The great divide

onsumbaplaza1Lusaka, Zambia — One hesitates to make generalizations about a place one doesn’t know very well, although that can be when the tempatation is the strongest.

For example, I am tempted to describe ‘the people here’ as exceptionally nice — based on the multitude I’ve seen who smile as they pass me on the dirt foot paths, say good morning, good afternoon, and if I ask directions do not rest until they have given the same guidance they would give their own grandmothers, repeating themselves at least twice with every descriptions of landmarks (it is a cream-colored building, with red tiles — pass that. There will be a left turn with a sign that says “worship center”. Don’t take it. Take the next one. Not the first one. . . .).

Still my experiences with several dozen people don’t justify categorizing a country, so I will hold off.

This, however, I feel comfortable in saying — the great divide between the privileged and the poor exists here as it does in Palm Beach County, in New York, in the Caribbean, in everywhere I’ve ever been, where usually I have had the chance to sample both sides of the divide, because there is very little middle.

The great divide was immediately obvious to me in the hotel situation, which seemed to present the choice of a “world class” accomodation with an obsequious staff (here more convincingly interested in my happiness and comfort than in other places, I must add), and internet and a place where some comfort as well as internet had to be surrendered. It took work reminiscent of  shoe leather reporting to find a place with Internet, and at the expense of having to draw pictures for cab drivers because it is in the middle of a dirt road with no name.

The more obvious manifestation of the great divide though lies in the eerily predictable gap between the city and the suburbs. In the suburbs, for example,  two shopping malls are equipped with everything, including pavement, on which — I didn’t realize how rare a sight they otherwise were until I noticed them in large numbers here == white people stroll around talking on their cell phones, sit in cafes with computers in front of them, drink in an Irish pub. The suburbs actually feel less far from Florida than they do from the city downtown a few miles away, where people step over children sleeping soundly  on pavement in the middle of the day, where women squat in front of baskets filled with beans, leafy vegetables, dried caterpillars, where the streets even in front of government buildings are unpaved.

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