How do I describe the Ndola marketplace? It’s like a movie. It’s like you would expect a crowded marketplace in a country like this to be. Certain smells are particularly pervasive, especially the live chickens in one area and the dried fish in another. There are flies all over the food, especially the produce and fish. Bonnie and I are the only white people. I hear “misungu!” on occasion as we walk down the street. Men are constantly trying to get our attention, sell us things, carry our bags. This is Africa, man. This is life with Bonnie.
We get a ride from a friend of Bonnie’s into town from her apartment, stop at an ATM, glance over sidewalk merchandise. I can’t find my sunglasses; I’m hoping they’re in Remmy’s house or the van and I’ll be reunited with them on Sunday. In the meantime, I need something to guard my eyes from the brightness of the day and the dirt drawn to my eyes in gustfuls; wind swirls my hair and dries my eyes with each step. We get to the buses (mini-buses almost like 15 passenger vans, but all shaped like old VW vans, with fold up seats all along the passenger side so you can get all the way to the back) and wiggle our way to the back - me, Bonnie, and Swazi, her African daughter/roommate. I am the “misungu” on the end. Someone squeezes in next to me. A guy with a piece of cardboard and foam comes to the window and Swazi grabs for a pair of sunglasses. “Are these alright?” I am afraid the bus will leave before we finish the transaction and take the first pair she hands out. They are pretty ridiculous and huge, but they will be useful. I pass over 10,000 Kwacha.
Everyone on the bus finds it hilarious that (blonde-haired, blue-eyed, ever-so-fair) Bonnie speaks Bemba. They laugh hard as she sassily answers a few questions. The men closest to us try to talk to me. I tell Bonnie wryly to tell them I’m a deaf-mute. They start talking to Swazi instead, insisting that Bonnie must be rich. Bonnie says, “If I were rich, I wouldn’t be riding the bus.” I get the sense that this assumption is constant and drives her a little nuts, which is understandable.
She’s a one-woman machine, Bonnie Scherer. I don’t know how she does all of this, week after week. I don’t know how she is strong enough to be so far from her family, to have come here by herself, lived by herself at first, taught herself Bemba, learned how to get around (all while teaching under pretty tough circumstances). She feeds her class once a week, feeds a family for the week each Saturday, does prayer meetings and discipleship groups and Bible studies. Just hearing about her schedule is enough to make me want to lie down. She has had malaria at least twice since she got here last November, yet she powers on as soon as she is able. It is - I kid you not - astounding. At one point in our trip that day, she convinces a vendor to lend her his bullhorn and says in Bemba, amplified, "Good morning, Zambia! Take care but don't tell!" (one of the political slogans from the winning side of the recent presidential election and pretty hilarious when explained) For the next half block, the other vendors were chuckling and shaking their heads as we passed.
Everywhere we go involves at least 2 different modes of transport besides walking. A taxi then a minibus. A minibus then a bigger bus. A friend’s car then another bus. It’s not easy. I’m sure it is now that she knows, but to learn it all, without much help, having to always ask. Being street smart enough to not over pay for things. (One look at her and most people try to over charge.) It is mind-blowing.
I am constantly thinking of Nicole in Uganda and all the things she’s had to adjust to and learn in the last few months and I am prouder than ever. She does have the advantage of working for an organization that did things like orientation and seems to work at helping people adjust to their new lives. I am grateful for that for her.
Bonnie is like a pioneer. Life with her is not just visiting, it’s living her African life, and it’s good to be here for it. It’s good to experience it, no matter the other things I’m trying to deal with and process (and there are a lot right now). It is also daunting, recognizing how different everything is and how much she continues to shape-shift and sacrifice to make it all work. But she knows this is the life she’s called to. She knows with a conviction that I leaves me a little awestruck.
