Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Soaking it all up

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.

As much as this seems like a natural and desired step, and indeed this transition into feeling comfortable here has helped me immensely, it is something that I’ve begun fighting against recently. It is slowly dawning on me how close I am to leaving this country that has been my home for the past two years. I find myself trying to get back that sense of awe and wonder, trying to soak up every sight I see, every sound I hear, and every smell that javascript:void(0)reaches me. More than this though, I am trying to understand and articulate the emotions that accompany these sights, sounds, and smells. Every time I walk down the street now I worry that I will forget what it’s like to have a group of kids burst into excited laughter as I pass, while one of them works up the courage to yell out “Muzungu!!! How are you??”, to strike up a conversation in Bemba with the ladies selling fruits and vegetables on the side of the road, sending them into fits of laughter when I greet them with “Muli Shani” rather than “How are you?” I don’t want to forget the feel of a mud-brick wall beneath my fingers, the sound of kids playing in a village, while goats and chickens join in the melee, or the smell of maize roasting over charcoal, or the sickly sweet smell of the garbage pit burning. I don’t want to have to rely on my digital pictures of the sun setting over the fields of Milenge, of the village ladies walking in their simple, yet beautiful chitenges, of the splash of brilliant colour that results from a village meeting under a tall mango tree. I want those images to be imprinted in my brain so I can recall them at will.

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.


Navi said...

I'm jealous of your experiences and your writing abilities.

Colleen said...

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I've read in a while. It fills me with hope, with expectation and with sadness all at the same time. Leaving a place that you have learned to love is never easy and made bittersweet when you realize that it is now your home. I had a similar experience and emotions when leaving Cambridge a month ago, but was unable to articulate those feelings as well as you did here. Reading your post reminded me of those last few weeks spent "gathering" and soaking up as much as I could to store away and bring back with me.
As I'm reading this, I was listening to Cinematic Orchestra's lovely song called "To Build a Home." The music is haunting. The combination of the emotions you shared in this post that align so well with that song brought me to tears.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

HI Trevor Bobbo here. I agree with Colleen. I love reading your blogs. your words are so full of passion and wonder. Cant wait to see you. I know that it is selfish but to bad Cant wait to see you

Anonymous said...


Again - your words get right to the heart of the matter. Although you have done wonderful work in Zambia over the past two years, I believe the best legacy you will leave behind are the relationships your have built and fostered. Just speaking with you, sharing your pictures and reading your blog have made all your Zambian loved ones part of our lives too!

Your view of the world, and your experiences have shaped you. When you return home, Zambia will come with you. I know there is one little girl who will benefit from all these Zambian experiences. She can't wait to learn some Bemba! :) Love you, Kath

nickt said...

You will never forget. The images will be etched in your mind forever. That's also what makes it hard. Memories stand still in time, but life goes on for Zambia.

VideoPaean said...
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Anonymous said...

Hey Trev,

I had almost given up on your blog (due to lack of posts) but it was good to see another post. Thanks for the insight and if possible try to fit in a few more posts before you leave. I look forward to them.



Helen said...


This brought back so much of Zambia for me. Not only did you take me through those things I can still vividly remember, but also through experiences with my own family and friends while there. I am afraid for when the memories begin to fade and these moments of clarity are precious. Thank you for this.

Mina Shahid said...

Hey Trevor, yung sheezy (aka Mina)here. Great post! Sometimes as I lay to sleep at night the images of peoples faces, of landscape, of fun and sad times while being in Zambia bombard me. It creates an interesting feeling of joy yet sorrow, joy that you can still remember, sorrow at the thought of forgetting. Thanks for reminding me!
Good luck with everything, looking forward to chatting with you at conference!


Robert said...

I so needed to read your blog today - as I was driving to work, I was listening to the CBC report on an initiative by Red Cross/Red Crescent societies to portray the real Africa as opposed to the "basket case"/dysfunctional/ dangerous Africa. This you so eloquently do. Countries are people first, systems and governments second. Whatever can be done with or for one person makes both people, and the world, richer.
But more than that, I needed today to know that there are still young people whose hearts are being transformed by God through contact with His "little ones" people, the non-powerful, the non-advantaged - broadened and deepened, made to beat to rhythms not synchronous with the Stock Market nor the "it's about me" culture. Connie and I had that experience forty years ago in Haiti. We made such a minimal contribution there - those we lived with and worked with and ministered to were instrumeents of such change in us! So hear the songs - lock them in. Smell the aromas - remember their fragrance. And look to God who is so good in Zambia, and in Canada.

Your mom's cousin, Rob

Olivia said...

Hey Trevor! Very serendipitous indeed! Thanks for this post...this was exactly how I was feeling at the end of August. For me, memories keep coming back at unexpected moments. Reading this post reminded me of a lot of experiences in Milenge.
Keep soaking it up!

Anonymous said...

This piece is full of emotion. It makes me sad & I feel that you will miss Africa dearly. The other day we were riding the CBS bus in the early morning & there was a spectacular sunrise. It made me think of you & Africa & just how many beautiful sunrises you have probably experienced. Such a beautiful picture God has gifted us. Thankyou once more for sharing. I look forward to each posting. I continue to pray for you and Africa.

Dana S.