Lessons from Clement.

“Thus, the final question I ask myself is no longer whether I will ever have that complete sense of home again, that sense of knowing I belong in one place above all others without doubt. I now ask myself how I can feel at home where I am at this very moment, in this place, with these experiences; each moment finding my way back home.” – some blog I read somewhere years ago

As is often the case in our travels, I cannot help myself chatting up folks. Gift or curse, it comes from my father, and is why I admired his “for everyman” wit and wisdom. Plus It makes my children cringe, and that alone makes it worthwhile.

Yesterday was an interesting “non-day.” While some will likely find parts of this uncomfortable, oh well.

Zambians in general are wonderful. Smiles for miles, appreciative for life even as witness to incredible hardship. I’ve said many times, “nearly everyone around the world would change places with you, and yet people all around the world smile more than you.” Generalizations were meant to be generalized.

When we first came to ZAMBIA, the HIV rate was 17% OF THE POPULATION. Thanks to the work of Bill and Melinda Gates, therapeutics and condoms they brought, they changed entire populations. Yup, that MS-DOS floppy disk you once bought saved lives!)

With nothing in particular on the schedule, and our tribe pretty exhausted, I decided to head out of the Latitude 15 to downtown Lusaka and head to an open air market to which I had been a few times before, but wanted to experience again. The cab driver, Clement, recognized me from a previous trip over a year ago! “Do you remember me?”, he asked.

I did indeed. Clement is great. Warm, happy, endearing.

“Clement, do you have anything to do today? It’s a gorgeous cool Autumn day to be in Zambia, let’s head to the outdoor market.”

As we drive along we pass the usual guys in the street selling lotto, dolls, avocados and skin lightening creams. (Skin lightening products, like hair care here, is a thing. Over the years, I haven’t fully processed it, as it’s prominent all over the world, most notably in India, and Asia broadly. I try to avoid putting a western lens on it, but anyway)

Clement and I drive the 15 minutes to the massive parking lot to our crafts market where people come from as far away as Livingstone to hawk their wares (yes, you may presume THAT Dr. Livingstone). But it’s sadly not open today as is normal on Saturday. Hmmm. Yet at the same time it’s not hard to notice how much the area has grown over the past decade with movie theaters, malls and multi level parking. It ain’t the Short Hills Mall, but hey, what is?

“Clement, I’m not ready to head back to Latutude. Where should we go?”

“I saw you take a long glance at the avocados they were selling. Would you like to go grab some?”, came the inquiry requiring nothing more than a shared smile of affirmation.

As we returned to that intersection the avocado vendor was gone. “Sold out,” grumbled Clement.
Doing a quick U-turn, he spotted a buddy, rolled down the window, and yelled across in Nyenja (one of 72 Zambian languages) where we could find more avocados.

Turning in a sprint, off he went. Here, if you don’t have product, you know someone that does. Always. And a likely commission to boot. The man sprinted back with a box of six avocados each the size of a babies head.

“How much?”, we ask.

There’s always a moments hesitation in these interactions. Here I am with driver Clement, who knows the correct local price. And yet in the passenger seat is a mzungu who typically is shown mzungu prices !!

(Mzungu is a Bantu language term used in the African Great Lakes region to refer to people of European descent. It is a commonly used non-derogatory expression among Bantu peoples in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Comoros, Mayotte and Zambia, dating back to the 18th century. – wiki)

Clemente goes first. “30 Kwacha”, the correct price locally
Vendor: “50 Kwacha”
Clemente, (switching to Nyenja) “blah blah blah MZUNGU blah blah…”
Vendor, rolling eyes, “50 Kwacha”
Clemente, beginning to roll the car, says “30 Kwacha”
Vendor grudgingly hands over 6 massive avocados. I hand him 50 Kwacha. He makes change. We drive off without the change back. Clemente smiles.

50 Kwacha is $3.84. 30 Kwacha is $2.30.
Two small crappy avos at Whole Foods are 50 Kwacha.

After about a minute, “Why”, asks Clemente?

“He has a family, no?”

“Many” says Clement

We drive on…

“Hey Clemente, you like avocados? I have plenty”

With a big smile, “I love them myself, I have two at home”

“How do you like them, salted with olive oil?”

“Salt or sugar. I’ve never had olive oil”

“WHAT?!? Where’s the nearest supermarket? That’s our next stop.”

Supermarkets are great here. Interesting to see what is a big priority by amounts stocked. Diapers and bottled water top the list. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many choices of water brands. I’m reminded, most of the world doesn’t have clean water and cholera can be virulent here.

Leaving the market with Mosi beer, water and two bottles of olive oil, I get back in the car. I wish I had a picture to show you the face of a man getting his first bottle of olive oil. Priceless.

“Just add salt, my friend”

As we eventually drive back to our hotel, Clemente relays how he once went to Latitude with 100 Kwacha to have a beer and show people he had “made it.” He was shocked that that got him only 3 beers, but “it was worth it. I sat in the big hotel chairs all night and just looked around”, he said with an avocado sized grin.

As we neared the hotel, he told me he someday hoped to spend a night there, “to sleep how the Mzungu sleep.”

A tear came to my eye, as I told him, “ you know there are many Africans, locals, and from all over, not just Mzungu that stay there.”

“I know, but for THAT night I will live like a Mzungu”

As Stacia and I chatted over a glass of South African Ghost House wine, and watched people come and go in the bar, we remarked how it’s not the sights one expects that makes the world interesting, but the random. And for that, one must be fortunate enough to be able to stay and immerse in places and cultures that are polar opposite one’s upbringing…or comfort zone.

Sleep well tonight, dear reader.

Zambian Avocados. And then there were four…

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