Hey folks! It been a long time since I blogged, and a lot has happened in the three months since my last entry. I’ve left Nyimba and moved to Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. I have a new job working as an Advocacy and Communications Specialist at an international health organization and I have a new place (which I’m itching to decorate). But this blog entry has nothing to do with any of the things I’ve just mentioned.  No, this entry is stemming from a simple status update I posted on Facebook a few days ago. This is what I wrote:

‘Kimberly Bennett hates weaves with a passion. Especially bad ones. I know that this will anger a lot of my Facebook friends, but if you lived where I live, you’d hate them too!’

This little update sparked a mini debate amongst some of my friends here in Zambia and across the ocean in North America. I found the fact that so many of my female friends responded to this status update very telling. If the statement I made were completely ludicrous, no one would have responded. The fact of the matter is it touched a nerve, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

As I walk down the streets of Lusaka, I see many things. Some bad, some good. One of the most unfortunate things I see regularly is bad hair weaves. Zambian women have a penchant for fake hair– which is fine on its face (not for me), but when examined more closely, is somewhat disturbing. This is a country is laden with beautiful women. So, it always amazes me that these same beautiful women would think that adding fake, low-quality weaves manufactured by Indians and Koreans, to their own hair makes them look more beautiful. Since living in Africa, I’ve seen so many unfortunate weaves and wigs that I really feel like walking up to people and saying, ‘I don’t know why you paid for this’.

My own hair journey started in May of 1991 at a small hair salon in Mississauga, Ontario. I was a month shy of my 12th birthday and I had been begging my mother to have my hair relaxed for the last 2 years. My mother resisted and resisted, but finally gave in that Spring. When the hairdresser finally finished with my hair, it was silky smooth and flowing. I could flick my hair just like my White girlfriends in my 6th grade French Immersion class. It was total bliss.

My mother never told me why she had resisted relaxing my hair for so long, but I now suspect she knew the implications. The relaxer is an addictive beast. Once you start, it becomes very difficult to stop—even when you hair is falling out in clumps and you have to resort to wearing wigs and weaves to cover-up the bald spots. More on that later…

I decided to go natural 8 years later. Why? Because I kept asking myself the question: Why was I relaxing my hair? Why was I journeying to the hair salon every 6-8 weeks to get this burning, creamy substance raked through my hair? My relaxed hair didn’t look sensational. It didn’t look bad, but it certainly wasn’t something to write home about. It wasn’t particularly easy to maintain either. My hair never looked as good as it did when I would first leave the salon. So why was I doing it? This is a question I was never able to find a satisfactory answer to. The only answer I could come up with was that the relaxer represented convention, and I was growing tired of trying to live up to the standard of ‘conventional beauty’. The relaxer represented acceptance. It represented some sort of ideal beauty– the ideal being ‘Eurocentric’ beauty. I decided that I’d had enough, so I cut the relaxer from my hair and went natural. I haven’t looked back since.

I’m not suggesting that everyone who relaxes his or her hair is desirous of turning into an overnight European, but I am suggesting that some of us are subconsciously trying to live up to that so-called ideal. I’ve also heard the excuse made that Black women relax their hair because it makes it easier to manage. Maybe, maybe not. One thing I do know is that it will certainly be easier to manage when there are only 5 strands of hair left on their head! My mother was a nurse who worked nights and sometimes did extra shifts and managed to find the time to wash, comb and style my natural hair. So the ‘easier-to-manage’ excuse never really washed with me. The relaxer was never invented to make our hair easier to manage, it was invented as a means to give Blacks the opportunity to appear more like the race with the social advantage—the White race. No matter how one would like to slice or dice it, that was the reason.

In addition to my rejection of the relaxer, I confess that I’ve always hated weaves, and wigs for that matter. I just hate fake hair. Just like I hate the idea of fake body parts and over-the-top make-up. This is not to say that there aren’t weaves and/or wigs that look good, I just hate the idea of them. There are some women whose real hair I’ve never seen—and I know for a fact that they are not bald! I’ve worn braids, but usually for the purpose of growing out my own hair out or giving my damaged relaxer a break. Admittedly, I would cringe anytime one of my White peers would say, “Oh my goodness! You guys just have the coolest hair! It’s like you can make it grow overnight or something!” Statements like these would make me feel like a clown or one of those ridiculous Barbie dolls whose hair could grow when you press a button in her back.

