Books

Reading this week:

  • The Tango War by Mary Jo McConahay
  • A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong

During community entry, one day a kid randomly asked me for a book. I don’t know if this was a thing the previous volunteer had done or something, but I had no kid-appropriate books. I had some books for, you know, me to read, but being an erudite adult and stuff they didn’t have pictures. Pictures are significant because most of the kids don’t read English, and anyways this kid was like, I dunno, four? The ages of kids are very mysterious to me. I handed the kid an issue of WorldView Magazine I had laying around along with a book on raising rabbits, which had pictures of rabbits in the back. The kid seemed satisfied, and sat in my insaka for a bit flipping through the things.

But lemme tell ya, the kid was a little too satisfied. Must have told his friends because more kids would show up to ask for books and flip through the same WorldView and rabbit book. Luckily (I type that but maybe it wasn’t so lucky) another PCV’s mom sent down a whole bunch of children’s books. The PCV offered a bunch up for other people to grab so I got some of them. They were children’s books, so big on pictures which was good. Their favorite had to have been one on snakes; I would always hear gasps of “inzoka!” (Mambwe for “snake,” if you hadn’t guessed) coming from outside.

That’s the happy portion of this story. I suppose it is all happy, really, if you’re not a grumpy fart like me. The books raise several problems. First off, I kept them inside, so every time the kids would want to read them I would have to get up out of my chair, quite a task, pick up the books, and hand them to the kids. Their usual routine was to flip through all the books, which took about 30 minutes, and then hand them back to me. Then they would run off only to return like 30 minutes later and ask to begin the routine again. Continue throughout the day, ad nauseum. Even like, wayyyy too early in the morning and way too late at night. Like damnit kids. They would also ask for the books when I was clearly in the middle of something. I appreciate your dedication to literature, small child, but I’m not stopping in the middle of my brick-laying to go get the books for me, no matter how loudly and often you ask. The books could escalate into a whole dramatic thing quickly, when one kid tried to wander with a book, leading quickly to other kids yelling, then their parents yelling, then screaming, and then someone handing a book back to me with a stern or contrite expression, depending on their age.

The whole problem was briefly solved when some kid just walked off with the whole stack one day. Kids would ask for books and I would just say “I don’t have,” and that was that. But then my parents came to visit and asked if they could bring anything, and I foolishly said children’s books. They made this a mission, eventually amassing 60 pounds (max for a suitcase on the airplane) of children’s books. This was too many books, so I grabbed the ones with the best pictures and offered up the rest to my fellow PCVs, and I was back in the book business. And so the endless headaches began again.

The only candid shot I could get; their absolute favorite thing, even more than books or pestering me for books, is getting their picture taken.

My biggest wish is that I could convey to the kids that I don’t care about the books. The kids, they care a lot. I got the bright idea after a while to just leave the books outside in the morning, with the theory that the kids could just take and return books as they pleased. This is a big fat NOPE. The kids insist on asking me every time they take a book. MPEKWINI MABOOKU, they sound in their way too loud children’s voices. And they insist on alerting me every time they put the book back. Cool, kid. The books being outside means I don’t have to stand up as often, but it attracts more kids so I get pestered about books more often, so I’m not sure if it is the better method or not. I think what the kids dislike the most is that it deprives them of their absolute favorite thing, which is returning the books to me. Since I have taken to just continuing to sit in my chair as the kids hand the books back to me, it means they get to come into my house briefly to gawk at the things on my walls and my white person existence. So they parade in through my house one by one to loudly return the books they will inevitably ask for again in 30 minutes. You’d think they would get bored of the same 20 or so books I have eventually, but again, nope. Today, the whole stack of books was outside, but they kept asking me for the “nice book,” which of course a) I have no idea which one that is and b) all the books are in that stack, man. You have all the books (these kids are greedy little bastards and don’t want to share; if one kid has a book every kid wants their own). Children.

