Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Finer Points of Life

I feel like my previous entries have focused mostly on my major events/problems/accomplishments here in Zambia, at the expense of describing all the little everyday adjustments that we PCVs have had to make in order to adapt to a Zambian lifestyle. Thus I've started to compile a list of little tips, tricks, and cultural observations that hopefully will help round out the picture of how everyday life gets along here in Zambia:
  • When trying to light your charcoal cooking braizure in the rainy season, a little kerosene goes a long ways. Sometimes you can also find dried grass and twigs underneath big trees. If you want to get really creative you can put mashed up peanut shells and melted candle wax into an old egg carton. Or you can just buy fire starters from Shop-Rite.

  • After getting the braizure started, you have to swing it around to give it air and really get it burning. Just be sure to wear flip flops when you do so. Wnen the inevitable happens and a small coal falls down your footwear, if they take you longer than 0.3 seconds to remove, then you're gonna be in for a major ouchie.

  • Trying to keep a white t-shirt white when you're washing by hand in a bucket is one of the more difficult and time-intensive chores you will ever attempt. Thus the key to hand-washing clothes is just to never get them dirty in the first place. Corollary to this rule: there is a BIG difference between what IS dirty and what LOOKS dirty - hence the reason why olive and khaki are such amazing clothing colors here.

  • If you have a problem with bats squatting in your house for the night, just use a candle - works like a charm! Put it in the middle of the floor to avoid any fire hazard, and let it burn all night for two consecutive nights. They hate the light, so they'll find another place to roost!

  • When hunting mice, rats, and kasekeseke in your house, DON'T reach for just any wooden spoon. As eight such rodents have already discovered, the umwiinko (the flat-sided wooden spoon used for stirring nshima, among other things) is 21.5" and 3/4 lb of dexterity, accuracy, and pure annhiliation for all things squeaky and four-legged. It's SAD for those mice - singularly assured destruction.

  • When biking in the village there are no posted speed limits. But if you pass by someone's house before you can say "Mwashibuka shani na imwe?", you are probably going too fast, and people will begin to wonder what's so important that you don't have time to greet them properly, which is bad for your precious reputation. Bike at such speeds only in times of emergency (or in your neighboring PCV's village :-) ).

  • At church, there are MAJOR brownie points to be earned by dancing to the music. Everyone expects people to dance, though few actually dance themselves (yay double standard!), but since you're already the weirdest person in town, you have nothing to lose by sticking your neck out!

  • On funeral days, you should greet everyone "Mwacuuleni mukwai" - "how are you suffering?" Doesn't matter how far away they live or now close they were to the person who passed away

  • When someone asks where you're going, it's considered a perfectly acceptable answer to point in the direction you're heading and say "There!".

  • BaMaayo Magic I: How village mothers manage to clean the bottoms of their pots, how they cook two-gallon pots full of perfectly lumpless nshima, how they carry 40L of water on their heads, and how they manage to find people selling tomato/onion/cabbage are mysteries I have no hope of cracking.

  • BaMaayo Magic II: The speed of information travel increases significantly when the airwaves are unencumbered by cell phones, radios, broadband, and other newfangled electronic wizardry. If something noteworthy happens 25km away, every mother in the village will know within the hour, guaranteed, without even leaving the comfort of their front porch.

  • Any of your parent's siblings are considered to be your parents as well, and thus are free to punish you, admonish you, and dish out chores as they see fit.

  • Do remember what your Chieftainess looks like, so that you aren't always the last one to kneel down when you meet her on the street (By the way, Chieftainship succession rules are pretty neat: the "crown prince" so to speak is not the Chief's eldest son as with Western Cultures, but rather the eldest son of the Chief's eldest sister).


  1. Sweet, the beginnings of "The Zambia Survival Guide" by Mike Krautmann.

    Now, what're these kasekeseke creatures you speak of? It's not wiki-able. o_O

  2. Nice job keeping the bats away and killing the rodents (including the deadly kasekeseke, I agree that you need to clarify THAT!!). I'm sure all of this will make your parents sleep better at night!!
    My favorite is your explanation of where you are going.....I plan on starting to use that some in my life; "There!!".
    Love the snapshots of your "ordinary" life because what is "ordinary" for you is EXTRAORDINARY for us!!
    Stay amazing, Mark Loehrke

  3. I love the pictures and your writings about your everyday life. And when we see you've been able to update your blog, it's a huge event-we run around the house and jump up & down with excitement!!!
    Love always,

  4. I see where fire stuff came from Scouts; laundry from college; bat management from playing baseball; use of umwiinko from pitching and tennis; etc. What I really can't fathom is, where did the dancing come from? Love, Dad

  5. After hunting around the internets, I think the rodent in question is the African Pygmy Dormouse. It makes a really distinct laughing noise when it is running around, which is why the Bembas call it kasekeseke ("ka" is the prefix for little things, and "ukuseke" means "to laugh"). Basically it looks like a minisquirrel that eats your clothes and TP

  6. A laughing minisquirrel that eats your toilet paper. Classic.
    Do you ever feel like you are LIVING in a Dr. Seuss book??

    I just googled it.....cute little guys but I'm betting they are much less cute when they are eating holes in your clothes and toilet paper!! It says they are in the MARSUPIAL family!!! Huh. Learned something new already (and it's only 7 AM here). Thanks for your knowledge and thanks for being amazing.

    Mark Loehrke

  7. I totally understand the "keeping a white shirt clean is impossible" sentiment! glad we can relate on that. I do remember my host mother did WONDERS with bar soap and a scrubbing brush though. I love the little skills you learn doing things like this. and I love reading about the little things you're learning!

    PS. like the long hair and we miss you and hope you're doing well.