An African Adventure – Part 3

How to Take a Bath

Our first house in Zambia was modest by North American standards.  There were five rooms, living room, two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen containing a stove, fridge, and a table with two shelves above it.  No cupboards, no counter space.  There was also a very small bathroom, with sink, toilet, and bathtub.  But there was no hot water in the house.

So to have a bath, Husband had to go outside and fire up the old wood stove which had a small water tank above it, which would then heat up the water which would trickle into the tub to a depth of  about three inches.  This was also the way the laundry was done.  I had to get on my knees and wash and rinse the laundry, and then take it to hang on the clothesline.

When the laundry was dry, sometimes in about half an hour, it all had to be ironed, on both sides.  You see there was this little pest called a putzi fly, invisible to the human eye, which would get into wet clothing and then lay its eggs under your skin.  You can imagine the rest.  A visit to the doctor would be required, to have the eggs removed.  Sheets, pillow cases, towels, bras, underwear, dresses, shirts, skirts, blouses.  All had to be ironed on both sides to kill the putzi fly.  Bras and underwear seemed to cause the most problems.

When our baby, Michelle, was born a year later, all of her diapers had to be done in the tub, hung out to dry, and ironed on both sides!!!  But more about the baby later!

Now to the creatures who lived in our house and obviously were a little put-out at our moving in!

The house was furnished with a few pieces – dresser, beds (single), table, chairs, small love seat and a couple of lamps.  It was exciting until, on moving day, I opened the dresser to clean it, and a zillion bugs scurried out.  I almost fainted.  I was deathly afraid of all bugs, worms, snakes, lizards, and of course, all of the wild animals.  I don’t know what I thought Africa was going to be like but I obviously didn’t think it through.  I mean – Africa?  C’mon!

That day I slew more spiders, cockroaches, and other sundry bugs than anyone should have to in their lifetime.  The spiders alone were as big as saucers and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them!  Later that evening,  we were getting ready to go to bed (or beds) and there on the wall were three HUGE spiders.  We just lay there and I know for a fact that neither of us slept one second that whole night.

Just as a side note.  The single beds were pushed together by John.  His words?  Never let it be said that I procrastinated on a household job when it was really important!

Thanks for reading and I hope I haven’t scared you from visiting the beautiful country of Zambia. Have a great day! – Maureen


An African Adventure – Part 2

Rapid Calculations in Pounds, Shillings, and Pence

When we arrived in the capital, Lusaka, it was early September, and the sun shone in a clear sky day after day.  We stayed in a students’ residence  for a few days while we were assigned our living quarters and where we were told what posts we had been given.

In Canada, I had taught a class of five and six-year olds in Grade 1.  An elementary school post would have been great but there was a little problem.  There were very few university graduates in Zambia at that time, and anyone who had completed Grade 6 was qualified to teach elementary school!  I was given a job teaching Math and English to High School students.

The day after we arrived we were driven to State House, the home of the President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda.  In the gorgeous formal garden, we met the President,  who was very welcoming and charming.

A couple of days later I went to a meeting at my new school and met the staff.  Most of the teachers were from Great Britain, but there were several from India and two African women, from South Africa.  One of the Africans, Lauretta Ngcobo, became a close and dear friend.

My first lesson was “Rapid Calculations in Pounds, Shillings, and Pence”.  Of course I didn’t know how many pence were in a shilling, or how many shillings were in a pound.  The lesson must have been torture for the students as I had to keep asking them.  They were very kind and patient, though.

Every day, for the two years I taught there, we had barefoot children coming to the school, clutching pieces of paper with their marks on them, asking if they could come to our school.  We all had to say that there was no room.  It was heartbreaking as they knew the only way they were going to do well was to get an education.  There was only one high school in Lusaka.  And it was more than full.

Most of the students lived with their families in round  one-room  houses, with holes for windows, thatched roofs, and dirt floors.  There were no bathrooms or kitchens.  Cooking was done outside and I can’t imagine what it must have been like sleeping on the floor with possibly a blanket, very little nourishing food in their stomachs.  The diet at that time consisted of Nshima, a porridge-like mixture, with some fruit or vegetables, and once or twice a month, some meat.  The whole family ate with their fingers from a communal dish.

Our home was humble, by North American standards.  Look for Part 3 to find out about the adventure involved in taking a bath!

Thanks for reading and have a good week – Maureen.

An African Adventure – Part 1

Flying Backwards Across the Atlantic

In 1966, Africa was still called the Dark Continent.

In 1966, when John and I got married, we were just 21 years old.  Three days after the wedding we were on our way to Africa, blissfully in love and blissfully unaware of how difficult it must have been for our parents to see us go.  No cell phones, no Skype, no Internet, no email, no downloading or uploading of photos, no digital cameras, and no electronic means of communicating.

We were both brought up with a sense of adventure and decided, after knowing each other for only three months, to get married and move to Zambia, in Central Africa.  We joined a volunteer organization called CUSO, which placed Canadian university graduates in posts in many of the world’s poorer countries.

Here we are, married three days, and leaving for Montreal, en route to Zambia.

Here we are, married three days, and leaving for Montreal, en route to Zambia.

After an orientation course in Montreal, we boarded our flight to Africa.  CUSO had arranged for about 120 volunteers to be ferried across the ocean aboard a Canadian Air Force troop-carrier turbo-prop airplane, with a crew of pilots and navigators in training.

The feeling of hurtling down the runway facing backwards was amazing.  Apparently it was considered safer so all the seats faced the back of the plane.  It took us eight hours to cross the Atlantic and we landed at the Canadian Air Force base at Marveille, France.

We were billeted in the air force barracks on the base and were scheduled to depart for Africa the next day.  However, there was some trouble getting permission from the government of Libya for a military plane to cross their air space and it took three days before we were able to leave.

We flew into Tunisia just as dusk was descending on the ancient city of Carthage.  We dropped off about 20 French-speaking volunteers who had been assigned to that country.

We flew off again and I remember looking down at the Sahara Desert as the moon shone on the waves of sand dunes, very much like the moon shone down on the waves of the Atlantic Ocean a few days earlier.

The next morning we landed in Entebbe, Uganda, to drop off more volunteers.  Just a young woman from a small town in Nova Scotia and here I was in Africa.

We flew on to Nairobi, Kenya, dropped off more volunteers and then were taken to a hotel for the night.  The next morning at six, we were awakened by someone knocking on the door and calling out something that sounded like, “Key, key”.  We couldn’t figure out who would want our room key but John answered the door and came back with a tray of Tea.  What a lovely custom!

The problem with landing the plane in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, was that the airport runway was quite short and in the heat at the middle of the day, it would take a long distance for the plane to stop.  We left the rest of the volunteers, destined for posts in Tanzania, to wait for the plane to return to Nairobi to pick them up  after our possibly dicey landing.  The fewer people in the plane the better, so we took off with about twenty passengers.

We landed without incident and were finally, after five days en route, in Africa.

Part 2 to follow soon.  Have a great day and thanks for reading.