Monday, November 28, 2011


Is saying farewell any easier if it is spread over many celebrations and observances? Ask me next week and I will tell you!

My departure date is not until December 1, but two of the expatriate families were leaving Zambia for home visits in mid-November. They were not due to return until January. So my first farewell party was November 11 with all the international families on campus. We had a big potluck dinner, shared music and stories, and took pictures. The host family, the Lunds, have four talented children, who provided entertainment with a recital including song, piano, recorder, and guitar.

The Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation Director hosted a farewell dinner for me at his home. It was a lovely evening of traditional Zambian food and good company. Dr. Temu has had the hard job of seeing MEF through a strategic planning process, with good results. The World Council of Churches is funding 21 Pan African students for training next year in two programs: peacebuilding and conflict transformation and services for orphans and vulnerable children. MEF’s prospects are improving.

Sunday I was asked to come forward in church so they could pray for a safe journey. I thanked them for the music, the joyful worship, and for including me in Bible study and other events even when it meant they had to translate everything into English because I couldn’t understand Bemba. Later on Sunday a group of women from the church came to pray with me and share their good wishes for my trip. In the evening, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Choir came to thank me for the help I gave at their fundraiser.

Each group of students in this semester’s courses planned a small farewell celebration during our last class period or afterwards, including refreshments and a class photo. One group, the set of students who are now completing the social work diploma program, has had me as a teacher each semester for the four semesters I taught here. They cleverly took a copy of the class picture, had it enlarged and framed, and presented it as a farewell gift the next day.

The last day for students to be on campus before semester break was Friday, and I was asked to give the reflection in chapel that day. They had a special choir who sang a farewell song. The Director, one of the members of staff and a student representative each spoke briefly, and they presented me with gifts--a devotional book and a chitenge traditional dress.

In my chapel reflection, I shared what Zambia has meant to me. There are aspects of the culture here that I treasure and will try to include in my life as I return home. One is the strong sense of community, interdependence, and family that sustains people through struggles and encourages them in good times. Another is the awareness of the presence of God in every part of life, the good and the bad, the high and the low times, and the joyful praise offered in song and worship. Finally, here in Zambia people take time to just “be.” They greet everyone who passes, sometimes asking about family or chatting, other times just saying good morning or afternoon. They call on you at home and sit and visit.

These three aspects of Zambian culture--resilient community, recognition and celebration of God's loving presence, and an emphasis on "being"-- offer some balance to our American focus on the individual, on self-reliance, and on “doing.” I am thankful for the chance this adventure has given me to experience another way of life for a period.

Now in my last few days, I continue to have friends and neighbors stopping by to leave a remembrance or to pray for me or just to visit one last time. The kids are giving me notes of thanks for the sandwiches and cookies. More than a few tears have been shed.

Zambia will always have a special place in my heart and my life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Black Angels

The first class of Zambian students to complete the diploma programs in social work, community development, and media studies, along with a set of Pan African students, graduated with great ceremony a couple of weeks ago. Like all festive occasions here, it had a distinctly African flavor.

The graduation was outdoors in the grassy area behind the dining hall. Canopies had been set up to shelter us from the sun. MEF has a collection of graduation robes with different colored trim, so each discipline or group had its own identity. Under the robes, most were wearing their best clothes and fanciest shoes. As in a typical American graduation, the candidates lined up two by two, followed by the faculty and administration. But instead of a slow and solemn procession, the graduates danced their way to their seats, punctuated by ululations from family members. Robes floating and swirling as they danced, it was quite a parade. Somehow they looked like black-garbed angels cavorting in the bright African sun.

The Boys Brigade band from United Church of Zambia, Mindolo Congregation played the processional, recessional, and in between. They look smart in their dress uniforms, and they don't carry music--they play entirely by ear, and they play well.
The other entertainment included traditional dancers and a troupe of acrobats. When the dancers are very good, as these were, member of the audience become inspired to join them. This is to show the audience member's ability to also do these dances, or it is to put money in the chitenges of the most skilled dancers as an expression of appreciation and recognition of their excellence.

There were prayers and blessings, speeches by honored guests and students. The Pan African students announced that they wanted to make a presentation of a gift to MEF. While here, this group of students had conducted various fundraisers--a car wash, bake sale, raised vegetables to sell, and hosted an African Cultural Night with dinner and entertainment. With the proceeds, they bought three printers to place in the computer lab so that students could print assignments without having to go to a commercial site. There was great applause from the continuing students when this was announced.

After the awarding of diplomas and a final benediction, pictures were taken and a traditional meal was served: nshima (staple food, a sort of corn meal mush), fish, chicken, greens, and cabbage and carrot coleslaw. No cake, just apples for dessert, but everyone was happy to share in this meal with family and friends.

The Zambian students honored in this event had finished their program last June, but as there is only money for one big graduation a year, they had to wait until the Pan African students completed their courses to have the ceremony. The first group of students I taught are finishing their studies the beginning of December this year, but they will participate in graduation next year. I will miss their ceremony, so I have told them I will dance with them in spirit.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Constancy and Change

In just over three weeks I will return to the USA. I've been reflecting on some of the projects and activities that have been part of my service here in Zambia. Some things have changed, some have been constant, many have had aspects of both constancy and change.

