Freeloading in Zambia

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Shacks and Sewer Water

I'm trying not to write exclusively about the nasty/deplorable observations I've made here, but an experience in a Zambian market is something I simply cannot resist expounding upon. The market in Kitwe - the city nearest to the Peace Corps training center - is particularly bad.

There isn't a permanent structure in the entire market. Every booth is constructed of wooden planks that are so rough that many of them still have bark on their undersides. I say "booth" like each one is a freestanding structure. Not the case. Each little shack/hole is built in such a way that it is entirely dependent upon the booths on either side of it to remain standing, and the whole outfit gives the impression that if one board were removed the entire market would collapse like a line of dominoes. To give you an idea, half of the market burned down a couple of weeks ago, and today it was almost entirely reconstructed. It's built like everyone is expecting to pick up shop and move to the next town any day now.

The wares being peddled in the market are similarly shoddy. The electronics stands have a complete selection of Sonny and Panasound boomboxes, and there is no shortage of fake shoes, shirts, watches, and sunglasses. My personal favorite was an Eminem t-shirt where the man depicted was CLEARLY not Eminem. Not even close. I figure if you're going to violate international copyright laws you might as well go whole-hog and at least do a decent job of it.

The people hawking the stuff are usually over-aggressive and relentless too. Initially I gave them the common courtesy of a firm "No," but I now realized that they only took this as a sign of interest in their products and now walk without acknowledging anybody yelling "Hey, Boss!" or "Mister, Mister, come here and look!" My personal favorite was the man wearing so many belts on his neck, waist and arms that he looked like the Michelin Man. Good thinking, buddy - why waste money on a booth when you can be mobile and follow your customers around?

The cherry on top is the river of sewer water running directly through the middle of everything. I'm not exaggerating - it really is sewer water. The sewers in Kitwe are all open, only in the rest of the city they run alongside the sidewalks in little canals. In the market it flows free between the booths, and the ground is muddy with it. Sometimes there is a makeshift bridge over the water, but usually it is just a carelessly arranged pile of timber that you have to nimbly pick your way across. Needless to say I deeply regret having worn my sandals today.

Don't misunderstand me though - I love the market. My favorite section is the salaula, which is a Bemba word signifying "to rummage." Anyone who knows me well is keenly aware of my love for thrifting, so this should come as no surprise. I make no notice of the blazing sun, stench of sewage and dried fish, or the mud I'm standing in when I have pile upon pile of someone else's old clothes to dig through. The "Fealy's Adult Book Store" shirt featured in the beard contest (and the shirt Brett is wearing) is a shining example.

I also bought all of my family's X-mas gifts there. Maybe I should punch holes in the box when I send them back so they have a chance to air out...


  • At 8:16 PM, Blogger Ginger said…

    Wyatt, I got my piece of fabric from the Zambian market. I'm not really too sure how to wear it, but I'll figure something out.

  • At 11:04 PM, Blogger Jeannie said…

    I wish you were really going to read this email. Somehow writing it makes it feel like you will. I don't have much to say except that you would be coming home soon. You would already be done with your Peace Corps adventure and be moving onto something else. I would still be normal, looking forward to an entirely different future. But it is as it is - and I'm just living each day as it comes not knowing what the future holds. Some of your good friends are getting married. I just couldn't get myself to go to the weddings. I knew I would cry my way through them. I feel like a chump that I couldn't go and share their happy days. It is just too hard. You should have been there. I miss you so much Wyatt. I love you and always will, but you already know that. Love, MOM

  • At 7:29 PM, Blogger Jeannie said…

    Today when I read your blog it felt like it was for the first time. I think maybe I will make a skirt out of my piece of fabric instead of leaving it lay in the drawer. It is so awesome that it came from this place that you describe. It feels like you are still here Wyatt, but then again I guess you are ;)


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