The Same, but Different

Many times, the first questions our family and friends from “back home” (which for us encompasses various parts of Canada, the USA, and Europe) have for us include some variation of “What is it like living in Africa?” It’s a totally understandable question to ask, given that not many have had the opportunity to actually try it out, and given that the stories and events that make the news tend to focus on places and situations far outside what is probably familiar to many North Americans. With that in mind, and with over a year of living here under our belts now, we want to show and tell you a little bit of what in fact it is like for our particular family living in this particular part of Africa.

First of all, we live in a city (see Lusaka’s Wikipedia entry here), and we have found this to be a significant and sometimes difficult adjustment in itself, coming from a small town in mostly-rural Iowa. Everything is generally noisier and busier in a city (maybe especially in an African city) than in the suburbs and small towns of North America. Lusaka has a population of well over 3 million people, and has both the benefits and challenges you might expect any growing city to experience. Infrastructure is an ongoing challenge; for example, in late January, our electricity supply increased to 16 hours per 24-hour period, meaning there would be 2 4-hour periods when we did not have power. (I should note that I am using these numbers fairly loosely, as that’s how Zesco, the electrical company, also seems to understand them.😄) Yes, I did say this was an increase – for the several weeks prior, power had been about half on and half off, in either 6 or 12 hour increments. This is a seasonal problem, due in part to low water levels in Lake Kariba where Zambia’s main generating stations are located. The rainy season is here now, and we hope that there will be a general uptick in generating capacity going forward. Still, even in “good power” times, we certainly experience more outages, low-voltage periods, or unexplained electrical weirdness than we were used to in Iowa. Like many (but certainly not most!) people here, we are thankful to have back-up power systems in our home, such as batteries and inverter, a generator, or solar power options. This helps a lot with a general feeling of stability, as well as the obvious things like cooking, or homeschooling that requires technology, or even literally keeping the lights on. It can be dark in the house this time of year, with so much cloudy weather even when it’s not raining.

Another infrastructure challenge is the road system. Lusaka has lots of paved roads, with lots and lots of potholes, missing pieces of pavement, collapsed shoulders (or just no shoulder at all in the first place) plaguing many of these roads. It has plenty of unpaved roads too, and these can become quite an obstacle course during rainy season. You know you’ve adjusted to this when your description of the route to a new friend’s house includes “we only bottomed out once, and didn’t get stuck anywhere!!” Here is the current situation on campus, where our laneway turns off the Justo Mwale loop:

Traffic in general is not usually too difficult to deal with, even when there is a lot of it, as most people don’t tend to speed. There certainly are times and places in Lusaka where you know you will be stuck waiting, or going very very slowly, like in any city. Minibuses though seem to be a rule unto themselves, and we laugh at the ones that have sayings like “Judge Not” or “God Forgives” painted across the back or even at the top of the windshield. They almost all have some kind of phrase or name or other remark painted on them, sometimes logical, sometimes nothing we can make much sense of. We have not really tried out the public transit options here in Lusaka, which includes taxis and larger buses as well as the many many minibuses (mostly 12-14 passenger vans). We do have our own van, and while the minibuses may drive quickly when they’re actually driving, the frequent stops and various routes will make a trip take much longer than we could drive it ourselves. They’re also usually very full, (read: overflowing, sometimes with the back hatch not able to close) and I’d just as soon not cram my groceries and my children into them, since I don’t have to. Ironically, as we drive a large van, it is very common for us to see people assuming we are a minibus ourselves, as they try to flag us down for a ride. Maybe one of these times we’ll stop for them, and see if they actually would get in with all of us. I suspect they would be surprised when we opened the doors.

Shopping in Lusaka can be really easy, and it can be really frustrating, even just for regular grocery items. We have plenty of basic supermarkets here, plus some nice specialty shops, butcheries, and bakeries, as well as the ubiquitous roadside vendors and many, many market areas, and yet sometimes you cannot find celery anywhere, even though you had no problem getting some just last week. Sometimes the milk shelf at Shoprite has all low-fat milk, but next time it might be all full fat. Most of the time though, we are able to find most of what we want to buy, even things that are familiar to us, and if not the same, at least similar to what we would buy and eat in North America. Sometimes I think that the differences can be more American vs British than American vs African, in fact, especially in terms of brands available. Of course, there are things in the shops we go to here that you won’t find in most Iowan grocery stores, such as kapenta,

or your staple 25 kilo bags of nshima (finely ground maize to make a sort of thick porridge). Right outside the supermarket (or any store, or any bus stop, or speed bump, or … you get the idea), you’re likely to find several vendors on the curb offering things like dried fish, dried caterpillars, roasted maize, bananas, tomatoes, pineapples, mangoes, and more.

