It was our first week in Zambia. Our third day, actually. Site visit; our first taste of “real Zed.” We were divided into groups of three or four and sent out with the PCVLs (Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders who were each in charge of a province) to visit currently serving volunteers at their sites for a few days and see what it was like to live as a volunteer.
My group was going to Northwestern Province, an 11-hour drive(covering 372 miles) just to the province’s capital, Solwezi, and then another 9 hours out to the volunteer’s site the next day on mostly dirt roads and bush paths.
The first day was long and fun. The second day was long and not as fun. On the first day, we were on main highways; we stopped at small roadside restaurants and ended the day at the very nice PC house where we had electricity, plumbing and beds. The 10 of us, packed in the Land Cruiser with camping gear and our luggage bags, rode along excitedly. We sang along with the PCVL’s cassette tape of 80s hits and oohed and awwed at the gorgeous country-side.
The second day, we left the main highways and headed onto the very bumpy dirt roads. We drove through thick grass and frightenly close to trees. The countryside was even more gorgeous but also more intimidating. Vegetation was thick. The road disappeared behind and ahead of us. Red dust swirled all around and coated the vehicle and everything in it, including us. As we passed near villages, children ran alongside the Land Cruiser yelling “Byepi! Byepi!" (hello) and “Muzungu! Muzungu!” (white person). Some of the other trainees yelled back out the open windows, “Byepi"!’ Waving as enthusiastically as the children.
My daddy raised us to always use the restroom before getting in the car – we took lots of road trips as kids – so I’d taken care of that before we left. But on this day, there were no roadside restaurants to stop at. We stopped a few times for “restroom breaks” that consisted of pulling over to the side of the road. I was amazed at how easily the other female volunteers in my group could exit the Land Cruiser, wander off into the grass, and take care of the business. I stayed close to the vehicle and waited. The hours ticked by, 3, 4, 5. It wouldn’t be long before we were at the first volunteer’s site to drop off half our group. She’d have a muzungu-appropriate bathroom, I was sure; I pictured a full ceramic throne in a small hut.
Hour 6… Whew. We clamored out of the Land Cruiser and began unloading the items that belonged to the group staying there. The volunteer had made us lunch so we stayed a bit and also received a tour of her two-room hut. I asked if I could use her restroom and she pointed me to a small brick and thatch structure around back from her hut. I snuck away and found the entrance.
On no! The small square shelter had a dirt floor and a small hole in the corner. That was it. “This is the bathroom?!” I stood there for awhile, too embarrassed to go right back outside where the volunteer would know I’d been too scared.
We got back in the van and headed to our site visit location where I hoped I’d have better luck. Despite the drastic increase in personal space after dropping off half the group, my physical discomfort was growing exponentially. 7 hours, 8… It was only a couple hours to our site, I could make it.
“Well, I suppose this is slightly better.” Our host had a stone floor and a bigger hole but it wasn’t less-scary enough to matter to my body. 9 hours, 10 hours, 11, 12. 13… That night was very restless and attempts to sleep did not go well. The next day proved better. 27 hours… Fear of the cimbuzi, conquered!
At my own site, my Bataata built me a very nice cimbuzi, with a cement floor, a cover and raised feet holders. By the way, there’s a darn good reason for women to traditionally wear dresses and skirts.
A Ranger, A Photographer and A Blogger walk into a Jungle. — The Ranger. Let us call him Fred, for no other reason than reason itself. He is a rookie ran...