The first month has absolutely flown by and A LOT has happened already. We’ve spent the majority of our time getting to know Chipata and its people, meaning there has been a lot to process. The good news is that it’s been incredible; I absolutely love it here. The bad news is that I’m not quite sure how to put any of it into words yet. So, these are some of the (more easily processed) things that have stuck out to me thus far:
I have literally been full since I got to this country:
It turns out that food is extremely important here, eating is often a social activity and people are excited and proud to show you Zambian food. A great deal of this revolves around nshima, which is THE staple food in Zambia. It’s made using ground maize flour (called mealie meal) that’s been boiled and ‘paddled’ until it looks like a very thick porridge. It’s actually incredibly difficult to make because it gets super heavy as it thickens. Our coworkers have been trying to teach us how to make it and they think it’s hilarious to watch me struggle.
Zambians are extremely proud of it and they should be. Nshima has allowed people to remain relatively well fed even in the most difficult times. Despite the fact that there is little to no nutritional value, it’s extremely filling, meaning that although people may not always be getting the nutrients they need, they’re still full.
The fact that you get to eat with your hands probably plays a role in my fondness for nshima, but it is actually really good. You roll a small piece of it into a ball, make a dent in it and use it to eat relish (vegetables with meat, fish or beans).
Also it turns out that in Zambia I’m not nearly as committed to vegetarianism as I am in Canada. Having been a vegetarian since I was 16 (apart from a year-long relapse) this change kind of makes me hate myself. But I didn’t just leave my morals in Canada; there were a few things that caused me to cave. Firstly, meat is constantly being offered here and turning down food is incredibly disrespectful. Secondly, the reasons I refrain from eating meat in Canada (mainly environmental) don’t have a great deal of relevance in Zambia. So rather than disrespect or have a conversation about vegetarianism that will never translate, I’ve decided to just eat it when offered.
I’m constantly dirty and everyone else looks incredible:
Zambia is unbelievably dusty and I’m constantly caked in reddish brown earth. I don’t even need to leave my apartment to get dirty; I somehow manage to make it happen inside, too. This wouldn’t be an issue except that EVERYONE else looks immaculate. I don’t understand how but I seem to be the only person in this country that can’t wear white. At this point, going a full workday without getting dirt on my clothes feels like an ACTUAL accomplishment. This also means that I wash my feet about 3 times a day because I’m trying to trick everyone into thinking that I, too, am a clean adult.
There is nothing better than climbing into a bed net at night:
Climbing into a bug net every night (post-foot wash, obviously) is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s shockingly comforting and I seriously think it sends a signal to my brain that it’s time to go to sleep. However, there is nothing more terrifying than laying in your bed net and hearing a mosquito because it turns out its VERY difficult to tell which side of the net it’s on. And honestly if it’s on the inside of the net it’s basically impossible to get it out and I’m probably going to sleep with a mosquito that night. On a similar note, I’ve learned the hard way that I really don’t love moths but thankfully they’re always on the outside of my bug net.
Zambians are the nicest people alive:
Zambians are without a doubt the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. If you mention that you like mangoes, there are mangoes waiting for you at work the next day. Everyone says “hi” when passing each other on the street. Everyone wants to bring you to their church, have you over for dinner, or take you to see something new. The closest I’ve come to experiencing culture shock has been adjusting to how kind everyone is; it’s honestly jarring sometimes.
I went to a Pentecostal church:
Everyone’s second question, after “are you married?”, is “what church do you go to?” People are a looooot more open about religion here than in Canada and the first few times this happened I was so thrown off I think I just made something up. However, I’ve quickly realized that “I don’t really go to church in Canada but I’m excited to go while I’m here” is the best response; thankfully it’s worked well so far. Church is an extremely important part of the social life here and people are quick to invite you to theirs. Our incredible coworker generously invited us to her church this past Sunday and as a pretty diehard atheist I was hesitant. Honestly, I’m not even confident I could hold my own in a Canadian church, so the idea of going to a Pentecostal church in Zambia was intimidating to say the least. Adding to the pressure, President Lungu declared Sunday October 18th a day of prayer and fasting for the nation, seeking divine intervention in the economic crisis that Zambia is currently facing. However, it was incredibly kind of our coworker to open up such a private part of her life with us and I really enjoy hanging out with her, so despite my overwhelming incompetence, we decided to go. And I’m so happy we did because it was a pretty incredible experience. It was really interesting to see – there was sooooo much singing and dancing. There was also quite a lot of talk about politics (which I obviously loved) but I attribute that to the fact that their prayers had a specific goal this Sunday. I’m definitely happy that I decided to go, even if I didn’t necessarily know what anyone was talking about. Never in my life did I think I’d be making plans to go to church but we’ve already been invited back this weekend.
I actually considered myself to be pretty conscious of the way I use water in Canada. But I have never been more aware of my water use and consumption than right now. Since the water coming out of the taps will upset our stomachs we buy drinking water at the supermarket in 5-10L jugs. The water for everything else (bathing, washing dishes, flushing the toilet, washing clothes, cleaning the house, etc.) comes out of the taps…at certain times throughout the day. Is there a schedule? Absolutely. Will I ever understand it? Not a chance. As soon as I think I’ve finallllly grasped the schedule, the water goes off at 6:00am and I’m totally lost all over again. The solution to this is buckets…so so so many buckets. It seems important to note that most people in Zambia also drink the tap water, meaning they have to draw enough water for drinking. So far, this has actually been a surprisingly easy adjustment to make (because we have the resources to make it easier) but it is a massive reality check. I have never once turned on a tap in my house in Canada and not had water come spilling out of it; by comparison most of the time when I turn on the tap here it’s dry.
This Sunday marks the end of my first month in Zambia and I can’t believe how quickly time is moving. I’ve already met some of the most interesting and people and learned more than I could have ever imagined. And maaaaybbbeeee I’ll be able to make nshima successfully by the end of next month (big maybe).