I’m going to say something that is very un-PC, but here goes: most weaves and wigs look bad. Yes, I said it and it’s true. Many weaves and wigs are well done, but do not necessarily look attractive. I’ve seen very few women wearing a weave/wig that looks remotely plausible. One of my friends made the argument that many people wear fake hair as a way of artistic expression and she may be right… in a few cases. But let’s be real here folks: most black women wear weaves because they feel that the hair that grows out of their own head isn’t good enough. This is the same reason why many Black women relax their hair as well. As bad as it sounds, it is the regrettable truth. The hair most Blacks are born with is tightly coiled or kinky, if you will, not long and silky. Western society has conditioned us to believe that somehow this is not attractive or desirable. So in my opinion, the rejection of this is an indirect rejection of our origin. And if wearing weaves, wigs and damaging relaxers is a way of expression oneself, then I must ask the question: exactly whose ‘self’ are you expressing?

This rejection is not exclusive to all who wear a relaxer or a weave. Some naturals are guilty as well. Wearing a natural doesn’t automatically make you ‘conscious’. I’ve seen many a low fade died platinum blond. When your skin is as dark as ebony and your hair is as light as the white sand beaches of the Bahamas and you have no vitamin deficiency to speak of, we have a slight problem.

If and when I’m blessed with children, especially a daughter, I am going to do my best to teach her to have pride in whom she is and whose she is. She will be beautiful—just the way God made her. And if she wants a weave and/or perm, she’ll have to pay for it herself!

Posted by: Kimberly | June 22, 2010

On Being A Muzungu Blackie…

Yes, that’s right. I said it. I had to come all the way to the bowls of Africa to be called a blackie. The only times I’ve heard this word uttered in my presence was while watching Spike Lee films or documentaries on race relations in the Southern Untied States during the Civil Rights Era. The things said to my face in this country sometimes stop my heart. Africans are a very blunt and plainspoken people and to think of it, I should have been prepared as many of my West Indian kin carry the same trait. That being said, I am continuously amazed at their candor when describing people. I asked my night-guard about the Chief Ndake’s wife and he responded by saying, Who? That fat, brown one?” At first, I thought the man had something against the chief’s wife, but as the weeks and then months passed I realized that this was just a common and innocuous way that Zambians used in describing their peers. Just two weeks ago I attended a meeting in Chipata, the capital of the Eastern Province of Zambia, where a woman was staring at me with an admiring smile. I smiled back at her and just as I did so, she walked up to me and said, “Can I ask you what you eat?” I was puzzled by the randomness of the question so I responded by asking her to clarify what she meant. She proceeded to say, “Well I wanted to know how you are able to look so cute and fat!” Now had this been said at the corner of Yonge and Eglinton in my hometown of Toronto, I would have had to fight my urge to give the young woman a kick in the shins, but seeing that I was at a hotel at the Zambian-Malawian border, I took it as a compliment. Because so many Zambians do not get enough to eat, a little extra weight in the derrière and chest area on woman is seen as attractive. In Canada and I’m sure in most of the Western world, extra weight anywhere on the body must be lost at all cost! We are bombarded with images of men and women who are reed thin with impossible body proportions and we are expected to match them without complaint. Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are a problem in the West, but when I described this disease to my faithful night-guard one evening, he nearly fell off his chair laughing hysterically. And can you blame him or any Zambian for finding this disease hilarious? Why would anyone starve and/or purge him or herself to be thin? Why waste good food? When you are starving, why would you want to look as if you’re starving?

All last month, staff members of the Nyimba District Farmers Association and myself went into the field to talk to small-scale farmers about the organization and their rights to land title deeds. As part of the sensitization meetings a drama group was hired teach the farmers about the benefits of the joining the organization through a drama presentation. In that presentation, the drama group introduces me as the new Advocacy Advisor from Canada. They then proceed to describe me as a muzungu blackie. The first time I heard it I thought I had heard wrong. Blackie?! I thought the whole muzungu deal is bad enough, but great, now I’m a muzungu blackie– the epithet grand slam! A muzungu as I described to you in an earlier post, is a term used all over Eastern and Southern Africa to describe a foreigner and usually a white foreigner. As I’ve noticed since arriving in rural Zambia, many Zambians are very confused by the fact that I, a 100% Black woman, could be anything other than Zambian. You can always see their puzzled faces when it is explained to them that I am Canadian and that I do not speak Chinyanja. I’ve even had women come up to me and speaking rapid-fire Chinyanja expecting me to respond in equally rapid-fire, perfect Chinyanja syntax. When I do not, it is assumed that I’m pretending or that I’m disowning my presumed Zambian heritage. I’ve even been asked if Chinyanja is spoken in Canada! Seriously! It isn’t until I’m able to describe my entire family tree- my parents and family are the descendants of slaves who were born in Jamaica and immigrated to England then immigrated to Canada where myself and my brother were born, blah, blah, blah!– that they finally, sort of understand. The whole slavery part of the World history lesson was apparently ignored in the rural Zambian curriculum. This is why rural Zambians have a hard time understanding that there are Blacks who are not technically African by birth, but African by ancestry. Another tool used to describe me is by comparing me to Barack Obama, go figure. ‘Kimberly is a muzungu blackie, like, er… Barack Obama!’ ‘Aha! I understand now!’ President Obama appears to be the only other muzungu blackie that rural Zambians know of.

