One thing that hits you in the face every day in Zambia is the huge income and housing disparities between different groups. I know there are the same disparities in the U.S. but everyone tends to live clustered in groups so those who are (say) upper middle class never really see the lower classes.
Here, the lower classes live in shacks or one-room block buildings on the same property as the well-off. Those people tend to be the gardeners and housecleaners (I can’t get used to calling them maids, which is what everyone refers to their household help as).
There are three houses on our five-acre property. Ours, the landlady’s mother’s (which is a nice 3 bedroom/2 bath home with jacuzzi), and this one below, where Mr. and Mrs. Phiri live with their three children (about 1, 4, and 8 years old).
I’ve come to know Mrs. Phiri a little bit. Her name is Memory (there are lots of names like this: Precious, Liberty, Obvious, Chance, Glory) and she can’t be more than 26 or 27. She doesn’t speak English but understands a lot, so we communicate through hand signals and demonstrations. Among others in their class, they’re well-off because they have a very nice bicycle (see below).
When we moved into the house the landlady said, “don’t worry, we’re going to get rid of that house and there won’t be anyone on the property.” Thom and I both said, no, it’s perfectly fine to have them there. We were afraid that these people would be homeless just because their home was an eyesore. So, we’re relieved they’re still here and their three kids wave at us like we’re in a parade when we go down our drive. (BTW, because we stand out in our neighborhood because of our skin color, we get a lot of stares. Thom thinks they’re saying, “there goes the neighborhood,” and how we dress compared to them I kind of think he’s right.)
These housing disparities go along with the income disparities. As I mentioned earlier our gardener earns about $120 a month and works long hours. When I asked around about giving him a raise everyone was surprised. One said this was equivalent to our minimum wage in the U.S. and that I should not apply U.S. wage scales to Africa. He pointed out they were in decent clothes, obviously well-fed, and cheerful and outgoing. Who was I to impose my view on how someone should live?
Because I’m American it’s been inculcated in me from birth that anyone can grow up to be President and/or rich, you just have to work hard. I’ve personally seen it with my dad and we all saw it with Obama. I wonder what the prevailing inculcated cultural beliefs are here? I need to find out. In the meantime I find myself culling through clothes and even food and handing off extras to the Phiris.