• Christina Rock

On Expats in Zambia

Colonialism is alive and well.

I’m sitting in a garden ‘atrium’ in Lusaka.

Or rather, I’m sitting in an odd patio-shaped, floor-to-ceiling cage, surrounded by garden. Welcome to post-colonialism. The garden is outside, as is the street, the dogs, the people, the trees, the city, and the country itself for that matter. We must look like odd little exotic animals in a zoo, tended by a variety of keepers we pay to come in from the world outside. How very strange and awkward.

The '70s-era house has a bell system with buzzers in each room that come replete with a handful of people willing to run, should they ring. Although our hosts never press them, thankfully, out of some presumed moral objection (I hope). Nevertheless, the house comes with a retinue of staff, who see to tasks as varied as opening the gate for cars and doing laundry.

Outside the city hums. A hive of makeshift industry. We passed a street lined with an impressive variety of locally made wares, things created without the luxury of infrastructure. Not just your average roadside offerings, but huge steel gates, windows, and door frames being welded roadside, as if we were in some disaster relief camp and everything must be made, however possible, on-site.

There was a carpentry section just beyond the place a sidewalk might sit if we were elsewhere. Men worked on planing machines, crafting furniture all-sorts. The country was once full of beautiful hardwoods, now thinned in their ranks. The most modest of homes feature mahogany chairs.

There is also a profusion of poinsettias. I had no idea they were trees. I had always just viewed them as cat-poisoning potted Christmas plants, rarely likely to see June.

There are a variety of hazards here. When I count them, colonization seems deeply unlikely and it is shocking that it actually occurred at all. Perhaps the most science fiction-like of these hazards is the putzi fly. We were warned not to let our clothes get damp, a condition which apparently allows the fly’s larvae to gestate, which they do from safely below your skin. They burrow in and grow, emerging as maggots around ten days later. The remedy is to cover their breathing hole and squeeze them out manually.

I’m thus avoiding sweat and laundry at great lengths.

Unfortunately, the caged veranda doesn’t offer shelter from these hazards and perhaps that is how Africa gained her revenge.

Image by Bo Løvschall​

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