My family moved to a newly established poor neighborhood when I was 12 years old.  This was very different from what I had been used to in my then short life.  One thing  that seemed to be everywhere in the new neighborhood was the number of snakes  – outside homes, in the bush and many times in the houses (even in your bed if you were unfortunate enough).  The presence of snakes did not interfere with our lives and we were fortunate/blessed/lucky that there were no casualties except for Mike, a neighbor, who was spat at by a cobra in the middle of the night.  A nursing mother was awoken from her deep slumber and asked to squeeze some milk into Mike’s eyes, because apparently that worked wonders.  Thankfully, there was no damage to Mike’s eyes and he went on with his life.  I will not say we did not get startled or cautious when we saw snakes because that would have been folly and could have had fatal results for us.  We killed the snakes, ran away or left them alone depending on the situation.  After the situation was resolved, we went on with our lives as if nothing had happened.

I moved from home in my early twenties and had no encounters with snakes for many years.  However, I was out hiking with my walking club in Vienna, Austria on a beautiful day and enjoying the views from the mountain top when someone casually said “Look”.  I looked to where this person was pointing and there was a snake slithering across the road.  I screamed and ran behind one man and I was shaking life a leaf.  It took a while for me to start enjoying hiking again without thinking about a snake jumping out at me.  I could not believe how scared I was of that snake because snakes were practically my next door neighbors when I was growing up!

Unfortunately, I am still creeped out by even the very thought of snakes and have not gone back to my younger days when I would be in the forefront of snake killing.



Austrian Friend Visited me in Zambia

I was in Zambia for a month until last Friday. I have several stories but I will start with the one of my Austrian friend, Lisa.  We maintained contact after I moved from Austria and she visited me a few weeks ago.

I have no idea what fears were instilled in Lisa by well meaning people, but they made her think that Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was still in 1870.  Unfortunately, also, the YouTube videos she watched to prepare for her visit only showed the bush and wild animals.  The meds I know she had are anti-malaria tablets, insect repellent and upset tummy tablets.  She was also understandably warned not to eat any salad. Lisa spent the first two nights at my parents’ place and continually asked where the insects, especially mosquitoes were.  Well, there were none in the Lusaka area where my parents live.  I took her to Livingstone to see the Victoria Falls on the third day and the only mosquitoes she saw were during a cruise on the Zambezi River, which is in the wild so she disregarded those.  Lisa was also shocked at Zambian infrastructure, my parents’ house included.  It is modern and spacious!

Lisa had a slightly running tummy on the second night but it was over before it began.  How she panicked!  My family and I did not because we knew that it was nothing serious and it must have been caused by a change of diet.  She was perfectly fine by morning though she was still panicking and took some upset tummy tablets.

By the end of her trip, Lisa started asking why she had been given wrong information about Africa (not just Zambia).  She said there were more mosquitoes in Austria than in Zambia.  Without my knowledge, she had also been sneaking in some salad and her stomach did not react.  She also wanted to stop taking her anti-malaria ‘arsenal’ but I said that just that one infected stray mosquito could bite her, so she continued with her meds and spray.

She enjoyed her trip so much that she has told her daughter and son-in-law to visit with their baby.

I was happy about her conclusion of Zambia, but am still surprised at how my continent is still being portrayed by people who have or have not yet been to Sub-Saharan Africa.  It shows that there is a lack of knowledge out there.   Another Austrian friend is supposed to visit next year, but this one has been to SSA and other “third world countries”.

All in all, my family and friends were happy to meet Lisa and I plan on visiting her next year in Europe.


Western Prices in Zambia

Everybody knows that non-locals are charged higher prices almost everywhere you go, except in supermarkets which have fixed prices.  Several years ago, a foreign counterpart visited Zambia with his black Jamaican wife, Sue.  A friend and I decided to take Sue to a local crafts market for some shopping.  We told her not to say anything at the market and just point at what she wanted.  We would do the talking and haggling for her because we knew that she would be charged higher prices even if she was black because of her Western accent.

We got to the first stall and Sue went crazy!  She was asking the vendor all sorts of questions.  We saw the vendor’s expression change as he realized that he was not dealing with a local.  He gave her ridiculously high prices and she said “oh, that is very cheap”.  The vendor’s level of service went several notches up just so he could get her to buy from him.  We told him off in Nyanja and said we were going elsewhere.  He tried to bring down the price but we went off.  Sue protested but we left.

