I’ve been in Zambia now for over two weeks. During that time I have:
-Beheaded a chicken with a dagger. A minute earlier we were chasing it across the yard. A few hours later, it was on the dinner table. The locavore in me is crowing gleefully. The damn rooster at 4:30 in the morning isn’t anymore. Ha, I made a chicken killing joke.
-Seen incredulously large snails, spiders, ants, dragonflies, cockroaches, lizards, and mosquitoes. These things have no business being the size that they are. And most of them have an uncanny talent for appearing when I’m squatting over an enigmatic hole in the ground in my ichimbusu (think primitive port-a-potty). I’ll bet the little iwes (kids) train them specifically for muzungu-scaring purposes.
-Greeted an entire village, every morning and again every evening. Foreigners, or muzungus, are seldom seen in rural Zambia. So a flotilla of 19 white people all riding past makes for some quality entertainment. You get used to being openly stared at constantly real quick. The littler kids literally jump up and down when they see us coming, screaming HOW ARE YOU HOW ARE YOU HOW ARE YOU. It’s not a question.
-Forgotten that I’m in Africa.
This one is perhaps the most startling of all. At one point, only a few days in country, I was sitting on the sideline of a football field watching the local football team play a neighboring village. This was a very remote village, with no paved roads for several kilometers and the grass on the field all cut by hand with scythes. The entire community was out to watch the game, and it’s a testament to Zambians’ love of football that they tore their eyes away from the fresh muzungus in attendance and toward the action on the field.
The sun was falling in the distance, splashing the horizon with brilliant hues of orange and people and red. The sounds of the women cheering and singing commingled with the shouts of men dispensing advice (some things truly are universal, am I right, ladies?) and criticizing the referees, and the players blitzed up and down the field to the cadence of the crowd. A throng of children were gathered behind us, too intimidated to come any closer, but too curious to stay away. The fading light hit the field just right, making it seem almost to glow. This is Africa, I thought to myself. It was magical.
Fast-forward two weeks, and I’m lying under my mosquito net in my mud hut on my Zambian host family’s compound, writing this post from my phone charged from the solar panel I laid out in the sun all day as we dug our first practice fish pond. I bathe using water drawn from a well and heated over an open fire. I eat my meals either with my host father or alone in their living room on the nicest servingware they own. I bike 9 kilometers each way to the nearby training center where we receive technical lessons in fish pond construction, fisheries management, and small business best practices. I study Bemba, one of the native languages spoken in Zambia, for four hours per day, six days per week.
I swelter in the heat, sweat profusely, wait for the sweat to dry, and then sweat some more. I go to the local market (think flea market, except with fleas the size of small dogs) and acquire a Zambia national football team knock-off jersey for 20 kwacha, talking the vendor down from K25. (20 kwacha is equivalent to about $4 USD; it’s the principle of the matter, okay?) I head down a short dirt road to meet up with Lucas and Garrett to study Bemba, where we end up spending most of our time chucking a Frisbee around with my host brother Roger and Lucas’ host brother Moses instead. I feel good about myself ever so briefly for my Frisbee-throwing skills until I watch Roger and Moses juggle a football back and forth as if gravity weren’t a law, merely a suggestion.
And it’s the strangest thing; what was virtually unfathomable a month ago — heck, what was even incomprehensible last Thursday when I was deposited at my new host family’s compound with my bags and with no earthly idea how to communicate with any of the dozen people staring intently at me — is quickly turning into a new normal. The constant hyperconsciousness that I felt when I first arrived is fading. The colossal cockroaches are becoming my colossal cockroaches, the bucket baths my bucket baths, the sunsets my sunsets. And slowly but steadily, this life too is becoming my life.