Archive for November, 2007



Someone please explain to me the love affair with the slimy green mess — which some consider edible — that is okra.



Monday, November 19.

Opening night of the festival… three centres perform original, 20-minute long pieces. Some acting, dancing, drumming, singing, etc. They are spectacular.





Setting up the photo exhibition:



The Waiting Game

Sunday, November 18.

It is a Sunday evening, and much is quiet. I am sitting under an overcast sky on a tile bench in the shade of a large tree in a parking lot. It’s cool — the sky is closing up after absolutely dumping all its contents onto Lusaka, and the pavement is trying to dry off before the sun disappears to warm the other side of the world. I sit and wait.

It has been a week since I have journaled, and much has happened. Becca left last Tuesday for home after a year in Zambia. Her final week was a race to get things done, and she behaved like she had a hidden IV bag of caffeine, its contents continually being pumped into her blood supply.

We also said goodbye to the flat that day, and as Becca left, I checked out of Africa and into a hotel for a few days to attempt to recover from whatever the heck is diseasing me.

My disease(s). Six prescriptions. Five weeks. Four trips to the doctor. Four vials of blood in three blood tests. Three different doctors. Two stool samples and one urine sample. Oh, and one shot in the ass to stop the vomitting. What is wrong with me? “Nothing.” My will, not to mention my colon, stomach, head, and 20 missing pounds, beg to differ. I am improving, despite the lingering question.

But I sit and wait in this miserable parking lot, and continue to flick ants and other creatures off my arms and legs.

Finally Peter has arrived. He’s not who I imagined him to be, but “Peter” was preceeded by “Mechanic” in Becca’s phone directory, and that was enough for me.

Becca’s car hasn’t sold, and I am trying to sell it for her, which is proving to be unsuccessful. Especially since I can’t get it started. I have hopes that it’s only a fuse problem, but when Peter pulls out a neatly folded one-piece mechanic’s get-up and slips it on, then disappears under the tire, I wonder about getting out of this forsaken parking lot before dark. It’s not until he’s splayed across the exposed engine, feet dangling by the headlights and arm lost to his shoulder into its bowels — much like my sister-in-law checks the health of her equine patients — that I wonder how much this house call on a Sunday is going to put me back. His wrenches tinkle on the ground and I continue to flick bugs and wait.

With today’s display of weather, and yesterday as well, I’d say the rainy season is officially upon us. Saturday was the opening for the Barefeet Festival. Given the thunder, lighting, and Victoria Falls-like downpour, many might say it was a disaster. It went really well, though, despite it all. Almost 1,000 children of all ages, from 25 or so centres for street kids (or kids at risk of being on the street) across the city donned their costumes, painted their hair, faces, and bodies, proudly marched and sang and drummed and danced — with police escort — down the road toward the opening ceremony. It was a wet, colorful, loud, and exciting blur.





The rain held off just long enough to get them to the International School soccer field, where the lightning and thunder ended the open-air display, and kids rushed furiously toward a semi-covered area to continue the festivities.

Peter has finished diagnosing and fixing the car, sort of. The problem is a fuse, as I suspected. (Really, I did — and I’m proud about that.) But… hmm… small problem. It’s Sunday and nothing is open, and in order for the car to start, he needs to hold a wrench in the old fuse while the engine starts, and then hope that the car doesn’t stall until you get to your destination.

So, with no signals, working dashboard instruments, locks, windows, etc., Peter hops in the front and we make our way toward town to find an open auto parts store. We only have to start the car three times while the hood is up and his wrench is precariously placed in the failed fuse, before we arrive at a garage. They are open! But they don’t have the fuse. Start the car again, and we’re on our way to the city blocks that house all the auto parts stores. Might as well be a cemetery — every door is shut, and no one is around, except one solitary store at the end of the street, and we find success. Finally. K130,000 later and four hours late, I’m on my way to help set up for the week-long festival at the hall that will host all the weeknight performances of the kids…


Taxi Anyone?

November 8; almost six weeks gone. The days are ticking off in quick succession…

My taxi experiences seem to be taking up a lot of space in my journal. Tuesday I was in a taxi, and again, the driver was speaking in English, but I had no idea what he was saying. I wanted to ask him to spit the two-dozen marbles out of his mouth and start over, but I held my tongue. Well, I didn’t actually hold my tongue. But I “zipped my lip,” as my mom used to instruct me. Before you think my mom is mean, know that I usually deserved it. I digress.