Sue followed us and we told her that she had been charged exorbitant prices.  She tried to protest again, but we said we knew what we were talking about.  We told her again to keep quiet and let us talk to the vendors.  We knew we would be charged higher prices already because we came by car – a symbol, rightly or wrongly, of being “rich”.

At the next stalls, Sue just pointed at various items she wanted and let us do the talking.  She could not believe how different the prices were from the first stall.  We did not haggle too much as we knew that Sue could more than afford the prices and we also wanted our fellow Zambians to make a little more..

A side note – I no longer bargain as much as I used to when I lived in Zambia, even though I know that I am usually charged higher prices when vendors see that I am driving.  The USD goes a looong way in Zambia.

Cuba, my Cuba!

How I miss Cuba!  It’s one country I would not mind visiting over and over again as my heart remained there.  The live bands at all times of day and night around every corner are the draw for me.  The ‘innocence’, romanticized or not, also drew me.

Too bad people were banned from visiting as tourists except for specific reasons.  I am not an American, but I would rather err on the side of right.  I know I can still travel there, but I would like to do so freely and any time I feel like without having second thoughts about it.

It may not be true for me to say this but:  Cuba, my Cuba!

Who beat you when I was away?

My sister (we called her Sisy, i.e. older sister, as a sign of respect), was tall for her age and quite strong, too, which was good because as the first born she was our guardian angel.  This was more so for my eldest brother, the second born. In my language, I call him Big Brother as a sign of respect, who for some reason (OK, he was too quiet) was a magnet for bullies.  My sister would go and fight whoever bullied my brother.  I was too young to remember but this story has been mentioned over and over in my family.

Sisy went to boarding school when she was in the seventh grade.  Whenever she came home on holiday, apparently the first thing she did was put her luggage down and ask ask Big Bro “Did anyone beat you when I was away?”  My brother would go ahead and tell her who had been mean to him.  One time Big Bro said Nelson had beaten him up for no reason.

Nelson was our opposite door neighbor and my sister marched right over.  She found Nelson’s mum outside, asked her where Nelson was and she said in the house.  Sisy went straight into the house and met Nelson who was on his way out.  He took one look at Sisy, knew that things were not well and ran straight into his parent’s bedroom.  My sister was close on his heels, jumped on Nelson on his parents’ bed and beat the daylight out of him.  His mother rescued him but he had received a few blows already.

Nelson’s mum screamed at Sisy who shouted back that she should not let her son beat defenseless younger children and then went home.  The issue died a natural death though Nelson’s mum tried to escalate it into a fight with my mother.  Mum was used to having other parents confront her on account of Sisy defending Big Bro, so she promptly ignored Nelson’s mum.  My mum’s stand was that children’s fights were children’s issues.  Adults had to discuss their children’s issues over as the adults they were and not start altercations.  Children always got over fights and became best friends shortly after.  Usually my brother did not tell mum about being bullied and waited for Sisy.  Would it be because he wanted revenge meted out the good old way using blows?  Maybe.

Do I agree with older siblings beating up their younger siblings’ bullies?  I certainly do if the younger sibling cannot resolve the issue on their own or there is the threat of real injury.  In a perfect world, the children should be taught how to talk issues out but we all know that bullies will always be around and I think they need to be taught a lesson.  I definitely do not condone parents joining in children’s fights and wanting to battle it out with fellow parents.  My sister passed fourteen years ago but she is still a hero in Big Bro’s eyes.

What do you think about older sibling beating up bullies?

I was the Designated “Township Coward”

Yes, I was the designated Township Coward and rightly so.  My friends and those who thought were my enemies knew that I would never be found anywhere near a fight.  I don’t blame them.  I proved them right time after time, after all.

The only person I can say I have seriously fought is my immediate older brother and I always won (or so I thought.  I later realized that as an older brother, he did not throw any punches but just ducked mine and let me win. That alone is enough reason to love him.)

