Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ba Zungo

i'm currently in lusaka nailing down the final details of the job i'll be working for my last 8 or so months of service. i have finally gotten everything arranged, which is a relief as i've been working on it for a while. i'll send you more details on the job later, the biggest aspect of the transfer is that i'll be leaving my village earlier than expected.

a large part of what makes my village life so interesting at times is, of course, the people who live there. one of my favorites is a man named ba zungo. he's a retired school teacher who probably weighs in at 90 lbs. soaking wet; he's about 5'5" maybe, his face is deeply lined and his balding head is studded with tight tufts of white hair. he has a strange habit of screwing up one side of his mouth when he speaks which gives his face a lopsided appearance during conversations, an impression that becomes even more pronounced when you notice he is missing two of his front teeth on the right side of his mouth. i'm assuming he can walk normally but i've rarely seen it because he staggers everywhere he goes as he is perpetually drunk on kacasu, a village-brewed moonshine that can literally make you go blind or worse--the fact that ba zungo is still alive is a testament to the stunning tenacity of the human body.

ba zungo gained brief notoriety in a small circle of my pcv friends when shawn, richard, and joel were all at my house one day. ever the gentleman, ba zungo lurched into my yard to greet the visitors, and immediately asked them why they couldn't assist him financially. they for their part asked him why he didn't spend the money he used on kacasu to meet his other needs. ba zungo straightened up, blinking owlishly for several seconds as he pondered this impertinence; then, a look of triumph flashed across his face as he hit upon the ideal retort. turning to shawn, thrusting a finger at his pendant-adorned neck, ba zungo parried with his own query: "let me ask you a question. what is that necklace?" so that gives you an idea of what a thrill it is to talk to ba zungo, it is regularly the highlight or lowlight of my day.

a short time ago i happened across him early in the morning looking particularly sharp; his shirt, rolled up at the cuffs to hit just below his wrist, were clean, his trousers bunched around the waist by his cinched-up belt looked pressed, and his vest was only missing two buttons. i remarked on how smart he looked and he launched into a long soliloquy about how hard zambians work and how he in particular toils night and day, but when he gets dressed up no one asks him to work. reflecting that this seemed like a solid strategy for shirking one's duties, i said goodbye and we parted ways. later that day many of my villagers gathered to help build a nearby house. ba zungo, now thoroughly drunk, saw me and told me he was on his way to change as he now was going to be doing some 'rough' work and he didn't want to spoil his clothes. he went on at length about how difficult the job would be and how messy he was going to get until i managed to shoo him gently out of my yard. even with all his claims about his work ethic, however, i still wasn't surprised when i looked over about an hour later and there was ba zungo, sitting on the ground and shouting orders at everyone that they were all ignoring. i decided to walk by the house for a closer look on my way to the river; ba zungo, apparently exhausted from hindering other people's work all day, was now stretched out flat in the shade while about ten men, all pouring down sweat, bustled around constructing the house in the intense heat. i laughed and filed away the memory to tease ba zungo with the next time he claimed to work hard; however, i'd underestimated him; as i walked away he spotted me from his supine position, and his thin voice floated after me: "you see ba joshua? this is how we africans work."

i hope all is well in the states, i know things are great in new england right now, given the boston sports teams' successes. i've spent hours hunched over the computer trying to download clips of red sox and patriots games, cursing slow internet and drinking up every 2 second clip i manage to watch. it's a great time to be a new england fan, it just figures i'm half a world away while it's happening.

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