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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Roll it forward

My second full week in Zambia started out with a bang, or lack thereof. Like most things in Zambia, electricity is, on the most part, prepaid. You simply drop by Zesco, the state-owned power company, tell them how many kwacha of electricity you want, and they print you out a code to enter into your meter. What I didn't know was that my electricity would run out despite my meter displaying 11 remaining units on Monday morning. With the chill of old man winter settling in, I was glad that the meter at least had the courtesy of running out just as I got out of the (hot) shower and not beforehand.

The last two weeks have brought to light how - relatively - expensive it is to live in Lusaka. Everything from electricity to gas to food to printing soak up much more cash than I would had imagined. Of the 100 kwacha that I paid for electricity, about 34% of it went towards taxes. In July, electricity costs are being hiked up about 24% for residential homes and 14% for commercial buildings! The cost of printing - at roughly $1 per side - also makes it prohibitively expensive for most businesses to do any type of print marketing.

Trust (more so arm's length trust) is another interesting facet of life here. My encounters with people here have been largely positive, but it's impossible to not notice that the majority of homes are surrounded by 10-foot walls, on top of which are decorated by your choice of barbed wires, electric wires, and / or shards of broken glass. Even parking your car at the upscale malls comes with the risk of returning to discover that you're missing one or both of your mirrors. However, wrong doers commit their crimes at a major risk - and I don't mean prosecution by the official authorities. Vigilante (or mob) justice is not unheard of, with robbers, drivers who have accidentally hit pedestrians, and even adulterers being attacked prior to the arrival of the official authorities.

On the work front, the second week has been as equally as exciting as the first. I've spent the past week working with our delivery partner to fine-tune our order management processes, trying to mend our relationship with a sales partner, onboarding a new employee, and managing the team while the country manager is on vacation. We also managed to grab - at a huge discount - advertising space at two venues that'll be screening the World Cup for the next month! Sweet success.

On the fun side was the monthly Quiz night at an expat joint called "Chit Chat," where the nerdy MBA part of me was able to add value to a question about Jeff Bezos and another one about Dr. Sheldon Cooper. At the start of each month there's also a "Startup Hour" that brings together entrepreneurs from the area to network (I was hoping not to hear that word this summer!). Despite my general wariness of networking events, it was a rather interesting mix of people and, well, there was free food.

Oh, and there was also the gecko who took the liberty of sunbathing on his back in my living room. I promised to leave him in peace if he stayed out of my bedroom.


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