Things I don’t have to think about in Zambia

Part 2 of a two-part series. (read Part 1 here)

I’ve just returned to Zambia from holiday leave in the States, so what better time to reflect on differences between the two cultures?

Things I don’t have to think about in Zambia:

Where my money is
Zambia operates predominantly on a cash economy, and in the rural areas cash is not only king, but lord, serf, and the scrawny dog that the serf kicks. Gone are the days of checking Mint daily to monitor balances in checking accounts, saving accounts, mutual funds, CDs, credit cards, Roth IRAs, and penny stocks. I now have one bank account with the nearest ATM 240 kilometers away, and the kwacha I keep in my hut is split between my wallet and my socks basket.

Being late
We Americans spend an awful lot of time thinking about and making sure that we’re not late. Not everybody does this. In Zambia, nobody does this.

What to wear
Wardrobes are kind of pointless in a place where clothes are a grudging necessity, not an expression of identity. Nobody in the village notices if you wear the same thing two days in a row, and most kids wear the same tattered, filthy clothes every single day, pieces of clothing in name only that wouldn’t be fit for rags in the States. I feel at the same time guilty and grateful, because when trying to tell the various children running around apart, “Too-Big Green Shirt” calls to mind the kid in question much faster than his given name of Isaac. (Side note: TBGS is getting rather brash lately, giving me a big sloppy kiss on the arm after I tell him to leave so I can cook in peace.)

Some of the boys in my village wearing the same things they always wear

Some of the boys in my village wearing the same things they always wear, including, yes, that stylish cap

Having a car
On the list of things I miss in America, nowhere near the top are flat tires, warped brake rotors, registration renewal fees, overheated radiators, or smog checks. Or rush hour traffic. Remember that parable about the monkey trap? A monkey sticks his hand into a jar full of nuts but after he grabs one, he can’t remove his fist because the jar opening is only wide enough to permit an open hand to pass through. The monkey refuses to let go of the nut in order to get away free and is thus trapped by his own greed. The very concept of traffic seems like a particularly sly monkey trap. Try explaining to a rural Zambian why millions of wealthy Americans spend hundreds of hours per year sitting in their expensive cars while not. moving. one. inch.

Power outages
Ha, ha.

The weather forecast
It will be hot. During the cold season it will be cool in the morning, then it will be hot the rest of the day. During the wet season it will rain every day. It will get dark in the afternoon, the clouds will turn ominous, the thunder will roll in. Lightning will flash and the heavens will open. In half an hour, it will stop. And then it will be hot. During the hot season I will wish I were dead.


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