Author Archives: Irmgarde Brown
It’s about an hour and a half to the Village of Hope from Lusaka on the Great North Road. There’s a lot of construction as they are making it a 4-lane road, so far, barely beyond the city, but the plans are in place for 4 lanes all the way to Kabwe. It’s a huge project.
I still can’t get used to the cars on the left side of the road and often think they’re coming straight for us. We did a lot of shopping and errands in the city before heading to the Village. Every trip to Lusaka which can cost $150 in gas alone, needs to be multi-purpose.
I can’t get over all the green. The last time I was here, it was towards the end of the dry season and land was aching for water. This time, the fields are lush with green grass and trees.
As we drive up the road, at first I am struck by the flimsy buildings that line the road, peppered with fruit stands of mangoes and various bags of who knows. But then, I get it. This is entrepreneurship at its most basic. Whether it’s items they have made or gathered, it’s a living. And although it may feel like a kind of blight along the road, is our Route 40 with its brick and mortar and brute signs any better? These things evolve and when we see them every day, we lose perspective. It’s the sudden drop into a culture that catches us by surprise.
There are many communities along the way of the road, but they are unseen, either behind a privacy wall or along a perpendicular road that cuts back into the bush. There are very few paved roads, just dirt roads that wave with ruts. It’s supposed to be the rainy season now but the rain has held off (for Lusaka, a blessing, for the rains would exasperate the cholera bacteria). But I can imagine how these roads must look as mud. Well, no, actually I can’t. But soon enough.
It’s a hotel. My window is open and it’s January. Yep, honey, this ain’t Maryland.
This is my first trip post retirement and it’s lovely. Granted, my brand new Christmas gift suitcase got destroyed on the way and the Johannesburg airport carousel was littered with my underwear, but it all worked out. It’s a story now.
I am here because my host, Benedict, who picked me up along with Muzo (rhymes with Ouzo), had some errands to run in Lusaka before heading back to the Village of Hope. They also have to make another human pick up (Gipepe, that spelling can’t be right), who is the Village doctor, an amazing woman I met once before in Maryland when they were visiting stateside. There’s a cholera outbreak here and it makes everyone nervous, but it’s mostly in the poorer areas. Nonetheless, bottled water is everywhere, and still I almost brushed my teeth with sink water. Habits die hard.
But that is the point. I am here to serve and work at the Village, true. I am also here to break down the every day habits, to discover the me I’ve lost in the busyness of my life that has been on automatic pilot for too long. I want to be more conscious. And integrated.
And it’s time to write again. Here yes. Also on my Meditations blog, as God leads. And maybe, just maybe, another story may be birthed as well. Slow down. Listen.
Watch the trees bend to the wind and leaves flutter outside my window.
That’s how long it seems to take for the repercussions. . . . or results.
I know that sounds strange but I began to notice this trend during the last couple of months I’ve been doing Weight Watchers. I’d come into the meeting expecting a big gain only to have a loss but then, after being very “good” (e.g. keeping to the point regiment), I’d have a gain. Then I saw it: I was on a two week delay. Those three glasses of wine show up on my body later. That crabcake reappears later.
And then, I started wondering about other body phenomenon like cold viruses and the like. Sure enough, if I would just tough it out for two weeks, the worst would be over.
Where was I two weeks ago anyway. Let me think. That would have been June still. I have to turn back a calendar page even. I was traveling to Chicago that day for the library conference. It was my brother’s birthday; my son’s birthday. I had lunch with an old friend of 50 plus years. I took pictures all afternoon. And then I slept. Hard. Was a seed planted that day that I missed?
This is just one of the reasons why I need to pull out my journal again and capture the moment, the spark, the muse’s child breathing and tickling my neck. And then feed it with images and dreams and sound.
Two weeks later, I’m here and writing again.
