Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zambia in just Four Words

--September 3, 2009--

A tip of the cap to the HIA folks back home for sparking this conversation, and to the rest of my Northern Province crew for turning it into a vibrant discussion / eight-hour-long brainstorming session as we sat crammed in a Land Rover on our way up to Kasama (by the way we are getting exponentially better at cramming into Land Rovers - our new records are 14 people inside and nine bicycles on top!!). So I share with you now the highly-refined and oft-amended fruits of our discussion: four words that capture our experience in Zambia thus far.

1. Citenge: Because this traditional African clothing epitomizes both the resourcefulness and the colorful nature of the Zambian people. When all is said and done, the citenge is really nothing more than a towel-sized sheet of fabric. But Zambians use them for just about everything imaginable: A dress, a skirt, something to wrap around your dress/skirt while cooking, carrying babies on your back, carrying water on your head, shielding your head from the sun, backpack, curtain, towel, tablecloth, doormat, coffee filter, etc etc etc. Not only are they insanely versatile, but they also come in the most insane array of colors and patterns imaginable. And one is not truly a Zambian unless he/she is wearing the most insanely-colored citenge money can buy.

2. Celestial: Because of the powerful African sun, which has an uncanny ability to turn the bone-chilling, 50-degree coldness of my early-morning language sessions into the sweltering bake-fest that is my 13:00 bike ride to aquaculture class. Because of the moon, so bright that I can officially walk, play soccer, and even read outside without luminary assistance. And because for once in my life
I can actually see the Milky Way cutting a bright white swath from one horizon to the other.

3. Ancestral: Because everything about this landscape just feels so...evolutionarily well-adjusted. The ridges and valleys here are extremely subtle - yet wide - so despite the seeming flatness you can often see for miles. The savannah grasses are thick but only chest-high, so they seldom impede your vision (unless you stop to tie your shoe, in which case you can't see more than three feet). And between the grass and the sticky clay soil you can build just about anything. It just makes so much sense why our ape ancestors decided to stand up and use their eyes and hands. After living in the savannah and walking the bush paths around our school, it's finally hit home: here in Zambia I'm a human in his natural habitat.

4. Ubwali: The Bemba word for nshima, because no list would be complete without this Zambian staple food. The people of Zambia believe that their nshima gives them strength which no other food can provide. In fact, many Zambians believe they haven't really eaten until they've eaten nshima. And the manner in which nshima is eaten - using hands instead of utensils, and served in one big communit
y bowl - speaks to the openness, warmth, and family-centered mentality of the Zambian people.

In other news, our second site visit is going by in a blur. I got to teach my first fish-farming lesson (about different types of fish here in Zambia) to a local co-operative of about 40 people or so. We also took a really interesting hike out to some 2000-year old, pre-Bantu rock paintings near Kasama. Another day we had a rather exciting encounter with a drunk Zambian policeman who was wielding his AK-47 more casually than a kid with a cap gun! Most importantly, though, I'm having a great time with a bunch of the other Northern Province volunteers - my family for the next two years!

On the Great North Road to Kasama with a fully-loaded cruiser

The new Northern Province aquaculture volunteers: Mo, John, myself, and Christine

One of those wide sweeping valleys I was talking about

Biking on the bush path during second site visit

Sporting our leafy greens!


  1. Love the pics and the leaf hats. :-)

    The last time I saw the Milky Way (the second time in my life) was when I went up north in MI with a few friends. Thankfully it was a clear night and I saw constellations I hadn't seen before. It was pretty moving, I'd say.

  2. I am sure the descriptions of the AK-47 being waved around will make your family feel REALLY great!!! Way to make them (more) nervous.
    When will we see some pictures of YOU sporting a little citenge?? Enough with the tee shirts!!
    Sounds like an insanely amazing cool to get back to HUMANITY'S roots!!
    Best, Mark Loehrke