Sunday, January 17, 2010


I can't remember the name of the capital of Zambia.

I used to know all the countries and capitals of Africa. I studied the map for hours as a child, fantasizing about the exotic places it depicted, the zebras and hippos and vast rivers, the palm trees that are used to make wine.

And then I went there. I even went to Zambia, though only across the border from Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls. I walked in, walked out again, just to see the falls from the other side.

Isn't it strange how our brains let go of things, particularly those academic factoids we don't use? I probably couldn't do algebra now. I couldn't begin to name the periodic table of the elements. (I suppose there may even be new elements, discovered since I learned the table -- just as some countries and capitals on the map of Africa have different names.)

I remember reading somewhere that living means learning to let go -- to deal with loss. Those losses speed up as you get older. The fact that I can't remember the capital of Zambia makes me feel older. But then, that's not such a serious loss, is it?

(Photo: Sticker by Canadian street artist Charlie Green. I never take street art -- I always photograph it and leave it for the next person to find -- but in this case I boosted the sticker. It's now in my photo album. I have a soft spot for Charlie Green's wise, whimsical creatures, with their third eye.)


  1. The Zambian capital is Lusaka. I had to look it up, but now my brain is saying, "Oh yeah!"

  2. But see ... you have an iphone so you can google all the factoids you want.

    As we grow older, in my opinion, what we're supposed to do is develop our capacity for wisdom and philosophic thinking. No factoid reciting is required for that deep king of thought, eh?

  3. All that wasted time memorizing rather than learning. When we learn things that are relevant to us, that knowledge is ours forever.

  4. Unfortunately many of the African capitals you learned in school have changed names by now, so don't beat yourself up too much. Just look it up and pretend you knew it all along. That's the beauty of your new phone. It goes a long way to make up for those facts that have slipped through the cracks.