As I mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to stay in a rural village following a community meeting. This was my first venture into rural
Life here in rural Zambia is certainly different than in Vancouver, Toronto, Kingston, Wallaceburg, and any other Canadian city and you have to let go of what you know and are used to, in order to truly experience and embrace the differences; luxury is if your house has a tin rather than thatch roof; your family’s security is dependent on if and how much the rains will fall; you eat what is in season; you live with extended extended extended family; the women cook, and the men do not; children don't eat with adults; it is called maize, not corn; the milk is fresh, not processed; the night skies are filled with glittering stars as there is no electrical lights to compete with; water comes from a well; bedtime is when the sun goes down and you get up is when the sun rises; nothing is ever thrown away; you know what plants are edible, and which are not; cows, pigs and chickens roam freely by as you prepare your next meal; you read a book because you're studying something; aids is a reality; As much as I try to blend in and do as the locals do, it is inevitable that I stand out and everyone is curious about what the white person will do, how my white (yes, white) skin feels, if I’m able to eat nshima like them, and how my hair can be so straight.
Despite all of those things that me different from them, there are also those common things that strip away our differences and unite us as people, equal as humans; that unrestrained smile that transforms strangers into friends, the curiosity of children, love of family, kindness and compassion, tears of sadness, the joy of laughter and the list goes on.
During this time here, I happened upon another one that was somewhat unexpected but one that I will remember with fondness.
After church on Sunday, Madame Chiyombwe, the mother of the family I was staying with, said to me, “ Ka-Hay, you know, every year, as the rainy season ends, there are bicycle races that take place ever other week starting at 14:00. Today will be the first one of the year. Would you like to go and see?
“Bicycle races!?!?!?” But of course!
You see, among the many wonderful gifts that my parents gave my three older brothers and I there was the love of sport. Before I can even remember, our family would gather around swim meets, bike races, running races and triathlons. Guided by our parents, we were used to testing our bodies to their limits and pushing just beyond. From the time I was three, once a month, the six of us get up at the crack of dawn, pack into our sky blue Oldsmobile and travel throughout the cities of southern
I remember my brothers, all older and wiser than me, always chatting about the latest must-have equipment, the science of sporting technology, how we could shave seconds of our time if only our bikes were set up differently. I remember saving up our money from lifeguarding in order to buy the newest gadgets, and justifying the purchase to our dad who of course thought it was all a waste of money. Afterall, when he grew up in
To this day, one of my fondest memories of summer is when our family would meet in
This was what I knew of swimming, biking and triathlons and on that Sunday afternoon, I honestly had had no idea what to expect in this remote community far off the tar road that was ‘deep into the heart of
I walked with Freeman and one of Madame’s daughters, Viola and asked ‘Where will the racers go?’. They both waved their arms in a wide circle around them and pointed to no path I could see, to ‘that tree over there’ in the distance, and to homes hidden from my sight, but recognizable in their memory. After their carefully detailed answer, I still had no idea where the course was, but understood that it would cover somewhere around 40 km, start and end conveniently at the community tavern and it would make one loop around the outskirts of the community and out to the foothills off to the south. They said that it was probably going to take the riders about 1:45 – 2 hours and when I arrived, it was nearing that time.
Even before I could see the finish line, I could hear drumming and voices of a crowd. I arrived to see spectators passing the time until the winners arrived by dancing and showing off the impossibly awesome dance moves (how hips are able to move in ways I will never know). Friends chatted, babies hung off their mother’s backs, children roamed freely, and men drank their maize beer.
I tried to wander around the crowds inconspicuously but my white skin betrayed me and was I shoved into the middle of the crowd. Inquisitive eyes peered at me, and curious hands reached out to touch my skin. I took pleasure responding to their question of ‘where are you from’ with the honest ‘
As I was tried out my
In maneuvering to get a better view the crowd began to resemble the masses that lined the roads in the L’alp d’huez stages of the Tour and road began to disappear amidst the bodies. Crowd control in this neck of the woods resembled the herding of cattle and after a few whips of a stick, the road reappeared again.
Cheers soon erupted along the line of people like a game of dominos and before I knew it, the first rider whizzed by and then the second, and then the third. People began yelling, clapping, hugging and others spoke with surprise as the reigning champion was dethroned.
The post race party was not unlike those in
Friends and strangers alike hovered around the racers and everyone wanted to touch the bicycles. And these bicycles showed the innovation and creativity that existed within these individuals and communities.
Speaking of these bicycles, if you’ll let me, I’d like to digress for just a moment. You see, one of the things that never sat well with me when I was in
Anyway, there were no carbon fibre seat posts, no aerodynamic helmets, no yellow jerseys, no cowbells (surprisingly), no one had heard of Cervelo and certainly there were no scandals of blood doping. What there was a sense of community, a sense of competition, innovation, creativity, all in the commonplace of sport. And on this Sunday afternoon, although half a world away, I found a bit of home and a familiarity in people.