As I was walking through the EXTREMELY crowded streets of Lusaka the other day, it hit me. Two things hit me actually. The first was a makeshift wheelbarrow that someone was using to transport a gigantic load of…something, across town. This is a pretty common method of transportation of goods here in Zambia. If you’ve got to move something from one end of town to another, be it a gigantic bag of “tropicals”, as flip-flop sandals are called here, or 100kgs worth of sugar, you hire a delivery boy. He will strap an impossibly large amount of goods to his impossibly large wheelbarrow (modified with welded re-bar, pieces of wood, and other random materials), and walk, sometimes 4 or 5km. Anyway, this morning I happened to step in front of one of these delivery boys when he was going downhill. He saw me at the last second, and dropped his load down, but it kept skidding into me. Even though it was obviously my fault, the delivery boy was fairly pleasant, though obviously not extremely impressed that I interrupted his momentum. We chatted briefly, and then both continued in our separate directions.
That’s when the second thing hit me: “That didn’t seem weird at all!”. I realized that after close to 20 months living in Zambia, the things that seemed strange during my first few weeks and months here are now common place. I don’t fumble for my camera when I see a woman carrying a 20L container of water on her head, with a baby tied to her back with only a piece of cloth. A man wheeling a cage made out of sticks, and full of chickens through the city streets hardly warrants a second glance. I don’t even turn my head anymore when I see children playing with toys made out of pieces of string and old dirty plastic containers. These things are simply part of life, part of the everyday surroundings.
Most of all it’s the faces that I’m trying to file away. There are those of friends and family here, people I know and love dearly. I want the images of them laughing, of them serious, of them asking me questions, telling me a sad story, singing, playing, crying. There are those of people I don’t know. The random people I see on the street whose faces fill me with wonder. Stoic looks, intense looks, happy looks, confused looks. Never before have I paid such close attention to people’s faces that I don’t know, and it’s something I’ve pledged to continue upon returning to Canada.
I now use each walk through town, each conversation, each moment as an opportunity to gather more of these sights, sounds, and smells and file them away. They will make the stories I tell when I go back home more rich, more real. They will help me truly represent my friends here, and their country, their reality. They will help me remember, not in a sense of bringing up the past, but of living again in the present.I’m off now, into town. I’ll be gathering as I go. For my sake, for Zambians' sake, and for yours.