Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Wonderful World of Chitenjes.

            One of the major positives about wearing a chitenje (aside from signaling that I’m a female, which my chest and short hair fail to do), is that I can roll out of bed and simply wrap it around my waist, not ever having to remove my sleeping clothes, and then head to work with my pajamas on. I think it’s pretty sweet that the U.S. Government “pays” me, and I’m going to work with my pj’s on, and no one’s the wiser. :)
            Chitenjes are seriously one of the most diversely useful things here. Everyone uses them to carry their babies, cabbage, books, chickens, whatever. I use them as curtains, dust covers, couch cushion slips, picture board backgrounds, pants, shirts, skirts, head dresses, and capes. Others craft rugs, stuffed animals, mittens, potholders, wallets, purses. They’re given out as prizes, an initiative to follow a certain drug or care regimen, show up to meetings, give health talks, deliver your children at the clinic rather than at home. When relaxing at the dam and reading, I spread a chitenje out on the ground and relax, having a one (wo)man picnic. Spill something or need to dry your hands? You’re wearing a towel around your waist! Even when I get up in the middle night and go out to use the chimbuzi, even if it’s pitch black and I know no one in my village is up, I still throw a chitenje around myself before exiting my hut. (Also because Zambians have magic eyes and can see in the dark, and because my legs haven’t seen the sun much at all in the last 10 months, so I probably glow in the dark, and I wouldn’t want to offend/startle a Zambian if they saw a kneecap or some thigh).
            I like chitenje aspect of the culture here, they’re actually kind of cool; they come in tons of different colors and patterns. And while they’re impossible to ride a bike in, I enjoy wearing them- not to mention the community is thrilled that I dress like them and want to live like them!
            Along the lines of wanting to live like them, I’m ecstatic about my little garden. I’ve never had one in my life, so seeing each state of it, from all the land clearing, digging, and planting, weeding and watering I (my kids) did, to the first sprouts and now, to being able to eat fresh, healthy food that I had a part in creating, is really freakin special to me [hope you followed that run on sentence]. So I get really excited about it. I’ve already talked to my host father about wanting land next year and the things that I’d like to try my hand at farming. I’m currently in the process of getting 4 chickens, and possibly a milk goat, so I’ll farm those as well. But as far as farming a field goes, we’ve discussed me growing maize, sunflower, soybeans, regular beans, and sweet potatoes. I see how hard the villagers work, out in their fields before dawn and hoeing all day; weeding, clearing land, plowing lines- all done by hand. Or harvesting, then shucking, whacking, pounding, sifting, pealing, drying, digging, or transporting- again, all done by hand. It’s very physically and timely labor intensive, but I want to try it. I want live like them, I want to experience life here as close to the same as they experience it. I know it will never be the same, because, even here in the village I have way more comforts than them. I have access to more resources, I get a paycheck every month, a care package every few. I can still go into the BOMA and buy food if I don’t have a strong harvest, or I can just buy food because I don’t feel like eating the same exact thing twice a day, every day, whether it’s bean season, or pumpkin leaf season, or just flat out hunger season. When I’m having a bad day, or just want to get away, I can escape to town for the weekend, or even across the country or continent on vacation. And at the end of all this, I get a paid-for plane ticket back to America; to smooth roads, fast cars, and ice-cream. They don’t have those luxuries, and I feel quite guilty about the fact that I do, a lot.
The start of my chitenje picture board.
            When Zambians find out I have a small garden, or that I’m about to start raising chickens, or that I know how to wear a chitenje or head wrap, or that I speak Tumbuka fairly well, it makes them extremely happy. They’re glad to know that I’m here living with them, like them, as part of their community. And it makes me happy that they see me as that, and accept me as their sister/daughter/friend/one of them.
Duku time.

Teaching about the 'laria with Prince. (I obviously have really good fashion style here)

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