Stop. Listen. Before you read any further let me preface this by saying that regardless of how this post turns out, I am not sitting in a corner hating my life in Zambia. On the contrary, I’ve had a pretty productive couple of months here and I have met some pretty awesome people whom I wish I could spend time with more often. I am still going through a period of culture shock and adjustment so forgive me.
I landed in Zambia roughly 2.5 months ago on a hot day in September. As the plane began its descent into the Kenneth Kaunda airport I tried to imagine what would be waiting for me when I landed. I had quit a job which I no longer enjoyed and had left a city which I love with all of my heart, so from the beginning, as excited as I was to be starting this new chapter I was also sad to be leaving my home for the last 6 years behind. From my window seat as I looked below all I could see was patches of dry land , and let me tell you it’s pretty difficult to get excited about patches of dry land!
My first days were overwhelming: I arrived hoping to move into my apartment only to be informed that it was outside what the UN considers the “safe zone” in Lusaka, which is a joke because it’s Lusaka we’re talking about. So I spent my first 10 days living in a hotel (read guesthouse), working late every night and going to sleep with this gnawing feeling that I was all alone in the world. But luckily, my boss turned out to be amazing, I was assigned to interesting projects from the beginning and my first weekend I contacted everyone whose information I’d received from friends back home and that was how I met the group of girls who have helped tremendously in making me feel less lonely in Lusaka.
That brings me to the next part of the story. The first weekend I went out with the girls we went to this bar and I met this guy, we’ll call him Samuel. So we went on 3 dates and he was nice and everything, a bit too intense with questions like “do you believe in love at first sight?” and “When do you think you will be ready to get married?”. To which my reponses were, “I do, but in my experience it doesn’t last” and “Your guess is as good as mine”. Now after offering to pay for the first 3 dates and being generally nice and helpful on the fourth date when we met up Samuel looked like his world was falling apart. Now me being unable to resist the urge to make people feel better, I asked what the problem was. And then he launched into this tale of how he was living with his cousin having just moved to Lusaka from Kitwe (for your information Kitwe is the second largest city in Zambia, which I had also never heard of before that day) and things weren’t going well and he was stressed because he had to move out that weekend which happened to be in two days. At this point I should have just shrugged my shoulders and said not my problem, but the next words that came out of my mouth were “You can stay at my place till you are able to move into the place you’ve found”. And that ladies and gents, is how I let a stranger live in my apartment for the next month! Till today I don’t know how it happened. I thought for sure he’s gonna move into his new place in a couple of days, but he just wouldn’t leave. Two weeks into it, and having to deal with the most awkward situaitons like coming home and finding this person who looked depressed or just into his own things, I asked him “So when do you think you’ll be moving out?” and he legit got mad at me and proceeded to tell me how he felt like sometimes I didn’t take him and his issues seriously and I acted like he was making shit up. I literally started avoiding talking to him in my own apartment and looking for ways to minimize contact. So one day I said to him “Can you just not be here right now I need some space?” He left and then called me in a few hours to ask if he could come back and I said no I need the whole weekend to myself. Well what do you know, on Sunday he was right back at the gate waiting to get back in. Eventually, one day after getting a pep talk from a friend I said to him “Listen I really need you to move out, if possible today or tomorrow?” Still he bargained for a couple of extra days but then he finally left. He called me a couple of days after to ask me why I never check on him to which I replied that I’ve been busy. He still texts me sometimes to ask when we can meet up as he would still like to cook nshima, a famous local dish for me, to which I’ve responded sometime soon when I’m not busy.
And then there’s the fact that Zambia is a Christian country and apparently most people here are self-appointed members of the moral police force. Never mind that I’ve witnessed all kinds of debauchery here including getting hit on by married men and people practically having sex on the dance floor, as long as you believe in God and go to church on Sundays then it’s all good. I’ve gotten reprimanded for the length of my clothing not once but four times! First, I got called into HR at work and received a lecture on how although there is no dress code at the UN I should be mindful of the fact that my dressing may offend others. At the immigration office where I went to pick up my permit, which took 2 months to be ready, I was not allowed to walk down the hallway because my dress was too distracting. In the supermarket buying cereal I guy came very close to me to tell me that my dress was “too tiny” and I was refused entry into a restaurant because they do not allow shorts, unless you’re a dancer, in which case as part of your outfit wearing short shorts are allowed!
And let’s talk about the customer service here. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching sloths in action. And why does everyone here, especially those whose job primarily it is to provide service, act like you’re inconveniencing them by asking them to do what it would appear they’ve been hired to do. I consider myself a nice person who is generally friendly but I’ve had it with the service here and apparently my face reflects that because I’ve never been too good at hiding my feelings. Twice I’ve been asked to smile and act like I’m having a good day as though that were a prerequisite to the person doing their job in a manner that was efficient for both of us. Once I replied, well you’re wasting my time and you’ve not been able to explain to me what the problem is, to which the reply was but still that’s no reason for you to look like that, I’m just doing my job. I was so confused! And he still kept me waiting for another 15 minutes and then let me go without any reason as to what the problem was. I literally can’t.
Zambia, I want to love you, I really do but I’m gonna need you to get your act together!