Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The sun was beginning to set on the horizon. I could see the reddish tinge of the sun set against the powder blue-grey sky. The early dusk chill began to settle into my bones as I walked briskly across the native grasses towards Old Jim.

“Hi, could you tell me how to get to Old Jim”, I asked briskly to a fellow commuter peddling on his bicycle. 

“It’s that way, but you . . . “, he quickly glanced at the slippers casually strapped to my feet. “There’s a stream – you have to cross”. 

I nodded, thanked him, and plodded on.

The stream was actually a small creek, but my anxiousness to get across before the dark descended quietly onto the valley’s undulating landscape made the creek appear more ominous. To my eyes, the river gushed rather than gently rolled downhill, and as I crossed, I was too careful in balancing on the moss covered stones, which formed a trail across the gurgling water. I almost fell into the chilly water.

Once across, it occurred to me suddenly that there might be poisonous, dangerous snakes laying in silence between the tall, native grasses. I prayed quietly, feeling vulnerable in my slippers. I hoped the shuffling of my feet wouldn’t awaken any if they were indeed present. 

The shortcut turned out to be winding, dirt trails that eventually took me back to the main road; the shortcut turned out to be unnecessary, after all, as I got to Mr Banda’s house in more time than if I had used the proper route. Moreover, the roads after the turn off to get to his house all looked alike that I began to worry that I was lost – but then when I arrived at a small intersection, I looked to my left and saw the familiar hump and garden adjacent to his neighbor’s house signifying that I was in exactly the right place. 
When I arrived, he was just coming around his main house. Mr. Banda is building, using his meager monthly income to incrementally buy nails and bagged cement. He used the soil around his house to mold the bricks that would serve as the structure. He and his wife greeted me as a imposed on them. 

“Oh, hello, Camille.”

“Hi Mr. Banda”, I greeted, using the formal way to address a stranger in Zambia. I handed him the plastic bag of vegetables I purchased from the market stalls on Lundazi Road. Tomatoes, kale, the usual items purchased by poor, Zambian households. “I wanted to make sure you got these. Sorry about not buying the cassava – I was sick the last few days and wasn’t able to get back to the Saturday Market”.

The real reason was that my memory wasn’t functioning well; the flu had done me in and I was bedridden for a couple of days. Three days later, my mind was still fuzzy and I had trouble keeping track of my days.
We bade each other farewell, as I did my other colleagues at the Council, and promised to meet up if I ever returned to Zambia. 

The walk back to Chipata Motel didn’t feel as long. I returned to my room just as the last rays of sunlight sank into the red, dry soil of Chipata Valley and resumed packing, in preparation for my departure from Zambia. This day was my last in Chipata.

When I parted from Mr. Banda, I began to feel a little sad about leaving Zambia all together. It had been my home for a year, and even with all the aggravation that periodically migrated into my heart, I had discovered a home in Chipata and settled into the life there, somewhat, having developed friendships and acquaintances. Here I was again; having lived the full experience, I (as usual) recognized the familiar nostalgia that always hits me (to paraphrase an old cliché) like a ton of bricks as the end of the experience comes to a near. 

As a volunteer funded by CUSO International, I cannot really judge my work at the Council by interpersonal relationships, alone. Because the funds supporting my service were partially paid for by Canadian taxes, I have to judge my work also by what I accomplished for the Council based on the targets that the planning department had issued to me.

In reviewing this past year, I would assert that the year was a success. The integrated development plan was written and I fit the format to the specifications of the Regional Urban Planning Act as well as the wants of the planning staff. It had become clear to me that the planners wanted an urban planning guide, so I fashioned the language and the format of the IDP according to the needs of the planners so as to make the planning process as painless and uncomplicated as possible. 

Secondly, I completed the draft sectoral plan for unplanned settlements, which grew out of the local area plan written to upgrade the Magazine Squatter Compound. If everything was on my timeline and in my control, within a year, I would have signed the consent to legalize lands and started allocating land for community gardens, and worked with the social planners to develop a 3-year plan to saturate the houses with vegetable plots. As this was not my reality at the Council, I settled for a completed grant for building the market shelters, GPS coordinates of most features in the Compound to facilitate the mapping of the area, and the beginnings of a health outreach and food security program. It must also be pointed out that the work on the Compound had to bode well with the schedule of the other planners. Admittedly, I was a little selfish as far as pushing to get things done there.

In addition, I managed to include a few trainings into my otherwise mundane planning work load. The trainings helped to add spice to my professional life at the Council.

If I was unsuccessful in this placement, it was in failing to navigate through the politics of local government of Chipata District, which replicates the politics of governments everywhere. If you want to know what I mean by this, watch CNN or the local news coverage of your governments at all levels. Whatever you learn about in the news coverage also plays/played out in Chipata District. 

The difficulty for me was the balancing of political interests with public ones. I’m not sure it this skill is one that I will ever perfect. I prefer simply planning and letting the more skilled people to politic, while I play the puppet master in the wings, pulling the strings.

Another year, another experience well spent. Thank you, CUSO International, VSO Zambia, and Chipata Municipal Council!

Another fundraising reminder –
I will continue to raise money for CUSO International until my $2,000 goal is met. Hence, I will keep this blog open until I’m told by CUSO that the goal has been reached. Please continue to send in your $10 donations through the link to the right of my blogs or by check/money order. The instructions are written on the fundraising page. 

On that final request, I leave my readers with my favorite images of Chipata. These photos should explain to readers my sudden attachment to Africa. Thank you for staying tuned all year!
Posing with Naomi's children

Another photo with Naomi's children

Fish from the day's catch in Nkhata Bay, Malawi

Residents bathing in Lilongwe River not far from Mabuya Lodge

Musungu fruit - native to the Eastern Province (i think) - sweet and succulent. In a word, delicious.

A view of Lake Malawi from the Big Blue Start Backpackers

The Cewa Village in Katete from one angle

Children residing within the vicinity of Chipata center - eating a vsimbi fruit

One of Marco's students studying at his school in Magazine

Ngonis rehearsing for the Nc'wala Festival, which just passed

A scene of grain vendors taken when road tripping through Malawi
On the last leg of my return trip to Chipata from Nkhata Bay, Malawi

1 comment:

Monique Mata said...

Great photos, Camille. I'm happy your time there was successful. So proud of you!!