A Travellerspoint blog

February 2009

Solace of the Familiar

The day of leaving Lusaka finally came; the last party at the school- I rode to work in a rickety minibus, wearing a brand new red chitenge dress my tailor had made specifically for the occasion, and holding a huge pot of cake dough- I'd been planning on making cup cakes for my students, but even on my last days, Zambia didn't let me down; the oven broke just as I finished mixing the ingredients the night before. The catering students fussed over me and made the cakes, whilst ushering me out of the kitchen. Christine, our star student, orchestrated everything, and came up to me, hugged me, and said, "Maaret, me, I like you." (this is how Zambians speak- "Me, I'm tired. Me, I'm hungry. I hate it, but have noticed that me, I do the same thing now).

I was presented with a present, a huge oil colour, and the students put on some music and danced. They shrieked when I pulled Dennis, our mechanics teacher to dance along- there's a strict hierarchy in Zambia and teachers are to be respected- they can't possibly have fun! They were delighted to see their computer and mechanics teachers dancing like paralysed frogs. I gave a small thank-you speech, and much to my surprise, felt my throat go a bit tight; I think I've focused so hard on making travel plans that I never thought it might be hard to leave. Some of the students came over to be photographed with me, and as they thanked me for all their teaching, I thought, yeah, maybe they have learnt something. I always thought I was a crap teacher, impatient and demanding, but I do have a large set of students who five months ago hadn't ever seen a computer, and were now doing Absolute Cell References on Excel. So maybe it wasn't all wasted time after all.


Sunday my Zambian family and I organised a small goodbye dinner. It's not final goodbyes yet, as I will be going back briefly in April, but all the same, it felt sad to pack up my little concrete room and donate my gumboots to Purity. The kids, Prince, Maleleko, Claire and Thabo put on a dance performance for me, and we took a great video of everyone dancing. They all want to come to England with me, and I have to fight the urge to take them, which is odd, as I've never been particularly fond of children. I'm so excited about travelling, but having had a home of some sort in Lusaka, it is strange and sad to leave it all, again. Routines are scary- you hate them, but miss them when they're gone. They have a certain comfort in them.


But Monday I felt different. It was a bright, sunny day, and I nearly cried with happiness when the bus started to head out of Lusaka. Sari, Kirsi and Esther came along to Livingstone, and we spent a few happy days lounging by the pool (a holiday! I'd forgotten how great it is!) and doing various activities- I went on a microlight flight over the Victoria Falls, which was indescribable- one of the most amazing natural sights in the world, and I'm flying over them close enough to feel the spray from the falls, watching hippos and elephants grazing along the banks. We all went bungy jumping, as we are all turning thirty in the next few months, and really, what to do if you're 30, single and unemployed? Throw yourself off a bridge, of course. I added a gorge swing to it, and after checking my bank balance, decided against the abseiling. (but if anyone out there wants to give me a 30th birthday present, I'll email you my account number).

Livingstone was pure escapism. I had to do no actual travelling apart from taking a bus from Lusaka, and I ate nothing that was prepared from maize- I talked to other backpackers, and no one asked me how many children I have. Life was good, easy and fun for three days.
Then the girls left for Lusaka, I nearly broke another finger, and Namibia happened. But that's a story that needs a whole another day to be written.


Gorge swing and the microlight flight in vic falls. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the bungy photos are...

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

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.


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