One of the benefits of city living here is that restaurants abound in Lusaka, and it is not difficult to find Indian, American, Chinese, Lebanese, Turkish, Italian, Nigerian, or Thai food, as well as places with mostly Zambian dishes. For a land-locked country, the seafood offerings also seem pretty good. Price ranges seem similar to what we were used to in Iowa. Almost anything can be delivered to your house, even if the restaurant itself doesn’t offer delivery – there are motorcycle couriers available all over the city, many just for food deliveries.

Other shopping, such as for household items, sporting equipment, furniture, hardware, clothing, etc … can be a similar experience as for groceries. If we can’t find something, it’s usually because we don’t know who to ask. From power tools and appliances, to furniture both second-hand and brand new, custom-made, to clothing either boutique, department-store, or second-hand from market vendors (plus any number of tailors and dressmakers to make whatever you might be looking for) to stationery, toys, and books(!!), almost anything can be acquired if you have the time to look for it, aren’t super picky about selection, and of course have the money to pay for it.

(Above pictures: Manda Hill Mall and a weekend market in the parking lot of Arcades Mall; both are not far from our place in Lusaka.)

I want to mention one significant factor to consider as to whether food, clothing, and other goods and services prices seem similar to what we were used to in North America, or at least not always a lot higher. While this may be the case, it is also true that the average income in Zambia is not at all similar to North American incomes. In Lusaka, salaries will have a huge range, but we know some general workers who are paid around $100/month USD. See also here. Considering that, we know that many of the things we personally might buy without much thought are completely inaccessible for many Zambians.

It is interesting to observe prices and the wide range, especially when comparing local items to imports, and of course the range in quality. We are thankful to have been able to find most of the food and clothes we have needed here at fairly reasonable prices (for us), with some things costing more than you might pay in Iowa, especially if you are looking for higher quality, but others costing less. Guess how much we paid for this stack of 60 eggs, for example:

(Scroll to see exchange rate at the time)

Having experienced an entire calendar year here in Lusaka has made us aware of how much of life in Iowa reflected the seasons, and specifically the weather of those seasons. Things like outdoor swimming, lawn games in the backyard, and air conditioning in the car are no longer limited to a few summer months. The school calendars also tend to be more year-round, with more frequent, but shorter breaks than the long summer break we took in Iowa. There is a contrast between the dry and rainy seasons, but it’s definitely not like going from shoveling snow in February to hot and hazy July afternoons at the pool. You see the seasons changing here in the bewildering amount of dust coming in the house even through closed windows (dry season), or in the ever-present smell of new green things and damp earth, and even more produce for sale along the street (rainy season).

Playing Kubspell with friends on a January afternoon.
Just a little rain outside our front door.

Below: last July – a dry-season hike in the “winter.”

Whenever I think of changing seasons, and notice myself adapting to (or coping with) change, I can hear in my mind my pastor from years ago, at the church I grew up in, quoting Isaiah 40:8:

“The grass withers, and the flower fades,

but the word of our God shall stand forever.”

So, it turns out that there are actually many aspects of life that easily carry over from Iowa to Zambia for us. We buy groceries at a supermarket with a credit card, or we withdraw cash from an ATM to buy produce at a market stall. We have dental appointments, eye exams, and urgent care clinic visits, and usually notice very little difference from what might have been our North American experience for the same things. We sing familiar hymns in church, and walk to a friend’s house so our kids can play together in the afternoon. We walk the dog, call a plumber, and take out the trash. Just, with all of these things, sometimes – most times – there will be an interaction, or a situation, (not necessarily positive or negative – just “different”) a feeling of uncertainty or the unknown, that never quite lets us forget where we are, and where we aren’t. We’re at home here, yet we talk about our family and friends “back home.” It’s the same, but different. It is a vivid reminder of our place in this world – anywhere in the world – as Christians: because we are part of the body of Christ, we can find home anywhere among other believers, and when we feel unsettled, out of place, or homesick, we can rest in the knowledge that our true and final home is not this world.

~ Please feel free to ask us questions if you are curious about life in Lusaka! We still often feel very new here, and won’t ever be anything like local experts, but we’ll gladly share our experiences and observations.

Living this Life

Sometimes it is easy to forget that what seems like normal life to us might be interesting to our family and friends that live far away, namely, not in Africa. I was realizing that we haven’t posted that many pictures or written many blog posts about our lives and work here in Lusaka compared with how much we were able to share about our time in Kenya in 2016. I think that demonstrates part of how a short-term sabbatical is different from an indefinite-term move of house and home and all that. I feel like we have been much busier this time around – working to put down roots and establish friendships, routines, and a whole new normal. Furnishing and fixing up our home has been a big time-consumer, and of course we also have homeschooling to accomplish, activities for the kids to first research and set up, and then fit into our week, a church home or homes to find, join, and participate in, and so on … all part of any big move, I’m sure, but to a greater degree in terms of time and energy required in our situation. All that said, we have had a chance to do some really cool things, both recreational, and ministry related, outside of Ryan’s work of teaching at Justo Mwale University. Here are a couple of examples.

