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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Sunrise to Sunrise

I was reminded the other day that I can't leave Zambia without a final post. To follow up on my last entry, "Arbitrary Lessons I Learned on the Road," I'll keep this one focused on what I've learned from working and living in Zambia over the past couple months. Parts of this are in jest, others I'm quite serious about - which is which you can decide.

I've thoroughly enjoyed my time in Zambia and don't regret a moment of it. I've learned a lot. I've been smacked with humbleness. I've gain experiences that are borderline sketchy. And, most importantly, I've made friends who are just as sketchy and equally awesome. On with it...

Nothing is fast, just "less slow."

Order a coffee here at a "fast food" establishment and be ready to wait for at least 20-30 minutes. Go to the print shop and be prepared to hover around for 1-2 hours. So, throw out your schedule, sit back, and relax, because things aren't going to move any faster just because you're grumbling and mumbling.

Life doesn't give everyone lemons.

There's a huge wealth and income disparity between the developed nations and many African nations. But, even within Zambia, the disparity is just as discouraging. A traveler just passing by may notice the modern shopping malls built for the recent rise of the middle class, but that portion of the population is small. The rest are cramped inside self-confined areas called "compounds" - a euphemism for overcrowded shanty towns where living rooms are smaller than my former NYC apartment bathroom and kitchens consist of a hot plate next to the television. The borders of the compounds are generally lined by street shops selling furniture, clothing, and various other things, so for a foreigner driving by, everything seems peachy, but we all know what lurks inside. 

Sometimes, firing someone is the best thing you can do for that person.

It feels bad when you have to let someone go, but if by doing so you're helping them develop personally and professionally, then by all means do it, but do it with empathy and in a way that maintains their dignity. The sooner the better - for you, the company, and the individual.

Being Chinese is like being a celebrity - there's a love and hate relationship.

Like some other African countries, Zambia has a sizable Chinese population. However, Zambia is the first country where multiple people have asked if they could take pictures with me. Say cheeeeeeeese, or better yet, nshiiiiima.

There's a fine line between being aggressive and being an overused expletive.

Zambia is pretty laid-back (in all good sense of the word). Unlike other countries where sellers will nag you until your blood boils, most sellers here will mind their business and let you pass on by without much ado. The only exception is the inter-city bus terminal, where the call boys are as aggressive as aggressive gets. We've tried to instill a little bit of this within our staff, and to reinforce that there's a difference between being aggressive and being rude - the line is fine, but we are by no means near it.

Drawing from the likes of Journey's made up "South Detroit" in Don't Stop Believin' and Mampi's Walilowelela, as well as my own experience with consulting-speak, sometimes nonsense just makes sense

Does this make sense?

I like nshima.

See you later, Zambia.


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