Well, my time in Zambia is winding down. I leave Saturday morning (1 a.m. Dallas time) for a flight marathon — 10.5 hours to London, then 8.5 hours back to D.C. Actually, marathons don’t take that long. Although they do involve more caloric exertion, I presume.

This won’t be my last post (I don’t think, at least), but I figured it’s as good a time as any to recap some bests and worsts of the trip:

Best purchase: The 12-inch fan I bought about three weeks in. Yeah, US$30 was a bit much to pay, but the weeks of relative coolness that followed have been soooo worth it. Sleep has been almost bearable!

Worst fashion decision: My purchase, at a cost of $8, of a white polo shirt at a D.C. Gap just before leaving. Not that it isn’t a fine shirt, but white is not the color to wear in the Zambian dry season. Five seconds outside leave you with a fine coat of brown dust. Stay any longer outside and your forehead’ll start sweating — tempting you to wipe it dry with your sleeve, and thus leaving huge black and brown marks on your no-longer-white shirt.

Best intentions unfulfilled: My multimedia ambitions. I brought a small video camera here, thinking I might pull together something for TV. I used it once. (Although I may get something salvageable for DallasNews.com from that one time.) I’ve already discussed how my radio dreams went up in smoke.

Line I’m most sick of hearing from staff at Chachacha Backpackers: “Josh, you work too hard. Have some fun!” True, sure, but I don’t need to hear it 3,674 times.

Thing I’ll miss most about Chachacha: The way everybody puts the emphasis on the second syllable (“chaCHAcha”).

Thing I won’t miss about Chachacha: Having the room next to the bar, whose blaring music made sleep impossible before 12:30 a.m., even on those (many) nights with 7:00 a.m. appointments scheduled the next day.

Interview subject I was most tempted to pick up, stow in a British Airways overhead compartment, and ship back to the U.S.: Chileshe, a 15-year-old girl I interviewed today. She’s been HIV positive since birth and has been crushed by TB for the last six years. If you saw her on the street, you’d think she’s eight or nine at the oldest — maybe 65 pounds, if that. (And that’s up from about 55 a couple months ago.)

She stopped going to school earlier this year because she couldn’t take the teasing and discrimination from the other students. When she walked into a classroom, all the other kids would run out, or at least move to the opposite corner of the room to yell names at her. But Chileshe took action! She found a youth counselor at a local NGO and convinced them to put on a play at her school about AIDS, about discrimination, and why people shouldn’t be mean to her. Anyway, she’s still sick with TB, but she hopes to go back to school when the new term starts in January. Just a darling, sweet girl. Wants to be an accountant when she grows up, loves math. Makes doormats to sell so her mom can feed the family. (Her mom’s great, too.) If someone has a couple hundred dollars lying around and wants to make Chileshe’s day/year/life (so she can attend a private school where she won’t be brutalized so ruthlessly), let me know.

Local term I’ll remember most clearly: muzungu, which in Nyanja means “white dude” (roughly). I’ve spent much of the last week in the compounds, the dirt-poor neighborhoods of Lusaka — no running water, no electricity, no real roads, just poverty and death. Whenever I’d roll through in my taxi, on my way to an interview, I’d hear it from every direction: Muzungu! Muzungu! Normally said by six-year-old boys in a totally friendly and welcoming fashion (although occasionally by drunken teenagers in a less friendly way).

Aspect of Zambian culture that would have the American Dental Association shaking its collective head in dismay: Coca-Cola is considered something like a health drink here. I can’t tell you how many people here lump beverages into two categories: good and healthful (milk, water, Coke) and evil (beer). A Coke or three at 7 a.m. is considered a perfectly acceptable pick-me-up. (Zambians aren’t big coffee drinkers, which may explain the caffeine substitution pattern. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve even seen a cup of coffee in six weeks.)

Best sneaky good drink: The whiskey and ice cream concoction at Cafe Fra Gigi at Manda Hill. Only had it once, but boy, did it hit the spot on a sweaty hot afternoon.

20 November 2003


21 November | 13:32  |  Sinclair

Have a safe trip home. Keep an eye open for Dubyah at the Heathrow duty-free shop...

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