Reagen National Airport, Washington D.C. - Late Afternoon, August 28th, 2011
“Excuse me! Excuse me. There is too much foam in my cappuccino.”
“Yes Ma’am, just one moment Ma’am.”
The middle aged woman is visibly distraught with getting a cap on her cappuccino. She lets out a polite scoff and turns to me, “Did you see all that foam?”
The young lady working the small coffee stand returns and slides the drink back over the polished counter.
The woman removes the white plastic lid, pears inside, and tisks – she has an entire anthology of distraught noises for occasions like these. She turns to me again, tilting the cup slightly so I can see inside, “Can you believe that?”
I must have an appalled look on my face because she nods her head in ignorant definitive agreement, “I know, I know… still too much foam.”
“Excuse me, Miss? Yes, there is still too much foam.”
Less than an hour in North America and I want to get on the next flight back to Zambia – where people have bigger things to trouble over than caps on cappuccinos, and they are happy with what they get.
Please, take me home…
Downtown Toronto - Late Evening, August 28th, 2011
At 18 strong there is a small mob of us making our way through downtown Toronto, 16 of which are fresh off the plane from Malawi. My jeans have accumulated more Zambian soil than can be considered trendy, and my plain white t-shirt has acquired a few too many coffee stains. My tropicals (flip flops) and straw hat, which I picked at the bus stop in Luangwa at the start of our pilgrimage 3 days ago, add to my appearance. I’m tempted to say unique appearance, but with the company I have I’m not out of the ordinary.
We step off the bus and from instinct comes a, “Thanks boss” in a mild Zambian accent. Steph hears me and laughs at my Canadian cultural blunder. Calling someone boss here doesn't hold the same level of respect. I start to wonder what other 'cultural norms' have become second nature in four months. I start to make a quick mental list of things to remember not to do:
- Flick your eyebrows at someone with a slight head nod. In Zambia this simply means ‘yes’. At my prime I could flag down mini buses with a flick of my eyebrows – pure skill. In Canada it means you’re hitting on someone
- Say things like, “But don’t worry, you can just flash me later.” In Zambia this would be an invitation to call me and hang up so I would know to call you back. In Zambia you ‘flash’ someone when you are cheap and don’t have enough talk time to call, so you get the other person to call you and use their units. In Canada… well...
- Say things like, “You are looking very fat.” In Zambia it’s a perfectly kosher complement meaning “Friend, you are looking very healthy”, which can also imply “Ahh, but I mean you are eating well”, which implies “Boss, you had a good harvest!”, which implies “This one, he is a fine farmer!”. It’s a multi-level compliment. In Canada people just get all self conscious and what what.
- Combine 2 and 1
- Combine 3 and 1
- Combine 3, 2, and 1.
My growing mental list is side swiped by another train of thought…
“Toronto smells so effing good!”
Someone echoes, “Mmm, fresh Canadian air…”
A couple of us stick our noses to the sky and start taking deeper-than-normal breaths. Combine that with our groups’ appearance and we look straight out of the loonie bin, the lot of us.
Re-integration is going to be a treat.