Well, my friends’ and my enemies were bigger girls who lived uphill.  Most dropped out of school before fifth grade and their entertainment was fighting, especially us younger girls.  These girls would only play with us when they wanted to show off about something and schedule an appointment for some perceived provocation.  The fights were always after dinner around 7.00 pm.  I must mention that it was very safe for kids to play at night. I was always one of the first to accept the challenge.  7.00 pm would come by and I would sit tight at home.  After everyone had congregated, the big girls would start walking past my home singing roughly that “we know you are there and you can hear us.  Come out and play”.  This was code for “come and get a beating!”  The first few times this happened, my parents urged me to go and play as I usually did and I would always say I was not in the mood.  I think they got on because later they stopped telling me to go and play and would just give me puzzled looks.

I would be the first girl at the communal tap the morning after a fight.  I wanted to get all the juicy stuff from my friends who had scratches and bruises.  They would complain that I should have been there to share in the beating and scratches.  I was always apologetic and said I would be there for them next time.

The next time the big girls saw me, they would shout to one another that the township coward was walking by.  They never directly challenged me and I didn’t see why I should join in their conversation or even acknowledge their existence.  Unfortunately for me, this taunting escalated because I ignored them.  How did I manage to keep my cool, you ask.  These are my reasons:

  1. They never made moves to attack me.
  2. I was getting under their skin because of my haughty manner, or so they said.  To me, I was just ignoring them not being superior in any way.
  3. I thought the girls were not worth my attention or energy.
  4. I did not want scratches because those could spoil my looks.  Ah, vanity starts at a young age.
  5. I told myself that this unfortunate title would be forgotten in a short while and even if it wasn’t, well, it wasn’t a big deal for me.
  6. I had bigger goals for my life that went beyond the township. For instance, I wanted to have an indoor flushing toilet and travel the world as I wrote in this old post.
  7. The main reason was:  Why would I take my body to go for a beating?!  It didn’t make sense at all.  We all knew what the results would be, so why bother?

I am proud to say that I did justice to the my title.

Taught my maid a tough lesson

Like those before us have said, sometimes one has to use tough love in order to show love.  This happened with my maid some years ago.

I was raising my baby niece and needed to get a new maid because the previous one had disappeared (as maids in Zambia usually do, instead of resigning in a proper way – no matter how much you think you get on).  My sister-in-law brought Linda from out of town to work for me.  Linda came from a dirt poor family and had just completed high school.  She only had about two pairs of clothes to change.

A day or two later, I sent Linda to the market.  She started to leave the house and I happened to look at her feet – she was barefoot.  Her only pair of shoes were her former school ones and she preferred going barefoot than wearing those.  I gave her a pair of slippers to wear.  When Linda got her first salary, she went and bought several pairs of jeans, a pair of sneakers and some t-shirts.

After a few more salaries and shopping, I told Linda to start buying household items in preparation for when she lived alone.  Miss Linda thought she knew better than me and promptly ignored me and my reminders for a couple more years.  By now she had more jeans than she needed.

One day I paid gave Linda her salary and forgot about it …. until the next evening.  I came back from work and acted like I normally did.  She later said she was going to bed and I wished her a good night.  Linda came running down the stairs a minute later in a panic:

Linda:  Auntie, my blankets are missing, but they were there earlier in the evening!

Me:  They are not missing.  I took them to my room.

Linda:  Why? Can I go get them?

Me:  No. Those are my blankets.  The only things you own in this house are your clothes.  Everything else is mine.

Linda: It’s cold, Auntie.  Can you give me back the blankets?

Me:  No.  I started telling you a couple of years ago to buy blankets but you ignored me.  You will use your clothes as blankets from now on.  You are an adult and need to have your own blankets and household items by now.  What will you show for having worked for more than three years?  Jeans?

Linda was shocked and couldn’t believe that I had got the blankets in June, the coldest month in Zambia.  I had chosen this month purposely for maximum impact.  The following evening Linda showed me a few brand new blankets that she had bought.  She then got them to spread on her bed, but I told her that I would keep the blankets for her until the day she left.  I gave her back the older ones that she had been using.  She continued buying bedroom and kitchen items until the time I left.  I was happy to see her filling a taxi with proper items on her last day at my house when I was relocating to the US.  None of her items had been used as I had been keeping them in my room.

She reminded me of this a few years later and we laughed until tears were streaming down our faces.  Tough love is needed sometimes.

When have you used tough love before?



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