I bet you all have been wondering what we eat for lunch in Zambia, right?  “Brown-bag” lunch is pretty much unheard of.  Zambian law requires that employers provide lunch for their employees, so the hospital kitchen prepares lunch for all the staff, as well as the patients. There is a small cafe’ in the reception area of the administration building, where eggs, chicken, sausages and sandwiches are available to purchase, if someone does not want to eat the lunch that is provided.  Most employees take a bus to work, and there are no restaurants nearby, so going out to eat is not an option.

At 13 hours (1:00 pm), the staff lunch is served.  We have nshima and two “relishes” – one protein, one vegetable.

Nshima (“SHEE-ma”) is the staple of the Zambian diet.  Made from mealie-meal (very finely ground white cornmeal) and water, it has the consistency of stiff mashed potatoes.  An employee may request one, two or three lumps.  Many of the outdoor laborers request three lumps. a few people only want one, and most employees eat two lumps.  I hear that it is difficult to prepare properly – the preparation is  considered an art.  There are no recipes, it is all done by experience – how the porridge mix “feels” when boiled and mixed with a paddle or stick (not stirred).  More meal is added, as needed, to stiffen the mix.  When eaten, an approximately 1-inch clump is broken off, rolled around in the right hand to form a ball, then the ball is used to scoop up relish and meat or beans.  It’s quite warm, and sticky for a novice eater (!) to shape, but the Zambians do it without looking, while chatting, without thinking twice.  Everyone I have talked to says they don’t feel like they have eaten, unless they eat nshima – and would eat it for every meal!  For anyone who has been to Cameroon, it is similar to fufu, but made from cornmeal, rather than cassava or plantain, so it looks much whiter.  The kitchen kindly prepares rice as an alternative to nshima.  Apart from the difficulty of learning the technique of breaking off, rolling, scooping and eating the nshima, it can also sit heavily in the stomach and be uncomfortable (or just make one sleepy!) to digest.
The protein portion of the meal is dependent on the day of the week.  On Mondays we have chicken, Tuesdays and Thursdays we have beans (sometimes kidney-type, sometimes white), Wednesdays is  mince (ground beef), and on Fridays some kind of meat is served – it just depends on what is available that day!!  Along with the protein is the very important gravy (sometimes called “soup”) which adds flavor and helps hold everything together.
The vegetable relish is sautéed greens – usually rape, (collard greens) but also kale,  pumpkin greens, okra or cabbage.  Sometimes bits of onion are added, and I have even seen tiny pieces of pepper or carrot mixed in with the greens.
The hardest thing for me to get used to is that there is no beverage at lunchtime!  I’m not sure why – but most people only have a cup or two of tea in the morning to drink, and a cup of tea in the afternoon, but no beverages with meals!  Tim brings a glass of water with him to lunch – I never remember, so I go back to the admin building and have a glass of water later.

Buying Furniture

I was at the hospital a few days ago, and was asked by some of the staff how our furniture shopping was coming along. I replied that although we had looked in the stores, we had not yet bought anything; we are still hoping for an expat moving sale. Several of the people in our conversation were expats themselves, and they encouraged me to buy some of the wooden furniture from the street vendors.

In Lusaka, there are numerous “compounds” – I believe we would call them “slums.” They are named, have geographic boundaries, and have very very primitive conditions. Many of the compounds have specialized trades – apparently the skills are either taught to each other, or the people with those skills gravitate to live with others like them. Anyway – we drive past a furniture-making compound on our way to work. We can see tables, bedframes, bunkbeds, shelves, etc. lined up along the side of the road. As we drive past, the smell of varnish overtakes the smell of diesel exhaust and cooking or garbage-burning- the fumes are potent!

I mentioned my concerns about having the varnish smell in our house to the other expats, and they recommended that we speak to whoever we choose as a furniture-maker (judging by his street-side wares) and commission the pieces we wanted (bringing him pictures & measurements), and request that the wood remain unvarnished. We could either apply an oil once we get home with the pieces, or we could deliver the oil to the woodworker, and he would apply it. The staff were all very enthusiastic about this plan, telling me about the various pieces they have each bought.

About 2 hours later, a few of us were still chatting (have I mentioned that work here is VERY relational??!!). One of the most enthusiastic proponents of street-side furniture vendors commented that there are so many termites in her (commissioned by a street vendor) desk, that she can hear them chewing while she works!! She listed the various strategies she had used to get rid of the termites (water, bug sprays, etc), and said that the treatment that had the most success was to pour alcohol into the termite holes. I assumed she meant rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, but she continued by saying that the alcohol was left over from a party she had hosted, and she didn’t know what else to do with it! Anyway – she said that the termites crawled drunkenly out of the desk and she was able to kill them – although some still remain – she can still hear them!

Our rolling-suitcase-nightstands are still in use; I am not rushing out to buy street-vendor furniture!