Saturday, June 16, 2012

Everyday Life in Zambia

Here are some fun cultural observations and experiences that I have had...

Learning to greet many, many people, both friends and strangers. Greetings are much more valued here than in some places in the West. Even when walking out in public it is common to greet people as you pass each other. I don't think that the phrase "Don't talk to strangers" is commonly taught here. One of my favorite Bemba phrases is now "Mwashibukeni" which is "Good Morning." "Mulishani" is another common greeting which means "How are you?" Then, almost every time, the response is bwino, "fine." Also, they are not always asking how you are doing, sometimes they are but other times it is simply part of the greeting. I've said hello (in English) and the person will say that they are fine without me even asking them which shows how it can be just part of the greeting. And then I also remember being confused when I first heard someone say to me, "you are fine." Sometimes their words are switched and they do not always raise their voice when asking that question. But saying "you are fine" is the same as if I said "Are you fine/doing well?" Also, their handshakes are much cooler than ours are.

Having an abundance of awkward silences. For many Zambians its not as awkward as an American would think it is. I'm getting used to it.

Having the electricity turn off almost every evening, in the place I'm currently staying, usually for an hour or two. Even though it can interfere with cooking and the gas stoves have to be pulled out and turned on, there are certain things about the electricity being off that I am beginning to love. Some nights we have storytelling which is when one member of the team shares their life story/testimony. Just so you know, it's much better by candlelight. We have all of our meals and story times out on the porch around a picnic table and the weather in the evenings are wonderful.

Walking through the villages and hearing shouts of "Mazungu!" from the children is something that makes me smile. That is not really how you spell Mazungu but it basically means "white person." Its kinda like "Where's Waldo." The kids start shouting and pointing when they see a Mazungu. Even though most are excited and happy about seeing a white person, there are some smaller children who scream and cry because they are scared of us.


Having crowds of children watch you do things like they are watching a movie. Last week when I was in a village, me and a few others were cutting vegetables outside of a house and lots of kids just come and stand in front us and stare. This is many of many experiences of being intently watched by little children.

Trying to get used to using Kwacha, the currency in Zambia. Its a little over 5000 Kwacha per US dollar. So something like a small jar of peanut butter might cost around 16,000 Kwacha.

Washing clothes by hand.

Eating nshima and rice, nshima and rice, nshima and rice...and then actually craving them when you don't have nshima and rice. Kind of strange...

Riding on the public transport called a "mini-bus." From where I'm staying, it costs 2500 Kwacha (50 cents) to hitch a ride to town which is a couple of miles down the road. You just walk to the main road and wait for a mini-bus to come and you hop on and tell them where along the road to drop you off. Sometimes the buses are already packed but it's funny how many people they still let in. One time I sat on a friends lap because it was so full. Also, seatbelts and safety are not so much the thing here.

Going "off-roading" as one guy joked about. Sometimes, when driving a vehicle, they will swerve way over to avoid the potholes, even swerving off the road. Its fun to go zig-zagging down the street.

Riding on the left side of the road messing with my brain because it's so backward.

Trying to get used to saying "I'm going to use the toilet" instead of "I'm going to the bathroom." Very awkward.

Calling cookies "biscuits."

Being scared when someone said that they had "the flu" and hoping that I would not catch it. Later I found out that Zambians call the "flu" what we call a "cold." I was very relieved!

Realizing that I will not see rain for two and a half straight months.

Seeing hundreds of people walk or ride bicycles alongside of the the roads every day wondering how there are not more accidents. It is not uncommon for vehicles to pass pedestrians coming within inches apart from each other.

Swimming, bathing, and washing dishes in Lake Tanganyika is a very unique experience.

Getting electric shocks when touching the shower nobs is quite exciting. Last week someone even said that the water in the pot that was used for cooking was conducting electricity so I stuck my hand in, and yep, it was. And some of you know that electric shocks are not exactly my thing.

Knowing that I don't have "African eyes." Many Zambians can see and walk in the dark much easier than people from the Western world can.

Realizing that no matter how much someone might protest, cultural values, ideas, and practices are deeply ingrained in people. Going to another culture helps me see this a lot more clearly than I did before.

Congratulations to those of you who read through this whole list. :)

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