When I was 7th and 8th grades, we had home economics as one of our classes. Literally, it was a room with several kitchen stations that included a stove, a refrigerator, and a sink, plus a kitchen table. We were divided into groups or teams, maybe four or five, I don’t remember. Along the edges, there were sewing machines because we learned to sew in there as well. I made a skirt and of course, an apron, which I had to use for the cooking portion of the year.
It could have been a great experience except for one small problem: this was the school where I was attending as an accelerated student, along with a class of others. But Home Ec was a shared experience (like gym) with the regular classes. And whether we deserved it as a group or not, we were despised by the other kids. It felt like the animosity between local teens and college kids in a small town.
Of course, I was already an easy mark for my own “smart” classmates so it didn’t take long for the regular class kids to figure out I was easy prey. Fortunately, our food dishes were judged as a group, so there was no food sabotage, so their favorite past time was tearing up my hair net or misplacing my apron. Anything to get me a poor grade.
Back then, hair nets were hideous, but trying to get a ripped one on my head was absurd. These hair nets were a whole different kind of net, very thin, supposedly invisible, and more like working with a spider web than anything else.
We never know what humiliating experience will stay with us. Whether it’s wearing a Ho-Jo’s (Howard Johnsons) turquoise waitress uniform or being stood up for a date or having a party and no one showing up, embarrassment is a powerful agent for the development of a character. In today’s world, an array of disgraces might bring a teen to suicide or worse, a mass killing in a movie theater or a school.
What is degrading to one person may not bother another. The little things, they mold a life. I can see it looking back. It’s something to include in a key character soon.
After my father died when I was nine, I assume my brother was my official caregiver. I call it an assumption since I don’t remember much of that first year without Papa. I still went to school and I had my own key to get into the house, but then my brother would come home from school eventually, and we would watch late afternoon television on our black and white Philco. (My mother kept that Philco until she was forced to leave her house by illness at age 89. You do the math.)
I remember the school days much better than I remember that first summer. I have no idea what I did all day. Did my brother work that summer? He was fifteen that June. I don’t remember. And unfortunately, my brother doesn’t seem to remember either.
The only thing that is crystal clear in my mind was our walking trips downtown.
My mother worked at an asphalt plant called Hetherington & Berner. She would take two buses to get there each morning and two buses at night and lucky for her, the return bus stopped right by our house on Park Avenue. In the summers, many of the employees would carpool downtown, about a 10 minute ride in order to do some shopping at the department stores. Back in those years, downtown shopping was still the norm.
Here was the routine, every couple of weeks (perhaps on her payday, I’m not sure), Mama would call us at home and tell us to meet her under the L.S. Ayres department store clock on the corner of Washington and Meridian Streets right at Noon. My brother and I would walk the distance, one and a half miles. My brother insisted that we could walk it in 30 minutes or less and although that may be a reasonable time for a teenager, it was a lot of double timing for my short legs.
But all the same, I was determined to keep up. I was determined to be like my brother. Unfortunately, about halfway there, my determination would flag and I would whine and cry and stomp for him walking strides ahead of me. I think this became a symbol for me, this constant effort to keep up with my brother, but all the same, a little behind.Under the clock, we would meet and hustle ourselves up to the 8th floor Tea Room. What a wonderful treat to dine in such luxury. And no matter how much I would eat, there always had to be enough room for Strawberry Pie. Or, on other days, we’d go downstairs to the Colonial Room and eat in the cafeteria.
I don’t really know how much time she had for lunch, but more than likely, it was an hour. And so our time in the tea room would be over before we knew it and my mother would need to meet her ride downstairs. And yet, despite the rush, we would stop on the way out at the candy counter and mother would buy us a couple of two-inch square blocks of milk chocolate to eat when we got home.
The walk home is not as vivid as the walk there. Or maybe we rode the bus, who knows? But to this day, pure milk chocolate and fresh strawberry pie are still my favorites. They are the emblems of the good life, the sweeter memories, the part that made the walk downtown worth it all.