Ndola Part I

Reading this week:

  • The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

My service is coming to a close here in a few months, and so I messaged our HQ here in Peace Corps Zambia to ask how many vacation days I had left and found out I had a whopping 14. It was too late to plan an extravagant foreign adventure, and I have my COS trip coming up anyways, so I decided to go visit Lily up in Northwestern Province (also because as I was complaining about all these vacation days I had to spend, she asked “why don’t you just come visit me?”). I couldn’t just hang out at her site for two weeks however; I gotta make an adventure of it. The first part of that grand adventure is hanging out in Ndola.

Ndola is a Copperbelt city, and the third largest in Zambia. I haven’t heard a lot about it, frankly, because there isn’t much Peace Corps presence here due to it being fairly well-off from all the copper mining in the area. Zambia (Other Places Travel Guide) notes that Ndola “reflects the glory days of the 1960s,” by which it apparently means when the price of copper was high and not British colonialism. This reflection is specifically in a bunch of colonial-era buildings like the one pictures at the top. I stayed at the New Ambassador Hotel, which is one of those buildings and notes on the sign to the restaurant that “smart dress” is required.

I had two nights and a whole day to spend in Ndola seeing the sights. The first of these was the Slave Tree. The Slave Tree is a mupapa tree under which, apparently, Swahili slave traders held councils of war and held meetings concerning their slave trading. The slaves from this area were apparently sold to traders in modern-day Angola. The Slave Tree these days is in a sort of out of the way corner of central Ndola but still has commerce going on around and under it, but of a far more palatable nature (carpentry, specifically). Ndola is actually the oldest of the officially incorporated Colonial-era towns in Zambia, having been “founded” in 1904 but was obviously a commercial and trading center from long before then.

As I have mentioned before, slavery and the slave trade is perhaps the major driving force of much of the history of the past few centuries in this area, and it is important to think about how that shapes the current landscape. The commemorate this history the Slave Tree has a plaque noting that history.

With the Slave Tree visited, my next stop was what had actually brought me to Ndola, The Copperbelt Museum. The national museums in Zambia are the Livingstone, Lusaka, Choma, Moto Moto, Nayuma, and Copperbelt Museum. I had been to the others (except Nayuma, which is out in Western) so to be completionist I wanted to go to this one. It took me a bit to find it even though it is right where the map says it is; it’s in a regular-looking building tucked between two other shops on the street. I showed up when it opened at 0900 and had the place to myself.

Ceremonial dress worn by a Likishi dancer from Northwestern Province.

The museum is pretty small. I was expecting to spend a few hours in there but ran through it in 30 minutes; then again, as discussed, I am a pretty experienced Zambian museum-goer. It has two galleries, including an ethnographic exhibit and a geography exhibit. The geography exhibit is about showing off the natural resources of the copperbelt region. It discusses the mining and smelting of copper, from traditional methods to modern-day. It also shows off the gemstones and other minerals found in Zambia. As the DRC is well aware, this area is one of the richest in mineral resources.

Forge for working with iron and copper.

The ethnographic exhibit was pretty excellent even if it was small, with a wide range of artifacts and some interesting stuff on witchcraft. It also had a very small side gallery with stuffed birds from the area, and a butterfly exhibit that has seen better days. The artifacts are mounted right on the wall instead of behind glass cases, which I guess isn’t great for the artifacts but really let me get a close look. I always like to mentally prepare for a hypothetical where I am deposited on a deserted island or something and have to re-create civilization, and it’s good to know how to make a bubble pipe for tobacco, you know?

Please join me next week for the creatively titled Ndola Part II!

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Lake Tang for New Year’s

Reading this week:

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (it’s phenomenal)
  • The End of Poverty by Jeffrey D. Sachs

For New Year’s, Lily and I went to go visit Lake Tanganyika. We stayed at Luke’s Beach, which is the go-to for Peace Corps Volunteers because it’s the cheapest. It is a very nice facility, but you have to bring in all your own food and charcoal and stuff, hence the low price. We decided to camp, although they have chalets.

Lake Tang this time of year is very nice. It’s rainy season, so you do get the occasional rain storm, but besides that it is sunny and warm and there are palm trees and it’s very quiet and relaxing. So that’s nice. The coolest part of our visit though was that while we were waiting on the water taxi to take us there, a woman walked over and introduced herself to us as Hope. Hope is the current manager of the Kalambo Falls Lodge, which somewhat confusingly is on the lakefront. I didn’t even know the place existed, but Hope invited us over to visit the next day and hang out.

So the next day we made the relatively short hike from Luke’s Beach over to Kalambo Fall’s Lodge and man that place is nice. They have a whole chunk of the shoreline with piers going out into the lake that look like a lovely spot for a cocktail. They are expanding and have chalets and full-board service. Hope, who’s business card reads “Manageress,” is very nice and enthusiastic about the lodge. When we walked over she served us up tea and then took us on a tour of the place.

The lodge was originally founded as a fish breeding center. The guy who originally built the place would breed and sell the cichlids from Lake Tang to the exotic fish market. In more recent years, the lodge has opened, and its major clientele are actually different research institutes who come in and use the lodge’s unique facilities to study the lake’s ecosystems. Their star attraction is Sir Percy, who they believe to be the only Golden Nile Perch in captivity. The suckers are apparently fairly rare, and can’t usually be captured alive. Sir Percy is 30 years old and in good health, and could apparently live to be about 60. Hope was kind enough to toss him a fish for us to watch him eat it, and the guy is faster than he looks.

