The Cultural Curator

Bringing you thoughts on feminism, fashion, food, current affairs, and other cultural goodies…

The Complicated Simple Life.

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First and foremost, let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that I am oh-so-sorry for being MIA these past couple of months. Although it’s always my intention to write frequently… sometimes… life gets in the way.

And… being on the other side of the world means that I’m also facing new adventures – and challenges – that I’m not always able to summarize eloquently in words. Still, I’ll make a valiant attempt for you, dear readers.

Let’s start from the present and work our way back. Currently, I’m writing to you from ‘the field’. Now, for those of you wondering exactly what this entails, allow me to break it down. No flush toilet (“hello, hole in the ground!”). No showerhead (“nice to meet you, bucket!”), and minimal electricity. Welcome to the field.

To know me is to know that I’m a city girl to the umpteenth degree. And I come by it honestly. My own mother’s idea of ‘roughing it’ is camping out at a three-star hotel. The fact that I’ve lasted this long in the field, given my upbringing, is a miracle in and of itself. Sorry, Mom. But, as I sit here writing, while simultaneously avoiding eye contact with a goat that is making googly eyes at me, I’m well aware that this is where I need to be right now.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time), it’s important to do the things that make you uncomfortable. I truly believe that it’s one of the quickest and most effective ways to grow as a person. So while I poop in a hole (in an especially uncomfortable squatting position), while I bathe in a straw hut (where venomous snakes occasionally peek through crevices), while I eat chicken or fish at every meal, and while I sleep in the company of bats and rats, I’m growing a bit with each day that passes in the field…

What I’m doing outside the city and in a rural area of Zambia requires a whole other explanation. As part of my work with Women for Change (WfC), I left the office behind so that I could observe, first-hand, how the organization operates on the ground in rural communities throughout the country. On this particular visit, the organization is seeking to establish itself in a new area, Chongwe, which has equated to several introductory sessions with communities in the region. During one meeting, whereby the female and male attendees sat separately from one another (this appears to be a trend from what I gathered), both ‘sides’ agreed that men were more human than women. They had drawn this conclusion from the bible, which apparently (it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a copy of the Old Testament…) states that a woman was born from the rib of a man. As you might infer, religion plays an integral role in the lives of many Zambians. It took everything I had in me not to jump out of my seat in protest. I remained quietly seated, though I had a difficult time digesting what I was hearing. Many of the communities that WfC works with start off with this mindset and, as they become more educated on and aware of gender and its role in the development process, assume a fresh perspective that sees women and men as equal contributors to development. At least there is a ray of hope…

In order to maintain my sanity (or, at least, salvage what is left of it), I’ve taken to playing ‘dress up’ in the field. It all started when I got dolled up in a beautiful Chitenge (a traditional African cloth that can be found in a myriad of designs and colours), and realized its diversity from a styling perspective. Since I am expected to wear a Chitenge during my fieldwork, I let my imagination run free, unleashed my creativity, and developed a ‘look book’ of sorts that I have come to refer to as ‘field chic’. You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl

But… what is work without some play thrown into the mix? Though a party girl I am not (unless you count ‘dinner and a movie’ as a wild night out), I’ve found other ways to get my kicks. I’ve even had a couple weekends away that merit some written attention…

We’ll start with a wild (by my standards) getaway in Livingstone, Zambia, home to the breathtaking natural wonder, Victoria Falls. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve now seen these Falls before I’ve even visited its famous rival in Niagara, which sits practically in my backyard. Though an up-close-and-personal view of Vic Falls was a highlight, there were some other stand out moments that made for a memorable, albeit often embarrassing, trip. Luckily, I’m willing to indulge in a little self-deprecation if it means eliciting a smile (or two) out of you…

Facepalm Moment #1: This came out of an impromptu – and unwelcome – encounter with a ravenous baboon. One thing that must be understood in order for this anecdote to make sense is that baboons are to Victoria Falls what squirrels are to Central Park: running rampant and unfazed by human interaction. While proceeding towards the Falls, my comrade, Leah, who was holding a bag of snacks and who had been recently forewarned about the fearlessness of baboons, was very rapidly approached by one of the aforementioned creatures. Without hesitation, Leah (with a throw worthy of a major league pitch), tossed our bag of goodies across the dirt road and straight into the arms of our greatest threat… the baboon.

Take it! Take it all! Just don’t hurt us!” she screamed, in a pitch (pun intended) so loud that I’m certain our neighbours in Zimbabwe heard her pleas. We then stood there, in unified silence, as we watched our new “friend” help himself to a fine assortment of treats, with a look so smug that I swear, if that ape could talk, he would have said, “yea, I took your food… what are you gonna do about it… chump.Hmmmm… now that I think about it, this little tale was more embarrassing for Leah than for myself… sorry, Leah.

