Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Ah, by now you are used..."

Thank you so much to everyone who has continued to follow my blog over these past two years. Your support and encouragement are indescribably important. I have a few things that I wrote over these two years that I never managed to post, and I am hoping to put them up over the next few weeks, so keep checking. Feel free to give me a shout ( if you want to hear more, or hear about something specific. Also, please visit if you haven't already. I am very close to reaching my goal, you can help for the final push!!

During my last week in Zambia I was wandering through a market in Lusaka, buying some vegetables for dinner that night. As is usual for a market trip, I got into a conversation with the lady I was buying my onions from. She was asking what I was doing in Zambia, and upon hearing that I had been living there for almost two years, she exclaimed (full of expression and in the smooth rhythmic bounce that all Zambians speak with) "Ah, by now you are used!", meaning of course that I must have gotten used to life in Zambia after so long. She asked where in Zambia I had been living, and I told her. She said, "You even know how to speak Bemba?" It was both a statement and a question. "Panono", I reply, meaning "A little". This of course causes the whole section of the market, all of whom were listening to this conversation, to burst into laughter. Muzungus speaking Zambian languages will never get old.

There definitely was some truth to her statement though, by now you are used. I am. Zambia, as I've suggested many times before, has indeed become home. I am comfortable walking the streets, dodging traffic, interacting with people. My ears are accustomed to the sounds of the Bantu (the "root" tribe for most Zambians) languages. The intensity of the sun on my face no longer seems unbearable (though I do still turn red if I'm not careful!). My parent's visit a few weeks ago brought into sharp relief just how much I've become familiar with. Listening to their reaction after walking through the crushing crowd on Cairo Rd. in Lusaka, or seeing the meat counter in City Market, or driving up to Mansa and experiencing the poor condition of the roads reminded me that I too once felt out of place in these settings. Zambia has clearly changed me.

Just how it has changed me is a tougher thing to articulate. There is no question that these past two years have left me a different person than I was when I left, but it's hard to say exactly how. I feel that I am more patient, more interested in people, and more keen to find the beauty in things I may have overlooked before. Yet that is only scratching the surface. I've learned and experienced a vast amount, and trying to sort it all out is a bit of a daunting task.

However the things that immediately come to mind when I think about influential moments, are not just about seeing a new country, a new part of the world, learning a new language, etc. It is the interactions with people. It is connecting with people on a personal level, one which no book, documentary, or even first hand account can accurately describe. I miss Zambia, there is no question about that. I miss the smells, the sights, the sounds, but most of all I miss those interactions.

I miss sitting around in the village darkness with the Lwandos, full from a simple meal of Nshima, listening to them sing.

I miss sitting on my front porch in Milenge after work, while all the "neighbourhood" kids play in front of my house.

I miss being greeted as I drive into a community on my motorbike, being surrounded by a crowd of kids, sitting and laughing with an old woman who I can't understand, discussing the technical details of the community well with the men, being served lunch and eating with everyone.

I miss the market ladies I would buy vegetables from in Mansa, always ready with a smile, always quick to throw a few extra tomatoes in the bag for me.

I miss the way people interact when they talk, with extended handshakes, and hand slapping when you laugh. A conversation with a Zambian seems so much more engaging.

I miss Mommy, my landlord in Mansa, and her eclectic but wonderful family. Her son Bwalya, a huge man who spends his days as a trainer at tiny gym in Mansa, usually so reserved and serious, but get him laughing and he'll shake the house apart. Her daughter, Grace, so warm and friendly right from the first moment I met her, always smiling, sharing an inside joke, teasing me about something. Grace's son, Junior, as wild and crazy as a three year old could be and then some. Shirley-Anne and Maria, Mommy's granddaughter and niece, shy and giggly as any young girls are. I miss them all.

I miss Sunday afternoon lunches at the Lwandos after we both moved to Mansa. Hanging out with the girls while Mrs. Lwando prepared lunch, joking around with the oldest, Chishala, hearing about Chola's week at school, trying to understand her steadily improving English, colouring with Ruth, her insisting on colouring the Canadian flag I drew for her blue, instead of the red that I suggested, playing with little Trevor...or at least until he realized that I look different from everyone else and would cry every time I went near him! Talking with Mr. and Mrs. Lwando over dinner, discussing the latest gossip, politics, my work, theirs, everything you can imagine. I especially miss the Lwandos.

Even being away from all these things, missing all these things, I have not stopped learning from them, however. I continue to be shaped by these people I met, and am sure I will be for years to come.

At the lodge where we stayed during our safari when my parents were visiting, there was a excerpt from an essay on a poster in the common area. It was a play on another book title, "The Trouble with Africa..." which outlines the development troubles Africa has had this century. The title of this excerpt however, finished that sentence a little differently. "The trouble with Africa ... is that it gets in your blood". That couldn't be truer. I would love to be able to express just what Zambia means to me, what the people of Zambia mean to me, but I don't think I can properly do that with this blog. Ask me the next time you see me.

For now though, I'll leave you with this poem that I came across a while ago. When I first read it I had never seen Zambia, never seen Africa, so I thought it was nice, but it wasn't personal. I reread it the other day and had tears in my eyes. I can't think of a better, more beautiful way to express what I feel. The poem is about Africa in general, but for me it rings true for Zambia.

-I am an African-

I am an African
Not because I was born there
But because my heart beats with Africa's
I am an African
Not because my skin is black
But because my mind is engaged by Africa
I am an African
Not because I live on its soil
But because my soul is at home in Africa

When Africa weeps for her children
My cheeks are stained with tears
When African honours her elders
My head is bowed in respect
When Africa mourns her victims
My hands are joined in prayer
When Africa celebrates her triumphs
My feet are alive with dancing

I am an African
For her blue skies take my breath away
And my hope for the future is bright
I am an African
For her people greet me as family
And teach me the meaning of community
I am an African
For her wildness quenches my spirit
And brings me closer to the source of life

When the music of Africa beats in the wind
My blood pulses to its rhythm
And I become the essence of music
When the colours of Africa dazzle in the sun
My senses drink in its rainbow
And I become the palette of nature
When the stories of Africa echo round the fire
My feet walk in its pathways
And I become the footprints of history

I am an African
Because she is the cradle of our birth
And nurtures an ancient wisdom
I am an African
Because she lives in the world's shadow
And bursts with a radiant luminosity
I am an African
Because she is the land of tomorrow
And I recognise her gifts as sacred

- Wayne Visser


Anonymous said...

Well Trevor I am sure this is a huge adjustment for you. Life is so different here from that which you describe in Africa. Life seems more layed back, relaxed and about family in Africa. If only we North Americans could learn from Africa, what truly is important in life. Good luck with your readjustment Trevor. I am sure you will be visiting Africa many times in the future. I will continur to keep both you and Africa in my prayers.-Dana S.

Tony M. said...

Good post.