Tuesday, 26 November 2013

I Thought I Would Paint A Picture Of Daily Life Here

Emma Chase works for the micro-finance institution MicroLoan Foundation and is currently spending three months volunteering in Zambia, where she is helping to set up the partnership between MicroLoan Foundation and Lendwithcare. She has been writing about her time in Zambia in three previous blog posts ("Home away from home", "Muddy bricks and trainers" and "If it had wheels, I travelled on it!") and here is her fourth installment. This is a re-post from the MicroLoan Foundation.

It’s 17.00 and we’ve had a power cut, and no water, since 9 a.m. It’s a daily occurrence and I thought I would take the opportunity to describe to you all what life here is like; my day-to–day routine.
I wake on average between 5 and 5.30 a.m in time with the sun, to the illusive clanging of metal somewhere nearby; I’ve tried, and failed, to identify its source, and purpose! Once up I pour myself a cup of water, boiled the previous night, and say good morning to my resident spiders – I think they are a family as this past week I’ve seen half a dozen small spiders – and they entertain me with a dance around the room. 
On the way to work – Smog and poverty
I am accustomed to life here - as I navigate my way along the side of roads, jumping out of the way when a car speeds past hooting me to move, I forget that I am many miles away from home, where life is so different. I join men in smart suits (yes, suits when it is 37degrees!) walking to work, children being taken to school by elder siblings, girls and boys with music blaring from their phones walking with the arrogance of youth, men sweeping the leaves and dead flowers away from a government building, cattle on a walk, a man on his bike with a wellington on his left and a flip flop on his right, three cyclists each carrying two dead goats on the backs of their bikes, holding my breath as passing vehicles emit large plumes of dark smoke – oh wait! Not so different after all.
People have asked me if I have found living so close to such poverty difficult and in truth, yes. Each morning on my way to work I see children, without shoes, without proper clothes, put to work. One morning I passed a mother with her son. They were each lifting large bundles of bamboo branches. Mum was wrestling with a load twice the size of her – about the size of a large tree trunk and son, who could not have been older than ten, a slightly smaller bunch… a small tree. The branches were tied up and resting on a wall. They each had a material pad that they held on the tops of their heads and, as though bulls about to charge, bent their heads to meet the branches. They then each negotiated with the weight to hoist it up and get on their way.
The wind and fire in Chipata
Two special features of Chipata are the wind, and the fire.  When I was first told about the wind I thought it a blessing – a relief from the heat – and although a breeze is most welcome during the scoring afternoon heat, I have witnessed some of its more irritating features: Causing papers to fly around the office as though they are birds, taking off at whim, and throwing dust into my eyes. I bought some replacement sunglasses (that cover about half of my face!) but even while I wear them the frequent whooshes of wind, scattering grit and dust everywhere still find my eyes as I walk about town. I’m not hiding my temporary blindness, whilst walking around, and so I’m pretty sure everyone here thinks I’m nuts: “Oh for God’s sake, I can’t see”, mutters the crazy mzungu.
Fire is the second characteristic of Chipata. Small fires are commonplace and mostly used to burn rubbish; men at the sides of roads burn their waste, and I often see children play at poking them with sticks. Sometimes small, sometimes large piles of ash are part of the landscape, and a constant whiff of smoke can be smelt throughout the town. One morning I was welcomed into work by a cloud of white smoke that was steadily covering Chipata town, and the crackle, crackle of burning trees. From every window in the office, all you could see was thick, white smoke. Everyone was pretty unperturbed whereas I was panicking: Would I get to my guesthouse in time to pick up my passport, what would I need to grab in case we needed to evacuate? Everyone laughed at me when I asked whether I should prepare for such an event and they assured me that they would let me know if I needed to worry – I could grab a lift out of town with them! In the meantime I was to get on with work. As the odd bits of ash floated in through the windows I asked why no one was worried. They told me that the fire was to hunt for rats, to be eaten or sold at the market.
Zambian culinary specialties
Work finishes at 17.00. Because the sun sets at 18.15, and it is pitch black by 18.30, everyone promptly leaves the office. When I get home at about 17.15 I begin making dinner. I am now a professional in one-pot meals and have experimented with all the locally grown vegetables I purchase in the market. I have taken recipes from local women and recreated them for myself – one such dish is using ground peanuts to make a spinach and tomato dish. Groundnuts (peanuts) are very popular as, like the dried kapenta fish, they are hassle-free sources of protein. I’m also gorging on anything you can buy from women selling along the roads: Cassava – did you know that if you are not going to eat it fresh, you should dig a hole in the ground and store it there till you are ready to eat it?! – and chinaka. I was introduced to chinaka through my recruit at work; she called in a seller to let me try some. It is similar to pate in texture, but is made from groundnuts, salt and African polony. For those of you, like me, who did not know what African polony is, it comes from brownish tubers of orchids that are the size of small potatoes, grown underground, in the Northern region of Zambia. It used to be restricted to the northern Bemba tribes but is now common across eastern Zambia. It can be spread on bread, or eaten with nshima. Rats are also featured in some peoples’ diet but I’m not that brave! 
At about 20.30 I switch on my kettle for the morning’s water and as I begin to get sleepy, the dogs start barking; barking a lullaby to send me to sleep. I have only seen one dog in the street but come nightfall two dozen or so, make their presence known. It is during this pandemonium; the howling of the wind, banging of the windows, barking of the dogs and rumbling of the kettle that I drift off to sleep, appreciating all the advantages life has given me.

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