Monday, November 30, 2009

under the kitchen thatch.

My mom taught me to see the beauty in everything.

free 30 day refund guaranteed

Up until 1992, Zambia had a mostly centrally controlled economy. While this seemed to work for a few decades after independence, the government coffers started to run dry, access to goods became more difficult; I hear stories of people needing to queue for things, store shelves which were empty, and how difficult it was even to buy an apple.

But then 1993 came; in swept Chiluba, that panacea called structural adjustments and with it came free market mechanisms. So, it’s not that long ago -- just 16 years -- that that Zambia has been learning to do business in a new way; which means that conventional market behaviours and norms are still in development in this country.

This includes product marketing. For example, sometimes, when vendors want me to buy something, their strategy is just say ‘buy it!’. When I decline, they use the seemingly universal marketing tactic – inching closer to me and raising the volume: “COME ON, JUST BUY IT! ”. (Should I admit that sometimes this works?)

So when I actually see some pretty interesting marketing strategies, I pay attention. I was rolling through Kitwe this past weekend on the bus and noticed this sign, enticing me to buy meat pies – the best, no no, the PERFECT ones around, and if I don't agree, I don't even need to pay!

I give an A for effort.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I love toast

i do.

I love toast and butter.

Sometimes though, my love for things doesn't quite equal my attention span for making it happen.

GET A TOASTER! I avoided buying a toaster for the longest time. Too luxurious I said. I don't need one.

And then we got one. and it broke within a few months. I think it was Chinese made. And it lived up to that reputation.

Toast and butter. It's all about the simple things in life.

Development measured by potholes?

"Curses!! "


I was struggling to walk in a straight line because my eyes were squinted shut, doing my best to keep all of the dust and sand from exfoliating my eye balls. This, I told myself, is why god did not make our eye lids out of sandpaper. What a smart guy.

What's happening you say? Well, they're paving the main road by our house.

We live in Kabwata Site and service, a nice middle class area. I love it. I love it because it is very, well, simple. And has a sense of community. We live about 500m from the Chilumbulu Road, a main thoroughfare. If you're coming from town, you get off at St. Patrick's corner. This corner is an epi-centre of business. You think Superstore has selection? You should check this place out. You can fruit there, you can get vegetables there, you can get your shoes repaired ( though, from experience, you may not get them back in the time they were promised). You can get your hair done after you picked up some rebar, before going on to buy wooden beds, wooden shoe racks, wooden coffee tables. Talk time, roasted maize and roasted cassava. You can get live chickens, you can get used shoes, you can get the latest shipment of the latest fruits fresh from the field out of the back of a pick up. You can catch a taxi there, you can get accosted by mini-bus conductors there and if the need arises, you can even visit Dr. Yi, at the aptly named Chinese run medical clinic. ( "Your friend…no?" ask the shoe repair guy. No, sir, no, not my friend. ).

Glorious fresh fruit sold by Sarah at the Supercorner

500 m down this unpaved road, is our house. This road, is notorious. Notoriously bad that is. It isn't paved, and by 'isn't paved', I mean it's like a mogul run. During rainy season, it was like mogul run meets rally car racing. Taxi drivers charge us more to go down it ( I don't blame them). "ah, you live where?, that will be 30 pin then. The extra 10 is for cleaning". It would be unwise to wear nice shoes if walking because they would go from nice shoes to mud clogs in about 10 steps. And it would be unwise to not concentrate on walking because you never know when a hole could jump up and grab your ankle, twisting it in ways it shouldn’t be twisted. Everyone would click their tongues as you bounced up and down the bumps, and cars would delicately and cautiously inch along, so not as to bottom out.

near our house

"They'll pave it. This Lubwinda's area" in reference to the senior MP in the opposition party and kabwata is an opposition stronghold. They told us this 10 months ago when we moved in. And because i've lived here for the last 2.5 years, I have learned to file expectations and anything that finished with a 'Now Now' under the ' do not disturb' folder.

