Having weighed in on a serious note, here’s the lighter side of my recent trip to Zambia. As one who loves words — in fact, I find myself using them all the time — I was charmed by the subtly different variety of English that prevails in Zambia. Since their, um, association with Great Britain ended almost 200 years after America’s, there are certainly many Anglicisms. But many of the turns of phrase were simply Zambian, in the best sense.
In the George Compound, an informal (poor) settlement on the outskirts of Lusaka, there was an establishment called The Introverts Pub. Thought-provoking, no? A place where everybody knows your name… but no one uses it.
And then at breakfast there were the Potato Wadges. (OK, maybe just a typo, but still great.)
But what really caught my eye were the signs around Lusaka for Harveytiles, a maker of roof tiles. Their simile-themed ads are an amalgamation of postmodernism and surrealism, leaving the dull linear logic of our Western roofing tile discourse in the dust as they take direct aim at the subconscious.
Just to get us started, here’s one that actually makes sense.
But what got me hooked was another one (no photo, alas), that said:
“A roof without Harveytiles is like an airplane without a pilot…
IT WON’T TAKE OFF”
Note: further research is needed on customary expectations for Zambian homeowners regarding the capabilities of their roofs.
(Note: the following photos come from various blogs I’ve found on the internet – links to the original sources are provided. I especially appreciate this blog by Mr. & Mrs. de Blaeij, which is the source unless noted otherwise — they obviously loved the signs as much as I did!)
This one got me thinking:
Harveytiles has been willing to take on the serious issues too. In a country with an HIV/AIDS crisis, one can appreciate the public-minded impulse at work in this 2006 sign (found in this interesting ESPN.com story), warning people that a horrific alleged cure for the virus doesn’t work, even if the sign is not what we’d consider tasteful here in the U.S. (The part that’s cut off refers to the Harveytiles-free roof not being able to ‘make your mind free’ – once again, logic isn’t really the point.)
And turning from public health to issues of faith, this one posted on this blog from 2003 is pretty direct, if once again rather hard to follow. (The ‘remark’ at the bottom doesn’t do much to clear things up.)
And Harveytiles doesn’t shy away from offering advice-laden similes on practically everything, from law and order to love and marriage. Heck, they are pretty much capturing the whole of life itself, all with that special, mysterious ‘huh?’ factor.
What I want to ask my friends in Zambia is how soon we can get these amazing tiles here in America. I’m sure by now you’re asking the same existential question I am: is life without Harveytiles really life at all?