The realities of living in Zambia: A marriage proposal, a cultural explosion and a city-wide power cut

I want you to imagine you walk into a restaurant, you order your food and as you order the lights in the restaurant cut out. You look out the window and see the whole building has experienced a power cut. Now imagine a typical power cut – the power will be back in 5 minutes so you don’t need to worry. But we’re in Zambia and this is a typical daily experience, except power cuts can last for any amount of time.

Now I ask you – how do you respond? In my case you laugh with the restaurant staff, as they fire up the old gas stove. Welcome to Zambia – the country of culture, friendliness and an experience like no other.

The situation in the restaurant is common, and not just in any old restaurant – it happened to be Nandos! The country currently experiences power load shedding – which is where one half of the city has power and the other half don’t, after a certain amount of time, between 4-8 hours, the power supply switches and the other half of the city receives it. We’re currently experiencing Lusaka during a political election, so the power cuts aren’t as bad as they normally would be.

Throughout this blog entry I want to highlight what we take for granted – while reflecting on the communities attitude to overcoming these problems.

Power

I’m adjusting to the idea that you don’t always have hot water, you won’t always be able to cook a hot meal and you might not always be able to watch the television. But reflecting on this – do we REALLY need these things? Are they THAT important? Probably not in the grand scheme of things – many Zambians take cold showers, make vegetable and meat dishes that don’t require much heat and, to be perfectly honest, you’re often far too busy having fun to bother with the television  anyway.

Transport

In Scotland it’s normal for buses to stick to a schedule, have a specific route and set fare. These buses are often quite comfortable and safe. Now picture a bus arriving, that has been built for 10 people but there are actually 20 people squashed in it. It doesn’t have a specific time schedule, it can wait over 10/15 minutes until the conductor finds people on the streets to fill it. I once waited over 30 minutes in town before I set off for work due to this. The fare price can be haggled and how do you give the conductor your money? You hand it to the person in front of you and trust them to give it to  the conductor  This is common especially when you’re at the back of the bus. So that’s the typical buses in Zambia. You often find yourself sitting chatting away about your life with strangers – who are interested in where you are from and who you are. You are cramped in that little space but you’re surrounded by new people everyday that are interested in who you are – something that I wish the people of Scotland were more like.

Friendly People

Now the people on the bus can be very friendly, perhaps sometimes too friendly as to what people from Scotland may be used to – and I assure you Scottish Glaswegians are very friendly! I was on a bus with a female friend, we sat down and paid our fare. Everything seemed to be going fine. And then the bus conductor turned to my female friend, asked her name and then stated “Oh…we should get married…”. We started to laugh but then realised that he was being serious. My friend then calmly explained she needs to reject him due to other commitments. This is simply just the culture of the Zambian people!

To put it simply the true reality of living in Zambia is that you’ll experience culture like no other, each day will bring new and unexpected things – such as a proposal. But most importantly you’ll experience laughter, friendliness and acceptance by the very people that live here in Zambia, and that’s when you know you can begin to call Zambia a second home.

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