As proud of their heritage Zambians appear to be, there are some alarming and disheartening examples of the negative effect of colonialism on their pride. For example, skin bleaching is a major problem here in Zambia. Every other woman, and sometimes man, has taken to bleaching their skin in an effort to look more attractive. Many of these men and women are extremely attractive as it is, but for whatever reason they feel that the lighter they are, the more handsome or pretty they will be. Last month I was having a conversation with an NGO worker about the weather in Nyimba. It was a particularly hot and sunny day. The NGO worker told me that I needed an umbrella to protect myself from the sun. ‘The sun will ruin your lovely skin’, he said. I responded by asking him if he thought my skin would burn. He said, ‘No, but it will get darker and trust me, you don’t want to get dark, do you?’ You see, the lighter your skin, the straighter and longer your hair, the closer you resemble a Caucasian- Caucasian being of course the optimal standard of beauty. Weaves and wigs are in abundance here in Zambia and I suspect across this continent. There are many Zambian women whose real hair has remained a mystery for years, if not decades. Little baby girls are encouraged to wear braid extensions and weaves- anything that will hide their naturally short, tightly coiled hair from the public eye. It’s sad really; Zambians are truly beautiful people without any of the alterations they think make them look beautiful.

At times being a muzungu blackie has it’s advantages and disadvantages. When I went to get my visa papers sorted out at the local immigration office, I was treated very, very well- although I suspect it was because the immigration officer was trying to get my number. My British colleague however, was treated poorly and was ignored whenever she had a question. There is definitely racism in Zambia- don’t ever get it twisted. Due to the tumultuous racial history of the Southern African region, many Africans harbour some animosity toward Whites- even if the White person in question has never given any indication that he or she is a racist. I’ve heard that this is definitely an even bigger problem in South Africa. On the other hand, when things go awry or if a certain quality of service is expected and not delievered, I’m treated as if I should expect this because I’m Black, just like the Zambian. No internet in the hotel that advertised it had internet- you should have known that it wasn’t going to work. Who do you think you are- a Muzungu? Ha! No more Bream fish at the restaurant- of course not! This is Zambia! What were you thinking, blackie? I’ve been to restaurants in the capital, Lusaka where a Caucasian was served before me even though I had ordered my food first. This, however, is not exclusive to Zambia or Africa (Cuba, anyone?).

This blog entry actually stemmed from a conversation I’d had with one of my former co-workers in Toronto. She had said to me that it would be incredibly interesting to document what life would be like as an African-Canadian living and working in the continent of your ancestry. Interesting and enlightening, indeed.

Chinyanja: Chinyanja is a Bantu language spoken throughout most of the Eastern, Lusaka Province of Zambia and parts of Malawi bordering Zambia.

Posted by: Kimberly | May 4, 2010

Livingstone and the Mosi-oa-Tunya

After a particularly difficult week at work in the eternally boring Nyimba (corruption, corruption, corruption), I decided to treat myself to a four-day vacation. Now, if you are living and working in Zambia, one of the first places people tell you to visit is Livingstone, home of the famous Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River.

I took the long journey from the Eastern Province to Lusaka and then took a bus from Lusaka to Livingstone. As I’ve explained to you before, the inter-city bus service is dodgy at best and down right criminal at worst. When I arrived at the bus station I was told that my bus would be leaving at 8:30am. It didn’t leave until 11:30am. After a seven-hour journey and a very heated argument with the bus attendants, I finally arrived in Livingstone. I was totally beat, so I ate dinner with my friend and went to bed.

