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It’s been a mere two-and-a-half weeks since I set up shop in Zambia and, suffice it to say, this is the longest amount of time I have spent, consecutively, in one African nation.
What has made the transition to life in a developing country that much easier is the fact that I’ve been fortunate to have a considerable amount of travel under my belt already, particularly within developing regions of the world. Had I not spent six weeks in East and West Africa last year, my ability to adapt to life in Lusaka (Zambia’s capital city) might have presented more challenges; instead, my previous trip has afforded me a certain amount of familiarity and ease of integration.
That’s not to say, however, that my own ethnocentricities and ‘social norms’ don’t rear their head every now and again. Society in Lusaka moves at a much slower pace than does life at home in urban North America. From office culture to café culture to people culture. Some might call it ‘relaxed’; at times, I call it frustrating. It can try your patience… if you let it. The alternative is to let go of those preconceptions and… adapt? A crazy concept, I know! The latter is the route that I have chosen to take, and I find myself becoming a more patient and relaxed version of myself. Or, at the very least, it’s what I am constantly striving for. So I guess suggesting that there have been no challenges is a bit of a stretch. Challenges do exist, but they are only as debilitating as you allow them to be.
In a city of over two million (according to the census report), Lusaka is not large by African standards, yet during rush hour, where vehicles move at a snail’s pace (at best), you wonder whether the entire continent congregates in the confines of this metropolis. Packed in like sardines, my fellow Canadian colleagues and I navigate the streets to and from our Women for Change office via a ‘minibus’. If you’ve never had the good fortune of taking such a mode of transportation (similar buses by different names may be found throughout various African cities), you haven’t lived. There is nothing like having five adults squeeze into a row that is clearly only designed for four backsides to make you feel like you shouldn’t have reached for that second helping of Shima (a traditional food staple made of ground maize[and accompanied by various proteins] that, I have a hunch, goes straight to the waistline!) . Such are the trials and tribulations of my life right now…
Oh, but wait. There’s more. Though, during the summer months at home (Hi, Canada!), the sun shines until 9:00pm, here in Lusaka, where we’re currently experiencing a cool winter (we wake up to a chilly nine-or-so degrees in the morning), by the time we depart the office for home at the end of our workday (sometime between 4:30pm and 5:00pm), the sun is setting. For our personal safety, we try to be home before darkness sets upon us, although we have not always been successful in this task. Streetlights are a luxury here… in case you’re wondering. We have the occasional power outage at home (never at the office), and we’ve learned the beauty of candlelight and headlamps. Headlamps have become my latest fashion accessory (for those of you rolling your eyes, I know who you are and I can see you…).
On the subject of office life – because I’ve sort of danced around it – the culture at Women for Change is one of a sincere desire to contribute to positive developments within Zambia and, more specifically, to the lives of women and children in rural parts of the country. To date, I have yet to venture into the field (I’ve spent my working hours in the organization’s communications department, where you will find me chipping away at publicity materials, website updates, monthly reports, and the like) but have been informed that I’ll be given this opportunity in the imminent future. I am very much looking forward to seeing what positive changes are transpiring on the ground. Like many other organizations in this day and age, where the global economy is in a shambles and funding is so difficult to come by, Women for Change, having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is at a crossroads. The budget to operate the organization and its programming exceeds its actual funding, and many of its staff have not been paid a full salary in almost a year. Yet they continue to show up to work, everyday, with more heart and soul than so many well-paid employees. An argument that I hear repeatedly – and that gets me all riled up – is that community work is a ‘nice’ thing to do, and is not deserving of a real, livable salary. The fact is that we cohabitate in a pretty messed up world right now (or always…), and those elite disseminating funding from their ‘golden thrones’ often turn a blind eye to this stark reality. If organizations like Women for Change are not around to do the essential work that they do, who will?! Community work is equally as meaningful and relevant as other paid labour, and should be acknowledged as such. It’s not simply something “nice”. It’s necessary. And it upsets me that this genre of work is often overlooked and undermined. Anyway, that’s just some food for thought…
On a more personal note, when I’m not seated at my desk, you will find me out and about exploring the nooks and crannies of Lusaka. Big city girl that I am, it’s really no surprise that I am absolutely thrilled to have received an urban overseas placement. Rural had been a possibility, as well. Now that would have been a challenge! 😉
There are several markets in the city, but I have yet to find that “piece”. For those of you who don’t know what a “piece” is, allow me to enlighten you. It’s that special ‘find’ that can only be found somewhere far, far away from home. It’s that one item that leaves everyone asking, “OMG, where did you get that?!?! I love it!!!” That’s when you nonchalantly respond with, “Oh, this piece? I got this little number in [insert place of reference here].” Satisfying, isn’t it? Thus far, I’ve found “pieces” in Morocco, Italy, Ghana, Turkey, Israel… the list goes on.
There are also pending plans to traverse beyond the city borders to Livingstone and Victoria Falls, with the strong prospect of some white water rafting, a safari, and a stay at a game reserve thrown into the mix. When in Africa…
Enough about the future though! Let’s time travel back to the past! Here are some highlights (eerrr… and low-lights?) thus far:
Now that I have left very little to your imaginations, I will end on this high (low?) note. Expect to hear from me again soon. When my Internet is functioning at full capacity. Which it rarely is. Someone send this girl a telegraph machine!
N.B. On the way home today, while peering out the minibus window, I caught glimpse of two tiny girls holding (what was presumably) their younger siblings on their backs. The smaller ones were strapped in tightly, via a piece of chitenge cloth, while the older ones laughed and played. And I thought to myself… “now that’s true love.” It’s small moments like these that make me feel so happy to be here.