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.
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.