The other day, I was thinking about some of the aspects of life in Zambia that have been unique, or notable in some way, or at least different from usual life in America. Here are a few:
Last night (Friday) I was lulled to sleep to the sounds of music and cheering coming from the church on campus. The church is not next door to me. It is located the equivalent of at least two city blocks away from my house. But the celebratory sounds were loud enough to carry in through my bedroom window. I wondered what was going on at 10 pm, and when I awakened about 2 am and still heard singing and drumming from the church, I knew it was surely one of the all-night prayer and praise sessions held every couple of months. I got up shortly after 6 am and a few minutes later heard about a dozen local youths on my porch. They were asking if I would make them a cup of Milo and a peanut butter sandwich. They were hungry after the all-nighter.
Now, why was I getting up at 6 am on a Saturday, the one morning of the week that I do not have somewhere to be before 8 am? Well, I have learned through experience that Zambians sometimes show up at my door as early as 6:30. My first visitor this morning--after the youths--was at 7 am. These callers do not necessarily expect to find you fully dressed. In fact, if they are a neighbor, they might appear in night clothes or casual lounging clothes themselves. But they have a request or a question or something to return or borrow. So they just stop by.
Traveling to town on a bus that took a new route, I noticed a sign for "Agatha's Firm Foundation School," and I was reminded of names of shops and services that have puzzled or amused me. There was a hand-cart a young man was wheeling through the market on which he had painted the name "Hummer" on the side. The "Joyful Desire Centre" offers secretarial services. You can eat at the High Class Food Cafe, or order carry-out from the Virtuous Christian Catering establishment. (They don't carry alcohol.) I wondered what people did at a "Fitment Centre" after seeing so many signs for them, It turns out that is where you go to buy "tyres." I have seen a sign for Just Imagine Investments and for Polite Spare Auto Parts. You can play soccer at the Mundane Football Club or order texts from the Annointed Christian Bookshop. The Alpha & Omega Grocers is next to The Most High Secretarial School. I can get my hair cut at Blessings Barbing or at Grace of God Hair Saloon. I would certainly be hopeful as I took my car to Auto Miracles and Odd Jobs Limited. The biggest mystery is just what they sell at a corner shop, painted orange, that I pass on the bus frequently. Over the door is the only signage, the statement "Jesus Wept."
Then there is the mystery of the bathroom ants. Black, medium size, not tiny like the kitchen ants or huge like the red biting ants, they are found in and around my sink and tub. What attracts them? I can't figure it out. When I go to brush my teeth or wash my hands, I try to start with a little trickle of water, so I won't wash them down the drain. But if I miscalculate and one does go down the drain, if I then wait a few moments, the ant will struggle out and climb up the slippery side of the sink and disappear. I admire their spunk.
Finally, a week ago I hosted Sheba, a former student in one of my classes, together with her 3-weeks old daughter Christina and her sister Chongo, while she took care of some work in her program. I learned that Zambian babies are bathed at least twice a day, often more. It turned out to be a real challenge, since the day after their arrival the MEF water pump broke down, and it took all week for it to be repaired. We had to haul water from the nearest station in buckets, and on the fifth day the MEF truck began to bring barrels full to our houses. I think the baby was cleaner than any of the rest of us, as we tried to ration the water between cooking and drinking and cleaning uses. The garden had wilted, but when water resumed after seven days, I was amazed at the resilience of most of the vegetables as they responded to the return of irrigation. It helped that we did have one good rain during that dry week. All of us appreciate the blessing of water service more than ever. And I am aware that all over Zambia, in villages and shanty towns and compounds, many people live without access to running water in their homes.
When I am back home, I will miss the music from the church. Several times a week at my house I hear the Boys Brigade Band and the various choirs practicing, usually in the late afternoons. Every morning I join my voice with those of the MEF students and staff in chapel. Often during the day I find a melody in my mind from one of these sources. It's an important part of life here, one that has enriched me.
As an Avery & Marsh song we learned at Ghost Ranch goes, "Different is beautiful, God bless diversity!"