The following morning I woke up bright and early and took a cab to the Zambezi Sun Hotel to eat breakfast based the recommendation of a friend (thanks Joy!). For about $17 US you can get the best all-you-can-eat breakfast this side of the Atlantic. I feasted on baked beans, eggs Benedict on toast, hash browns seasoned with fresh rosemary and fresh fruits of all kinds. To borrow a phrase from Rachel Ray, ‘yumm-o’!

After breakfast I took the ten-minute walk from the hotel to Victoria Falls. On my way to the falls I saw bevy of monkeys just hanging out along the road. Yep, just chillin’- like raccoons do near highways in North America. I couldn’t believe my eyes, nor could I conceal my excitement. One of the hotel security guards saw my elation and warned me to hang on tight to my purse as the monkeys had a penchant for taking people’s electronic equipment. He then proceeded to tell me to follow him so I could get a closer look. I politely declined. I’m not sure what the going rate for Nikon cameras is in the jungle but I wasn’t about to find out.

The closer and closer you get to the gate of Victoria Falls you can hear the thunderous rush of the water spilling over from the Zambezi River. The Mosi-oa-Tunya, or ‘the smoke that thunders’ in Tonga, was designated one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World by UNESCO in 1989 (what took them this long to figure this out is beyond me). At the entrance you are required to pay an entrance fee. I asked the gentleman at the counter what the fee was and he gave me the non-resident price. I told the attendant that I was a Zambian resident. I could tell that the attendant didn’t believe me, so I smugly displayed my National Residency Card. All I paid was 15,000 Kwacha ($3.22) to see the single best place I have ever visited on the Planet Earth! Victoria Falls is total bliss. There is something about being close to a natural source of water that is very exciting and calming at the same time. As soon you walk through the entrance you see a statue of Dr. David Livingstone, the missionary and explorer who brought the falls to the Western world’s attention. Walk a few more feet and you see the falls in its entire splendor. The scene is like something out of a My Little Pony episode- rushing water, bright green trees and rainbows, rainbows, rainbows! The tourists walking by me kept telling me to get a raincoat and cross the bridge because you get a better view of the falls. I rented a rain poncho and a dry-bag (to keep you possessions from getting wet) and set off to the bridge. Well, the rain poncho didn’t really do much for keeping me dry, but the dry-bag did indeed keep my purse an camera bone dry. The mist from the falls is like a shower. If you brought shower gel and a washcloth you could bathe and rinse right there! I can safely report that no one has ever attempted this.

I decided to take my Victoria Falls adventure further by heading over to the Zimbabwean side of the falls. I was told by locals and tourists alike that the Zimbabwean side of the falls is even more spectacular that the Zambian side. It also has the bungee jumping, microlight and giant swing if you are interested. I didn’t do any of this, but I plan to go back and try at least one! If you do want to see the Zimbabwean side of the falls, you have go through immigration and get your passport stamped as well as pay a fee for an entry visa. There isn’t much of a difference between the Zambian and the Zimbabwean side of the falls, but you do notice the difference in the people. The Zimbabwean people selling goods at the roadside between the two borders have more of a hustle and aggression that I did not see on the Zambian side. Part of me believes that this can simply be chalked up to different people, different personalities, but part of me also believes that this is due to a far more desperate situation in Zimbabwe. I was told by a Zambian living in Livingstone that during the turmoil of the 2008 presidential election in Zimbabwe, Zimbabweans would sneak across the border just to buy bread or soap. This is something none of us in Canada, the US or the UK could ever imagine. It puts so much in perspective.

After completing my tour of the falls, I headed next door to the Victoria Falls National Park- a sort of lightweight game reserve. I negotiated with officials to get a last minute tour of the park. I was placed in an open-sided truck with three Japanese tourists who were equally impressed by the wildlife as they were with my Nikon D5000 camera (another smug moment). Our game tracker, Humphrey, was superb and knew every detail of every animal in the park. We saw warthogs, wildebeest, giraffe, water buffalo, monkeys, hippopotamus, impala, iguanas, crocodiles and of course, elephants. The elephants almost gave me a bit of a fright as it initially looked like they were approaching our vehicle, but then they diverted and returned to the bush. Completely thrilling experiences all round.

