This morning I don’t wake up in a damp brick hut. I’m still in Chipata.
By the time Austen finished his errands yesterday afternoon and flashed me it was already past 16 hours. Flashing is when you call someone and hang up before they answer. The person who got flashed is then supposed to call the flash-ee back on their talk time, or cell phone credit, as to not waste that of the flasher. Volunteers who have worked in Zambia for a long time often run into difficulties with the phrase, “I’ll flash you later” when they return to Canada. Depending on the circumstances it is not always appropriate.
Tangent aside it was going to get dark in only a couple hours. An image of Cat, the JF program manager, popped into my head pointing a stern finger and saying with a definitive seriousness, “No traveling at night!” I told Austen I needed to stay the night in Chipata. He said he would meet me tomorrow so we could travel back together. He doesn’t trust my ability to find my way back to Chinjara.
I probably could have been more proactive and called Austen earlier instead of waiting for him to call, or found my own way back to the village. But, I didn’t. I stuck around for the AVC team meeting waiting for him and as a result stayed the night. We talked about the Canucks, why karma decided the year we were all in Africa they actually have a shot at winning the cup, I ate with a fork, things were easy. Comfortable. A part of me didn’t like it. It wasn’t a challenge, and I was upset with myself for not pushing harder. I should be in the village fighting off bats in the latrine, choking down nshima and pumpkin leaves, and practicing my Chinyanja to the amusement of my host family.
This morning I’ve woken up with a different realization. That was exactly what I needed. Not because I needed a break emotionally, not because I couldn’t handle my obscene food cravings, and not because I wasn’t happy. I’ve spent the last week as a sponge, soaking up everything from home life, the job of a CLA, agents and their relationship with a AZCC, village relationships and hierarchy’s. But, I’ve been soaking it up without filtering anything.
It is easy when you are living with an agent to get caught up with ‘simple’ problems. For example, they don’t know how to record keep. I found myself showing them how to keep records. I found myself getting caught up in trying to solve the problems that the four agents faced individually, and not taking a step back and looking at how it applies to a bigger whole. Is the problem that they don’t know how to keep records? Or is it something bigger, like they don’t see the benefit or no one requires them to submit reports? Is this a problem for every agent? Or just these four? I had a classic case of treating the symptom and not targeting the cause.
The focus of my summer is not just these four agents; it is working with PROFIT to improve agent support across the board. It won’t happen if I just look at surface issues and take my small window into agent life as the whole picture. It took a conversation with Anna last night to re-realize this.
Austen and I are at the bus station looking for a car or truck to take us to Chinjara village. Nothing. Not until tomorrow morning.
Before I’ve fully processed the feat of sheer strength and willpower I’m about to endure, I find myself trying to decide on a bike taxi. I’m trying optimize the combination of seat cushion thickness, and quad size of biker. Disappointingly, there seems to be a negative correlation between the two. I place more emphasis on seat cushion thickness. I figure 2 hours with an ass at the end is better than 1.5 without.
The driver looks confused and asks his friend, “Ili kuti Chinjara?” He is asking where it is.
They talk back and forth Chinyanja for what I deem longer than necessary if one of them actually know where it was. “Uhh… 20 pin.”
It takes us a couple minutes to talk them down to 10 pin and Austen and I climb on the back of our bike taxis.
As we ride west through the Zambian countryside bikes loaded five sacks high with charcoal pass us on the right. For an overstuffed, chest height bag of charcoal the charcoal burners get paid 3 thousand Kwatcha, or 60 cents. The transporters then sell the bag for 5 pin. Hundreds and hundreds of trees are being cut and turned into charcoal because it is an easy way to make cash when your crop fails.
As we bike further away from Chipata charcoal bags start to litter the side of the road, waiting for traders to pick them up. They might as well be sign posts that read “poverty this way”. The environmentalist inside of me cringes, but the humanitarian inside of me is empathetic.
The driver turns his head back, “How far to Chinjara?”
When you ask people in Zambia how long something will take, or how far something is, the response is generally, “oh, it is just some time,” or “oh, it is just some kilometers.” Especially when they have no idea. This leads to frustration when you learn that ‘some’ successfully encapsulates all real numbers.
“Oh, it is just some kilometers.” I don’t think he knows it is 25km outside of the city.
He yells back to me another 30 min later, “How many kilometers to Chinjara?”
“Oh, it is just some distance.” I might be taking the whole language integration thing a bit far and at this point am just being an asshole, but I am legitimately worried if he finds out there is still an hour left in the ride he will dump me on the side of the road.
“I think it is not far,” I add for both re-assurance and to give the impression this is a first for me too.
Finally in Chinjara. I can see the pale blue sign of the school. As we get closer I read it, “Chinjala Basic School.” ChinjaLa? It’s with an L? The cooperative spells is with an R.
In Chinyanja L’s and R’s make very similar sounds, almost identical. For example, thank you very much is zikomo kwambiri, but it is pronounced kwambiLi. Elliot’s name is pronounced Erriot, and Raquel’s name is pronounced Laquer. Okay, not sure if the last one is accurate, but you get the picture.
Just when you thought you knew a place you find out you were spelling the name wrong the whole time. Embarrassing.