Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning Lusaka

I've realized that always feel better after 48 hours in a place. I’ve found that it takes me at least that long to figure out the basics; how to get from place to place, how to get money from an ATM, how to get a SIM card in my phone, and in this case, where to sleep.

I have a plan and I've gone to bed by 10pm the last two nights. This combination of things has also helped to greatly improve how I’m feeling. I’ve figured out the temporary homelessness in Zambia problem in part by deciding, quite simply, to take a vacation.

I think it would be insane to come to Zambia without visiting Victoria Falls in Livingstone, and although I had originally planned on doing this at the end of my trip--rewarding myself after settling into Lusaka and doing some research--I've decided that there's no time like the present instead. A hostel in Livingstone had some openings and tomorrow I'll get on a seven-hour bus ride.

I also have the extreme generosity of a blog reader to thank for helping me solve this problem. She and her husband are from Scotland but have been living in Petauke in the eastern part of Zambia for about a year. They work at a mission with a lot of Zambian students, and have generously have opened their home to me as well.

Piece by piece, I think this all might just work. I'm ending up spending more money on accommodation than I would like, and moving around a lot more than I would like, but I've learned I can do just about anything for a few weeks.

Because I fear my blogging might be a little unpredictable as I move from place to place, I thought I'd share where I'll be when. This is how I'm dividing up my time in Zambia:

February 28th-March 1st Lusaka

March 2nd-March 8th Livingstone

March 8th-March 11th Lusaka

March 12th-March 15th Petauke

March 15th-April 9th Lusaka

I haven't had a lot of time to get to know Zambia, but I have plenty of initial impressions.

The Lonely Planet describes Zambia as a diamond in the rough. They say it is known as the “real Africa”, (by that I think they mean that Zambia conforms to the vision of “Africa” most Americans have in their heads), and Sean, who picked me up at the airport, would agree. There are plenty of national parks here and people say in terms of seeing wildlife, Zambia is on the list of top places in the continent to go. Independent travel is hard here though, and despite the popularity of wildlife parks and Victoria Falls, the country's lack of clear signs and clean roads makes it hard to get around. It takes some work to try and figure out how to get where you want to go, and then how to navigate daily life once you actually get there.

A statue and a minibus near the city center.

I have a feeling I’m going to have a love/hate relationship with its capital, Lusaka. I’m getting just a glimpse of it before leaving again tomorrow, but I’m curious to come back in a week and explore more. Between the blazing sun that alternates with heavy downpours, it’s a hard place to walk around in (and if you do, you need to resign yourself to perpetually muddy feet and sandals—I have). There are busy markets with women in colorful cloths carrying babies on their backs and selling the biggest avocados I’ve ever seen. There are wealthy gated communities behind brick walls and electric fences, 1980s-looking high rise buildings, and small huts with thatched roofs (but these are mainly for the tourists). The wildly popular KFCs here serve their fried chicken with nshima (a thick porridge made of cornmeal that you roll into a ball with your hand and eat with relish, meat or vegetables). There are no real attractions in Lusaka, except for one Zambian history museum I have yet to attend. Modern shopping centers seem to be the go-to place for Lusaka’s elite (some of the nicest restaurants in the city are located within shopping malls). I have picked up three phrases in Nyanja (one of the local languages) so far: “Muli banji?” (How are you?), “Bwino” (Fine), and “muzungu” (White person).

My skin is pale from Germany’s snow but every night I look in the mirror and see it getting darker again. (Sometimes I just want to sincerely apologize to my body for all I am putting it through this year. I want to say something along the lines of, “I know I’m making you shift so many time zones and foods and temperatures and germs, but please bear with me for five more months. And by the way, please don’t get malaria.” I sleep under a white mosquito net hanging from the ceiling that reminds me of some kind of princess bedding I would have adored when I was four.

The other people staying at this backpackers’ hostel here have been immensely helpful in helping me figure out some Lusaka logistics. I’m excited to be able to be back here later this month and settle in, particularly because I’ll be the roommate of a lovely Norwegian student who’s also doing sociology research and is staying here for five months. People (locals and other travelers) have been even friendlier than I would have hoped. I think Zambia will be a place that ends up being quite easy to do research in a very informal way (it reminds me a little bit of Bali in that sense).

City center

Tomorrow I’ll be traveling again and although I feel a little bit as if I’m being thrown back to square one just after I’m starting to make strides in Lusaka, I am immensely excited to see "the smoke that thunders."

Every day that I’ve been here so far (which actually only amounts to about two), it has rained for about an hour. I’m waiting for it today but it's tricky and surprises me. I swear the rain is coming and then it won’t, and just when it looks clear enough for a walk, I end up getting soaked. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the sky open up quite in this way before. When it starts to rain, I can’t seem to focus on anything else. I just sit on the porch of the hostel and wait and watch. It seems that everyone else is watching, is waiting for the rain. It’s a beautiful thing.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a lovely read Nell. Such spirit, such enthusiasm - even in the eye of so much unknown. I love you!