It's still unreal to me that the African country of Zambia will be my home for the next two years. This is the longest commitment I've ever made to anything before- aside from college, but I could return home whenever I wanted to during that time. 6+ months in Ireland was tough for me, and they spoke English there!It feels as if this flight is for a vacation right now, not a flight taking me to my new home. 6 months from now I will be able to travel, have visitors, and start my work projects. A completely different schedule than my first 6 months in Ireland, and with less freedoms.
As we step out of the airplane and down onto the tarmack, I'm surprised to not be smacked in the face by heat and humidity, but rather by gusts of wind and a brisk 60 degrees. Welcome signs line the outer building of the airport, " Welcome to Zambia, the best African country!" "Be Zambitious!". Childrens laughter fills the air as I notice a group of young kids playing in the grass next to a neighboring plane, a freedom to wander that would never be allowed in the States. After grabbing our bags - with only 1 person out of 67 of us not receiving theirs- we head to the outside, where the warmest and most enthusiastic welcome awaited us. 68 people with about 4 pieces of luggage each; every one of us stepping into this unknown land with different fears, expectations, and aspirations running through our heads, and we load up into Zambian trucks that will take us to our motel stay for the first few days. What a site all of us "muzungos" must have been! I hop in the front of a truck alongside the driver (who, by the way, is on the opposite side of the car, and the car on the opposite side of the road), and I begin taking in the sites. There's an odd sense of familiarity here that I didn't expect to find. The terrain, the people, the roads, it all reminds me very much of Brasil, and I instantly feel right at home.
The difference between myself and a lot of my friends is that, while I’m happy to live out of suitcases and yearn to seek the unknown, they like to build nests and often have trouble straying from their comforts. I’m able to leave behind everything I love, know, and have come to understand, for the sake of exploration in an unknown wilderness. Though, it is in no way a means to hurt the ones I love by leaving them behind so often, but rather a way to find the human connection and that same love for others in the deepest, sometimes darkest corners of the world, where not many others wish to or get to venture. Africa, or “The Dark Continent” seems to be shrouded with mystery, but it’s really just a make up of important stories, yet to be discovered and waiting to be told. Had I remained immersed in the modernized, tranquil, civilized, tamed, and well beaten paths of America, I’d never be able to experience all of the wonderous gifts and challenges that Zambia and Africa will surely present to me over the next 2+ years. The thing about serving with the Peace Corps is that I don’t receive just a mere glimpse of a new tapestry of yet another country traveled to on the list, but I get to live, on the ground, in the heart of the communities and peoples, and learn how that very tapestry is woven. Arriving in Zambia I am but a malleable clay, and as time goes on I am excited to see the shape that takes form when guided by the strong hands of Africa.
The horizons here appear to stretch endlessly under the vivid, blue, seemingly painted sky. Zambia seems to be like the wild west, and there are areas here of which that is how they are referred. There are off-white colonnades, dirty and chipped pillars, holding up thatched roofs over a dirt sidewalk. Though the roads in Lusaka are pitted with tarmac, they are also full of potholes, so one can never expect a smooth ride. In fact, out of Lusaka it is rare to find tarmac roads at all, maybe you will have this for a few km until you venture out of the city, and the road suddenly turns to red dirt and rocks as you make your way into the bush. There are two main roads in Zambia- Great Northern and Great Eastern, which, you guessed it, run from East to West and North to South. To get to any province, like to go to Northern from Eastern, you can’t just simply drive north. You have to travel hours back into Lusaka, get onto Great Northern road, and the head up country.
Purple jacarandas, yellow acacias, and trees laden in scarlet blossoms line the two lane road here in Lusaka. There are markets, selling everything from fake ivory bangles (a symbol of your tribe), to heaps beans and dried sardines (kapenta), to colorful chitenges. I heard that it was once counted that there are 128 different ways to use a chitenge, but the most popular- and the reason/ways that we wear them- are as skirts over trousers (or over other skirts). They are also used to help balance buckets on the heads, or as a shower towel. The designs on these brightly colored, distinctive cotton cloths are almos of an Africanized paisley. This fashion was quickly adopted by the girls of our group, as we learned that showing anything above your knees here is the equivalent to showing your boobs in America, and the thighs are considered where the woman’s private part begins. It is seen as an indicator that you are easy, as is the taboo about condoms in which we will be educating on- if a woman asks her partner to use a condom or presents one to her, it will be thought that she is a prostitute. Anyways, taboos and myths at a later time. In some places, just wearing trousers (pants=underwear, trouses=jeans), could also indicate that you are a “working woman” i.e. up for hire. So, we are all getting used to wearing the chitenge skirt, as well as biking in them! Ah- another very popular use is to use a chitenge to tie your baby onto your back- and it looks very comfortable as well! The women here are amazing, and put American women to shame. As they bare their commendably quiet babies spread-eagled on their backs in these chitenge slings, they also sport chitenge turbans on their heads, which serve a prosaic purpose as a platform for burdens. Their exquisite balance is remarkable; how they are able to bear loads capable of defeating a pack mule upon their heads is beyond me. And something I will never attempt to do with my history of a broken neck. They stroll the paths with these burdens on their heads, a baby on their back, often a water jug or another child in their hands, and an expression of stoic serenity spread across their face.