Now with Chubby-Bunny-Contest, Party-of-One at the wheel, I had trouble, again, with conversing with yet another taxi driver: “Dungh yungh lingh wherengh ingh jungh pnghed yungh ungh?” he asked. I could tell it was a question by the inflection in his voice. Having not understood a single word, I asked “say that again?” “Dungh yungh lingh wherengh ingh jungh pnghed yungh ungh?” Not a single syllable was different. Time froze, if but for a moment, as I decided what I might say in response. Asking him to repeat for a third time was out of the question. He would either become increasingly conscious of his problem of communicating clearly (or my problem understanding him), and/or I would still not understand what he said. I start to float above myself, watching the situation unfold, and want to laugh. “Um, Yes,” I responded confidently. He smiled and nodded. I must’ve been right.

Upon arriving at my destination, we thanked each other, and he gave me his business card. His Zambian business card. What does it look like? It’s the bottom of a small, torn off receipt. (Whatever he bought, he spent K12,000, paid with a K20,000, received K8,000 change. K2,553 of his purchase was taxable.) Written on the back, behind the dirt smears and under a torn corner, in blue ball-point: “0977857636. Mr MUSAMBA. TAXI Driver.”

Thanks, Mr. Musamba. I’ll keep your card in case I want another challenge.

As for today’s taxi ride. We understood each other’s words perfectly fine. What I didn’t understand, however, is why on earth he kept turning on his emergency blinkers. During the 10-minute ride, he switched on the hazards 8-10 times. I’m still trying to figure out what the emergency(s) might have been.


Catching Up…

Checking my blog tonight, I see my last post was on October 17. The last three weeks have slipped by like a soapy eel; I have a great deal to catch up on. Though I have a spotty record in keeping a journal in “real life,” I have forced myself to at least jot something down here for every day, in hopes of remembering my experiences and the nooks and crannies of the mundane to absurd.

I’ll share excerpts from the last few weeks.

Saturday, October 20.

Took a taxi to Arcades, a strip mall that seems to attract all sorts, especially in-country volunteers, ex-pats, and other familiar faces; I have yet to go to Arcades and not see someone I know. I have participated in many meetings at the café there (“La Mimosa”), which also has wireless internet for a dollar or so per hour, and decent coffee, which begins to explain my attraction to such a horrible thing as a strip mall.

Back to the taxi ride. I’m pretty sure the driver was drunk. Apparently Zambians have a special ability to drive while intoxicated, and there appear to be no laws prohibiting it. I had to go through a few taxi drivers before one agreed to my bargain basement price for the trip. I guess he settled for 15,000 kwacha, and I settled for a blood-alcohol level well above the maximum. He was, as most of my encounters with Zambians go, difficult to understand. To say the least. I could not begin to guess the meaning of 90% of what exited his mouth. His vocal chords vibrated, lips moved, sound passed through the air, but all meaning was wrung from them by the time they hit my ears. We went excruciatingly slow for the first 3/4ths of the drive, then as we approached the turnoff, it seemed to be a good time to accelerate past 100 km/hr. Thank goodness for seatbelts. His name was Winter (I think) and after 5 tries, to pacify him, I wrote down his cell number in case I needed a ride again. If you’re ever in Lusaka and need a driver to pick you up, call 0977 787 733. I will not be dialing these numbers. He dropped me off by some randomly occurring animal market in the parking lot where, if I wanted, I could’ve purchased a pig for the price of three round trips in the taxi.


Sunday, October 21.

I’m still working on new logos for Barefeet (the organization that works with street kids (or former street kids, and the arts) and the Urban Refugee Project Peace Centre. I think they’re coming along, but I’m slightly frustrated by the creative process. I’ve been spoiled with working with people with whom I had regularly bounced ideas off of, and used, as a bit of a reality check, and I trusted their instincts. I am finding that hard to find here, and the process of coming up with a finished good solid finished product is irregular and solitary. They are a work in progress, but I feel I am close to finished for both:


Monday, October 22.

Today is the first day of the manifestation of what I discover (on the following Thursday) to be a fungal infection in my colon. I don’t know it yet, but I will spend the better part of the next week lying in bed (or wishing I was there), or near the bathroom.