After an afternoon hanging out at the lodge, we head back to our tent, passing through a fishing village on the way. Lily wasn’t feeling well, but I stopped anyways to get a picture of a boat being built on the waterfront. There are two standard designs for boats on this end of the lake, including a small canoe and a larger boat, pictured above halfway finished. I didn’t get a chance to ask many questions, but the fact that all these boats are built by artisans all around the shores of the lake is pretty cool. They’re sturdy vessels and last a good chunk of time.

Iron Smelting

Me and the lungu.

The final adventure Katie and I went on during my visit was to visit an iron smelter near her site. I had been wanting to see one of these for a while, and the one pictured above is within walking distance of Katie’s house.

One of the more significant things about the Bantu people is that they were an iron-age culture when they first arrived in the area, displacing the stone-aged bushmen. Being an iron-age culture of course requires iron, and the way you get iron is by smelting it. You smelt it in an iron smelter, called a lungu.

Please excuse the poor quality of the above two pictures (I took them in the museum in Lusaka, where photography, it turns out, is not permitted), but they demonstrate how the iron smelters worked. They were basically tall clay cylinders with holes in the bottom and open at the top. To smelt iron, you layered them up with wood, charcoal, and iron ore. Iron is fairly abundant in the region, and if you have seen any of my other pictures this is evident with all of our red clay. Once you lit this sucker on fire, the intense heat from all the burning wood and charcoal, fanned by bellows leading into the bottom of the smelter, would melt the iron out of the ore and leave it in the bottom of the lungu. The iron could then be taken and shaped into different tools or implements, such as hoes or spear points. The act of smelting itself involved a ceremony with naked men, and women were not allowed lest their presence ruin the iron.

The whole Mbala area is, or was, littered with these lungus. Since they’re really just clay cylinders, it is safe to assume the majority of them have been knocked down, but a few (like the one at the top) survive. They are pretty significant for the region. I’ve mentioned it before, but the tribe I (and Katie) live with is actually the Lungu tribe (close relations of the Mambwe), and it is my assumption that they are named after the iron smelters (a book I have on Mambwe proverbs theorizes that “Mambwe” is actually derived from the word for “stone,” so if I were the Lungu I would play up that rivalry, even though both are Bantu and iron-age cultures). One of the things that struck me about this particular lungu is that it is in the very shadow of Liamba Hill. Liamba Hill is a giant stone-aged tool factory, and in the shadow of it is an iron smelter, the first step in iron-age tool production. That means the whole area has been a fairly continuous center for tool production and industry for literally hundreds of thousands of years. Not too shabby Mbala, not too shabby.

As a final note on my visit to Katie’s, the above picture is of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes she is growing. She grew her original vines from potatoes I grew and then distrubted to different PCVs after I attended the OFSP workshop. Distributing seed to a bunch of different PCVs has worked really well and really got these Vitamin A powerhouses spread out all over Mbala and Northern & Muchinga Provinces. Katie (and others) have gotten their community interested in orange sweet potatoes and she has already distributed vines with more planned in the future. I was just especially proud to see those vines above in person, because they’re like my grandchildren potatoes. Grandpotatoes. They just grow up so fast, you know?

Tanzanian Munada

Entrance to Munada.

Reading this week:

  • The Family Trade by Charles Stross
  • The Hidden Family by Charles Stross
  • The Clan Corporate by Charles Stross
  • The Merchant’s War by Charles Stross
  • The Revolution Business by Charles Stross
  • Trade of Queens by Charles Stross
  • Calypso by David Sedaris

This past weekend I went to go visit my friend Katie, and while I was there she took me to Tanzanian Munada. I wrote about Munada before, but it is just a regularly occuring shopping day that happens once or twice a month in different spots. The vendors, I am lead to believe, travel around so different villages have access to a market day. Katie lives pretty near the border to Tanzania, so it is pretty easy to pop over there to go shopping.

Actually, it is phenomenally easy. The above picture is the border. This is looking towards Zambia from the Tanzania side, and there are no border controls. There is the ruins of a little guard shack further up the hill, but unless the bridge goes out there is nothing keeping people from crossing over. I suppose that isn’t so weird. The people just across the border are, you know, stunningly similar to the people on the other side of the border, both being Mambwe and all. To make things even easier, Munada here accepts both Zambia Kwatcha and Tanzanian Shillings. Handy!

Munada over in Tanzania was a pretty standard affair. Katie tells me it is usually bigger, but it appears in the rainy season a number of the vendors are scared off. Plus it was pretty early on a Sunday, so maybe we just hadn’t hit the big crowds yet. The wares for sale at Munada were pretty standard, but covered just about everything. You need bowls? They got bowls. You need chitenge? They got chitenge. You need second hand clothing? They got it. Animals? Check. Seeds? Fertilizer? Got it in droves. Random electrical components or cell phones? Bro, we got you.

I did like the setup of this Munada though because it had more corridors, which lent the whole thing more of a bazaar feel, which was cool. As we wandered around, we didn’t wind up buying much of anything. They had some neat chitenge, but nothing we were really looking for. I admired a tropical-looking polo, but while it was neat it wasn’t the 20 kwatcha they were asking for neat. We did wind up with some vegetables, and we also bought a watermelon as a treat. Overall it was worth seeing, even if just for the novelty of taking a jaunt over to Tanzania just to go shopping. So a good way to spend a Sunday morning.