These are a few of the kids that attend the Elevated School in Ng’ombe. From them will come a generation of teachers, doctors, nurses, pilots, and more. We salute your perseverance.
That’s it. A final 5 a.m. taxi to the Lusaka airport. As usual, more quality taxi driver banter.
Me: “My, it sure seems like every significant road in Lusaka (capitol) is under construction. All being doubled in size, or more.”
Taxi man: “Yes. All being done by the Indians. Indian President Modi visited here a year ago and saw Indians and Zambians living peacefully together and pledged to build all the roads and bridges infrastructure for free!* No money goes through the Zambian government. All the companies doing the work are Indian contractors but unlike the Chinese, they employ Zambian workers. And one other thing. Look how good the road quality is. The Indian companies put a solid concrete layer under the asphalt much different than when the Chinese came and built roads. They used their own people as workers and just put asphalt on the gravel roads. Poor quality.”
A lot of quality information is layered in that vignette.
* nothing is ever free
“Brighton, how many people, friends and family, would you say you support in some way through your job?”
“Oh…maybe a dozen at minimum. Just today before I picked you up there were six requests. People needed money for food, hospital stay unexpected. If someone needs to stay at hospital for 3 days and it’s 50 Kwacha a day ($3,85), how can you not?”
And right there was the answer.
“How can you not?”
Each employed person with a solid wage in Zambia (unemployment is 85%) supports on average 20 family and friends. That is not a typo. At our hotels so far, that’s 450 employees or 9000 ripples in the pond.
“Why don’t you save money?”, I asked Brighton.
“Because they need food or medicine. How could I not?”
In Ndebele there is a saying, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” It is part of the concept of Ubuntu. It means ‘a person Is because of other people.’ Simply, the purpose of something or someone is not for ourselves but to serve others and change the world around us. Ubuntu is an idea present in African spirituality that says “I am because we are”, we are all connected, we cannot be ourselves without community, health and faith always lived out among others, and an individual’s well being is caught up in the well being of others.
Don’t waste good, because someone is without. Be kind to others, because they hurt. Give because others need. I used to think Zambians were generous to a fault. But in fact they live as if everyone is family.
I am because we are. It is being reminded to do whatever one can do for those less fortunate. Teaching so that the ripples in the pond cast from the single tiny pebble and continue onward and outward.
“How can you not?”
“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.
I often feel overwhelmed by the fortunate circumstances and importantly a mindset of a wife, children and common spirit which permits our movement at the drop of a hat. The logistics of our open source travel is a credit to Stacia and her ability to know mileage plans, routing, finding deals, and uncovering the unusual off piste is hard to overstate. But yesterday is the perfect example of the unglamorous, sometimes brutal side of what we do. Arising in Jinga Uganda and getting stuck in Brutal 3 hour Friday traffic back to Kampala only (60km!)needing a 2 hour meeting the at he hotel, at a nearly complete hotel but under construction, then back on road in the Land Rover to Entebbe airport (thank goodness for the new highway after hours of potholes). We then catch a 9:30 pm flight to Nairobi that connects to a different plane that then gets into Lusaka ZAMBIA at 2am. This with the boys and 8 yo Annika being well attuned from last year that whining is both pointless and unbecoming. So we stumble on is relative peace. The minor and sometimes major hurdles placed in our daily path, from crazy Ebola heat screening, to the gate attendant in Nairobi as we went to board (we were last on) who said after midnight “I’m sorry but you must show us the flight from which you will leave ZAMBIA”. Stacia, “I have only Johannesburg to London. Don’t know when we fly TO Johannesburg from Lusaka but trust me we will”. The ensuing ‘discussion’ remains modestly civil yet in the end forces another run to the plane In yaw rain across the Nairobi tarmac for the 5 of us, arriving in Lusaka at 2:30 am. But we did make is, and they did power thru. So that’s the unglamorous side of the above post.
Oh, one more snippet On the above raft trip I SPECIFICALLY asked our “Safety first” raft guides about croc dangers . “Nothing to worry.” Well as it turns out a few weeks ago a local WAS dragged away by a massive croc right where we left the Nile and had been floating the last few miles The nice part Is crocs dont munch you alive but rather drowns you with death rolls as they dont prefer fresh meat but rather rotted glesh so they store your body under the side mud until ready to snack
You want more glamour? How about our hotel creator buddy (grew up here in Malawi, a Brit, don’t they all) who was fishing the Nile (Nile perch can be 100kg!!!) who he and his father snagged a something and it turned out they reeled in a human head!!!
