We left Zambia in its fall: dry corn stalks and combines harvesting soybeans. Where there’s irrigation the winter wheat is emerging a soft green. Those that have access to water are busy planting vegetable gardens. There won’t be any rain to speak of until late October, with the onset of the rainy season.
Back home in lush green Switzerland: The corn is coming up nicely, the sugar beets are covering the soil, the haying is done, the canola is podding, wheat and barley are in head. It’s such a neat, tidy country with its clean villages – century old houses surrounded by blooming Elderberry and peonies.
But I miss Zambia, with its streets and roadsides teeming with people in colourful clothing. I miss the street vendors in hastily constructed shelters of rough lumber in a row along a busy junction. Many more sit on the bare ground beside a basket of tomatoes, bananas, or freshly harvested groundnuts (peanuts) which are so tasty boiled for 15 minutes. The more prosperous might have an array of the seasonal vegetables and fruits – apples and oranges just harvested from South Africa, bananas, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and everywhere, water melon. May is watermelon season. Depending on the size, they sell for one to two dollars. So sweet, so good!
Zambia is booming – everywhere buildings are going up. The cement block makers are doing good business. Roads are even more congested as the growing middle class acquires cars. Infrastructure struggles to keep up with the boom. More money in the country means basic staples like food become more expensive. The director of CINDI, a Kitwe NGO working with vulnerable children, told me that although for many things are getting better, for the poor, things are the same or worse. The young woman selling a basket of groundnuts along the road struggles constantly to put food on the table. There are few options for a girl like her, often with a poor education; no job opportunities to speak of. Many of these girls, out of desperation, turn to prostitution for a living. That’s one commodity that always seems to have a market. It comes with a high price – according to Irene who works with prostitutes, most of them end up being HIV positive.
I saw good things happening in Zambia. I saw the towns swelling with new houses. New roads are being built. I met a growing number of emerging farmers – the group that is moving from small scale farmer status to making it a serious business.
But I also saw the other side – the street vendors sitting beside a basket of groundnuts and bananas, hoping to sell enough to buy supper that night. I met the prostitutes who see no other way to make a living than to sell their bodies. I heard about the many small scale farmers that are still struggling to just feed their families. There are the masses of the poor in the teeming compounds of the cities – the shanty towns – that somehow survive, although most of them have little or no steady income.
Zambia’s coming up, but there’s still a long ways to go.