Monday, February 15, 2010

Room 12

In the land where you pay most everything in person and in cash I should not be surprised at how business is conducted. The gov’t introduced on the sly a new ‘carbon tax’ on vehicles which we only heard about because a few people we know had been caught in a road block and had to pay fees for not having their carbon tax stickers on their cars by the 31st Jan deadline. Despite that we just paid our ‘road fitness’ tax on 18 January and our licensing fees for the new year I was surprised - we didn’t know about this new tax.

This week, I finally got down the Ridgeway office. It’s the Office of I don’t even know what, but someone took me there once on one of many unsuccessful attempts to get a ‘conversion license’ and again and again for many other car and license-related things, so I assumed (always dangerous) I could sort things out there. These offices/pay windows are tucked away in a jumble of un-named streets and a mess of governement blocks -- department of energy, department of land, department of who knows what else. I never have seen a sign that indicates this is the place to go to get your car paperwork and licensing done. There are numbers on the doors to the different offices. To find out where to go, you have to duck your head into a random office, interrupt someone’s work or conversation. There is some method to the madness I'm certain. Or am I?

It is actually pretty obvious where you need to go... the place where everyone else is going: Room 12, the room with the crowd of people spilling out.

At the entrance to Room 12, there is a vague queue but also a vague non-queue and the added confusion of not knowing if you are in the right queue or even the right room.

I waited for a good hour, just praying the whole time I had the correct paperwork, enough money, a person with a working computer and a backup generator. Many of the other patrons waiting are 'agents' whose work is to take care of peoples' car paperwork and stand in long lines. They may be taking care of any number of peoples' car business. It is funny to think that you can get a 'road fitness' PASS sticker without having anyone even look at your vehicle, without having to pass any sort of inspection or emissions test. Paying the carbon tax was a pretty painless transaction but I had to stifle laughter when I paid and got a receipt.

“Is there a sticker?” The police require a sticker.


There were no stickers. Not “We are out of stickers” or “you have to go with your receipt to room 9 get a sticker” but there are simply no stickers.... anywhere .... nor plans to make any stickers.

”What do I do?” I’m feeling really dense at this point.

“You need to take a photocopy of the receipt and reduce it to the appropriate size and made a sticker for your car.”

Of course I do.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mwinilunga and Solwezi Portraits

Just In Case Butchery... is actually a bar.

Northwestern Province is one of the more 'out there' places to go within Zambia; it squeezed in between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Geographically/geologically it is more related to the wet tropical forests of central Africa than to the dry Kalhari Desert climates found more in Southern Africa. The mighty Zambezi River begins here in Northwestern: "The river rises in a black marshy dambo in NWern Zambia, in the dense, undulating miombo woodland about 4900 feet above sea level." It sounds dramatic and mysterious. The Zambezi flows into Angola, back to Zambia, and somehow tangles through (or along the borders of) Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique before emptying into the Indian Ocean. The 2008 "River of Life Expedition" has some great photos and information about the Zambezi but also about our favorite topic, malaria. The ROL Expedition was designed to raise awareness about the extreme living conditions along the Zambezi and the difficulty of supplying communities along the Zambezi with appropriate and effective malaria control prevention and treatment options.

On a lighter note, Northwestern Province is known for honey of all things! Over 6,000 traditional bark hive beekeepers sell their honey, propolis extract, and beeswax worldwide....even The Body Shop is a client. Nearly half of the honey coming to the EU from Africa comes from NW. The honey is the reported to fetch prices 50% higher than other imported honey because of its purity (did you know your honey or your honey could have antibiotics in it?) and taste. Yum. There are many poverty alleviation and development projects underway to improve the marketing and management of honey production, beekeeping and sustainable forestry practices, including a 2 year old development project through Gonzaga University which sells the honey under the label: Zambia Gold. If you see it in the shops, let us know if it's as wonderful as they say....we can't get it in Lusaka! In fact, until late 2009 we could only get imported honey or drive 10 h to buy it on the side of the road up in NW.

Apologies for the lack of beekeeper photos, I'm not in charge of the camera once it leaves Lusaka. Here are some 'portraits' from TJs Solwezi/Mwuinilunga Northwestern Province trip.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sticks and Stones

A baby catches a nap during a drama performance at Munilinga, NW Province

After much grumbling about being stuck in Lusaka (this place tends to induce claustrophobia) and complaining about the lack of excitement in our lives (my previous posts as clear evidence....) we had some good drama this week. TJ was travelling up in Northwestern Province, up at the border with DRC, to Solwezi and Munilinga. The day they left there were riots in Solwezi. There had been and early morning hit and run accident where some pupils (pronounced “pee-oooo-peeeillls”) out for a morning jog; one student was killed and several other injured.

The response by students (a common one) was to trash some cars and damage property. TJs group managed to get on the road without getting into trouble. Soon after they got underway, however, their trip was interupted by a parade of people carrying a coffin overhead. From what we’ve been able to sort out, in Northwestern Province when someone dies you consult with a witchdoctor who will help you find out ‘why.’ Or more accurately, in ‘who is responsible?