We have gotten to know a wonderful ministry here in Lusaka called Impact One Initiative, and enjoyed several afternoons visiting their library in N’gombe neighborhood. Here we can read to and with the many, many children that come by after school. They love to sing and play games with us as well, and this has been a fun way for our kids especially to meet and play with Zambian children.

A good friend we have made through church here manages a children’s home just outside of Lusaka. There are several house mothers caring for around 20 children, ages 1-16, who have lost one or both parents, and whose extended families (if they have any) need extra support to care for them. We were able to help our friend in sorting around 600 items of clothing she had sourced from a used clothing market as 100lb bales.

A few other things we’ve been up to include hanging out with our pets, playing games at home, visiting baby elephants, attending Christmas concerts in a beautiful church, a caroling sing-along at a restaurant, and swimming at the top of Victoria Falls.

Don’t miss scrolling through the above slideshow!

Road Trip!

Back in March, we had the opportunity to travel to South Africa for a retreat with our Resonate regional team members. We decided to drive in order to do some sight-seeing along the way, and we are so glad we did!

First stop was Livingstone, where we spent a day exploring Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya, with friends we knew from JMU (although they have since left Zambia for another calling). I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking, because I can hardly think of how to describe the sights, sounds, and feelings at the Falls. Verses from Job or Psalms about the mightiness of God displayed in nature come to mind, such as Psalm 42:7 – “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls…

A couple of notes:
~ In March, the water is at high volume, because the rainy season has filled the rivers that all flow into the Zambezi, and that is also why the water looks a little muddy. This certainly did not detract from the magnitude and majesty in our opinions!
~ You can get alarmingly close to the drop-off point at the top of the falls! There is actually nothing to stop you from just falling or jumping or wading in. It was absolutely spectacular and felt as much refreshingly non-commercial (contrast with Niagara Falls much? ha!) as it did nerve-wracking with small children about. We are immensely grateful for this experience.

After spending time hiking along the viewing areas, we took the trail to see the drop-off, where in the drier seasons you can swim in Devil’s Pool (gotta go back!) right at the lip of the falls, and then hiked to the bottom to see the Boiling Pot.

Next up was a little thrill-seeking! If you scrolled through the above photos, you will have seen a wide yellow metal bridge span over the Zambezi River just after the falls. You can walk onto this bridge, and technically be in Zimbabwe! So we all did that. You can also bungee jump OFF of this bridge, which is what Evan and Graeme did. From the Zambian side, you can take a big zip line ride, landing on the bridge itself, and that is what Torin, Bronwyn, Gwennyth, and I (Jody) did. It was a ton of fun with an amazing view!

Here (click to open new tab) are some videos from our day at “Smoke That Thunders” – one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World!

And a few more photos:

On Switching Hemispheres

Any move brings with it plenty of adjustments, and our move to Zambia is of course no exception. One thing we are finding particularly awkward is thinking about seasons! We left Iowa in October, which was still fairly warm, but definitely sliding into “Iowa fall” and cooler temperatures. Arriving in Zambia (still in October) however, we found very hot, very dry weather – “Zambia summer” and it stayed hot well into January, although eventually the rains brought first some relief and then an amazing explosion of green everywhere we looked. By March, which is when the first set of pictures below were taken, it felt kind of like “Iowa spring” (even though we’d just come out of hot weather, not snowy cold), because of all the lush new growth. I guess this is what “Zambia fall” is like? Then the evenings started to be noticeably cooler, and by the end of April, outdoor swimming wasn’t so appealing at least in Lusaka. Elsewhere in Zambia, at lower elevations, it was still quite warm, and we really enjoyed late May swimming when we were in the Lower Zambezi area. In June and July, we found we wanted a blanket at night and turned the fans off, although we certainly didn’t feel the need for the wooly hats and puffy jackets that we’ve seen many of our Zambian neighbors sporting this time of year. We just could not bring our snow and ice loving hearts to say “winter,” but some people do refer to the cooler dry season that way. Weather and tolerance of temperature is one of those things where “it’s all relative” does apply!

Slideshow 1 – March 2022
Our backyard, on a walk nearby, and driving south of Lusaka.