And it was a-ok. I actually really liked it. the unpaved road was part of the reason why I loved the neighbourhood. Two weeks ago when I had just come back to Lusaka from being away for a month, I was walking back home, stubbed my toe on the rock that jutted out, and after the pain subsided, I realised how much more I preferred that to the sidewalks of Toronto. Something about it was more simple. I looked down the dusty road that continued over the railway tracks and wove down through unfinished houses and I realised what it was is that I really liked that raw feeling. Like things weren't perfectly put together, like there was movement, like things were in the process of building, of being created, it felt like it was alive. Less superficial. And that was something that I really enjoy.

the road right after they had graded it the first time. note that citizen action lead to a speedbump to slow down traffic

A few months ago, instead of paving it, they graded it - as in, they came by and tried to flatten everything out we thought that that was going to be the extent of it. Last Wednesday, Kumoyo, our taxi driver friend told me that they had come to measure the road. " Ya, they came that other day. they said that they were going to come to put down gravel tomorrow. That was yesterday, meaning today" ( don't ask me to clarify dates. I always get confused by how dates are referred to here. and I don't have the mental capacity to figure it out right now). "Ah, but they're probably already chewed the money". "It's true" I agreed, "they probably did".

But lo and behold, things do change. "Now now" might actually arrive one day and on Monday this week, the gravel trucks came! They really came! And within 5 days, they've laid down a nice solid layer of earth about 1 KM long ( I have no idea how 1km/5 days measures up in infrastructure but hey, it's fast to me.). Where mogul bumps were, there is now a fresh track of smooth, packed in, road. No tarmac yet, and not sure when that's going to come. 'now now' I'm sure. But it doesn't matter. The main thing is that the promise of the road actually is starting to come true!

And also, where there were cars, gingerly inching along, are young chaps CRUISING along. CRUISING! Honking, and cruising. Passing when they're not supposed to be passing and being one of THOSE drivers. And I'm starting to be one of THOSE citizens.

Which takes me to the beginning of this post.

I was walking along this morning to catch a mini bus near the Superstore corner. Just enjoying the fact that now the road was closed to being paved, I could daydream and walk without risking a sprained ankle. And I hear this rumble, this loud, rumble that was coming fast. And whoooooosh, this huge -- it must have been 100 tonne -- construction truck blew by, and made like it was the 401. dust flew everywhere, swirling up, down, in my ears, under my eyelids. It was like the skies had opened up and poured dust down. Everyone was shocked. Coughing. A number of"Hmmmmmmmmmm" squeals came out. I'm sure, if I listened hard enough, I could have heard a baby yelping even

And it kept happening. This evening, when I was heading out to buy candles as the power was out, whoooooosh, white car speeds by. Whoooooosh, whoooooosh. Someone's going to get hit no doubt. (Yes, KH, given my calamity factor, there is a high chance that that someone might be me).

And so I asked Noah, the guy who sells me the candles on the side of this road: hey, what do you think about them paving this road? 'well, it has its good parts and its bad parts". then I went thinking. Here was a road, something that was simple. It served its purpose. And now, we have to go and pave it. and what's going to happen is that cars are going to zoom in and out. someone's going to get hit. And if I think about the drainage problem that we're going to have ( and already have), we'll probably have increased rates of malaria in the area because we know that this area sure gets a lot of water, and it doesn't seem to have a lot of places to go. ( see photo, this is infront of our house. It hasn't rained for months and yet, we have a perfect festering pond for mozies.)

So, is this development? paved roads? Is this the trade off between mud clogs and well kept cars? Is this the meaning of progress?

Yes! Yes! more roads! some would say. This is exactly what development is! more infrastructure!

No! No! no more roads! this is the path that we went along and this is wrong! don't follow us!

Well, in all of this, I recognised 2 things: first of all, i might be resistant to change that Zambians might themselves enjoy. I like living on a dirt road, but maybe that's not what Zambians themselves want. which leads me to my second thought: hey, unless I'm going to be living here for the rest of my life and make Zambia my home peromanently, then the most important thing in all of this is that a leader listened to its people, found a vision, and has taken action on it. Maybe that is the measurement of progress.

(Don’t worry, I'm going to stop philosophical musings come November when the rains start to fall and my feet are nice and dry.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zambian made phones

So, you can now buy Zambian made mobile handsets...

Maybe not manufacturing but assemblying. And this seems to have coincided with an increase in tarrifs on foreign made handsets. Is this a start of diversifying the local economy outside of copper and agriculture?