The following day my friend and I went to the Livingstone Museum to take in some history and culture. We didn’t get much of either. The museum was sort of a mish-mash of the history of human evolution, Dr. Livingstone’s life in Zambia and the costumes of different tribes in Zambia. My friend and I found it quite boring, so we jetted and got some great pizza at Olga’s Italian Restaurant.

Later, I tried the African Queen Boat Cruise along the Zambezi River. The Zambezi River is the 4th longest river in Africa. The cruise absolutely wonderful! $55 US will get you a two hour cruise complete with hors d’oeuvres and beverages. And seeing the sunset over the Zambezi River made my trying week seem a-okay.

Posted by: Kimberly | April 12, 2010

Nyimba, Elephants and Chiefs- Oh, My!

Nyimba, O Nyimba!  How do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways!  As much as I see myself as a very flexible and accommodating person, Nyimba has definitely tried my patience in the seven short weeks that I have been in this country.  But before I get into my frustrations about Nyimba, I should explain the background of the district.

Nyimba is a district made of about 170,000 residents.  Nyimba was not originally its own district.  It used to be a part of the Petauke District, the next major town (about 50 km) east of Nyimba.  Five years ago Nyimba was made into a separate district with its own district council and district commissioner.  Within the Nyimba district there are four chiefdoms named: Ndake, Luwembe, Mwape and Nyalugwe.  Chiefdoms are like miniature kingdoms within a district.  There is a lot to talk about with respect to the chiefs and their chiefdoms in Nyimba, but we’ll get to that later.

Most Nyimba residents are poor, peasant farmers and domestic workers.  The street that I happen to live on has residents who work for the Office of the President (a.k.a. secret intelligence officers), teachers, accountants and entrepreneurs.   You will also find the odd muzungu in the town as well and they usually work for international NGOs and/or development projects around the district or province.

There is very little to do in Nyimba outside of work.  However, if you’re a drinker you’ll certainly find a lot to do.  Zambians love their drink and Nyimba is no exception.  Because so many people are out of work and there are no outlets to channel energy, many Nyimba residents turn to alcohol.  Mosi beer and various illegal moonshines (that look like porridge and are sold illegally in the market) seem to be the drinks of choice and to be honest, the whole scene is pretty depressing.  In town you see many people staggering drunk night and day, including youth, and there seems to be very little being done about it.

Nyimba Town itself consists of one major road, The Great East Road– or the tarmac as the locals call it.  Along that road there are some small Mom ‘n’ Pop convenience stores and sketchy restaurants.  There’s a fairly sizeable market that sells everything from potatoes to stereos.  Other than that, however, there isn’t much else—unless you’re willing to take a cab 50 km east to Petauke, where things are marginally better.

Back to the chiefs.  As I said before there are four chiefs in the Nyimba District.  Chiefs act as traditional leaders and are recognized by the local, municipal and federal governments.  Normally, chiefs are chosen within family clans, but should never be chosen through direct bloodline.  So far I have only met one chief, Chief Ndake.  He’s a very nice, very charming man- very knowledgeable and very willing to learn.  From what I have heard about him around town, he also appears to be the most sympathetic of the chiefs.  As for the other three, they’re a different story.  Chieftainess Mwape, Chief Luwembe and Chief Nyalugwe have been having long-standing disputes with their subjects over the issue of land rights within the district.  Mwape, Luwembe and Nyalugwe have been giving away land like candy to the highest bidders— bidders who happen to be game reserve operators from countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, the US and England.  The big problem with these transactions is the fact that peasant farmers throughout the district are farming the land being given away.  As a result, there are wild animals (i.e. elephants, leopards, tigers, rhinos) ravaging and destroying the farmer’s crops and threatening the lives of the farmers themselves.  Chief Luwembe’s chiefdom has had the most trouble of late.  Last October there was a major riot in his chiefdom due to the suspected murder (I say suspected because the body has not yet been found) of a teenager who was hunting for food.  Residents said that he was shot by ZAWA rangers (ZAWA is the Zambian Wildlife Authority) and that they burned and hid his remains to cover up their crime.  The people within the Luwembe chiefdom revolted against ZAWA and the riot had to be tamped down by the Zambian army.