Here we are at the end of August, and most of the blankets have been put away. Although we’ve heard Zambians saying things like “springtime” for our current season, things are not getting greener like we would expect back in “Iowa spring” – it hasn’t rained for several months and won’t for a couple more yet. It is usually clear and sunny, and everything is dusty, inside and outside. It’s almost surprising to see that you can still have something of a productive garden in the dry season, at least the early part when it’s cooler. For sure this involves some watering, but we have also realized there’s been a fairly heavy dew many mornings, and that must help. As we move into “hot and dry” again, we’ll have to see what happens with our planting efforts.
Adding a little more confusion as we adjust our Iowa connotations to what the seasons and months of the year bring in Zambia are the school calendars. Justo Mwale, where Ryan is teaching, runs their school year on the Jan-Dec calendar. We have more or less kept our homeschool calendar close to what we were used to in North America, but now it feels strange to say “this fall” as we look at starting up a new year of school in September! We kind of feel like we’re just going to quit referring to time of year by season at all, and take the weather as it comes. Maybe this will help adjust our expectations or assumptions, or at least a reduce confusion a little? Even 10 months into our time in Zambia, we often feel quite new, and not sure what to expect. But there are also times when we aren’t surprised by the traffic or the pot holes, and we are recognized by the banana seller or the guard at a gate, and we return from a really wonderful trip, thinking “it’s good to be home.”

Slideshow 2 – August 2022
Hikes in a forest reserve in Lusaka

One Year Later…

I didn’t plan to take an entire year between last post and this one, but a lot has happened (to put it mildly) and apparently the blog took a back seat. Way, way to the back. I’m not really sure how to sum up the past 12 months, but I would like to share a recent family picture in front of our home on the campus of Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia. We’ve been in country for almost 9 months, and in this house for about 5.

Thank you to all of you that have prayed for us, written to us, called over voice or video despite the many hours of time zone differences to sort out, and generally just kept up with us as best you could over these months. We miss family and friends, desperately some days, but we are also being given more family and friends here in Zambia. The two most recent sermons at our church here in Lusaka taught us more about Jesus as the Vine and how we are grafted into Him for our good, and His glory. There was a beautiful reminder to us that God’s family is not confined to the situation and experiences we grew up with, and we count it a privilege, as well as a mandate, to live as branches of Jesus wherever we are. We are curious and excited to see how God will work in us and through us, and we pray that we may bear fruit as we remain in Him. I hope to share some stories and pictures along the way.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NLT

“For God is working in [us], giving [us] the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 NLT

A Day in the Life

I have been in Nigeria for four weeks now. My first week and a half were spent in self-isolation per the country’s covid-19 protocols. Grading 140+ book reviews, preparing lectures, and teaching online, kept me busy during my quarantine. I have been able to be on campus the last three weeks. It has been a great joy to be with students in class.

Two weeks ago, I received a vehicle, so I have been driving myself to campus. The commute is about twenty minutes. The tarmac roads are very good. Traffic can be heavy, but it is not nearly as crazy as Nairobi traffic. 

I am learning new skills, like how to hand wash clothes, and figuring out the essentials of daily life, like where to get groceries. Some speciality items are bought at the store, but most things, especially fruits and vegetables, are bought in the market or at a roadside stand. I arrived in the middle of mango season, so I’ve been enjoying fresh fruit every day from a tree in our yard. 

The neighbourhood behind our compound is quiet. If I get up early enough, I can take a three or four mile walk before it gets too warm. A nearby hotel has a nice pool where I have been able to lap swim for exercise. The compound where I live has a tennis court and I recently introduced several neighbours to the joys of pickleball. 

Lectures for the current semester end this week. Exams will be administered over the next two weeks. In addition to grading term papers and exams, I will be preparing for a two-week Doctor of Ministry course I am teaching in the second half of May and for the course(s) in the part-time programme (summer intensives) that I will teach in June. The three student research projects that I am supervising should be completed by the end of June. It has been good to be in able to meet with those students in person to review their work.

Thank you for your love, encouragement, and prayers.

Finally – On Campus!

Yesterday – over a year since we had planned to arrive in Nigeria – I finally made it to the campus of TCNN! On Thursday (8 April) I received the results of my covid test – negative! – and was able to teach at the college in person yesterday (Friday 9 April). It was a very full first day, including five hours of lectures in two master-level classes, chapel attendance, lunch with a colleague, and afternoon tea with the provost (principal). It was a great joy to finally be able to meet students in person. Thanks be to God!

Goodbye Iowa, Hello Jos, Nigeria!

A windy send-off at the Des Moines airport.

Last week, Ryan received the necessary visa to travel to Nigeria. He left on Saturday afternoon and arrived early Monday morning. He is now self-isolating at our house in Jos, and will continue to teach online during his quarantine. He is scheduled to have a COVID-19 test on Monday 5 April, and hopes to be able to teach on campus later that week. We praise God for answering prayers for smooth and safe travel. Ryan will be in Nigeria through the end of the current semester and the submission of the student research projects he is supervising, which will likely be three months. The rest of us are continuing on with life “as usual” (what does that even mean anymore?!) in Pella, Iowa. We appreciate your prayers for God’s provision and care for our family during this season of separation.

Our Jos Home