Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stepping away from the group for an evening...

I have finally been able to begin to dabble in what real life in Lusaka means. We spend most of our days here busing back and forth from our home base, Pioneer Camp on the East end of the city limits, and one of the three schools we are working with.
After having traveled on my own since my last Zambia trip with SAAS in 2004 (when I was an incoming high school Junior) and having learned that the world is at my finger tips and accessible when I want it to be, I have come to Zambia this time with a more independent outlook. I want to see more of the city, more of the night life, more of where the real Zambians live and actually ride public transportation. I guess I am craving a more spontaneous traveling experience.
So on Wednesday night of last week (the 25th of June) I took initiative and decided to go out for the night with Heidi. She used to teach at high-school but has lived in Lusaka for almost two years as a sponsored volunteer to help local schools and organizations develop more sustainable computer and internet programs, rather than depending on the consistent help of outside donors or air (such as, ironically, our SAAS group now). It turns out that the Indian food here is comparable if not better than some of the Indian food found in Seattle. I don’t know why I would assume otherwise, actually. We ARE closer to India here.We went to a play titled "Two Maids and a Street Vendor" by a Zimbabwean director. The two women actresses from Zambia and the male, a Sudanese refugee, performed little snippets of what modern Zambian life is like (the chit chat between women, the interactions among romantic partners...).
I told Heidi that I had wanted to watch the German-Turkey semi-finals game of the Euro Cup 2008. (YAY DEUTSCHLAND!) Turns out some of her friends were watching it at a German bar somewhere in Lusaka so we joined them. Yes this was a German bar full of whites, probably people working with aid organizations around Lusaka, but it allowed me to see that there are communities and networks of people who are accessible to people like me who are interested yet somewhat unsure as to how to go about integrating into the life of a foreign city, especially in a third-world country very different in social norms and culture than Seattle or anywhere I have lived. And yes, these people are NOT Zambians, but they have found ways to feel comfortable and safe and “at home” in a place that is so foreign to me. This I find admirable. I want to let go of that fear…. And I will be challenged in one week when I will be here alone for 10 days while the rest of the school group goes on a safari trip. Sadly there was no place for me on the trip because I signed up late, but this will give me an opportunity to branch out and be on my own agenda. Jeanette, a friend of Heidi, invited me to go dancing tomorrow night with a group of people, but I will remain with the group until they go on safari.
It was SUCH a great experience to go out with Heidi, even if it was only one night. As we drove on the Great East highway through the city in her car (steering wheels on the right side), watched puppies being sold like newspapers by men walking up and down the aisles of traffic-jammed lines of cars, and entered the residential neighborhoods and the barricaded homes and living complexes, I was finally getting a sense that this is a real place that will continue moving when I am gone and has its own rhythm. It is really easy to see “Zambia” (or any place one travels to on vacation or for service or for whatever short-termed reason) as a month-long excursion, or blip in time and space. But the more pieces of a place I see, the more comfortable I feel being in said place. I feel sheltered and ignorant if I only see the outskirts of the city and not the chaos of the inner city, for example, or if I only experience buying my groceries in the huge supermarkets with white-skinned managers rather than buying my produce in the morning markets from the local ladies. I want to SEE and HEAR, at least, everything I can, even if I will never really know how it feels to be so poor I cannot afford lunch for my family or a mattress for my child (I have heard SO many stories like these, and many much worse, from the primary school kids i have been interviewing as part of my work here) or even if I don’t know what it feels like to have to live in a housing community that is guarded at night by an armed watchman because of theft and threat of security (more common here than in my living arrangements in Seattle or Bellingham).
I am here now and I better take advantage of learning about one more part of the world first-hand. I will have plenty more opportunities to make this trip my own experience as well as a group experience. As for now, I am proud of my increasing independence and I hope I have the courage to push myself in my 10 days alone here. (!!!)The people here are so warm and open, and it is rubbing off on me. I feel so peaceful most of the time here… I want to do what feels the most right for me, and to take every chance to do something a little new, or whatever it is that feels best at any given moment. This can lead to internal conflict, because there are always so many things to potentially do...Ill just take it at my own pace then!

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