After the body/coffin is consulted, a crowd carries the coffin which leads them, ouija-board-style, to the residence of the responsible party. What happens next is anyone’s guess but having a dead body in a wood coffin lead an angry crowd of mourning villagers to your doorstep can’t be a good thing.

But this is TJ’s adventure. My big excitement was the fact that our trusty Landcruiser turned over 200,000km and now needs a new timing belt (and a carbon tax sticker - some new way to extract an additional 150,000kw from taxpayers). I was whinging about the fact that this happened not on the way to the Kafue Gorge or coming home from Lake Tanginika but on our way to school. As luck would have it (I’m not saying what kind of luck), the car and I were due for an landmark adventure.

We went out last night, at 7 to meet with some friends and a colleague of TJs who is headed back to the US. In the three hours we were gone the students at UNZA had decided they were fed up, they had not yet been paid their food and book allowances, and were having some other issues. (They have a long list of complaints.) Their response was the same as the students in Solwezi...riots.

This is a bit misleading to put this photo here. These are the police that were in attendance at TJs meeting at Solwezi. They were there to do a gun salute to mark the beginning and ending of the meeting. I really didn't think the police in Lusaka would appreciate my photojournalism efforts at their post-riot postings--although whenever I have asked to photograph police officers they willingly oblige.

I must mention that the entrance to the campus is on Great East Road (below) about 1km from our house. I also must mention that Great East Road is a 4 lane road with limited access on and off, tall barrier fences and deep drainage canals between the lanes. Once you are on Great East there is no getting off or turning around, only going forward. I usually take a little side road that runs parallel to GE -- there are many large, virtually invisible speed bumps, lots of pedestrians and bicyclists in the morning and many distractions like impromptu car-wash stations and taxi stands, puncture repair stops, etc. but at least you can turn off or turn around if things get harried.

We managed to miss the actual riot but saw the evidence - stones and bottles littered the road, there were a few broken riot shields strewn about, the place was a mess. The military police (who have a very bad track record as far as their response to students throwing stones - they fire back with live amunition) were there but really just a few so we proceeded home through the mess but on the filter road as the main road was blocked off.

Most but not all of the rioters had been cleared out. I say ‘most’ b/c mid-way down the street our car was struck. We thought twice but wisely didn’t linger to inspect the damage or look around to see who tossed the thing. Getting caught in a riot of any sort is not something you want to do. We were rattled but b/c we didn’t see anyone and noticed only one section where the rocks damaged the car. In the morning, we realized we’d been pretty lucky b/c the car had in fact been hit two times -- a 1/2dollar size ding on the front wheel well but more worrying, there is a deep, fist-sized dent in the frame between the driver’s window and the front windshield. The actual damage is minimal but the thought of ‘what could have happened’ truly is worrisome.

A government works program keeps widows 'employed' sweeping the streets of Lusaka. Here are two ladies busy cleaning up all the broken glass and clearing Great East of stones post UNZA riot

The police were out in full force this morning - this was nice to see but where were they last night? “Ohhh, so sorry! Sorry, sorry.” The ladies had mostly cleaned up the rubble and the glass. An officer advised me that I should file a police report even though I really didn’t have much to report. For kicks, I thought I may as well, and this morning I went to the police station. The outcome is not such a surprise but this is what I encountered at the police station: no form, no paper, no one in who could help me. The guys there (in shorts and tee shirts) said to try back at 10hours.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Panic, Precious, and Happiness


....a few of people we have met in Zambia

Pins and Pencils

The life of goods here is short -- it's a harsh climate, things get heavy use, they get abused and..... and quite frankly there is are such poorly made products to buy here it's staggering. With the many power surges and outages and fluxuations electronic equipment (from TV to Computers to Appliances) have a short life span. This really is to be expected, it's just a fact of where we live and the conditions.

What is unexpected is the poor quality of simple everyday items that normally wouldn't get a second thought...something as simple as Pins and Pencils.

How can sewing pins be “bad”? Let me count the ways: they are different thicknesses (but mostly really thick and they leave holes in the fabric), many are totally dull, the little heads pop off, they bend if you try to put them through more than two layers of fabric, they aren’t smooth and they snag the fabric as you pull them out. Did you even imagine it would be such a problem to get a quality sewing pin!? I won’t even go into the ways a ‘safety pin’ can go wrong except to say that there is nothing ‘safe’ about them.

I had never thought of it before but a pencil has four basic components that can (and do) fail: wood, lead, metal eraser cuff and eraser.

We’re so glad they aren’t (yet) making cars or industrial machinery.

There really is a lot more going on here than exploding hotdogs (which I spared you the story of), sewing pins that fall apart and pencils that defy sharpening. It's just been an awfully dull week at the homestead. Someone quiet in the family had a much more interesting week and stories to tell about stories about hit and run accidents, riots, witchcraft and coffin parades, things that don't translate nicely one local language into the next, 1-pin pineapples, etc....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


today I bought a new brush, I pulled it through my curls took a good half hour to get the thing out-- it was instantly and spectacularly tangled. 5 more minutes and I would have had to get the scissors or go fetch the boys and teach my class with a hairbrush stuck to my head.

Serves me right for trying to brush my hair.