Tuesday, October 23.

Had Zambian news on TV; saw a dead body floating in a polluted pond. Newspaper today had a photo of a burned corpse. I am disturbed.

Wednesday, October 24.

Zambian Independence Day. Drugged myself up today to muster the strength to experience the holiday as every Zambian should. It was part wild goose chase, part maddening crowds, and all exhausting. Did lots of walking carrying around my camera that felt like it was getting progressively heavier as the day wore on. I felt like I might as well have been carrying a cinder block. The sun sapped what little energy I had (how much can a few crackers and sprite really help you succeed through the day?). There were events all over the city, and I attended a few.

“Showgrounds” (similar to Cal Expo) was teeming with kids. Uh, we like to call them students. Tons of kids everywhere. And oddly enough, very few adults. Thousands of kids, but you could count the adults on maybe two hands and a foot. And they allllll thought my bald head was the funniest thing around. I think that’s the most self conscious I’ve ever felt. I was living the dream where you are walking down the street and you’ve forgotten to clothe yourself. And people see you coming and start pointing and laughing. The people in this real-life dream were unforgiving adolescents, and while I was fully clothed walking through this parting Red Sea of children, apparently lack of hair is fantastic entertainment. My only recourse was to firmly plant my camera on my hip and surreptitiously shoot pictures as I walked:


I was none too pleased to finally reach the gate and head back down the road to catch one of the Barefeet centres performing acrobatics.


I wandered through Showgrounds in the first place because I had met Gillian, a Canadian working with the National Paraolympic Committee of Zambia the night before, and there was to be a crutchball game on center field, which I would have loved to photograph, but I missed it. Too tired to care.

Thursday, October 25.

I have changed my plane ticket. Instead of leaving on November 10, I have made the difficult decision to skip Thanksgiving and family and friends and stay in Lusaka until November 27, so as to not miss the Barefeet festival, which is a week-long extravaganza (what a dumb word but I don’t know what else to use at the moment) of children of all ages performing. It opens the first day with 1000 kids processing and performing through the streets of Lusaka; there are performances and exhibitions every night of the week, and then it ends with an all-day program held at Munda Wanga, the capital city’s environmental park/zoo. I’d be stupid not to stay and shoot the week.

Instead of going to one of the youth centres in which Barefeet sends their artist-facilitators to teach today (I was to co-teach an art workshop), I paid a visit to the hospital/clinic, which was a bit of an interesting experience. After giving several samples of myself – including a blood test, which I did not involuntarily cry at for once (the lab tech said he could do 80 blood draws in a day, and you could tell) – I took my seat on the bench in the hallway and waited. The doctor, having consulted with the lab tech walked past me and said “you have cells,” and pointed for me to follow him back to his office, where I received a piece of paper with three prescriptions. I’m not quite sure where I got a fungal infection – in my stomach – and he seemed a bit perplexed, too, but my best guess is the bush. I leave with pills. And $105 poorer. But relief is in sight.

Friday, October 26.

Home visits and interviews of involved people from the Peace Centre. Got to the Peace Centre at 9 am today but didn’t leave the PC to do site visits until 10 am because of the ruckus that some of the Congolese refugees were stirring up. The Peace Centre is a communal place, a meeting place, a school, a training facility, a church, and so much more. This particular morning, the Congolese were I think electing representatives, and spilling out from under the thatched roof of the hut, a mass of people made speeches and argued, in a fast-forward version of the election process, much to the disruption of the classrooms and the rest of the people trying to work.

On these home/site visits, I met people who have received small loans (“micro-credit”) from the Peace Centre, in order to jump-start their small businesses. They are to pay the loan back within 3 months usually, and these visits are a good way of checking in on them, and to also offer support and problem-solving strategies as needed. The loans are in the neighborhood of $200 at the most, and most recipients are restauranteurs, tailors, etc. A couple of family shots, and a restaurant:




Saturday, October 27.

