A few bits and pieces, playing blog catch-up; summer is absolutely flying by. We’re starting the PQ process again (physical qualification–medical and dental checks), getting ready to return to South Pole. We are planning on leaving for Denver/New Zealand around October 15th, but won’t get our tickets until we PQ and complete all the HR and travel paperwork.
In early April, Daniel and I arranged a few nights on Bovu Island in the Zambezi river. They picked us up in a shoddy pickup truck, and after an hour of driving rutted, mudslid roads, hot dry sun baking the truck, switches of trees whipping at our arms and faces, we arrived at the riverbank. Stepping gingerly into beautiful little handmade dugout canoes, we tried not to think of the crocodiles and hippos we’d seen on the river the night before as the three captains punted and paddled the boats through river flats, eddies and gentle whirlpools, exposing stunning nooks and wide river vistas around the bends of tall grass. The other folks staying on the island welcomed us with a beer on arrival, and we buried our feet in the silky cool sand floor. We slept in a little three-walled hut, perched on stilts and open to the river, listening as the jungle sighed, shrieked, became quiet and later reawakened; monkeys and millipedes and some mysterious catlike shrew animal sleeping nearby.
We visited a nearby mainland village, learning about architecture of stick, mud and thatch wood homes, about school/church construction of more modern and costly supplies. We sat with a local mom while she skillfully wrestled a pot of nshima, the sticky cornmeal mush we ate all throughout our trip.
A few days later we boarded a bus to Lusaka, still operating within the strict 7-day visa the border official had stamped in our passports. We didn’t really want to go to the capitol city, but after much debate we decided it was the most sensible option to position ourselves there so we could board a bus to Kapiri Mposhi, where we planned to catch one of the twice-weekly trains across the border into Tanzania. On the bus to Lusaka, I met a 12th grade girl named Felicit, coming home on vacation from boarding school. She was quite talkative and had all kinds of questions for me, normal chatty questions like what do you like to read?, do you like dancing?, what’s your favorite color?, to more in-depth questions about religion, faith, and tribal affiliations within the US, to the structure of our schooling system and specifically my relationship to Daniel.
We had decided to tell people we were married since a male and female sleeping in the same bed together out of wedlock is pretty taboo in eastern Africa, from what we had read, but Felicit first asked if we were engaged, to which I said yes because it seemed easier (we’re not, for the record), but then she had all kinds of questions about when we were getting married, how long we had been together, whether we lived together or not at home, what our parents thought about it, and my story sort of fell apart and I had to explain that, well, we don’t really have a date, and maybe we’re not exactly engaged. I thought it would be really awkward but I guess I underestimated the power of young people to flex from tradition, or maybe I hadn’t done my research properly and the whole thing wasn’t that big of a deal. She transitioned seamlessly into explaining to me all sorts of bits and pieces of local economy within Zambia, import/export and agriculture, and then she told me I was more talkative and friendly than most white people she had met, which I took to be a nice compliment.
After the bus ride, we faced the inevitable swarm of taxi drivers and people pretending to be taxi drivers. Too tired to haggle or discern properly, we got into the wrong one, a car whose driver stopped to pick up another friend and later tried to swap my 20,000 kwacha note (about 5 USD) saying I’d only handed him a kw1,000 note. We spent the night at a crummy hostel in Lusaka, pinning the mosquito net together with hair pins and rubber bands, hunting the bugs that got in before going to sleep, probably more worried about malaria than strictly necessary for a large city. We couldn’t sleep much, preparing for the long haul train ride into Tanzania the next day.