Another of my experiences/reflections on Zambia. Again, I can only write about what I see. Get angry about my accidental misrepresentations in the comments.
“What the hell is Zika?”
“Hmm… I dunno.”
We were sitting in the single internet café in Samfya, attempting to work on some official blogging business, with the previously unforeseen combination of both power and network access. One of us was fiddling on the computer, desperately trying to upload photos while we still had a connection. The other was sitting slack-jawed, transfixed by the silent TV hanging on a bracket above the doorway.
It was tuned to what looked like a German news service’s international, English language segment. Headlines flashed across the bottom of the screen, talking of things and places we hadn’t even imagined existed for the past three months, while burnished, plastic looking presenters mouthed shapes to a backdrop. They were mime artists, contorting their facial expressions to shock and anger and outrage at the state of the world, as if they were aware they were being watched in silence.
Even the weather guy got in on the action, waving his arms as if he was being harassed by the winds he was predicting. Always with a smile on his face, though. Germans being famous for their sense of humour, it was nice to imagine what they were saying, since it couldn’t be any more jarring than what was actually happening.
Hans (because hell, we might as well go full on stereotype): So, Eva, what do you think of this mass outbreak of a disease the WHO are treating as a pandemic? Is it scary to not know a single thing about it?
Eva: Ja, ja, Hans, it is. I mean, we can only guess where in hell this is actually happening based on the silent montages we’re being forced to watch. Maybe somewhere in South America?
Hans: Well, certainly, nobody in these reports is wearing much clothing, eh, Dominic?
Dominic: Ja, based on my weather map, it’s nowhere in Germany!
Eva: So we can guess that it’s somewhere hot. Isn’t Zika a silly name, as well?
Hans: And those cartoons they’re using to advertise it, ridiculous! Surely our famed German sense of design would never allow for something that crude and caricatured.
Eva: Ja, Hans, ja. Anyway, that’s all we’ve got time for, since we have to be cut off abruptly in the middle of this segment.
Hans: Oh, The Zambian Farmer’s about to start? Fantastic, cut me off right away, even in the middle-
Smash cut to a detailed discussion of the effect development aid is having on the Zambian agricultural sector. Again in total silence. Apparently the Germans, in a somewhat fortuitous coincidence, helped one bloke to buy a tractor and now he’s able to stand beside it and use it as a backdrop for TV interviews. Got to have a proper tractor to stand beside if you want to be taken seriously as a farmer in Zambia.
Oh, and the ticker at the bottom had a nice array of commodity and livestock prices. We were in the wrong area of the country for buying chickens, apparently. Fifty kwacha for a village chicken in Mansa’s daylight robbery compared to Ndola, while we’d probably never be able to afford a bag of urea.
From the looks of it, though, your proud tractor owning Zambian would be able to. Vast tracts of well-cultivated, properly ploughed land stretched off behind him as he was interviewed, and action shots of him and his tractor suggested he was doing well for himself.
When we left the internet café, we passed by the Samfya branch of the Zambian National Farmers Union. A proud green sign directing people throught the darkness to an office in the middle of seemingly nowhere for farming country. There wasn’t any large scale farming going on for miles around.
The ZNFU is an organisation that seemingly has an office in every major town or city in the country. Every settlement we passed through on the twelve hour bus ride north from Lusaka to Samfya had a sign telling us where to find the branch office in the town, as well as imploring us to thank the farmer if we’d eaten today.
Although presumably not in person. No-one can catch them on their fancy new German tractors.
As well as that, at least two of the Zambian volunteers on our team had agriculturally focused ambitions, aiming to study agriculture or crop science when they were done volunteering. Test plots for all sorts of fertiliser or seed companies are strewn along the main road to Lusaka, trying to entice drivers with their lush and verdant fields.
It goes even further; Zambia still has the custom of a groom paying a price to the bride’s family when the couple want to get married. The quoted price, although it’s usually paid in money, takes the form of a number of cows.
All of which is to say that The Zambian Farmer superseding the world news in terms of importance is normal and right and proper. We partly hadn’t heard of Zika because we hadn’t been hearing world news, but also partly because it didn’t matter a jot to the lives of almost every Zambian.
By contrast, development aid from Germany giving tractors to farmers and enabling them to increase their output is a big deal. To tritely state the obvious, feeding people is important.
We were held spellbound by the world news mostly out of habit. Development aid has a relatively meagre role on such a grand stage, particularly when it’s routine and uncontroversial. But in developing countries, Syria is just another place on the map.
Of course, it illustrates the downside of development as well. At least partly because of attempts to catch up to others and join the status quo, Zambia skipped the industrial revolution, and is still in many respects an agrarian economy. Rapid population growth and a complete demographic shift from rural communities into relatively new cities are what create the need for tractors in the first place.
More people need more food, and people living in cities can’t grow their own. If anything, the least the North/West can do is to mitigate the effects they created in the first place, making the provision of development aid something of an obligation.
There’s definitely a lot more to say on the topic, but I’m probably not the best qualified to do so. As an illustration, I’ve been back in the UK for about three and a half weeks and I still don’t know what Zika is.