It’s a day off work and I decide to take a walk in the morning, which means at 6.30, since people get up here between 4 and 5 pm. I’m myself still getting used to early risings (and early bedtimes). After the house fence I meet one of the family members (read: a family member of an extended family – I am still not on track who is related to who and by whom), a school-age girl. She asks “Can I court you” and I answer “Sure.”
We start walking in a rather chilly but sunny weather, which gets warmer every minute as sun rises higher and higher. I haven’t talked a whole lot before with her and making a conversation feels challenging. I can’t ask about holiday trips, entertainment gadgets, going for a hairdresser, buying make-up products, family members (a total no-no) or about biking (haven’t seen bikes in the house), so I make a clumsy question about school and ask “Which grade are you in?” The conversation doesn’t start to flow and we decide to continue in a silence. Long silences (ones that I could have never imagined to be found here) seem to be here quite common and small-talks (if had at all) are short as are phone calls that can quit without warning or any “closure”. I don’t know if the reason for the latter is simply the fact that this saves a long penny on a phonebill…
We pass red wooden hovels that sell sim-cards and other phone related products, a market place full of vegetables (tomatoes are put on display in beautiful high upright triangle-forms), and piles of shoes, magazines, underwear and cds and cassette-tapes(!)in the ground waiting for a buyer.
It feels like the silence has gone on forever and I decide to ask what is a shoe in Chinyanja (a local language) and she answers quickly “nsapato” (spelling checked at home!) looking away from me. I learn new words such as nthochi (banana), fish (nsomba) and I finally understand what a commonly repeated word or phrase including “kulu” stands for. “It means that something is big”, my guide explains. I take a longer look at her and think how hard it is to believe hat she’s only 13! Well, the children in the house thought I was 35 (I am 28 next month). Sambia’s life expectancy is by the way only about 35 years, so I barely managed to stay alive in their eyes. I learnt the previous fact when I regreted someone dying so young (at the age of 27), and my host-family brother (20 years) pointed out that “life expectancy is 35, by the way”.
We walk a long sand road covered with little boutigues and saloons (that’s how “a hair dresser” is expressed in Chinyanja I learn) that takes us to another wider sand road turning to left. We continue going trucks passing us by and leaving the air full of black thick smoke that she tries to wipe out with her long arms.” This road takes to Malawi”, she says her knees raising high with every step. “Okay”, I mumble once again. People offer me bicycle taxes and ask “Muli bwanji” (“How are you”), but even though I have just learnt the answer nothing comes out of my mind, just some mumbling that causes great laughs and some more questions.
Back home I upload the photos taken during our walk and ask her if she has an email-address, or a memory card (another really stupid question from me) or something so that she could have them also. “No”, she stares at me now right at my face. “I will print them for you somewhere”, I mumble.