"It is time to get up. The time is 5:25. It is time to get up. The time is 5:25..."
The robotic English woman that is my phone alarm is not charming at this hour. I reach my arm out from under my bug net and start fumbling around on the side table to shut it off.
Mmmm, you know what would be really good right now? A hearty pancake breakfast. But, the smell of flapjacks staying warm in the oven, bacon frying on the stove, and a fresh pot of coffee are not wafting through my window; and I do not bolt upright in disbelief and anticipation. Instead, I shuffle slowly across the mud floor of my hut, and open the reed door to a new, pancake-less morning, in Zambia.
I dig my hands into the pockets of my jeans and pull out my to-do list, reading it in the dim light before sunrise:
- Visit AZCC, see what’s up
- Check emails and connect with the world
- Food for the family
- Meet with Anna-Marie @ 12:30
I decided Thursday I would go to town to talk to the AZCC branch manager. Earlier in the week I uncovered some pretty fundamental problems with their agent network. As AZCC agents they haven't received a single Kwacha in commission. If the agents aren’t making money, they have no incentive to sell agriculture inputs or even associate themselves with AZCC since there is no benefit in doing so. This leads to a multitude of issues; most concerning for PROFIT is that agents now look to PROFIT as their boss and not to AZCC – the company they are supposed to be selling for. Remember, PROFIT is just the NGO who trains the agents and ‘offloads’ them onto the private sector, and are closing their project in September.
See the issue? If the agent identity crisis cannot be solved, there will be clusters of aimless agents who’ll fail to remain active because they have no incentive, person to report to, and ultimately feel alone come September. How can PROFIT leave successfully when there is dependency? They can’t. Hopefully my meetings today with AZCC and Anna, the AVC team lead, will help me focus some of these thoughts.
I have persuaded Austen against the idea of taking a bike taxi the 25 km's into Chipata. That would be devastating to more cheeks than one. So, after a quick bucket shower and a 20 min walk to the main road, we are waiting to faux hitch hike. We will still have to pay ZK 10,000 for the ride.
The truck that stops is one of those used Japanese imports that get driven up from South Africa or Mozambique. If you see a brand new vehicle in the village – get your proposals for a new borehole ready people ‘cause it’s an NGO. All sarcasm aside, that’s at least how it seems. The back of the truck is loaded with mud bricks headed to one of the slums just outside Chipata. “Shack town” as Austen calls it.
I climb into the cab plastered with Manchester United stickers. The radio is tuned to one of the local Chipata radio stations, Feel Free FM.
“Good morning Chipata!...”
The announcer uses his volume control to turn up the ZamPop background music as he pauses for a second, and then violently turns it back down.
“Today is a wonderful day…”
Up, pause, down.
“You are listening to…”
“Feel Free FM...”
I don’t know what is worse, his clear addiction to the volume control knob, or the song that follows. Yes. That’s right. Beiber fever has reached rural Zambia. Not my morning.
I turn a grumpy gaze out the window.
After helping the driver and his workers offload in ‘Shack Town’, I am walking out the door of AZCC faster than I walked in. The branch manager is not there. It’s Saturday, I’m an idiot. I go to the internet café instead, post on Facebook my dire cravings for pancakes in the hopes someone is willing to fedex me some maple syrup, and then find myself standing in the middle of Shoprite, a South African grocery store chain.
I want to cook a Canadian meal for the family I am staying with; both for my own sanity and to share with them a little bit of Canadian culture. I walk up and down the aisles aimlessly. I love Canada for its ‘tapestry of multiculturalism’; I hate it for how impossible it makes this decision. I settle on spaghetti and buy noodles and tomato sauce mainly for its cook-ability over open flame.
Afterwards, I tell Austen to call me when he is done running his errands in town and I hop on a bike taxi to take to the Lodge where Anna and the other African Programs Staff are having the monthly AVC team meeting. When we arrive I climb off and ask, “Zingati?” How much?
The driver looks at me, pauses. His answer is both hesitant and wishful, “7 thousand.”
“EEeesh, Boss! You are giving me the Muzungu price. 2 point 5.”
“Ahhh, 4 thousand.”
“Boss, I know the price is 2 point 5.”
Reluctantly he charges me two five for the ride. Bargaining always creates an internal battle of morals. I could have given him the 4 thousand, he did sweat for the last 2 km hauling my lazy ass up and down hills. What’s another 1 point 5, or 30 cents, to me? Not much. He could probably use the money to buy food for his family, put his kids through school, or get medicine for when they are sick. All you socialists would agree we need more even distribution of wealth in the world, so why not just pay the white man price? Well, it’s a matter of principle. He is assuming that just because I am white I have the means to pay extra, and am obliviously willing to do so. If I give him 4 thousand or 7 thousand that creates an expectation that the muzungu will pay more, give him more, and perpetuates the idea all muzungu’s are rich. Not really an image I want to portray, nor should be portrayed.
I turn up the dusty red path towards the lodge for my meeting with Anna, still contemplating my decision. Not even a ride on a bike taxi is simple.