There’s a reason why that part of the Nile is also called “the blood river”, and on up thru Congo i suppose. (Just mention going to Congo and It gives rise to eye popping stares due to the biunty from competing war lords for foreingers of just killing for sport then you’re reminded you’re downstream from lake Victoria where a few million Rwandans were victims of genocide (long ago) and that those bodies were dumped in the Nile in a sea of blood. Still today upstream is north and south Sudan, where the last people who attempted to float the Nile to the Med were summarily executed by Sudanese pirates! Fascinating place this. Uganda Is a port In a sea of bad hombres. Amazing people but yeah, we often have to be a bit lucky to have this ‘glamorous’ endeavor work as smoothly as it generally does. I do keep as much as I can in notes behind the scenes or previously in the blog @sixoffliste. And I do smile typing this in response to your prompting, in 10 hour jet lagged haze, lying on a couch of a hotel project Stacia was visionary (Ie loony) enough in which to invest near 7 years ago in the belief that this frontier would develop exactly as it has. Knowing today is an off day to scour the markets of Lusaka for trinkets with nothing the kids on a lazy day for once. And look up from my recline and see THIS on the Latitude 15 hotel wall…and thank the stars above
No De Nile: Today was an extraordinary one we won’t soon forget. (rated GK, good lesson for kids)
With no expectation or any sense of what lay ahead, we left Kampala to head up to Jinga, (pronounced Gin-juh) Uganda, to raft the White Nile. The White Nile is arguably the “source of the Nile” since this portion of the river runs out of Lake Victoria and meanders northward. The whole River Nile is formed from the White Nile, which originates at Lake Victoria and the Blue Nile, which originates at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. These rivers meet in Sudan and then go on their long journey northward up through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea having by then flowed over 4000 miles. Flowing south to north, the Nile is the longest river in the world.
While Jinga is only 66km away from Kampala, it took a few hours of slow trucks, crazy potholes and goat dodging to get there. After napping through much of the hazy morning drive, one awakens to various shades of the most luscious green tree varieties: pines, pineapple plants, mango trees and beautiful bushes. In this breadbasket within Africa lies the Jinga region that includes fantastic outdoor adventure sporting led by white water rafting the famous and fabulous Nile. It is challenging class 3, 4, 5 water and I admit not a single boat in our group survived every rapid. All boats with experienced rafters turned over at some point during the day, at LEAST once. But that’s a story for another day.
This tale, the lesson of this weeks travels, begins as we observe a simple one man dug out wooden canoe, perhaps 8 feet long, low in the water heading past us paddling UPSTREAM with a load of what appears to be sand piled in the middle of the primitive craft. At first we don’t think much of it. Suddenly we noticed this paddler was using a SHOVEL for a paddle. Yes, a shovel – the type normally found at Home Depot and used for digging trenches, much heavier and unbalanced than a fiberglass paddle – was now used as a canoe paddle. Stacia asks our raft guide, a tall handsome and ripped Ugandan man of about 25, whose quite dark complexion characteristic of Ugandans generally, has been darkened further still by the constant sun in his employ as a raft guide, if perhaps we should offer him one of our paddles. Our guide tells us why he didn’t use a paddle…
As it turns out, the canoe paddler is a Nile River sand digger. He takes his boat out daily and ties to a set of empty plastic water bottles where he has obviously marked his “spot.” Once there and tethered, he dives down 6 meters, fighting the current, with a bucket and shovel where he fills his bucket with sand off the Nile River bottom. Down 20 feet, he holds his breath and shovels sand until he needs to either surface for more air, or leaves his shovel on the bottom when he comes up and dumps his bucket of sand in his carved canoe. He repeats this routine until the canoe is near sinking with sand, at which point he brings his shovel to the surface and uses it to paddle his load of sand to shore, of course still against the Nile’s notable current. He will perform this ritual dive 15- 20 times today until he has filled his bosses pickup truck with sand, truck resting on shore.
What does this man earn for this toil, you might ask?
Oh…about 40 dollars per day, $280 dollars for the week. Of course, less expenses for renting the bucket and shovel.
Seeing and hearing how many people in the world live is powerful “appreciation tonic”, and a living life lesson about how fortunate everyone at home is to have won the genetic lottery. It is for that reason I chronicle the story here. Thanks for listening, and enjoy your weekend.
New Years Message (credit: Jonathan Tepper with additions and twists from Dad)
Dear Nicholas, Alexander, & Annika,
I’m writing this on a plane. The reason I started writing this was that I feared the plane might go down, and if it went down, all the lessons I’ve learned in life would disappear with me. By writing this, I hope to pass on the few lessons I’ve learned.
The most important lesson is that the vast majority of things you worry about will not bother you the next day. A year later you will not even be able to remember them if you try. When you grow older, you will not worry about what grades you got. You won’t worry about games you lost. You won’t worry about what other people thought about you. Most of the things you worry about will never happen. Even if the worst things that you worry about happen, life will still go on. Learn to enjoy every day, and try to enjoy it as if it is your last. It has taken me a long time to understand this, and I wish I had understood it sooner.
Happiness is not a destination but a journey. You will never be smart enough, rich enough, have a pretty enough girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife, or win enough prizes and awards. Whatever it is you want, there is always something better. Enjoy the journey of learning, working, and living. If you enjoy the journey, you’ll probably achieve a lot more than if you focused on goals.
Money can provide security, but once you have security, more money cannot buy you more happiness. Show me someone who thinks money can buy happiness and I’ll show you someone who has never had a lot of money.
Things don’t make you happy, but memories will always stay with you. Whatever it is that you buy, you will soon get used to it. It will make you happy for a short while, but it will not make you happy forever. Experiences and memories can make you happy forever. I can’t even remember most of the toys I’ve had in my life, but I still think of my times with your Mom and your Grandmother and Zedo with great happiness and fondness. I remember walking each of you to school and how happy we were. I remember hugging your Grandmother and Zedo when I came home for a weekend. Those memories will never go away. The happiest memories of my friends are my travels and dinners with them, not the things I’ve bought for myself. You’ll remember dinners and travels with friends and family more than any shiny things you’ll ever have.
Nothing I will ever do will surpass spending every waking moment with you for an entire year while together experiencing the wonder and beauty this world has to offer, without fear or prejudice or time constraint. To see you develop as insightful learners, knee-deep experiencers and caring sharing citizens of the world brought great joy to your mom and me. To see you use your skills, be they languages, compassion or even your %#<># computer games, was gloriously satisfying. And your ability to observe and adapt will serve you a lifetime.
Your family is the most important thing you have in life. Friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and co-workers come and go, but the only thing that you can always count on is your family. (If you find a friend who is always there for you, you’re extremely lucky. They exist, but they’re very rare.) One day, you will have your own family. You must love them and look after them. You will understand one day that just as your grandparents die, your parents will as well. Strive to be a good son and daughter. One day, you will be like your parents. Your parents are not perfect, and you will not be either. But you can be loving and be a good son and daughter. One day you can be a good parent.
Try to appreciate early in your life what a smart, loving and deeply caring mother you have in Stacia. She would die for you without hesitation, and as someone who has benefited like no other from her grace and generosity for nearly two decades, smile and carry her kindness and goodness with you like a calling card.
Never stop learning, and always be ready to teach yourself things you don’t know. The only things you will remember are things you care about. You will forget about all the rest. As Jacques Barzun said, “Civilization is all that remains after you have forgot all that you specifically set out to remember.” You must teach yourself and care about what you learn. No one can teach you everything you need to know at school or university. You will forget most of what you study, and that is fine. In truth, much of what you learn now is obsolete by the time you’ve digested it and go to apply it. It is said that by the time a medical school student graduates over half their knowledge is outdated. Therefore the vital skill is learning how to use fresh information based upon your developed sense of awareness, keen analysis and your adaptability to reason in entirely uncharted waters.
Never live someone else’s life. Find your gifts and the things that give you pleasure, develop those gifts, and pursue them. Do what makes you happy and be great at it. You have skills and gifts that no one will ever have or see again. If you’re a businessman, build businesses. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a scientist, discover. If you do what you love and love what you do, you will work very hard, but you will enjoy every day.
One of the things that most influenced me was something Steve Jobs once said:
“When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
And the minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
I hope that you will find what you love and you will change the world.
Life is full of struggle, and bad things will happen to you. This is one thing that I can guarantee you. Bad things happen and cannot be changed. Many people suffer great tragedies and live full and happy lives. I have now met in person a survivor of Jonestown, of serial killer Ted Bundy, and Auchwitz. Together with you three, we have met survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb and the Khmer Rouge genocide. When I think of their travails I try to remind myself, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’ll be ok.” Remember the people you love and mourn them. Accept that terrible things happen, and try to live as if each day is your last with those you love. There is nothing else you can do.
The best way to avoid anxiety, stress and unhappiness is to avoid internal contradiction. Don’t think that one thing is right and do the opposite. Listen to your conscience and obey it. Be a good person and live according to your convictions. You cannot answer for other people, but you can always answer for yourself. As long as you live according to your most basic beliefs, you will not have regrets or guilt. You will be able to die happily knowing that you looked after the poor and needy, that you were loving to those around you, and that you failed often but did your best. You will not lose a night of sleep if you always try to do your best.
I love you very much…and always.
Maybe my favorite sentiment of which I wish I’d have written it all!