And then… there was Facepalm Moment #2, which will certainly live on as a disgraceful moment in the storybook of my life: Because I pride myself on being a relatively (note the Latin root ‘relative’) adventurous person, I was excited to partake in some of the more extreme (again… it’s all relative) activities that Victoria Falls had to offer. So, when the girls expressed an interest in white water rafting along the Zambezi River, I thought it an opportune time to demonstrate just how adventurous I was. Off went the jeans and t-shirt and on went the wetsuit, paddle included.

Together, with a larger group of about 30 young people from around the world, the rafting guides prepared us for our upcoming paddle along the river. What we (and by ‘we’, what I really mean is me… and Leah. Sorry, again, Leah) were not prepared for was the interminable trek down to the water, which transpired into a very steep reverse climb down some very unstable – and very thin – twigs. As we commenced our descent, I was A-Okay, but when I realized that the makeshift staircase wasn’t about to end anytime soon, I won’t lie… my legs (and my heart) started to give out a little. If I told you that it felt as though I was being read my last rights, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. One by one, and then two by two, my fellow rafters began to pass me. I went from being leader of the pack to a follower in a matter of minutes, and lord knows how much I deplore following. Someone even had the gull (THE GULL!) to mutter under his breath, “it goes a lot faster if you keep moving…” Thanks for the moral support, buddy. Needless to say, I was the last one down. Okay. Me and Leah. What we lacked in vertical dexterity, however, we more than made up for in aquatic prowess. I’m born in the month of July. Hence, I’m a Cancer, baby… baby. And us Cancers love us some water. Take that (!), guy who told me to “keep moving!”

Speaking of July, did someone say, “birthday”? Yes! I was fortunate enough to celebrate this year’s in Zambia. The BIG 2-8. And was even more fortunate to celebrate in a very special way with a very special someone. A mere 2.5 hours (in theory) outside of Lusaka is the beautiful – and tranquil – Lake Kariba. In what was one of the best – if not THE best – birthday gifts I have ever received, my partner planned a weekend escape to the lake. An interesting tidbit about Siavonga (the town that surrounds Lake Kariba) is that transportation to and from this destination is limited when you are car-less. The sole means of transport is by minibus (see my former post to get better acquainted with the minibus ‘experience’), and the procedure goes something like this: 1) Show up to the city bus ‘terminal’ (I use this definition loosely) at 8:00am (the earlier, the better); 2) Wait until the bus fills up (anywhere between two and four hours). Wait. Wait. Wait…; 3) Depart. Anywhere between 10:00am (if you’re really lucky) and 12:00pm (by this time, if you have any hair on your head, you’re definitely pulling it out).

These are what the locals affectionately (ugh) refer to as ‘untimed’ buses. And for those of you who didn’t graduate with a PhD in scheduling, it’s pretty much exactly as it sounds. Buses with absolutely ZERO respect for the clock (tick, tock, tick, tock). That’s right, my friends. This bus only goes when there’s a bum in every ‘seat’ (again, a very loose definition of the word). Fun times. And that 2.5-hour travel time that I referenced earlier? Well… just kidding! Although it should only take 2.5 hours, with the state of the roads (mostly gravel), and the state of the buses (not ideal), a 2.5-hour trip suddenly became six hours of bumping-and-grinding on a cramped caravan-style bus.

I love you, Billy. I did not love that drive…

All this to say that the weekend, rickety bus ride aside, was just marvellous. It included a lovely stay at a bed and breakfast that overlooked the lake, a private sunset boat cruise, and a romantic dinner complete with beautiful view… and a lot of laughs. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday… or a better person to spend it with. Happy 28th to me!

******

So… have you forgiven me yet for not writing sooner? Excuses, excuses, I know. But seriously, folks, I’ve been one busy little bee, in both work and play. It’s been a steady (and occasionally bumpy) ride of ups and downs, highs and lows, learning and educating. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. At times, I’m uncomfortable, uncertain, and even unclear as to why I’m on this journey – on the other side of the world – in the first place. Yet I’m offered regular reminders, by the wonderful and inspiring people that I have been introduced to and the sometimes crazy and often humbling experiences that I have been privy to, and, with that, I am reassured that I am exactly where I am supposed to be…

xo

J

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2 comments on “The Complicated Simple Life.

  1. Ali
    September 3, 2013

    Amazing! More updates, please 🙂

    • theculturalcurator
      September 5, 2013

      You got it, Ali! I miss you! We need a date with ‘Brad’ upon my return to the T-Dot! We are looooooong overdue! xx

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This entry was posted on August 29, 2013 by in Life, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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