We pile off the bus at the market. I’ve been passing it all week long, riding with the FVI team. Remmy told me it’s the biggest market in Ndola and I believe it. Swazi comments to keep an extra careful eye on my bag (an mini-messenger bag that has been supremely useful this trip; I wear it so the bag is resting on the front of my hip), which I am already doing. I’ve got one or both hands on it all the time. We head deep into the stalls in search of dried fish.
There is a little boy named Joseph than Bonnie met near one of the compounds quite awhile ago. He begs on the streets and lives with his grandmother. I believer he has a sibling or cousin who also live this life. After much work and involvement on Bonnie’s part, Joseph is supposed to go to a rehab program for street kids and then may be able to come to Bonnie’s school. She has also committed to feed the family so they don’t have to beg. This is the grandmother’s biggest challenge: to provide food. That’s why we went to the market, to pick up food for them for the week.
We get two different kinds of dried fish, dried beans, lots of vegetables (Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, funny little African eggplants, peppers), and eggs. Some things Bonnie and Swazi will keep for themselves and some of it will last awhile. Bonnie doles it out in weekly portions so nothing will be wasted or sold by the family. I took a few pictures at the market when we were in the little courtyard where they sell the vegetables (in the midst of the brown stalls and brown dirt, the produce looks beautiful). As I put my camera away, Swazi told me people were getting offended so those were the only shots I took. A bit sad, that. She says that people think if you take pictures, you’ll take them back to the first world and sell them or say, “Look at these poor people, give me money to help them” and then keep the money. Obviously that’s not what I’m doing but that’s what people think. It’s unfortunate. I would’ve loved to get video of the place. I wished, as I walked, that I had a secret camera built into my silly $2 sunglasses.
The stalls are made of wooden slats, piled up like Lincoln Logs, with a few on top to make the framework of a roof. The stalls are so close together that as you walk in-between, you feel like you’re not outside anymore, but if you look up, you see that the only thing between your head and the sky is peeling, rotting cardboard. I would love to see them set up their booths in the morning, or take everything away in the evening. I know it’s terribly busy in that area around 5 or 6pm because people are headed home from work (we drove thru during that time the other day and it was pretty crazy). I wonder when most people go home for the day.
After we find eggs that Bonnie doesn’t consider too expensive (she is a serious haggler and makes the most of every kwacha), we head back to the buses. They set a lot of our produce behind the driver and we scoot into the back. It is a serious disadvantage here to have long legs and broad shoulders, let me tell you. Side note: I am VERY glad I could wear pants today, because a skirt would’ve been a serious pain with all of the climbing over seats and into and out of awkward places in vehicles. Most days I wear skirts when I’ll be out and about, tho it’s not particularly necessary in the city, it seems.
The first mini-bus takes us back into town, then we walk a few blocks to the buses that will bring us back to the apartment building. This time we board more of an actual bus. There are far more seats and the vehicle is higher off the ground. I follow Bonnie forward, and she settles in a fold-out seat across a little aisle from the driver. I scrunch myself and several bags of groceries into the fold-out seat behind her. “No leg room” doesn’t begin to cover it. Swazi ends up all the way in the back, still with two flats of eggs balanced in her arms (4 dozen eggs, ish?)Finally, we are back near the apartment, and I maneuver my way out to the street.
We take our tired arms full of bags (and eggs, in Swazi’s case) to the apartment, up the elevator to the 4th floor, down the long hallway to their door. Bonnie has quite a little escapade trying to find her keys, balance a giant bag of tomatoes and another of eggplants, and unlock the security door, not bothering to hand me anything to hold or put anything down. (She did set down the sack of potatoes). The security door lock is inside the grate of the door, so you have to reach in and unlock it backwards, after you unlock the regular door inside. It’s quite a procedure.
We dump all the food on the kitchen counters and get ourselves something to drink. Now Bonnie & Swazi will divide the food up so that there enough meals for the week for Joseph’s family, store what’s left, and take this week’s food out to the compound.
It’s not even noon. I am ready for a nap.
TILWB, man. This Is Life With Bonnie.