buildings, manic traffic and littered roadsides. Sigh. I miss my pub by the Thames waterside in Hammersmith, and all that green stuff. Grass? Yes, grass. But the people are wonderful. Truly wonderful. They are the most helpful, smiley people on the planet. Last night, as I was watching a crackly Zambian government TV programme and having dinner in a little place next to the hostel, the waitress asked me kindly how long I'd been in Lusaka. When she discovered not too long ( she could tell by the way I was struggling eating Nshima, the national maize dish, by using my hands and looking like a two-year-old who'd just been given a spoon for the first time) and I suppose she felt sorry for me, she invited me to her brother's wedding on Sunday. Which is the perfect way to desribe people here. A country where life expectancy is 33, and most families have lost at least one or two young people to AIDS, you need to look after everyone around you. No one should ever be by themselves, which is so heartwarming.

I have been at my job for two days now, and have acquired many new skills. The most important ones being sitting perfectly still, and staring into the distance. I have completed one task so far, which was drafting a curriculum for the computer and communications lessons, and that took about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, as Zambia's president died 3 weeks ago, there's been a national mourning, and the students have been on leave until today. However, they are not yet in today. But see, who would start school in the middle of the week? Silly me.

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From top: Me in my tiny office, the automechanic students killing an engine, the computer classroom being cleaned by our fabulous janitor Mr.Simwaba

Posted by Ofelia 01:45 Archived in Zambia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

An Exceptionally Bad Start

I'm going to Zambia to do voluntary work. I have been aware of the fact for the last year or so, but it has only just struck me, really. Sometimes, it seems, people are so busy planning things that they forget to enjoy them. Usually preparing for a long trip is almost more exciting than going on it- lying in your bed, late at night, you're never really bothered by the realities of things- such as mosquitoes, street vendors or, in my case, lost/ stolen/ don't-know-where-i-put-it credit cards. Planning stage is beautiful- that's when everything is still perfect.

I got my passport back from the zambian embassy in Sweden ten hours before my flight to London, and flew back to see my favourite city in the world yesterday. I was bursting with energy (very inappropriate for 6.20am on a Saturday) when I heard my flight was delayed by two hours. I was adament that this would not annoy me. Instead, I collected a food voucher from the harrassed-looking BA attendant, and had an expensive breakfast whilst being eyeballed by business men, who always seem to think backpackers steal the food from the counter when no-one's looking. The flight was delayed another two hours, and as I chatted to the attendant, he told me it would most likely be cancelled altogether. So, I decided to be shrewd and left the departure hall to be the first one in the queue for another flight later on in the day, and found another BA spokesperson, looking equally miffed.

Me: "oh, hi, I'm on this flight to London....but I think it's cancelled. Any chance you could put me on the 11.45am one instead?
BA Lady, looking smug: "sorry, we can't do that until the flight's officially cancelled."
Me: "Right. But it has been four hours" (and I have been unusually patient so far)
BA: "Sorry (she doesn't look sorry), but we can't do anything until we have confirmation." Smirk. Uncalled for.
Me: "OK, then..."
At which stage the phone rings and the lady picks up the phone.
BA lady: "Hello....alright....cancelled? And it's ok to re-route people now? Any preference on who goes first, such as families? (glares at me) No...? Thanks."
Me, smirking, feeling like, yeah, in your face, book me in!: "So.....I'd like the 11.45 flight please"

This might not seem like a big deal, but I have hang-ups about airline personnel ever since a Ryanair stewardess shouted at me, so it felt like a small victory for little passanger people.

London, four hours later. I am the last person at the baggage reclaim and the only bag going around in lonely circles is a blue Mickey Mouse holdall. I'm fairly sure it's not mine. I felt this was coming- I'd downgraded myself and flown with Blue1, a budget airline, Sweden's answer to Ryanair. Luckily I had gone to each of BA's 3 service points and collected more food vouchers from each, so I was laden with sandwiches, chocolate and had had 2 ciders at the airport. I miserably trod to the SAS counter, and after a lenghty explanation of what my bag looks like (it's a big black one, and only so little can be said of it) I left and got on the underground.

I love and hate the London underground. It is a fantastic piece of the urban landscape, so to speak, to the point where tourists (including my mum) buy umbrellas with the tube map on it. I hate it, because I have been stuck in it for probably half my life, but I love it because I would have hated being stuck on the bus instead for all that time. The day was hot and I was wearing jumpers, woollen socks and heavy shoes. At an interchange station, I finally changed into a baggy, shapeless white T-shirt the airline people had given me along with a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and something dodgy labelled as "feminine overnight kit", which I've been too scared to open as yet. At the little interchange station in Chalfont, where you get a "shuttle" to my friend Marianne's house (this is where me and my shoes currently stay at) in Chesham, I was the only person at the whole station. Luckily I found a lovely old chap, the station master, and asked when the next shuttle was.
Station master: "Oh love, you just missed one!" ( I hate when people say that. Do you think it makes me feel better to know I just missed a train? It's almost like saying, I nearly got you a present but decided not to after all.)
Me: "Right. So do you know when the next one might be?"
"In 28 minutes. Takes you straight up."
"Great. I see the gate's open. Anything there to do in Chalfont for 28 minutes?"
"Well. You could have a look at the shops. You know, we have a Tesco's now."
"Captivating stuff"

I did go to Tesco's, which was just like any other supermarket, except everyone was white, drove a car that was shiny and bought the expensive stuff instead of baked beans. I bought a can of Strongbow, and just to be rebellious, drank it on the way to Chesham, in the shuttle, in the time of banned alcoholic drinks. That's how cool I am.

Posted by Ofelia 01:41 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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