Halloween party tonight. I’ve settled on going as a bruise, so I can wear blue-jeans and a black and purple shirt: normal clothes. I search the internet (dial-up connection = eternal process) for ideas for Becca for the perfect costume, yet with 30 minutes to prepare, all the makings of it have to already be housed in her, or my, or our roommate’s closets. Having not found the perfect idea, I am labeled a failure. Or Becca is way too picky; those who know both of us can decide which is true. (By the way, I remind you she once spent more than a year looking for the “perfect” winter coat, before finally “settling”; that means she endured an eastern winter sans appropriate attire.)

Becca has green leggings and a green shirt on: “What can I be that’s greeeeen???” Lot’s of things: a celery stalk, a cucumber, or any other manner of green vegetable (there are lots), a blade of grass, the color green, a leprechaun… My suggestions are met with distain and quickly rejected. But we are saved. The cloud: we run out of energy credits and have no more power in the house – no lights, no plugs work. The silver lining: we have an excuse for lacking costumes.


Sooo… 9:30 pm, still haven’t had dinner due to the costume indecision and lack of lights or electricity in the apartment. We leave finally, and stop by the Holiday Inn to meet up with a friend of Becca’s. The Holiday Inn is hosting Mr. Zambia, a body-building competition, which sounds a bit absurd to attend, and slightly voyeuristic, but we are curious. They have a great buffet for the event it appears, but at 100,000 kwacha per person (~$30), we head out for another option. We swing by Chit Chat Café, a very ambient place, which also doubles as an art gallery, but I was slightly disturbed when I caught our server talking with a couple at another table while surreptitiously and tactlessly using the back of his pen to satiate an itch in his rear-nethers. I quietly hoped his pen hadn’t been anywhere near my vegetable moussaki.

Sunday, October 28.

Luckily found open the store at which you swipe a card and pay some money, and then you receive a code to type into a box so your electricity turns back on. Purchased a large package of dried prunes. Apparently the prescriptions to rid the dark recesses of my organs of fungus, is working too well. Rode in a taxi who’s driver suffered from either schizophrenia and/or Tourette’s, so while not an unpleasant experience, I didn’t know whether he was talking to me or himself, and I found myself leaning forward to say “pardon me” several times without needing to.

Monday, October 29.

The Peace Centre director and his family are from France, and upon hearing about his arrival, the French Ambassador to Zambia scheduled an official visit. Many, many refugees showed up, and it was quite an experience. The choir performed, the drama group entertained, the Burundian Drummers drummed, there were interviews, speeches, and a few hours later, she zipped away.

Things that might have made this morning more enjoyable:
1. speak French
2. get sufficient sleep the night before
3. find shade
4. bring water
5. speak French
6. don’t be ill
7. avoid the guy who thinks I can sponsor him to be relocated to the USA
8. speak French

The director’s daughter in the audience during the drama group’s sketch:


Drying on the roof of the PC restaurant; I’m sure this will be someone’s lunch:


This afternoon, Maeve and I (Maeve is a photographer from Ireland in town for a couple months helping with Barefeet) head out to Hope Foundation, a youth center for girls, where we plan on teaching a photography workshop. But as we are in Zambia, it doesn’t happen – something else is going on and we reschedule for next week. We were happy to stay and watch though – the girls were learning a dance for the festival week, and it turned out to be quite an enjoyable afternoon.



Pic looking outside Hope Foundation, which is in one of the many compounds in Lusaka:



Tuesday, October 30.

Mini-vacation until Saturday to Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania, with Becca and Alison, a Brit working with Barefeet. Checking in for our flight, the tight-lipped Zambian Airways desk agent scans our passports. She gets to mine and looks up at the three of us, and lands on me. Making a joke, I say “that’s her’s” and point to Becca. She looks down, looks up at Becca, and her eyes move back to me. Her expression stays the same. Clearly a joke, but funny only to me. We laugh, then she finally follows with a smile. Apparently, that opened the floodgates of speech, because she looked at Alison’s and made a comment about her grim-faced picture, and then held Becca’s up with her thumb and pinkie –like I remember my first grade teacher held a book while she read to the class – and said “you are prettier here,” pointing to the passport.

Finally sitting on the plane (after causing a bit of a stir in the immigration line), we buckle in and feel like we’re leaving the stress of our “jobs” in Lusaka behind, if but for a short while.

