New Year’s in Lusaka

[note: the next few posts will be jumping back a bit]

Who needs a city fireworks display when you can experience a city-wide fireworks extravaganza? That’s pretty much what happened in Lusaka at 12:00 on Jan 1, 2013.

I should have known as much when I saw the dozens of street vendors walking by our vehicle selling fireworks in the New Year’s Eve afternoon traffic. Most memorable were the long tubes boasting a dozen or more rockets in one convenient container. But instead I was slightly incredulous, since I have never seen a firework sold in such a casual manner. Especially in Africa. In fact, I assumed large-scale fireworks were illegal everywhere but in those off-the-highway warehouses in South Carolina, and that the ‘rockets’ being sold along the street in Lusaka were nothing more than fancy firecrackers.

Apparently not.

We didn’t make any plans to herald in the new year, since Steve and I had a bus to catch the next morning for Kapiri Mposhi. So we went to bed early. But it seems that when you are in Lusaka, sleeping through the new year is not an option. At midnight I was woken up by the sound of an all-out military assault on the city. Artillery exploding, missiles whistling through the air… it took a moment for me to register that these were all the fireworks I had seen just a few hours before, now joyfully exploding all over the city. I was too tired to get up and try to view the fireworks, so I contented myself with imagining what they must have looked like.

I’m not sure if it was the rain that started up, or if everyone began to run out of their fireworks, but the noise finally began to subside and I drifted back to sleep with visions of a thousand fireworks sparkling over the city.

ok, this is not lusaka, but it’s pretty much how the fireworks looked in my imagination.

It’s times like this that I am reminded of one of the things I love about Africa (at least, the part of Africa I am familiar with, which is small). It’s that all-encompassing and unplanned, yet somehow ordered chaos, so creative and expressive. Maybe I’m used to it, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming to me, only alive and grandly uncontainable.

I think back to my experiences with fireworks in the US. Fifteen minutes sitting on a lawn watching a well-planned and neatly-executed fireworks display is nice. It begins on time and ends with a bang. But imagine the splendid chaos of a thousand families lighting up the city with their own personal display. Starting a few minutes before midnight, of course. Completely uncoordinated and unpredictable, but magnificent, nonetheless.

Of course, there is a downside to this kind of chaos – in the case of fireworks, there are valid public health reasons to restrict and control their usage (take the club fire in Brazil, as a tragic example). But for the areas that aren’t such a big deal, in the daily-life kinds of things, I prefer dirt to concrete, and an overgrown plot of wildflowers and vines to a city park. More room for surprise, improvisation, imagination. This part of Africa is full of that, and I miss it every time I leave.

[photo compliments of my dad]

[photo compliments of my dad]

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