Chief Luwembe himself is in hot water as well as he apparently is not the rightful chief.  Confused?  Well, let me try and explain the soap opera of the chiefs.  Remember that I said that chief belonged to family clans, but could not appoint offspring.  For example, if my mother was the Chieftainess of Toronto, she could not legally appoint me as her successor.  She would have to appoint her niece or nephew.  Got it?  So, back to Chief Luwembe.  About nineteen years ago when the former Chieftainess Mwape was on her deathbed, she appointed her son as Chief Luwembe.  This was not legal.  Her niece is now the current chieftainess of Mwape, thus, the current Chieftainess Mwape and Chief Luwembe are first cousins.  As you can imagine, residents of Luwembe were livid and they petitioned the federal government to write an order to have Luwembe removed as chief.  Nineteen years later he’s still the chief and the rightful chief is somewhere in Zambia working as a high school principal.  Welcome to Nyimba!

Because of the dangers surrounding the land in these chiefdoms, farmers from the Mwape, Luwembe and Nyalugwe chiefdoms are migrating to the Nyimba town centre.  There is a small, but rapidly growing ghetto surrounding the town centre that consists of these migrant farmers and their families.  The famers are not able to harvest the crops they abandoned so they begin drinking heavily and their wives turn to prostitution to make money for food.  When you add STIs and HIV/AIDS to the mix it makes for a very toxic scenario indeed.  The government seems to be doing very little to curb the disastrous effects of this problem.

Even with all the negatives I’ve just mentioned, Nyimba is a town with a lot of potential, and the international development community has recognized that.  World Vision, the World Food Programme (UNDP), Peace Corps, MS Action Aid and Transparency International are just some of the major NGOs and IGOs that have set up shop in this town.  There’s a ton of opportunity for business as well.  Nyimba is a major stop between Lusaka and Chipata (the capital of the Zambia’s Eastern Province), so there is a lot of money to be made in the district.  I would love to see a decent restaurant or hotel lodge set up in town.  I think businesses like this would earn a lot of income for residents.  Also, Nyimba is swarming with youth.  If there was a proper youth centre or even a sports team, it would give young people something to do after school.  It would also be great to have a school built for those who cannot afford to send their children to school, as you have to pay for school from seventh grade onward.  I see churches being erected all over the place but very few schools.  I think priorities are a bit warped.

Anyway, do not let what I’ve said scare you.  I would love for you to come and visit, ‘kay?

Posted by: Kimberly | April 12, 2010

A Word on Transport in Zambia

Hey folks!  I know it’s been an extremely long time since I last wrote y’all, but bare with me- I have been very, very busy.  Anyway, some of you may be aware of my adventures and/or misadventures with transport in Zambia.  A few weeks ago I was in desperate need of some R & R in an urbanized area (i.e. I really needed to escape the sound of donkeys and roosters!), and being that the only mode of transport out of the Nyimba District are sketchy bus coaches, I took a big gulp and dived in.  What an experience!  First of all, in my neighbourhood, nothing is secret.  As soon as you are seen leaving your house with anything more than your purse, you are guaranteed to have a bevy of people asking you where you are going.  I usually fib and tell them I’m going to the market, because I don’t like people knowing that the house is empty.  People in Nyimba tend to see the capital city as another glamourous country, and when you come and visit Nyimba you’ll understand why.

Anyway, the first step in the bus journey is purchasing the ticket to Lusaka for about 50,000 Kwacha (approx. $10.72), which is très cheap considering that Lusaka is about a five-hour journey from Nyimba.  Once your ticket has been purchased, you are ushered onto the bus and into a seat.  Yes, people, you DO NOT pick your own seat.  The bus attendant does this for you.  Unfortunately I was relegated to the back of the bus to sit between a woman with a very bad hair weave and another woman with two small, noisy children under the age of six.  The bus is almost always packed with people- and by people, I mean people of every shape, size and class.  The smell on the bus is also something to behold.  Sweat, rotting banana peels and peanuts are just some of the smells that hit you full force when you embark on your journey.

About halfway into the journey to Lusaka, which is very scenic I might add, the bus almost always stops in a town called Luangwa that sits on the banks of the Luangwa River in Zambia’s Eastern Province.  This town is very famous among Zambians for it’s dried, salted bream fish.  All the Zambians pour out of the bus at this stop and buy bags and bags of this fish- a fish that could only be described as smelling like a cross between hell and mackerel gone awry- and some even eat it whilst completing their journey.  The woman with the bad hair weave decided that she needed to ravage the poor, sad fish in my presence and, bless her soul, even offered me a piece!  I politely declined and turned up my iPod in hopes that it would drown out the smell of my fellow passenger’s lunch.

