Where there is no Home Depot

Day 4 of living in site. So far I’ve had a minor freakout over nothing big enough to warrant it, attended my first Zambian funeral, grabbed my first hitch, and made rice in a pot more times in the past three days than I have in the past 25 years. (Asians, ironically, don’t know how to cook rice without rice cookers; if you do something often enough, you make sure you find an easier way of doing it.)

Some more thoughts and observations:

-I didn’t realize how much I missed Reese’s peanut butter cups until I plopped a dollop of peanut butter into a mug of hot chocolate this evening. I can buy practically anything I could ever want in Lusaka, but one of the few things they don’t have in Zambia is also one of the things I like most of all in America: chocolate peanut butter cups. Never mind that hot chocolate when it’s so warm that my forehead is glistening with sweat (not half an hour after I bathed – I’m going to literally die in the hot season) isn’t exactly the best idea in the world. I was determined to try to recreate that magical taste. It wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t Reese’s.


Clockwise from bottom left: book I borrowed from the prov house, water lilies I picked from a pond because they reminded me of home, skillet with fried rice, bucket of bath water heating in the sun, solar panel, basin for washing dishes

– A young guy of indeterminate age (Zambian 30-year-olds look 15, and 15-year-olds look 30) ambled up to me while I was cooking one evening and uncharacteristically for a Zambian began asking me persistent questions in Bemba. I humored him at first, answering as best I could while continuing to watch the pot of rice. He kept on the same topics though, first asking me to give him food, then saying something about where he lived, then asking if he could (I think) live in my house with me. By this point I was pretty sure he was drunk, even though my drunk radar took longer than usual to ping because the guy looked prepubescent, and my patience was wearing thinner than the t-shirt that the mosquitoes were industriously drilling through. I threw on a hoodie and swapped bug bites for a thin layer of sweat all over my upper body. I was still holding out on using “fumeniko” (it’s an imperative that means leave, with respect), and wasn’t going to play the “fuma, iwe” (leave, completely disrespectful) card unless absolutely necessary. After about fifteen minutes had passed though, the headman of my village made a beeline for us. I have no idea if he was summoned through the grapevine of village gossip – quick, the muzungu is being harassed! – or if he saw what was going on from his place a few houses down, but he fumeniko’d the offender and a companion who had joined him right quick. I gave him a grateful “Natotela, Ba Headman,” (still don’t know his real name) while reassuring myself that I had the situation under control. I returned my attention to the rice and found that it had burnt. Wonderful.


-It took less than 24 hours for me to turn into a cat person. Thanks for all of the great name ideas, wish I could have chosen more than one! When I first picked up Hobbes (née Chuck Norris – Sarah likes to pick names that the kids in her village will know; sibling Michael Jackson was already delivered to a volunteer in Mansa District), she was distrustful and spent the first hour in my hut cowering beneath my bed. After being trapped in a basket on my bike for several bumpy kilometers, I can’t say I blame her. However, we’re swiftly becoming inseparable. Literally. She follows me around like a little kid when I walk from one room to another, and right now she’s curled up on my wicker chair beside me listening to country music and hungrily eyeing the moth flitting about overhead. She chases everything that moves and some things that don’t, like the eagles on the bottom of the Zambia coat of arms chitenge that I hung up on the living room wall.


-I spent most of the day supervising the installation of plastic on the inside of my thatched grass roof. This is supposed to come standard in PCV huts, but it wasn’t done when I arrived and this is the kind of thing you’d optimally want to get done before you unpack and your hut looks like it was hit by a tornado. Hammering nails into wooden logs tied to dried grass will unleash a shower of dirt to make a Dyson shriek with fear and promptly bite the dust you paid an exorbitant amount for it to vacuum. So I mentioned to Ba Sebastian, my counterpart/host/guide/contractor, that I needed to get this done soon and was willing to pay. Not an hour later he showed up at my hut with four guys in tow. He pointed to one of them and told me he’ll do my roof for K10. That’s two bucks. For four hours of work. And this was a good gig, considering a day’s labor is worth about ten kwacha in this area. Sometimes I forget where I am and something like this jolts me back.


While Ba Spiderman was at it, I also asked him to tie my solar panels up to the top of the roof and string the cords down through the thatching so I can have a built-in system for charging my lights, phone, headlamp, and speakers. Earlier in the day, I installed a clothesline in my bathing shelter and made a hanging bookshelf from two parallel planks about 16″ apart, suspended from the wood rafter branches by wire. And over the last few days I’ve also installed a pullup bar, made clothes hangers, and put up nails and wires everywhere for hanging things. I’m not the DIYer type, but give someone enough free time, not enough furniture, and enough reasons to get stuff off the floor (dirt, rats, snakes, curious kittens) and he’ll come up with something.



12 thoughts on “Where there is no Home Depot

  1. Aww Hobbes is adorable. What do you feed her (besides snakes and moths and other such goodies)?

    Nice idea with the roof-mounted solar panels. I assume they’re waterproof?

    • Yeap, they’re waterproof. That’d be a colossal error in judgment on my part if they weren’t!

      I feed Hobbes cisense, a tiny dried fish they sell here by the roadside by the cupful. She eats a healthy amount, but that doesn’t stop her from badgering me for my food. 🙂

  2. You know you MUST write a book about your adventure; I am tremendously enjoying reading your blogs, and you have the greatest way of putting us into the picture. Love it!!!!

  3. You know you MUST write a book about your adventure; I am tremendously enjoying reading your blogs, and you have the greatest way of putting us into the picture. Love it!!!! (forgot to put who wrote a reply….)

  4. When I lived in Ethiopia, it was almost impossible to get decent chocolate anywhere, even in Addis. And in Johannesburg, South Africa, I couldn’t find a single store who carried MacBook power supplies in stock (mine got damaged by a lightning storm and I was about to get on a bus for Botswana where they have zip). Eventually you find new local favorite things, and you make do in emergencies with what you have at hand (a local computer repairman broke my power supply open, re-soldered some wires, and wrapped it in masking tape!). Make sure you go to Victoria Falls, it is to die for, and best of luck on your years abroad!

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