Last night I made a friend. He is from Ghana. His uncle is the Deputy Ambassador to Zambia and he is trying to conduct business in Zambia. I have learned a lot about Zambia and Ghana from him, in particular the perceptions of Zambia by Ghanaians. Zambia is considered a very undeveloped and poor country in Africa. He tells his friends and family back home that he is in neighboring Botswana instead because people would find it absurd that he wants to go from such a developed place like Ghana to a backwards place like Zambia. I find all of this to be quite amusing. It reminds of the judgmental component of human nature, which is inevitable.
This morning, we took a walk to a shanty town on the outskirts of Lusaka. According to one statistic, some 80% of the population in Lusaka live in these slums. It is probably the most eye-opening experience I’ve had so far. Though I’ve also seen poverty in parts of rural China, this is another level of raw poverty. I’m thankful for my friend for taking me there. These are places that I’ve always wanted to see, yet would not have visited alone. I imagine the shanty towns that I saw glimpses from the highway in Sao Paolo are similar. There are standing pools of water on the streets, even though it hasn’t rained for months. The children run around the streets barefoot though it is school time. Many men and some women are already drinking in the bars. We even sat inside a slum bar for a bit. It’s not much of bar, just a guy sitting inside a counter with a cage-like covering across the top of the counter. He sells loose cigarettes and local brews. There is a dangerous moonshine here whose alcohol content is unknown. The rest of the bar consists of a few benches lining the walls of the somewhat triangular-shaped room, with two openings opposing each other. Many people try to speak to my friend in the local language, thinking that he is Zambian. After a bit, a man walks over to us to offer us a drink in a clear plastic cup. It’s local brew that looks like milk tea and is poured from a milk-carton type of container. I felt bad that we kindly refused the offering as the slightly-drunk guy even went so far to take a sip of it from the cup to show us that it’s safe. But, of course, that didn’t quite change our minds. Then there were two guys that walked in from the back opening that started hitting each other and I almost instantly leapt and fled until I saw how calm my friend was, reassessed the situation and decided that the guys were merely playfully hitting each other. That area definitely pushed the limits of my comfort zone.
I’ve heard that there are many street children in Lusaka, orphaned from the high rates of HIV/AIDS. My friend says that these children often pool money in order purchase bottles of petroleum to sniff and get high. The high makes it easier to pass the cold and dreadful nights on the streets. That is probably the most heartbreaking anecdote that I’ve heard. What can be done?
Later on, we got a little lost, then took a bus to get back to the hostel area and had some nshima for lunch. Nshima is the staple food in Zambia, made from maize flour. Zambians eat this for all of their meals. We had it at a cafe located inside of a hospital across the street from the Ghanaian embassy. I can’t believe that I set foot inside a hospital for the purpose of food. As a person with hospital-phobia, I was impressed with myself. The hospital, like the public bathrooms in Zambia are sparkly clean, even without the usual hospital scent prevalent in western hospitals. It took at least thirty-minutes (maybe an hour) for them to prepare our food, which was nshima with beef, as pictured. After a while, I started to wonder if they were slaughtering the cattle fresh. Another problem at Zambian eateries is that flies abound. As soon as I see flies swarming anywhere close to food, I lose my appetite. Finally, the food arrived and I was excited to try to local cuisine. The lady bringing the food advised that we can wash our hands in the sink. Eating with hands is another problem that I have. Being raised to strictly not touch food with ones’ hands, grasping the sticky nshima and combining it with the wet vegetables and meat with my fingers was a huge psychological challenge for me. Objectively, the beef was quite good and nshima is something that I could picture myself getting accustomed to.
To wrap up, I even tried Zambian whiskey that we purchased inside a person’s home, from their refrigerator, for 8 kwacha (or 80 US cents!). I’m still alive after drinking it, but probably no next time. It’s extremely bitter. All in all, a good day spent becoming more immersed in the local environment. I’m still having trouble with the poor air quality, I have a lot of trouble breathing through my nose and keeping my eyes from getting irritated. Now, I think it’s a lot to do with the charcoal that’s burned for cooking fuel and the practice of disposing of trash through burning. I’ve always been very sensitive to smoke and fumes. Unfortunately, there’s not much to be done about this.