This initiative is supported by various dev agencies including JICA. Interestingly they are implementing kaizen in plant operations.

I wish the development sector would implement Kaizen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Check this out: I came across this article in NYT today on French farmers diversifying their investments. Into cows!

When I first arrived in Zambia in 2007, I worked on the PROFIT project that is trying to improve smallholder participation in the beef industry. One of the focuses was to develop private vet services available to rural communities to improve livestock health so that farmers could start managing their cattle as an income source and supply improved quality into the formal beef industry.

I remember the conversations in communities and with farmers who looked to cattle as social status, and for a select group, who were starting to manage cattle as an income source. I remember trying to wrap my head around how farmers saw cattle - as a social status, as bank to invest profits from this year's maize harvest into, as a dowry for wedding, as an ATM for withdrawing money when they needed to send a child to school, or as a losing stock by selling it at 50% price when it was sick. Trying to explain this to colleagues and friends back home was difficult as having a bank on four legs doesn't exactly register for you if you live in Vancouver. But I guess what's interesting is that a farmer in France could have more in common with a farmer in Malama community in Zambia.

As much as the NYT article might highlight a similar valuation of cattle between farmer in France and a farmer in Zambia, that might be where the similiarities stop.

Take for example, a French cow has access to a massage contraption (see first photo) . In Zambia, farmers are trying to figure out how to keep their cows alive as foot and mouth disease, CBPP and other tick born diseases will devastate herds, resulting in lost capacity for farming ( as cattle are used in land preparation) which has direct impact on food security, or resulting in regional travel bans on cows, limiting farmer access to markets ( and thus the income available). A COW in France receives approximately $2/day in subsidies….contrast this with ~60% of Zambians ( read: PEOPLE) living on less than $1/day). Something about that just doesn't seem quite right.

There has been a really interesting initiative coming out of the EU: that has advocated for EU countries to publish agricultural subsidies as a move to increase transparency. Turns out that subsidies are somehow subsidizing Weight Watchers meals for the US and the UK. Something about that doesn't seem quite right either...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Patience young grasshopper

You know, we just can’t seem to shake it.

Chinese I mean. We’ve got a lot of stereotypes. I’ve written about it before.

Our family seemed to always have fought them ( we grew up in Wallaceburg, none of us are doctors, lawyers, and sure, maybe two of us went through engineering, but look at what we're doing...) . But the reality is, we just cant’ seem to escape them because it just runs in our blood ( see my brother KK’s evidence

Consider this exchange that I had with Teddy, our housemate....(who lives in the chicken koop...but that is another story) the last few days.

Sunday: I had walked into our living room one day to see him watching a Zambian karate match on TV. Thinking it was a harmless joke, I said, “eh, Teddy, I’ll teach you this.” “ OH YAH!? I want to learn”

“no on, I’m just kidding, I don’t know, but everyone thinks I know."

Monday evening: I’m working at the kitchen table, and Teddy pulls up a chair. “ so, sister Ka-Hay, when are you going to teach me the “ insert a few hand jabs into the air “ these moves”.

“ uhhh what?”

“you know, the KA-La-Tey” .

“oh ya. Sorry teddy, I’m very sorry. I was just kidding”

“AAAAAAH…no. no no. come one. I really want to learn”

“Ya, I’m sure you do, …..but really I don’t know.”

“ah, no, please please. Please teach me. I can to learn….”

“ and…I know these “ and makes the gesture of bench pressing “ and I can teach you how to do them". Seeing as he had a bandage on his left eye last week because he had dropped the bench press bar on his face…that didn't necessarily sweeten the deal....not that there really is one. And hey, what’s he saying…that I need to do some weights? shit....i'm getting soft.

“ Sorry teddy. I was really just joking when I said I knew. I don’t know. not a bit! Have no idea! Sorry. sorry. Did I disappoint you?” I was expecting the typical Zambian polite response.

“ah, BAD. Very BAD” shaking his head and shoulders slumped. interesting, I think we have a pretty open and trusting relationship.

Tuesday: Teddy is in the kitchen, doing dishes. I walk in.

"Hey teddy, how’s it going?"

“So, you really are not going to teach me?”….

I'm starting to feel really bad now. Anyone have a quick 12 step guide to ka-lah-tey they can lend me? I need to put him out of his misery.