Sunday, March 2, 2008

In Lusaka, Zambia.

Thursday 28 February 2008

I want to try and give you, the reader, an on the ground taste of what living, and training, is like in Lusaka, Zambia.

Morning is cool and full of cock-a-doodle-dos from the roosters next door. I grab a shirt, shorts and socks from the clothesline on the porch out front, slip on my runners, and start my morning run. By 6:15 AM the streets are already lined with Zambians going to work, or to school.

At the hostel there is a clean, well-tiled shower waiting for me when I return hot and sweaty. Breakfast is usually buns bought from a vendor nearby. To these we add mango jam and groundnut (peanut) butter, and order tea from the hostel kitchen. Breakfast is ate on the porch underneath the clothesline.

Our first session of the day is a language lesson from Brett Stevenson, co-Director of Southern Africa programs. She speaks functional Chichewa, and I don’t, so I pay close attention.

By noon we’ll have been through a session on value-chain analysis, or cross-cultural communication, and have received our marching orders for the afternoon. To give you an idea, today we were sent out on orders to gather information on the Zambian maize value chain, understand the key value chain interconnections, and return in time to draft a pair of interventions to improve the livelihoods of the maize market sellers of downtown Lusaka. It’s not a nice, neat assignment, but today we struck on a pair of good Zambian leads and had constructed a plan for a maize commodity exchange by suppertime.

Supper is nshima. It’s the staple food of Zambia: maize, milled to become “mealie-meal,” mixed with boiled water into a paste thicker and hotter than Thanksgiving mash potatoes. It’s served with a “relish,” which is a sauce and your choice of chicken, fish, beans, or anything else that might be on the menu. Grab it with your right hand, roll it in a ball, dip it in your relish, and dig in. Zambians eat it for breakfast, lunch and supper, but for this muzungu (white person), one meal of nshima fills me up for the entire day.

Once the sun sets, the mosquitoes come out, so spray profusely. We talk development, write blog entries, watch a football match over a beer at the bar, or just pack it in early.

At the end of the day, lying in bed under just a sheet, the question in my head is “just what on earth are we doing here?” But here is where we are, working side-by-side people we trust and admire, trying to solve tough problems, in a culture that’s full of warmth and hope. So instead I ask myself “why would we want to be anywhere else?”

It’s a pretty wonderful thing to live and work in south Africa. Even with the morning roosters.