Let Me Calculate

August 28th, 2013

Now with photos!

Country/Day: Zambia/3

Bikes Fixed: 0

Bikes/Day Avg: 0.00

Wow, day three already? My jet lag is definitely having the best of me. That being said, I did get something done today. In fact, I can already feel myself falling behind as far as blog posts go… it brings me back to India. I’m already planning for a post on food and a “Small Stories,” if you remember what those are.


They are sort of like the amount of space on this road. Small.

So, I’ll just start from Monday and work my way through. No doubt I’ll miss a few things, but they’ll come back later.

First off, I got in Monday at 8 AM, and spent the majority of the day… well, to be completely honest, I don’t remember. Saturday through Tuesday are all blurred together because of my jet lag. Actually, I think it was the 32 hours of travel to get here. I did pretty well in India, being it was only 22 hours of travel, but man… this is ridiculous. Anyways, I’m pretty sure I spent most of Monday hanging out with my cousin.

On Tuesday I slept in until noon (oops). We hadn’t figured out how to get me to Zambikes just yet, but I wanted to get out of the house. Sue (my aunt) had to run some errands, so she dropped Ethan (my cousin) and me off at the mall, and we ended up going to see a movie. On the way home we stopped at the grocery store, where I also grabbed some cash at an ATM, because I had used all my emergency cash buying a visa (they were a bit more expensive than I had anticipated – $50 instead of $20. I had exact change).


Medium by American standards, frickin’ huge by Zambian standards.

Today (Wednesday) was the exciting day. To be honest, I either don’t remember much about Monday or Tuesday, or they weren’t significant enough to remember compared to today. To be frank, after India and Guatemala, Zambia doesn’t shock me as much as it should. I look at almost everything and go, “Yea, okay.” While there are some things my readers might find interesting that I’m not mentioning, hopefully I can get to the meat a little bit faster. This will be useful because I’m only here for 70 days.

So, let’s talk about SIM cards. You guys. Zambia has it FIGURED. OUT (to be fair, India and Guatemala may have been the same way, but I didn’t use a phone in Guate, and in India, my host managed my phone for me). Here’s the delio. You buy a SIM card. Your SIM card has your number on it and some credits (say, $10 (the currency here is Kwacha, but let’s keep it simple for my readers in the USA)). Every time you use your phone or send a text, it displays how much credit you have left. When you notice it getting low, you pick up a “recharge.” These are little cards about 1”x1” worth increments of money – say, $5, $10, $20, $50. On the card is a pin code. You text the pin code to your carrier (my carrier is Airtel, so I text *113*PIN-NUMBER). And your phone is recharged.

It is SO. EASY. And the best part is it’s actually pay-as-you-go. I know there are some US companies out there that think they are “pay-as-you-go” just because they don’t have a contract. False. True P.A.Y.G. is this. You buy minutes when you need them.

I couldn’t find a photo of this, but it exists. I promise.

The best part is, in any developing country, it’s cool to sell stuff in the streets. So when I put in Caleb’s SIM card (Caleb is my cousin from here, but currently residing in the US – thanks for the SIM, buddy!) and found out I only had $0.05 left, I just asked Sue to roll down the window and buy me a recharge. Because, you know, there are people selling them at every stoplight. On the way to work and need more minutes? Roll down the window and buy them.

Dear the United States: You need to get in on this.

(dear readers: They never well. The system in the US is designed to be self-perpetuatingly expensive)

Okay, anyways. Enough about how Zambia has their stuff together. More stories.

There are a few beggars about and Sue likes to give them oranges. She and I agree that giving handouts (money) isn’t really effective, and giving food might not be “teaching the man to fish,” but at the least, you know it’s useful — whereas money might be spent on alcohol, or who knows what. So whenever we drive by hungry looking kids (the ones with their hands out), Sue will ask Ethan (or whoever is near the collection of oranges) for a few. The reason I bring this up – besides the fact it’s not that common in the states – is because at one point there were some kids on my side of the car. I rolled down the window and held out a few oranges, and… they scattered. Sue told me to just be patient. After a few seconds one of them came forward. Then another. There were four in total, and only three came up. It was just interesting to me – here were these hungry kids asking for food, but as soon as you roll down the window they are wary. I don’t blame them, as I am sure bad things happen, and I think “don’t take food from strangers” is a great lesson to know. But I also know that Sue (and some of the other FM (Caucasian) volunteers) frequently give food, so it was just interesting. Oh and, Sue tries to give to different folks every time, so they don’t become reliant.

– – –

I woke up yesterday to arrange breakfast. There was some leftover quiche (well, crust-less quiche – egg bake, Sue calls it), so I put a slice on a plate and put the plate in the microwave. Just as I was closing the door, Sue walked by and said, “There’s no electricity, so that won’t be very helpful.”

Apparently we share electricity with some other plots. We get it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; they get it Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; we share Sundays. FM has a generator they use when guests are visiting the guest house, so we did have periodic electricity that day. So, don’t be surprised if I don’t update my blog on certain days of the week…

This also explains why each house has its own water tower.

