It has been over a month since I wrote a blog. Thanksgiving was weeks ago. I have been promising a newsletter for a year. I have a few emails in my inbox properly labeled “friends” awaiting a response that have been sitting there for
I would like to tell you that I live in Zambia and where communication is concerned, I just have to take whatever I can get. This is false. What is true is that while I can manage (and insist upon) downloading podcasts each week (Serial, This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the Relevant Podcast, Snap Judgement and Radiolab) it’s a lot harder to put into words my own stories. Sure, they require vulnerability and openness, and active time that sometimes I just am not sure I can spend, but mostly my own stories are just hard to let go of. Cause they are mine, and they are often weird, and I am still trying to figure out what they mean to me in the greater picture.
There seems to be so much going on. So much in Zambia (let’s be clear: not Ebola. No where close to Ebola), in the States (oh the heartbreak and heartburn I’ve had in pulling up the news these past few weeks), in the world and I’d imagine a lot happening throughout the universe, but I haven’t taken the time to listen to those podcasts on the universe. My bad.
Once I had a conversation with a friend that went along the lines of “What’s the hardest part of coming back to the States?” I probably answered the question before he finished “When people ask you to sum up your trip and they have about one minute of active listening available to you, but you have 3 months or 6 months or a year or 10 years worth of life. How are you supposed to make that fit into the average attention span?” How do I sum up the complexities of life in Zambia? Life as an American in Zambia? Life as a single woman in Zambia? It ain’t easy.
So that’s my apology and my excuse. I don’t love it any more than you might, but I also have no real way to get around it.
But now that I’ve given you an apology, let me give you a story.
It is easy to feel separate from life in Ndola. It’s really easy.
Almost too easy. I live in a house with metal bars over the windows and doors in a yard surrounded by a concrete wall fence topped with barbed wire and a double-padlocked steel gate. There are few more dramatic ways to barricade yourself than this.
A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to find ways of breaking out of those very real walls into the very real world . So for the week, Intern Apprentice Sam and I tried a few new (to us, in Zambia) modes of transportation. We walked the 2+ miles. We started early so the weather was only 85* and not yet a million. It’s all main, well-kept and frequently traveled roads from the house to work. And you know what, it didn’t kill us. There was a lot of staring and cat-calling (from others) and a fair amount of sweat (from us), but we made it!
With that kind of Monday morning success, we decided to try again Wednesday. Let’s dissect Wednesday.
1. We walked ¼ of a mile to the bus station. We reached the bus just as the packed one was pulling away, so we got into the next minibus to wait for it to fill up.
2. Everyone greeted the mzungus on the bus. People casually walking by giggled. This isn’t unusual. Typically, though, we aren’t waiting in a little furnace for the pointers to just pass us by.
3. Sam, myself and our backrow mate pretty much completed the row. So when the next man got on, asked how many were supposed to fit and the bus guy said, 4, I knew we were in form some fun. He looked at the three of us as we squeezed together and asked frankly “who is taking much space here?” (let’s be clear. This bus is about the size of a Toyota Van. By the end of the bus loading period, the Van was full with 20 people.)
4. Our seatmate kindly made sure we handed the right amount of money and knew what stop was ours.
5. We watched the dance of boarding and disembarking the minibus. When someone in the back notifies the driver to let him off, the bus stops. All of the folks sitting in the folding seats the double as the exit row get off. The man in the first folding seat has a baby in hand, so he hands the baby to the ticketing man, gets into the first non-folding row and waits for the ticketing man to hand the baby back.
6. We transferred at the largest market in town, tried getting onto one bus, before the passengers pointed us to another bus where we waited for a bus driver to designate which one of the empty buses in the depot we could board.
7. We got on our next bus and were promptly joined by 20 other people, at least a handful of chickens (live), bags of charcoal and buckets of other produce from the market.
8. We made it to the next township, the next market stop and disembarked. Grateful for the mile of open space we needed to walk to reach the school.
All together, it was an hour and a half of a sweaty, crowded learning experience in thankfulness. But later, when we started the trek to our next meeting, we too quickly accepted a ride from a seeming stranger who turned out to be someone I had met several times previously and volunteers with our school.
He shortened our commute to only 20 glorious minutes and a smaller number of chickens.
That’s my monthly story of life in Ndola. It is hot and crowded, complete with lots of sweat and staring and often a handful of chickens, but with no shortage of modes of transportation.