Sunday, July 3, 2011


One day in June, SPAR supermarket did not open until 9:00 hours, which drove a wedge in the spoke of the wheel of my daily routines. At exactly 9:00 hours, I left my desk at the Council to seek out my daily coffee at SPAR, but it still hadn't opened. I went in search of the butcher because they too sold coffee there. I used to go there for coffee before SPAR opened, but there is no place to sit comfortably without flies buzzing around my nose and ears. Irritating to someone accustomed to sitting in fly-free cafes. Music is also often not to be found at the butchers. I realized, on the walk back to my office, butcher coffee in hand, how much SPAR filled a void in my life, in which daily trips to pleasant cafes in the Happy Valley had become such a daily norm. Sad to say, but I do crave for the cafe culture; if I had to live without it, I could adjust, but definitely with some difficulty. I also realized, from living in a community practically devoid of cafe culture, just how much independent coffee shops had become an important element of the compendium of daily pleasures in my life – things that one should not do without for too long, in my opinion.

May got me a bloody nose. One morning, I awoke with what I thought was a stuffed nose. To clear it, I got out of bed, went to the bathroom, and tore off a piece of toilet paper, and blew. The blood was bright against the white paper. I blew again, and more blood came out. I began to panic because I couldn't remember how I could have gotten a bloody nose. I hadn't had bloody noses since I was a child. I racked my brain, trying to remember the previous night. I knew, though, that my evening ritual of one glass of wine or beer would not have produced the catastrophe regarding my bloody nose facing me. My first guess is I must have been clobbered on the head. What other reason could there be for my gushing nose? Eventually, the blood cleared and I called my colleague. His reaction was nonplussed. I asked him if he was at the motel last night because if he was, then he might have seen something. “No”, he answered, and then asked, “so you are not coming in?”, as if I had just told him that I had caught a simple cold.

Being clobbered on the head could have been the only cause, in my opinion, as it has happened before in Zambia, while my back was turned. I have a suspicion about who the culprit was, this time and in previous times. This incident, as I have been learning, is merely one of the wacky events that have happened to me. Women are not treated with dignity here, but I have also gradually learned that the circumstances are worse if the woman looks Chinese or is Chinese. I have been told by Zambians that the Chinese are not looked upon with high regard here because of the problem with the low pay of Zambian workers in the Chinese-owned mines. What, though, does that have to do with me? Certainly, on one side of the argument, there are the feelings of resentment because of labor exploitation, but on the other side, there is the gross stereotyping of black haired, Chinese-looking women, who have nothing to do with the mines, let alone authorizing the wge levels of miners. That would be me. Anyway, I am not here as a labor organizer, but as an urban planner.

The bloody nose incident is about as wacky as the fact that I am still living at Chipata Motel, where the food is the same, and I can't control my food intake. I have to tiptoe around one of the cooks, who works seven days a week, because he might take out his resentments on me. This is the cook, whom I might have mentioned in a previous blog, who saturated my relish with salt even though I asked him to not put it in my food (the cause of my stomach pains) and the one, who has consistently served my food at least two hours, sometimes three hours after I have requested it.

My life is not my own here. The agreement about living accommodations, as I was told, was that I would live with other volunteers, possibly by myself, but definitely in my own room. At 41, I would like to have such a luxury, but in Zambia, such agreements are apparently not honored. The failure to honor agreements also spill over into other areas of business in Chipata, as complaints from various Zambians have quite succinctly informed me. And, the bicycle that volunteers living more than 2 kilometers from the place of work are supposed to get, according to the agreement between the partner organization and VSO Zambia, has not materialized four months after the start of my volunteer period.
Which means, I have to spend money on a bicycle, taken out of my monthly allowance of ZK2.2 million (equivalent to US$ 425).

At least I feel very productive in my work. On May 29th, I submitted my quarterly report to my programme manager and in looking it over, I realized that I had accomplished all of my goals for the first quarter. The upgrade plan for the squatter compound is complete and was presented to representatives from the development committee in the compound on June 9th. I have set out to follow the policies of the new Regional and Urban Planning Bill, which requires local authorities to allow stakeholders to review an urban or community plan for 30 days. Once more comments are given to me, I can incorporate them into the final draft of the plan. In July, I will be submitting a grant to the Japanese Embassy. The funds from the grant will pay for upgrading the marketplace.Also in July, I plan to go out with the socioeconomic planners to the compound and begin the outreach programs regarding land laws and other regulations.

While my personal life here is very unpredictable, my professional life is pleasantly sailing along and I am accomplishing what I intended to do here, which is to share skills, build capacity, and help prepare the planning department transition towards the Integrated Development Plan.

Just a reminder to those reading my blog, I am fundraising all year for this placement. Please contribute $10, which is easy to do through “My Fundraising Page”, which can be accessed on the left of this blog. Zikomo kwambiri! (I'm learning very easy phrases in Nyanja).

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