While deplaning in Dar es Salaam, I am standing in the row facing my seat, repacking my book and waiting for the cabin door to open. The lady across from the aisle slides into the aisle to do the same, and stops while we’re standing rear-to-rear. She stopped while still touching me. Rules of personal space indicate in close quarters that inadvertently touching people is to be expected, but when you graze by someone, you keep moving until you’re surrounded by air again. She stood in the aisle, the back of her body leaning into the back of mine, and didn’t move. I suddenly felt horribly claustrophobic and, not so gracefully, returned to my seat.

A short flight to Zanzibar and we were just in time to see the giant orange orb sink in a pink fire sky, past the horizon, silhouetting dozens of dhow boats. Dhows are like sailboats, but have a beautiful, slightly curved and squatty shape, simple and elegant.

Wednesday, October 31.

I am extremely popular on this island. I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard “I like your style!” but it still doesn’t make up for the fact that someone asked me if I was Britney Spears last night.

There are Maasai all over here, and 50% of the time “I like your style” is followed by “are you Maasai?” because of the haircut. I quickly learn “Tuo itwe Maasai,” “I am Maasai,” and it becomes a bit of a joke when I say it. The Maasai here are hawking their wares, though I approach their presence with a bit of skepticism. They are a tribe/culture that fascinates me – my first impression of Africa was from the pages of National Geographic as a little girl, seeing pictures of long-legged, red-clothed Maasai men in mid-jump with giant holes for earrings and intricate beaded adornment. And here they were, following the tourists, trying to make a buck by selling the same carvings and jewelry that all the other 1000 vendors were. My skepticism is well-founded as I learned that they weren’t necessarily the real thing.

Alison, who is fluent in Kiswahili, is handy to have around, and she makes nice with everyone, and Becca and I reap the rewards of her positive interaction with the locals.

Becca at a now empty bath house:


Becca sat next to a cat and it decided it didn’t want company:


So many options for dinner:


I had read in a guidebook about taraab music, which has its roots in Islamic culture I think, and so tonight we set off to find the Culture Music Club, which apparently has music every night. The guidebook made it seem a bit like a low-key night club, but we found something else entirely.

We settled on taking a taxi since it was after dark, we didn’t know exactly where it was, and the taxi driver told us it was 1.5 kilometers away. .25 kms later, the taxi dropped us, took our money, and the three of us stood under the fluorescent-lit sign that read “Culture Music Club.” But we heard nothing. A large man leaning against a car, without looking at us, tells us we’re late and it’s a $2 entry fee. We hear a few instruments tinker around and then stop. Since we’re late, we offer the man $1 each, and he agrees to take us to the music. We enter the mostly quiet building through the door under the sign, walk past a parked moped in the hallway, past a room full of loud men, and then go up a steep cement staircase, ascending into the darkness. At the top of the steps, there is a large pile of powdered cement, some scaffolding, and scattered wood. We follow the man into a large cement room, lit by two vertically mounted fluorescent lights on opposite walls. A dozen or so men and a single woman sit in colorful plastic lawn chairs and make up the orchestra, and about a dozen ladies, dressed and veiled in kangas, sit in the same colorful plastic lawn chairs that face the orchestra. Everyone stares at the three white girls with exposed skin walking in. The man we gave our $3 to dusts of three chairs and motions for us to sit, and we do while being watched.

Finally, the practice got back underway (or started back up after our disruption). There is a small keyboard, 2 piano accordions, 2 violins, 2 hand drums, a bass, some sort of wooden wind instrument, and a large lap instrument that looked something like the shape of a dulcimer, which was plucked with finger picks. A black cord snaked across the cement floor in front of the musicians and connected to a lone microphone, to which one of the ladies from the audience stepped up. The music really is beautiful, and she had an entrancing voice. I heard (what I recognized as) middle-eastern influence in the 1/16th notes, minor keys, nasally singing, the whine of the strings… It was enchanting, especially when the rest of the women joined the chorus, their strong voices completely filling the space.

There was a man sitting in front of us who fell asleep – the only other audience member, until another man walked in and took a seat in front of the sleeper, who had awaken because of the disturbance. The new guy appeared to be missing his large toe on his right foot, and I wondered where it ended up.

So, a bit of a bizarre experience, but quite enjoyable. When it finished (they sang several extra songs because we showed up), and we were told it was over and we could leave, we were very politely thanked for coming.

Katie Albert

PO Box 6536
Folsom, CA 95763
November 2007
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