The Extremes of Living in the Developing World

One of things that always seems the strangest to me about living in a place like Zambia (the developing world, 3rd world) is its extremes, especially economically. In America, there do exist some pretty big economic extremes as you go from north to south, east to west, urban to rural, and blue collar towns to white collar towns. But overall, the middle class is big enough and strong enough to make you feel that everyone is somewhat on the same page economically or, at least, given the right opportunities and education could advance in a short amount of time on the economic ladder.

In Zambia, the middle class is the minority, and the extremes economically are the majority, especially the poor. Since Kristin and I are based in Lusaka, the economical extremes are more pronounced. For instance, Lusaka has a few shopping malls, mostly outdoor strip malls but now also has a small indoor mall that looks pretty similar to a Mall you would see in the States. Lusaka also has several modern, western grocery stores that sell things like Pillsbury cake mixes, Philadelphia cream cheese, Pepsi and Coke and a selection of wines coming all the way from California. Restaurants like Subway, KFC, Mug and Bean, Ocean Basket and even now Thai and Mexican restaurants are in Lusaka. You will also see some really nice cars driving around, mostly at the places mentioned above, like a BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar. I have even seen some Hummers, a Ford F-350, Chevrolet Avalanche, and a Ford Mustang all imported from the States, and a variety of very expensive Toyotas brought in from Japan.

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But when you look at the whole city of Lusaka – all two to three million people – the stores and restaurants mentioned above are occupied by the rich and some of the emerging middle class and expatriates, but not by a majority of the citizens of Lusaka and its surrounding compounds and suburbs. And even though there are some very nice cars driving around, they represent a small minority of the people here. The most prevalent privately-owned car on the road is a beat-up early 90’s Toyota Corolla. And the majority of the cars on the road are public transportation blue mini buses, which are how the majority of the city’s resident gets around, but, in all reality, the most common way to get around town is still good old-fashion walking.

Even though there are nice areas in town like the malls or the rich residential areas of town (even these usually have roads that are washed away or filled with potholes or just dirt), the majority of Lusaka’s citizens live in very poor compounds – most of which don’t have indoor plumbing and consist of one to three room houses for families. Most of the city’s infrastructure, like roads, are either dirt with huge potholes, or paved, but the pavement is washing away after years of rainy seasons and of neglect. The city’s main arteries are paved roads but are always extremely congested, as Lusaka has no free-ways, and most roads here are one to two lanes. Also, repair is extremely poor here. If a light pole gets knocked over by a semi, it most likely will never be replaced and will stay lying on the side of the road or half knocked over for years.

So, with all those factors, you get a city that has some nice areas of town so that you would almost think you were in Florida, with it’s Hummers. But the rest of the city looks very much like the developing world (dusty, dirty, lots of trash lying on the side of the road, decaying buildings, with little or no maintenance done to them, dirt or decaying roads, thousands of people walking the streets getting to where they need to go, and hundreds of street venders, either mobile or in makeshift stores on the side of road ready to serve the walking pedestrians and traffic-jammed motorists). And speaking of traffic, the traffic situation can be so congested and jammed with mini buses and other cars you feel like you are driving in a video game, where you have to fight for your right to drive. But such are the extremes of living in the developing world…The really nice and the really poor all situated together some how.

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