I’m sometimes as California-centric as the stereotype of the state goes. I take my passport when I travel to the other 49. I get anxious when the plane pulls out of California airspace. If there was an active secessionist movement, I’d be 100% behind it (chew on that NSA!). I think that China’s in the West and Europe in the East. And my geography for anywhere beyond the Rockies gets pretty hazy (although I was quick enough to spot an attempt to pull my leg when a friend once tried to tell me he was from somewhere called “Connecticut”. I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night!). I fulminate publicly but take pride privately when I think of whichever commentator famously called the Golden State “the world’s largest outdoor mental asylum”. I’m also fond of California’s institutions. By these I mean things like public schools, State Parks, universities, and also summer.
I used to be able to handle the cold quite well, but going on a decade living in the balmier two-thirds of the state has softened me considerably, and my family now joke that I go shivering around my parents’ house at Christmas-time dressed for an expedition to the tundra.
This is making my existence in Zambia quite a challenge, for we are now heading into the direst days of winter. Monday’s temperatures plummeted into what might very well have been the 50s, and a handful of droplets spattered down from the sky, sending people sprinting for shelter, bemoaning the cutting cold of the wind that swept through town. I stayed at home to work on a chapter, and I sat shivering in the kitchen at lunchtime over a cup of tea while a member of staff joined me in staring glumly out into the grey weather, joking that tomorrow it would probably be snowing.
It’s stayed cold since. Today I internally pooh-poohed my fellow inhabitant of the almost-deserted archives who showed up in a sweater, scarf, and mittens, but by early afternoon my hands were getting stiff from the cold and I was eyeing the mittens enviously. Last night, a Danish neighbour allowed me to pinch some of his hot chocolate, which proved to be just the ticket for a winter evening.
I recently discovered that I handle large concentrations of caffeine about as poorly as I do the cold. Monday evening I met some people for dinner. They were coming down from Samfya in the north, and got stuck in the daily four-hour pile-up that is Lusaka’s rush hour. On my way to meet them, I did too, quite literally, when the taxi ran out of petrol and blocked a lane of a busy street for fifteen minutes while we trekked down the road to fill up a small jerry can.
In any event, I reached the restaurant a bit early in spite of the taxi episode. To pass the time after I’d arrived, I ordered a cup of tea, and was brought what I later discovered was a cappuccino.
I don neckties at weddings and gunpoint. I feel similarly about coffee, but not wanting to cause difficulties, I dutifully drank it, and doubt that I shall ever hereafter be the same. The walls all began to move, I barely suppressed a shout of “Earthquake!”, and began to ricochet around the room like a loosed Snitch on a Quidditch field. The Lebanese food was lovely and the company more so, but I sat bolt upright in bed for a couple of hours that night, heart racing, before I managed to nod off only to pop up awake again at 3 a.m. At four, I gave up my efforts at further sleep, and began my day, promising myself that never again would I subject myself to such torment. Paka, the resident feline, kept me company as the effects gradually wore off, so that by afternoon in the archives I found myself fighting a losing battle against sleep.