Archive for December, 2009

We are all fine except we have two funerals
December 27, 2009

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA — It was Saturday when I opened my email to find this greeting from a colleague in Lusaka, which then named two colleagues who both had died Christmas day.

One was a 39-year-old mother of four, who had just recently returned to work from a maternity leave. She had a quiet wry humor that I enjoyed, and a courteous kindly way. The other was a man of 50, greatly liked, who had seized an array of opportunities over the years to add to his knowledge and who shared his experiences with the young ones at the office. “Let me give you some fatherly advice,” he said to a colleague in his 30s, once, before laughing, and amending it to, “rather some brotherly advice . . . ” because he didn’t seem that old.

I have yet to learn the cause of death for either of them. It wasn’t mentioned in the email, or in the facebook postings I found later, or in the obituaries. That both had recently been ill was mentioned at work to explain their abscences.

Death has the run of the place, tolerated and ignored, like a vendor whose goods no one happens to want, but who, apparently, no one thinks it his or her particular place to turn out. To discuss the presence of this shadow that lingers in the corners, occassionally flitting across a hall as colleagues turn out for another funeral, remark on another person lost young — a famous singer, the son of a former president, several government officials — in the last few months alone, would, perhaps be to acknowledge responsibility for questioning this intruder, it seems.

Others explain it differently, saying that to talk about death is to invite its notice. And a couple have suggested that my colleagues simply don’t have the same morbid fascination with lurid details that prompts American media to pry in to the privacy of the prominent departed.

So I don’t know what happened to this mother of four at 39, or this man who had spent the last 30 years gathering knowledge that he suddenly ran out of time to share. All I know is that everyone is fine, except they have two funerals.

There Goes a Hero
December 20, 2009

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — “He is my hero,”  my Zambian colleague said. ” That was indecorous behavior, but Bush was so irritating.”

We are watching the news report on the release of the Iraq

I would have done the same. I am not endorsing such behavior, but sometimes you have no choice when someone is so over the top. Bush!”

She leaves the room, but comes back just as the shoe thrower finishes his press conference.
“There goes a hero!” she adds. “If he had done it to Bill Clinton, I don’t think I would forgive him.”

All present then agree that if he had thrown shoes at Clinton, he should still be in jail.
She goes on to explain: “Bill Clinton is a charismatic man. I would support him no matter what he did. Even if he were to repeat the Monica saga, I would still support him.”

You are kindly advised to remain calm . . .
December 16, 2009

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — As the favorite niece of a Teamster local president, as an American newspaper refugee, and as a fan of subversive language, I just love this poster, which went up over the long-empty water cooler here today.

The subtext of “remain calm” as a veteran reporter noted, was to inspire just the opposite among staff, who don’t have a host of perks to begin with here.

Still, at least they don’t herd, sheep-like, into meetings where they are told that half of them are going to have to find some other way to send their kids to college, pay their mortgages, plan for infirmity and old age — other than the career they gave up holidays, birthdays, graduations, softball games, and some measure of sanity to serve.

Christmas! Some quietly murmured, back where I came from, when taxes were taken out of their bonuses. By the time bonuses vanished they were long since silenced by fear for their livelihoods and the work they still thought could be done nowhere else.

Come here, but you are kindly advised to remain calm.