But the kids like the books so I make the books available, and I dunno, maybe one of these kids is learning to read or discovering more of the world. I hope the one kid that wandered off with my first stack is using them well, and not just for firewood or to prop up an endtable. The books have gone way better than the brief time I had coloring books and crayons; that was really a zoo with some Lord of the Flies stuff before long (poor Piggy). And when the kids aren’t being selfish and hitting each other to get the better book, and when their big brother or sister comes out to walk them through the book, it is pretty nice to watch them read out there. When they’re quiet at least.

I also got to hold a baby goat today, hooray!

Gardening Pics

Smol.

Reading this week:

  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (I wish they had mentioned his non-fiction works back in school, just to teach kids that the same guy who wrote Animal Farm can also write “…when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.”)

Not a lot has gone on this week, so here are some pictures of my garden. The whole thing is vastly overgrown because I have been gone for a month and I haven’t been able to weed it because I had to clean the dirt and mold out of my house.

My pigeon pea forest is coming along nicely. In the middle is soy; the plants growing where I had made charcoal are pretty large and already have seed pods.

In the bottom of this profusion of green and in between the pigeon pea are ground nuts (peanuts). I was hoping they would have been ready to harvest by now but alas, no.

Aaaaand that is the garden. Hopefully something exciting happens by next week.

The Source of the Zambezi

Me and The SOURCE

After my time in Ndola, the real goal of my Northwestern adventure was the source of the Zambezi River. The source is in the very tippy-top northwestern corner of Northwestern Province, and is therefore very out of the way. Seeing the source is meaningful in its own way, as it begins the journey of the river that eventually cascades over Victoria Falls, but really the site is a tiny little spring under a tree. The inaccessibility of the site and the fact it is kinda silly but also important makes it my idea of an ideal adventure goal. So after a week at Lily’s site, we travelled back to Solwezi to catch a bus to Mwinilunga, where we stayed for two nights as part of this adventure.

Mwinilunga is a pretty nice little town, known for growing pineapples and being pretty wet. It’s right on the border of the DRC and the Peace Corps Volunteers that live here claim it is the friendliest town in Zambia and home to the best chicken. On their advice, we booked a taxi with Ba Silver to take us the 50km or so from Mwinilunga to the source (or The SOURCE, as I prefer to type it). The road past Mwinilunga is dirt, and despite a few rough patches I think it is actually nicer than the pot-holed tarmac road between Mwinilunga and Solwezi.

The source is located in a tiny little national monument slash protected forest area, and it is really nice. At the end of the road into the area there is a Visitor Information Center with some displays on the Zambezi, and then behind the center there is a path that leads down to the source. The source itself is located in a valley, and there are elevated wooden walkways to keep you out of the mud. The forest is beautiful and since it is a protected area, it is very dense. The birds were singing in force and apparently there are bushbabies around, though it being about noon and all we didn’t see any.

In addition to the source itself, there is a monument to Independance at the site. The Zambezi River is very important to Zambia. The name Zambia is derived from the Zambezi, and the river is Zambia’s longest (Africa’s 4th longest), forming a part of the border and of course featuring the mighty Victoria Falls. The Zambezi floodplain in Western province is home to Zambia’s most well-known cultural festival. So it is appropriate that this out-of-the-way forest house a monument to Zambia’s very independance.

A cool tree spanning the MIGHTY ZAMBEZI.

The source itself is a tiny little spring under a tree (pictured up top). I don’t know how they decide which little spring specifically is the source, but they picked a picturesque one. The paths that wind through the forest follow the little stream the comes from the spring as it gets bigger. I just thought it was really cool to think that this was the MIGHTY ZAMBEZI that just a few (hundred) miles downstream I have taken a booze cruise on.

With my quest for the source of the mighty Zambezi complete, we went to the other cool part of the park: the border with the DRC. The DRC is a little mysterious for us PCVs because we’re not allowed to go there, but right there at the source is an international boundary marker. So I took a chance to break the rules and illegally cross into the ole’ DR Congo. So that was neat.