The two children that were sitting beside me either couldn’t take the smell of the fish or they became victims of the bus’ poor shock absorption because they both started throwing up yellow bile.  I was lucky that their mother was quick and used her chitenge to catch the puke.  The smell was more than I could bear, so I turned to the gospel music playlist on my iPod and started praying for the journey to end swiftly.

Once you arrive in Lusaka, the chaos continues.  The main bus station in downtown Lusaka is a complete, HOT, STEAMING, MESS!!!  As soon as get off the bus and try and collect your thoughts, a dozen men swarm you and try to get you to buy goods, get you onto another bus and/or get you into a taxi.  It’s best to remain calm and collected and decline any offers of knock-off perfume/candy/soda pop/marriage.

If you’re able to get through all of what I’ve just described, thank God and collect your gold medal.

Word of the Day: Chitenge (pronounced: CHEE-ten-gay)

A chitenge is a colourful piece of cotton cloth worn by Zambian women.  The chitenge is wrapped around your waist and if worn correctly should fall just above the ankles.  The chitenge can also be used to carry babies on a woman’s back; used as headwrap; used as a sack or even used as upholstery for furnishings.

Posted by: Kimberly | March 3, 2010

Braiis & Nshima

So I have been in Zambia for one week and there is so much to talk about that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with my new appreciation for the Zambian Braii.

Last Saturday night I experienced my first Zambian Braii. A braii is a South African Afrikaner word for BBQ. BBQ is a very popular way of cooking meat in this part of the world and Zambians take it almost as seriously as they do Nshima (more on that later). Myself and the other expats staying at the hotel put in our orders at 7:00pm thinking innocently that the food would be ready within the hour. Were we ever wrong! Katos, the Braii Master, told us that the food would be ready in 5-10 minutes. Of course those 5-10 minutes swelled into 4 hours. Yes folks, we didn’t start eating until quarter to 11 pm!!! What was most remarkable about this unfortunate bit of business was Katos’ obliviousness to our growing impatience. Development workers from the four corners of the world were lined up outside his cooking station giving him the ‘death stare’ and he continued to smile as if everything was A-okay. As it turned out, the grilled steak that I ordered was almost worth the wait- it was absolutely delicious!!! Some of the best beef I’ve ever tasted.

A friend of mine invited me out late last week for another memorable meal at a restaurant in Lusaka called Kalahari. We are both Black foreigners (he’s Ugandan) and we were getting sick of the Nshima that the Zambians kept shoveling down our throats so we decided to go out for a bite to eat. Kalahari specializes in roasted goat meat, so as you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled. When our order arrived, it was served on a plate and wrapped in tin foil. The waiter came to our table with a pitcher of warm water and a small steel bowl in order to wash out hands. After washing our hands we opened the tin foil package and voila!- the roasted goat meat. Roasted goat is definitely a revelation to the taste buds. I never thought that goat could taste good without curry and a side of white rice! I’m not sure of the seasoning used on the goat but who came up with that concoction deserves a prize. Kalahari is definitely a must for anyone travelling to Lusaka.

I promised you all that I would explain the nuances and role of Nshima in Zambian daily life. Nshima (sometimes pronounced ‘shima or ‘sima) is dish made of mealie meal (ground maize and flour) mixed with water. The mealie meal is added to a pot of boiling water a beaten into submission until it is really thick and smooth. Once the Nshima is finished cooking, it should almost look like a mound of slightly hardened mashed potatoes. Nshima is eaten with everything- in fact, most Zambians consider a meal incomplete without at least a spoonful of Nshima. You break off a piece of the Nshima and use it to sop up everything on your plate. Nshima is virtually tasteless in my opinion but I wouldn’t dare reveal this to a Zambian for fear of being completely blackballed. I was told that my roommate and I would be receiving Nshima lessons in order to be fully inducted into Zambian life. The joy, the joy.

Posted by: Kimberly | February 20, 2010

I’m In Zambia!!!!

So, welcome to my new blog everyone! I arrived this morning in Lusaka, Zambia to start my new job as an advocacy advisor in Gender and Food Security for the Nyimba District Farmers Association. In this blog you will hear about my joys and triumphs, and my trials and tribulations. You will also be informed of what it is like to live as a Westerner/African-Canadian/woman in rural Zambia.  I hope to have as many photos as possible in this blog, but the internet is slow, so please bare with me.  I will do my best to keep this blog up-to-date so that you will be in lock-step with my comings and goings. Enjoy!

Posted by: Kimberly | February 18, 2010

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