Published: June 15th 2010June 15th 2010
The last few days have finally gotten me from the capital, Lusaka, to my summer home, Lundazi. We left Lusaka on Wednesday, deterred from our 8 am departure target by a mere 6.5 hours. Though long, the drive from the country’s capital to Chipata (capital of Eastern Province) was also valuable—an introduction to Zambia beyond the confines of my Lusaka hotel and office, as well as an opportunity to better get to know Brian. The Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Officer for the project I will be helping to evaluate this summer, Brian is both my supervisor and my colleague. He is quiet and thoughtful, but also very easy going and easy to get along with. He is very receptive to my thoughts and comments, and also very tolerant of the constant questions I am asking him about the project. I will admit that I was surprised to learn he is only two years out of undergraduate education (perhaps a testament to the lack of well trained data people in Zambia). Of course he knows much more about monitoring and evaluation than I do, and I am confident that we will have a lot to learn from each other; I have already
Hitching a ride
School boys catch a ride from us as we drive from Lusaka to Chipata. They shared the cab of the truck with the driver's stove.
promised to teach him how to do basic regression analysis on STATA, and he will have the honor of teaching me how to clean data and use EpiInfo. Together we hope to refine, implement, and analyze a quantitative and qualitative evaluation that will help us understand what does and does not work in changing people’s norms behind family planning and whether there has been any success in improving HIV positive people’s access to family planning services.
It is winter in Zambia and the sun sets by 6-ish, so we arrived in Chipata in the dark on Wednesday night. It wasn’t until the next morning when I was able to see the town’s rolling hills and red earth. At the office I met Victoria, who is my “co-intern” for the summer. CARE Zambia has a policy of matching all foreign interns with local interns, both to help the foreigner navigate a new language, culture, etc., as well as to contribute to learning opportunities and capacity building for Zambians. Victoria graduated last year with a degree in social work, and has since been looking for jobs. She is originally from Lundazi, so in addition to being a very sweet and generally
No machine guns, please
Nobody is clear on where this sticker came from. The vehicle was new and the driver didn't think it strange that the sticker was already applied.
amenable co-worker, she will also serve as an excellent translator and tour guide.
After meeting the Chipata regional staff and stocking up on spices and soy products at the last grocery store I’ll see for awhile, I finally set off for Lundazi on Friday (only 5 hours behind schedule this time). I was eager to finally settle down in one place, and the landscape as we progressed toward Lundazi only made me that much more excited to finally arrive. The clouds are flat-bottomed, thick and plentiful, and the sky is such an electric blue my camera doesn’t know how to register so much light. The occasional elephant tree graces the side of the road, adding volume to the already stunning silhouette of baobab and acacia trees.
Victoria and the driver chatted energetically the whole way to Lundazi, occasionally drawing me in to teach me about a South African musician or the interpersonal relations between members of various Zambian tribes. I learned that in Zambia it is generally considered impolite to tell someone you have to pee (“wee-wee,” actually, is the term they used), and that some languages and tribes have specific idioms for expressing that you have to
Remnants of the old bridge
which was bombed by British forces in the 1950s to punish Zambia for supporting South Africa's freedom fighters.
go to the bathroom. In Chewa, one of the languages spoken in Lundazi District, it is understood that if you say “I want to wash my legs,” what you actually mean is that you have to go to the bathroom (a strange and kind of gross idiom if you think about it too much). Given the amount of water I drink and the reputation I have earned for having to pee every few hours during field work, I gather that I will be talking about washing my legs a whole lot this summer.
Once upon a time the road from Chipata to Lundazi was in good condition, and it only took an hour and a half to get from the regional capital to Lundazi; in its current state, however, the road requires at least three and a half hours to complete the journey in one piece, so once again I arrived in a new place under the cover night. To make the arrival all the more mysterious, the power was out in Lundazi, permitting me to catch only glimpses of the town as permitted by our truck’s headlights.
My lodging in Lundazi has been arranged by the CARE
office, with particular fuss and attention to the fact that I be safe and comfortable. The odd and slightly uncomfortable result is that I will be a paying guest in the home of Mr. Dingy Sweyo Banda, a former politician and friend of the President. My room is quite comfortable and I have access to a fully stocked kitchen (with two ovens, stoves, a microwave, etc.) as well as someone who will wash my laundry, so I can’t really complain, but there is something quite strange about having to tip-toe around the full-time cook and grandma (who seem to run the kitchen) and feeling like I have to be polite and appropriately dressed all the time.
Though as I write I’ve only been in Lundazi in 24 hours, I can confess it’s been a strange adjustment. Unpacking in the dark last night was somehow unsettling. All I can say is god bless headlamps and powdered soymilk, but I would not recommend arriving in a new place when there is no power and you have nothing in particular to do the next morning. It has the distorting effect of making the next two months look long, dark and slow.
Thankfully, a good night’s rest and daylight have allowed me a much more stable perspective on the situation. This morning Victoria picked me up and we took a walking tour of Lundazi—the market (where vegetables are sold in pre-stacked pyramids, four tomatoes or five onions at a time), the British relic hotel (where I was almost put up for the duration, and which I know would have been even weirder than staying in the oversized house of a former politican; it’s an old castle and I would literally have been sleeping in a turret; talk about the ivory towers of academics and development practitioners), the river (where 8 human friendly hippos play), and the strip of Indian-run stores (where I will soon buy a chitenje, or wrapper).
So the adjustment has been slow, but it is inching along. This afternoon the electricity returned to Lundazi, and with the return of electricity I feel a little bit more optimistic. Instead of focusing on that unsettled feeling of being a stranger in a new place where you don’t speak the language or know a soul, I focus on looking forward. This will be my summer of learning: learning how to speak
a little bit of Tumbuka and Chewa (“Muli uli”); learning to pare down the “gold standard” expectations we’ve been taught in school and be more practical about the kind of service research that can effectively be applied to these kinds of projects (a more grounded approach to the battle cry of “randomization!” that I was taught at JPAL); learning how to get all the shampoo out of my hair in a bathtub (something I’ve never been very good at); learning how to clean data sets and use EpiInfo; learning how to roll perfectly round and thin chapattis (and when I fail at that, learning how to be OK with rice or nshima); learning how to be a morning person (I never thought I would regularly set my alarm before 6 am); and re-learning how to live a slow and solitary life in a foreign place (a skill I once prided myself in and which I am hopeful will return with full strength).
There are more photos below