– – –

Yesterday after the movie I indicated to Sue I wanted to visit Zambikes just to say “hi.” I figured I wouldn’t be working just yet, but wanted to at least stop by, and if I was going to be taking the buses into town on a regular basis, I wanted to practice using the bus system. She said I probably shouldn’t go by myself, but could go with one of the kids who worked at the hanger. That is, there are locals who help Flying Mission maintain the airplanes, and they know their way around. She called a friend at the hanger, who called another friend, and so on, until we got a hold of Mesheck. Mesheck is 22 and lives… well, yonder (he’s from Zambia). Long story short, I spent the day today with him.


…and now we’re besties.

He came over today about 9:00 to take me to the bus stop. I wanted to show him a map of where we were going, so we fiddled with Google Maps a bit. I then indicated I needed to brush my teeth and asked if he needed the computer for anything. I expected him to want to check Facebook, but instead he asked if I had any games or music. I did – I opened up iTunes and told him to knock himself out. When I came back he was smiling and asking if he could have some of what he’d listened to.

It was a 15 minute walk from the airstrip to the bus stop. When I go by myself, I’m to go on the street, but Mesheck took me on a shortcut through the… er, neighborhood.

So, pictures will explain this better than words (and pictures will come shortly), but Sue and Joel live in rural Lusaka. There’s a collection of two or three houses around the airstrip that belong to the Flying Mission folks. Outside of the FM land, there’s the occasional collection of mud huts and a new tavern that just opened up (more on that later), but it’s mostly farms. So when I say “the neighborhood,” I mean we walked by the mud huts. There were many kids out and about (school hasn’t started yet), and since I’m the new white guy on the block, they all went (in dialect), “Ooh, white guy!” – thanks Mesheck for translating.


I didn’t feel comfortable photographing people outside their homes, but this photo of a fruit stand should give you a good idea of what it was like.

I asked Mesheck what it was these people did for a living, and he said they almost all work for a landowner. That is, many work on the nearby farms, a few work for the brick-laying company nearby (there’s a clay site on FM property), and many work for a charcoal company. Charcoal is very common here as it’s used for heating and cooking (gas is more efficient, but more expensive; electricity is unreliable). He said there was only one person who worked for himself, and that was a carpenter.


Rock cutting is also a popular profession.

We exited the mud huts to the bus stop, which was right in front of a tavern. I asked Mesheck what he thought about that, and he said he was not very excited. Apparently there are more drunks here than “social drinkers,” if you will. Drunks become debtees, and debtees become thieves. So Mesheck concluded that the tavern would lead to more theft, violence, and general disruption, and it wasn’t worth the few new jobs, which would probably be taken by folks from far away anyways.

As we waited for the van I asked what he was studying in school. Mesheck is in eleventh grade and his favorite subject is Physics. I indicated to him I liked physics as well, and from then on he was always showing off his math skills. He immediately began to calculate how long it would take us to get into town if it was a 20 km drive and the van moved at 60 km/hr. “Let me calculate…” he began.

After a while the van pulled up and we hopped in. The minibuses are no bigger than one of those old VW “hippie vans.” That is, they are about the length and width of a decent size sedan, but they have seating all the way back. These vans in particular have three rows behind the driver, and each row has a seat on the door side that folds down. So the van fills from left to right and back to front. As the rows in the back fill, so the seats go down to make room for more people. Fully loaded, they hold four people per row and two in the front (the third is the driver, there is no fourth to make sure the driver is never disrupted), plus the Transportation Officer (the equivalent of an ayudante, for those who remember my Guatemala bloggings). So… 16 people. It’s quite crowded. Oh, and these weren’t made for tall people – I have to sit hunched over and if I’m not careful, I’ll hit my head on the ceiling with every bump.

The minibusses are K6.50 per person per ride. The rate is $1 = K5.5, so K6.50 is about $1.18. Once we got moving, I handed K15 to the TO, expecting change (the ayudantes ALWAYS had change). After a few minutes, I asked Mesheck, “So, do I get change?”

“Yes,” he said, “You will get change. How much change will you get? Let me calculate.”

And then he calculated.

I’m exhausted, so that’s all for today. Short story, I found Zambikes and am going back tomorrow. All is well and stories abound. ‘Till next time.


And remember kids, biking is also a great way to exercise.

2 thoughts on “Let Me Calculate

  1. Marilyn says:

    Glad to hear how it’s going. Fascinating. Is it dangerous? Is that why Sue said that you shouldn’t go alone? If yes, I’m glad that she’s there to show you the ropes.

    Can’t wait to hear more, and about Zambikes.

    • Kyle says:

      Hey Mom —

      Still getting a feel for the dangers. Everybody seems to think going out at night is a bad idea, which is a change from India, at least, and small-town Guate. Other than that though, it seems common sense will go a long way.

      The main reason Misheck goes with me is because he knows Lusaka like the back of his hand, and I find myself getting lost very easily (there are no street signs!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *