Monday, July 30, 2007

More excerpts from my Africa journal

6/23/07 - My first day in Africa

On the plane 1 hour out from Lusaka, Zambia, the first country we visited:

Debi, a staff person from World Vision, tells my seat partner and I to open our windows. The colors in the sunrise are like something out of a movie. Or the cover of a William Gibson novel. The horizon is totally flat, the land brown tinged with orange from the top. From the horizon and working up, the sky starts deep tangerine, almost pumpkin and fades into lighter tangerines and the to the color of navel oranges then to a buttery yellow. The color of the fancy butter at Mom’s house, in fact. It transitions to a cornflower blue the a mom-jean blue then a navy, brilliant rather than dull and dark. The lights I saw on the ground were reddish and warm, like campfires although I’m sure we’re too high up for that and I’m just romanticizing.

In a very small plane on the way to Solwezi from the Lusaka airport

Looking down, I see lots of small garden with irregular hand-tilled rows. Many are circular with spokes of path splitting them. They look like hand-appliquéd quilts from this height, with rich browns and various green with hand-stitching serving as the rows between beds.

We pass a section of very large, very solidly green circles, as well. The look mechanically maintained.

Some classic round, thatched huts.

A dried riverbed, black with silt, I assume.

Interestingly, the land seems to be delineated between areas of dense trees and areas that look evenly polka-dotted with trees. I wonder if the roots of these trees give off a proximity toxin, like mesquite.

4 reasons why I feel like a dummy international traveler:

1. Didn’t get any cash before going through security in Chicago. Since I was told I’d only need $50 for two different visas, felt safe when there were no ATMs in the gate area. Figured I’d get spending money from local ATMs. Customs in Zambia (first country of entry): $100. Cash in wallet: $60. Local ATMs: non-existent.

2. Did not have watch at Heathrow. Nearly missed plan to Zambia. "Paging Passenger Murphy. We are about to close the flight." Ran so far, so fast that the words on the signs on the gangway after I had given them my ticket were blurry, even though I was just walking. Mantel was waiting at the door. Said my father would be mad at him if I got left behind. Told him I would be mad at me if I got left behind. Felt like I might die for the first half hour of the flight because I'm so out of shape.

3. Almost forgot to put my address on my luggage. Had sinking feeling as I handed it to TSA. Called it back and tagged it. Watched luggage carousel anxiously in Lusaka. Could see the man unloading the luggage onto the carousel through the plastic flaps. No Rube-Goldberg conveyor belts here. It doesn't show up. Local charter flight lady expedites filing a claim. Only consolation is that 20 other people were also luggage-less. I'm the only one in my group. Mantel tells me that it happens to him about every other trip. After that, it's all OK. Shane Claiborne lost everything he owned in a fire on Wednesday. It could be worse.

4. There is no boarding pass for me on our charter flight. However, once the manifest was checked, I was on it and could get on the flight. Again, I'm the only one in the group that happened to. Well, at least I didn't have to worry that I was 3 pounds over the 26 pound limit.

Turbulence in small plane. Stop writing. Start paying attention to slow, deep breaths. Eyes flit quickly in front and a little up for something to focus on. Find red switch over the pilot's shoulder. His movement makes this a bad choice. Roam around visually, somewhat urgently, bypassing a rivet in the seat in front of me, the bar of the sun visor, and the speakers as some instinctual not-quite-right. My animal brain doesn't even consider thing not shiny or not in deep contrast to the mostly white interior. Finally settle on the ring of the overhead light. Not conscious choice. My eyes simply felt like they could relax. Hear descending guitar chords in my head from some Allman Brothers Band song. Duhn-duh-Duhn-duh-Duhn-dadada. Duhn-duh-Duhn-duh-Duhn-dadada. Finally my body becomes less likely to rid itself of toxins at any loss of focus or rigidity and get to close my eyes and rest my face in one hand, pushing up my sunglasses with still-rigid fingers. As it eases, I remember my iPod. First song: Fire and Rain. Perfect. Second song: Boy in the Bubble. Also perfect. Can see smoke on the ground as James Taylor sing about Jesus seeing him through. Although close to the source it billows, in the air above, it look motionless, in stasis, like a picture.

On the road in Solwezi:

fences of long grasses instead of pickets
children younger than four standing in clumps, looking at our bus
children in hats - where are my knitting needles? in the luggage
much staring and waving - I wave back after Jim waves first
mud brick factories - bricks drying on small end in the sun
Chuck points out the anthills - What do I care about anthills? Show me the people
roadside stand with rice(?) bags for exterior walls
a mini-market with 30 stands on either side of the road - all of them selling clothes - physical necessity? or dignity in the face of poverty? where is the food?
the thought, "This is more than I can process" I cannot simply take notes on the little uniquities. It is all different and new. I will have to let it sink in before I can encompass it with words. Some concern, though, that this first experience of Africa should not be absorbed later into a generic description
three babies - 2 years old, maybe 3 - stand in a loose triangle on the crest above the ditch. T-shirts, short pants - the one in front has a bulky white knit hat with a slightly pointy top. All stare with two-year old intensity, like Leoni, a boy I knew on Orcas.

On the hotel veranda, 5:00 P.M.:

I am having a dress made! We were at a shop that had received micro-loans from the Harmos initiative. He had traditional Zambian fabric for sale and I asked Jenny (who works for WVI in Lusaka) to help me. She spoke with a World Vision employee named Victor who is here in Solwezi to bring a tailor to the shop to take my measurements. His name is Joseph and he has plump cheeks. When our plane landed this morning, we were greeted by 6 little girls in matching dresses. Jenny and I asked Joseph to make a dress like that. He could do it with 4 meters of fabric, so I got to choose my favorite, which has fish batiked on it.

Big day, no?


Dave said...

this was really fun to read.

the "fancy butter yellow" made me smile.

the "mom-jean blue" made me chortle.

PrincessMax said...

A whole chortle? My day is complete.

Thanks, Dave.

Christy said...

Hehe - I also have a comment on "mom-jean blue" - new color in my vocab. Rebecca, sorry to comment on such a little thing within a blog full of rich experiences that always interest me. Christy C

PrincessMax said...

Never apologize to me about the little things, Christy. I'm delighted that a description that I took for granted has caused so much joy.