(Continued from yesterday.)
Of course, I did miss home. I was amazed at how little the creature comforts mattered too me, probably because I’d brought anything that was really important with my and knew that I was going home soon. The internet was a saviour though. I looked forward to it, and took grounding from it. That Ireland was still there and that I was, in fact, a native of this planet. I did miss Irish conversations though, and the people close to me. Of course, there were hard days. Heck, there were hard weeks. It’s not an easy thing to be picked up and dropped into an unfamiliar environment. There were days that I wondered what ever possessed me to consider such an idea. At one stage, I was half convinced that I just fell out of the sky and landed there. My memories of Ireland were very hazy and the sheer enormity of the experience was exhausting in itself. It’s good for the survival instincts though, teaches you how to manage.
Practically, it was no palace. But in comparison with the clients I lived in the lap of luxury, which made me feel guilty. Presentation House, Kalomo was cozy, comfortable and homely. Water was a real luxury though. We had (very cold!) running water, about 70-80% of the time. They didn’t even have hot taps in the house, showing the rarity of hot water. It went periodically most days and rather than having an argument for the shower, we strived to get the biggest saucepan to heat water on the stove. On a good day, you go at bucket; on a bad day, a cup.
In the Southern Province, Tongan is the most spoken language, although Losi is also prevalent. I learnt some Tongan in exchange for teaching French. Now, I thought I’d a head for languages but Tongan is impossible. ‘Bogogo’ is beer, ‘Twalumba’ thank you and ‘ Chililabombwe’ is the equivalent to a croaking frog. Africans seem to have their own gorgeous dialect of English too, all ‘soo-are’ for sure, punctuated with big hearty laughs.
The women, in particular, always looked amazing. Decked out in beautiful clothes, exquisitely moulded hairstyles and perfect make up combined with model- like stature and poise. It’s a façade though really. There’s a social side to the grooming and it rarely reflects the financial realities of a family. Often, starving women look like supermodels.
There were a few times that the differences were especially pronounced. They have a very odd handshake (which I can’t describe but will show you if you ask) and a real tendency towards hand holding just coz. People say that we’re laid back in Ireland. These guys are so laid back, they are gonna fall over. Nothing is rushed, stressed or pressured. Life is taken at a slow, sauntering pace and everything has an optimistic glare.
Zambian telly was strange. We watched Isidingo religiously, which is a South African soap with a marked similarity to our own Fair City. I maintain that Barker is not dead, merely hiding somewhere. There was a lot of real 80s telly too, a fair bit of Joey-Acting and ‘Smell the Fart’ acting, which was pretty hilarious. There were only about five ads which were repeated all the time. From the newsreaders, it seems autocue hasn’t quite reached Africa yet but somehow, Mrs Bucket had found her way there. I loved the Keep Zambia Clean campaign too, with its cute little jingle.
Getting around was difficult, but essential if Sr Theresa wants to reach her clients. Diesel shortages were a regular occurance, and the roads were the equivalent to driving on a very dry bog. The locals get around on foot (walking as if they were in a parade!), or by bicycle on which anything can be carried from live goats to telegraph poles. The roadsides are dotted with venders, selling souvenirs, fruit and fish. You’d often meet big groups of uniformed kids, making long journeys in the heat of the day from the various school sessions. The schools work for three months and then take one month’s holidays, with teachers working with up to 3 classes of 40 per day.
Around the capital Lusaka and linking major tourist destinations, the roads were better although the pot holes were like craters from the heat and heavy trucks. Buses were definitely my fave form of transport though, especially when they came with people hanging outta them buying bananas. One bus driver seemed intent on running over our car, with his huge smile the only suggestion that his intention wasn’t malicious. Getting on the right bus is a miracle in itself, and being white everyone wants to help/sell you stuff/get a tip. I certainly provided a great gawking opportunity for the locals.
Politically, Zambia is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal against it’s former president. Corruption is inherent in all levels of society, making us very wary of approaching each of the many police checkpoints. One night, when winding down from the day, we heard three gun shots from outside. I arrived down the next morning (in my pyjamas) to find a policeman explaining that a thief from Livingstone had rammed the checkpoint outside our house and the police had shot at his truck. He escaped but was later caught in Choma, the next town en route to Lusaka. Apparently the last time shots were fired, a man had killed himself in the police station across the road. Scary stuff.
Having been submerged in Africa for a month, I now realize more than ever the radicalness and importance of the Civil Rights movement. Certainly makes you look at the Irish Immigrants situation with a lot more empathy too.