Sunday, December 21, 2008

So This Is Christmas (in Rural Zambia)

December 20th 

I am sitting on a bus heading south through the copper-belt of Zambia.  My arm is swollen from a bee sting, I just finished 5 delicious bananas that I bought through the  window of the bus at the last village - and under my seat I have 2 pineapples which cost me 20 cents each.  Under the seat of the old lady sitting across from me there are 2 chickens sitting in a plastic bag.  No, they're not frozen chickens, they're actually alive and this is fairly common because power (and hence refrigeration) are scarce, so the best way to keep your meat from spoiling is by keeping it alive.  It seems this lady is travelling with her grandchildren and they are sharing a bottle of coca-cola.

In the seat behind her, there are three people, a baby, a mother and another lady who seems to be another grandmother.  They look so happy that its giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  ( Grandma swings baby's hands and creates a smile, later baby cries and mom makes funny noises to try and distract her)  I can only guess that they are travelling to visit some family back in their home town/village.  And I can only guess that those two overwhelmed looking chickens are going to be Christmas dinner for a lucky family.


Further to the front of the bus, there is a gentlemen taking honey to the city of Kitwe.  I asked him and he says he bought it from farmers in Mwinilunga and he is pretty sure he can sell all 400kg of it at a handsome profit tomorrow.  This is a good sign because it means the farmers have multiple buyers.


The man sitting beside me is a mail man, and two times a week he takes the bus 300km to the provincial capital to drop off all the outgoing mail and collect the incoming mail.

My New Home


This past month I've been staying at my new place in Kabanda - which is a compound in the same town as the honey factory.  Its been great to finally have my own place and to learn more of the local language and more about the people.  (the majority of the people here belong to the Lunda tribe)  For half of the month the town was without power, and it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference for me because my new house doesn’t use power - we have charcoal for cooking and candles for light.

 The open door is to my room - check out the nice glass window!

I live with a family of 5 children.  The father is Mr. Matulu, he is one of the workers at Forest Fruits.  The mother works at a small restaurant - which requires her to work from 7am - 9pm every day, including half a day on Sunday. 


Last week I went to plant maize with the firstborn son and some other relatives.  Mostly though we saw a lot of women in working in the fields - and do they ever have big biceps!


I still have blisters from this day.

Roy is on the right - he loves music too much.



My neighbours are Mr. Matulu's sisters, one of which owns a small bakery.  Stellah has two children, her husband died ten years ago and she has managed to make a good living by selling her baked goods.  She has even managed to build a second house which she rents out for extra income.  I'm working with her on ways in which she can differentiate from the other bakers in town so she can increase her sales.





As my shirt gets sticky from sweat, and I watch the lush green countryside pass by, I find it hard to imagine Christmas back home.  I officially feel disconnected.  Here, Christmas is unnoticeable, there is no Christmas music and no special "gift giving" advertisements.  On Christmas day the average family will go to church and maybe save up a bit of money to buy some beef or a chicken, so they can then make a nice meal to celebrate.


Please dont forget to give a little to my campaign to support my work here through Engineers Without Borders.  Seriously, whats an extra $20 on your credit card?

Click Here to Help me 

I wish a merry Christmas to everyone back home.  I miss you all.

Random Photo from last week - this bee is busy.


Tobias said...

RE:Chickens taken alive on bus: -
There are other reasons too:
Chicken meal is special in many occasions such as weddings, birthdays and other traditional ceremonies. Therefore, many people would prefer fresh chicken and/or chicken to be slaughtered on sight of the occasion because it is part of the ritual/traditional of many tribes in Zambia. This also applies to some religions (e.g. Muslims). In fact, in Zambia, many people feel honoured when they are aware that the chicken being prepared is slaughtered during their visit/occasion.

Mark Hemsworth said...


For sure you're right. I am assuming that most traditions are built based on practical knowledge, and for chickens in Zambia, it happens to be way more practical to transport them alive...and hence the tradition of killing them on sight.