After that we went back to Mwinilunga. We only got stuck in the mud once!

Ndola Part II

Reading this week:

  • History of the Twentieth Century (Concise Edition) by Martin Gilbert
  • Circe by Madeline Miller (fantastic)

Having completed my two major goals for the day by 0930, I decided to go visit the Dag Hammarskjöld Crash Site Memorial. This site is a bit hard to get to if you don’t have a car (I always wish I had a car or a bike or even a razor scooter on these adventures), though that is a function of being at the location where Dag’s plane crashed, and I can’t hold that against him. I toyed with the idea of trying to hitch or take a bus and walk, but it was raining and I decided to just take a taxi. My taxi driver was a nice guy named Honest, and after conferring with his taxi driver friends to figure out where the place was, we were off.

Honest and I had the site to ourselves. The caretaker of the memorial seemed very bored and was very enthusiastic about telling us about the site and especially around the consipiracy theories involving Dag Hammarskjöld’s death. I leave it to the internet to discuss the UN General Secretary’s (extensive and impressive) legacy, but the site is very nice. I think they put a lot of effort into keeping it up because of its proximity to Ndola, and the fact that a memorial is held every year on September 18th to commemorate the crash. The President of Zambia and delegations from the UN come to pay their respects.

The spot where they found Dag Hammarskjöld’s body.

There is a pavilion that houses displays about the crash, Dag’s mission at the time, and the function of the UN, along with a small “library” of relevant publications. There is a cenotaph in the center of the site with quotes from Dag, and at the exact spot where they found his body another marker. The site is very pretty and worth a visit, though we left kinda quick because I found the caretaker a bit overbearing. I think Honest enjoyed it though.

With those adventures wrapped up by lunch, it was time to do something a little less certain: try to find the Polish Memorial. So far these have been impossible for me to locate. There are actually several Polish Monuments in Zambia, which commemorate Polish refugees that came to Northern Rhodesia during WWII. There is one in Mbala I have never located, and I didn’t locate the one in Ndola either. The map in my travel guide showed it at a spot about 6km from my hotel. I asked one taxi guy if he knew where it was but thought I was looking for shoe polish, so I set off on foot. Unlike the morning, where it was raining and I didn’t bring a rain jacket, this time I brought a rain jacket and it was hot and sunny.

The 6km took me a little over an hour and some sunburn, and brought me to a concrete factory. That was interesting to look at, with the rail line leading to it and the canals around it, but didn’t bring me to the Polish Memorial. After scouting around for a bit and deciding I had failed, I was lucky to flag down a company bus from Zambezi Cement Company that was nice enough to give me a ride back and drop me off at the hotel. If I have a major criticism for Zambia, it is that doing anything touristy outside of Livingstone is extremely difficult. It’s hard to find where stuff is if you even know it exists, and there is no infrastructure to get you there. I think investments in tourism infrastructure could go a really long way into making Zambia a destination popular with far more than just the chartered-flights-to-safaris crowd. But that’s just me.

My final adventure was to the Ndola Boating and Sailing Club. I am a huge sucker for yacht clubs and was excited to find my second in Zambia. My big plan was to go here for dinner, which was dashed after I arrived and found out they didn’t serve food. They did serve beer though, which is the only requirement for a yacht club. I mention that because they didn’t have any yachts. I’m not actually disappointed in that, because if they did I’d just be jealous because Mbala’s yacht club doesn’t either. Still, the place has a lovely view, and there were two dudes in a canoe poling about.

Overall my time in Ndola was pretty nice. I saw what I wanted to see. I do wish I had a car because then I could have really gone on some adventures. Zambia has so much to offer for sightseeing and adventures that aren’t crazy expensive safaris, but man do you need a 4×4 and a lot of gumption to really do it.