Of course, my life during any given month in Chipata varies, but not considerably so. The occasional spontaneous occurrence arises and I welcome the change in what is otherwise a reiteration of the previous day.
01/08/11 – “A Capella Concert: Free for Diners”
Although I have complained about some of the goings on at the Chipata Motel, on occasion I run into guests, who add variety to my evenings there. On this particular evening, a group of four women shared a healthy plate of nshima, relish, and a large fried fish, talking in Nyanja or Chewa or Bemba. I couldn’t decipher the language. They interrupted each other, gesturing to the other to take a handful of nshima, dipping their fingers into the steaming, white meat of the fried beem fish. Suddenly, they broke into a song, a capella. A gospel song. Voices in harmony with each other, their lilting tune filled the almost empty restaurant and floated out into the night air. For some, the singing might be a tad annoying, but I enjoyed it, this “free concert”, on this balmy evening.
04/08/11 – “On Slow Days, I Will Ponder”
Sitting in my window office, in front of the second hand desk selected especially for me, I daydream about going for a long drive into Northern Zambia to see mountains and wild monkeys bounding from tree branch to tree branch.
On occasion, I sight a tree monkey, agile body positioned just so, on a bough that reaches across the roof of the Umodzi Restaurant. It is barely visible at times through the mango leaves. It almost escaped my sight the day I saw it, its shape not clear to me until it inched forward. That was when I could make out the silhouette of its arched back, right leg flung out in front of it, his identity made visible only by the powder blue canvass of the sky. I assume this monkey that I see occasionally is the same one I had seen at a previous time.
On slow days, I daydream about other things rather than focusing on the load of work in front of me. On this day, I am trying to move past the section I am writing about the history of urban planning thought, but to no avail. Jane Jacobs is not whom I want to think about today. I don’t want to write about the history of environmental justice today. As such, I procrastinate.
05/08/11 – “Dinners with Nazir”
Nazir, a native Zambian borne of Indian Muslim parents, returned to Chipata in early February to harvest, weigh, package, and trade his prized tobacco crops. His farm is his livelihood and while he grows different fruits, such as oranges, chico, and mangos, his primary trading crop is tobacco. He is in Chipata until the end of this month, and then he heads back to his wife and two young sons in Japan. His wife is a former JICA volunteer, a veterinarian, who now practices successfully in her native land.
I befriended Nazir one late afternoon while walking the familiar length of Umodzi Highway. Heading south towards Lusaka and just before the Total filling station, while chattering to myself in the usual way that I do, Nazir guided his car to a stop beside me and asked in that usual manner of his: “you okay?” He offered to give me a ride back to Chipata Motel, but we ended up at his farm, where we picked chicos and oranges to take home. An offer of a ride home resulted in a dinner invitation. Apparently, his chicken curry was already stewing on the stove and he was willing to share his creation with me.
Nazir is very generous and, apart from the occasional wanton comment so characteristic of the male culture here, is harmless. Enjoying the company of foreigners would describe him appropriately and sharing his food is his way of doing that. My offers to buy him a glass of wine and other goodies are always deflected. What do you give a man who has everything he needs?
Because I can’t cook for myself at the motel without being surrounded by a group of people, I can’t cook what I want to eat. I always readily welcome his invitations to dinner: pizza tonight, curry on another night, and tender, Lusaka steaks on yet another. We gab, I about my job and occasional frustrating occurrences and he filling me in on the cultural rules in Zambia.
These dinners have become a not so regular pattern, but his friendship has become an important element in my life here.
3 August, 2011 – “Lunch with Sebastian”
My semi-spontaneous lunch outing with Sebastian, a graduate student doing his fieldwork in Chipata to study mobile banking, introduced me to “Road Runner”, a restaurant that I had often walked past, but had never gone into. Sebastian told me it is owned and operated by a woman from Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, who makes homemade burgers and protein pies. It was a busy day for me, as I was making some progress on the comprehensive planning training manual, but I go off my usual routine, which consists of a lunch wolfed down at Chef’s Pride. Not only was my chicken sandwich tasty at “Road Runner”, causing me to return for another helping two days later, it gave my taste buds something new to feast on. (Two days later, I ran into Richard at SPAR, a clandestine meeting that resulted in a tea break and another two hours of procrastination).
(Any day in August) – “Personal Growth and Growing Personally”
Spontaneity is not my strong point. I’m a planner. I need to know how events that emerge off-schedule might set me back or impact me in the coming weeks and months. Most times, the spontaneity of the event does not affect me significantly, but I can’t shake the fear of losing control over my work and my schedule, which I set for myself daily. I’m that swimmer hanging on to the buoy far out enough in the ocean from the shoreline to incite fear, sometimes even panic. I also hold grudges, unlike Zambians, as I am told by them.
I go overboard, I know.
As I grow through the month of August, I am learning from the people I meet in Chipata to let go and to not hold onto these notions of perfection I seem to cling to. These spontaneous doings pepper my otherwise regular routine of grabbing a taxi to work, grabbing a morning Joe (coffee to those reading my blog not familiar with Americanisms) at SPAR until 8h30, planning and thinking about the progress of knowledge sharing and awareness, thinking about needed trainings, thinking about the future of planning in Chipata, fantasizing about landscaping designs that would improve the appearance of this burgeoning town, writing reports to guide the planning, and so forth. I hope as I continue to let go slowly by willingly succumbing to these unplanned events, I become less uptight and be more willing to flow with the ebb and wane of human interactions to a degree that feels comfortable to me. On 11 August (Thursday), I learned that I still need to grow by much in this area.