June 12, 2012 § 12 Comments
This white girl can’t dance.
And I had a paparazzi of Zambians with their cameras and smartphones trying to document the mzungu making a spectacle of herself.
My Zambian neighbors invited to me to join them for a kitchen party for one of their relatives. Usually, a kitchen party is given in honor of a bride to prepare her for married life. Gifts are given for her household and especially the kitchen (think pots and pans, casserole dishes, utensils, dishes, etc.). Dancing is done as a way to show the bride how to behave in the bedroom to please her husband.
To plan the party, a committee of close friends and relatives is started months ahead of time and is usually quite formal (I’m currently the secretary of another kitchen party planning committee. I take official minutes and read them back at meetings. Not. even. joking.). The committee forms a “mother’s parcel” gift that usually includes the larger items that are needed for a household such as refrigerator, stove, etc.
At the party itself, it is often a large joyous event held for all the women in the bride’s community. The food will include Zambian cuisine such as chicken, rice, tomato and onion sauce, beans, and of course nshima.
Once all of the guests have arrived (a few hours after the starting time in concordance with Zambian time), the Matron will begin the introduction to the guests about the kitchen party. Historically, the matron was often an older relative or auntie of the bride. In modern times, this is often a woman hired for the position.
Finally, the bride emerges and the dancing begins, in order to entertain, honor, and teach her. All of the gifts are placed in the center and the matron calls on each gift giver to come and present their present to the bride. This is done with a big ceremony of laying down both ways on your side and doing a clapping motion to show respect. A dance is then performed. Of course, you have to have a chitenge (piece of African fabric) wrapped around you when dancing. Duh. When you have concluded, you then explain to the bride how to use the gift you have given to her.
After all of the gifts have been given, the groom is brought and the wife honors the husband by laying down in front of him in the same way. They then dance together. A chitenge may be tied around them to show how their lives are being tied together forever.
January 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
Us ourselves, we are discovering that Zambians are less direct than Americans. Allow me to explain.
In America, we don’t like to “beat around the bush”. If we have a problem with someone, the most respected way to deal with that problem is to confront the person face to face and share what the challenge is. Of course we don’t always do that in America – thus the occasional gossip (but never by me of course). However, directness is something we generally strive for.
In Zambia, we have discovered that people are often much less direct. That is because in Zambia, saving face is very important. In social interactions, it is important to make every effort to preserve each party’s dignity. Thus, even if the other party has somehow wronged you, calling them out on it is discouraged and may not elicit the desired result.
This “saving face” also affects how business is done by World Vision Zambia. During the first two weeks of January, I had the privilege of visiting several of our programs in the Southern Region of Zambia. As part of my visit, another colleague and I had the assignment of confronting an issue that has presented a difficulty to many World Vision Zambia staff. While at each program, meetings were called and all staff members were assembled. Pretty soon, I was sitting at a table with 30 or so wonderful Zambian co-workers and after some pleasantries and introductions, I shared about the difficulty faced by many of them and asked if they can explain why the difficulty exists. Predictably, complete silence.
Taking my growing knowledge of Zambian culture, I tried another tactic: “Well, perhaps you aren’t faced by this challenge. But perhaps it is something that your neighbor is struggling with. Can you please share what your neighbor’s challenge is?” The room erupted in laughter. And pretty soon, for the next ten minutes, I finally start getting answers to the question as Zambian after Zambian answered: “Me myself, I am not having a problem. But my neighbor’s challenge is…” Every time a person would share in this manner, we all would laugh, because we all realized it was a cover for sharing one’s own challenge. But we did learn a lot, and the dignity of each person was preserved.
December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
Only in Africa…
…is the city fountain the community swimming pool
…is there a fly swatter in the operating theater (OR)
…is 9pm “late at night”
…are cockroaches in the dining area “normal”
…is a man with muscles and a machete the lawn mower
…are three people on a bike a car pool
…is an unfinished house a savings account
December 12, 2011 § 4 Comments
We have now been living in Zambia for 3 months today! We spent last week visiting one of Zambia’s treasures of the world at Victoria Falls with dear friends Elizabeth and Kelly. We said goodbye to Elizabeth and she headed back to Malawi and Kelly left for Seattle this morning. We are missing them already! More on our trip tomorrow…
It’s been a challenging 3 months but both Ben and I are so happy living here – we know this is where we’re supposed to be. I’ve been learning one of the local tribal languages in Lusaka. I was practicing with the grocery clerk yesterday and she was so happy to talk with me. Many of the mzungus don’t learn the language and so Zambians feel very honored when you take the time to learn to speak it. I can only do short phrases and greetings now but am practicing every day!
The best things about living in Zambia:
- The community of friends we have. We have so many friends, both Zambians and mzungus (foreigners). It’s been great having such a great variety of people in our life
- Being forced to learn to cook well – Trader Joe’s hasn’t made it’s way to Lusaka yet
- The friendliness and hospitality of Zambians. We stopped at a small village to use their latrine on the way home from Livingstone and they wanted to make sure we used the “clean” latrine and they didn’t make us pay to use the facilities ($0.10 in USD) just because we were strangers passing through town.
- The slow pace of life. We go to bed around 9pm each night and are up from 6-8am. We mainly only have social activities on the weekends and enjoy quiet evenings during the week.
The Worst Things about living Zambia:
- Having people always ask you for money because you’re a mzungu. It’s part of the culture but it gets tiresome.
- Errands taking 3 times as long (or an indefinite amount of time).
- Gastro-intestinal issues. Need I say more??
- Not being able to get what you want when you want it…for a good price. You have to learn to make do with what you have. And when you do get those things you want, to savor it. I found ricotta cheese at the grocery store. Case in point.
Even with the hard things, we know this is where we’re supposed to be and we’re savoring each day. October 2012 will come quickly enough and I’m sure will miss this place that we now call home.