Yesterday I gave out more than 30 peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I know because toward the end of the afternoon I had to send one of the boys to the tuck shop to buy a third loaf of brown bread. Not a crumb was left at 18 hours (6 o'clock), when my kitchen closed. Each loaf makes 10 sandwiches, or 11 if you use the heels. At first ten or twelve boys would come to get cold water and a sandwich each day after school or mid-day on the weekends. Then more boys came, friends of the first ones. The ages range from 4 to 14. I wondered why no girls came. It seems that not only were they busy at home helping their mothers, but they were scared away by the boys. After we discussed this problem, a group of four little girls started coming. Then about two months ago, another group, seven girls and one little brother, all from the Police Camp compound, started coming. They get sandwiches on Friday through Monday. On Tuesday and Thursday it is biscuits and juice, and on Wednesday I give them homemade cookies. The schedule is because Tuesdays through Thursdays are my heavy teaching days, when I don't have time to make sandwiches.

The boys who come mainly run around the yard and climb trees and play ball before and after eating sandwiches. They imitate Michael Jackson as often as they demonstrate the traditional dances children do when they are in a wedding party. The girls want to color or to read. I keep art supplies, books, balls, Frisbees, and a few other things for them. I let them use the toilet, one at a time. Most of them don't have indoor plumbing where they live. The girls have sometimes asked if they could take a bath, and I have had to say no for a variety of reasons. But I see how they care about their appearance and want to be clean and neat.

The trouble with this ministry is that when I leave, it will end. And I feel bad about that. I wish Zambia had a school breakfast or lunch program. One of my community development students did a research project on nutrition in Ipusukilo Compound. She found that none of the families she surveyed at the government clinic ate three meals a day on a regular basis. Two meals was typical, and some families ate only once a day. One positive development recently is that a group of Canadian church women established a feeding program at Trust Community School. They have committed funds to run the program for two years. It's only porridge, but the teachers report that the students are more attentive and productive since the feeding program started.

Change and constancy characterizes my life with students, as well. The first group of students I taught have now finished the program, received their diplomas, and are seeking positions as social workers in government services or non-governmental organizations. But jobs are scarce. I wrote a blog about Kabutu Kabutu, a graduate who is starting his own program, Heart of Care Services for the Aged. He came to consult with me on developing a constitution, bylaws, and a project proposal. Now he is about to get the organization formally registered. He has received initial funding through some local community leaders and a church, and he will be presenting his proposal to a potential donor next week. Persweden, the student whose husband died suddenly last year, is now completing the program thanks to support from several people who heard her story and provided sponsorship. I plan to donate the proceeds of my "going home" sale (computer, camera, kitchen equipment, sheets and towels, etc) to our scholarship fund for social work and community development students. My packets of class handouts developed to supplement lectures will be passed on to the next lecturers for each of the classes I taught here.

Twenty-two months is longer than I planned to stay, but not enough time to do everything I wanted here in Zambia. My efforts to learn Bemba and to master the traditional dance steps reflected more good-humored effort than actual success. It would have been interesting to travel and see more of the country. My choice instead was to fully integrate into the life of a community, to join in its daily life, its celebrations, and its interactions.

My weekly schedule had a rhythm: daily chapel, teaching, Sunday worship, Monday movie night with the ex-patriate community, Tuesday night prayer sharing, Wednesday night singing group, Thursday evening Bible study, Friday morning shopping in town, and Saturday night Game Night with the students. I gave cooking lessons for students and community women who wanted to learn to bake cakes and cookies and prepare American dishes. Caroline's "drivers' wives" self-help group came to learn and is using cake baking as an income-generating project. I was invited to kitchen parties, weddings, fundraisers, holiday celebrations, family dinners, sports events, talent shows, and baby showers, and taken to visit projects in several compounds. Various people would stop by my house just to "visit." My time here in Zambia, full of activities and relationships, has been a meaningful way to start the new phase of my life that began with retirement two years ago.

I am sure that more adventures still await, but Zambia will always have a special place in my heart. And there is a namesake here. Moses, who tends my garden, named his newborn baby daughter Ann!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Anthem Envy

There are many things in Zambia which need improvement. Just the other day, BBC reported that the Internet was evaluated in 190 countries of the world, and Zambia was nearly the bottom of the list. To be precise, it rated 189th. Only Lebanon has slower and less adequate connectivity. Many days we cannot download documents because the effort times out or it just never completes the process. But in some areas, Zambia shines.

In chapel, the day after Independence Day, we sang the Zambian national anthem. The melody is lilting and simple. The words clearly express the Zambian spirit and Zambian culture. I have anthem envy!

Here are the words to Zambia's anthem:

Stand and sing of Zambia, proud and free,
Land of work and joy in unity,
Victors in the struggle for the right
We've won freedom's fight
All one, strong and free.

Africa is our own mother land
Fashioned with and blessed by God's good hand.
Le us, all her people, join as one
Brothers under the sun
All one, strong and free.

One land and one nation is our cry
Dignity and peace 'neath Zambia's sky
Like our noble eagle in its flight
Zambia, praise to thee
All one, strong and free.

Praise be to God,
Praise be, praise be.
Bless our great nation
Zambia, Zambia, Zambia.
Free men we stand
Under the flag of our land
Zambia, praise to thee
All one, strong and free.

I imagine that many of us wish our national anthem were more reflective of our values and hopes. Go Zambia!

Monday, October 24, 2011


Today is Zambian Independence Day, and there are many celebrations. Reminds me in some ways of the 4th of July. It is sunny and hot. Our MEF students are enjoying a picnic and "brai" (barbeque) at a park. The Sunday School children from church are also enjoying a picnic outdoors, with lots of games and dancing and singing. The nursery school on the MEF campus had an Independence Day parade on Friday, marching, chanting, cheering, all of them wearing shirts or sundresses made from chitenge fabric with the Zambian flag as the design. Most of the flag is dark green, symbolic of the vegetation and natural wealth of the country. There are three stripes in the right corner, red for the blood shed to secure independence, black for the people, and orange for the copper and mineral resources. An orange eagle symbolizing freedom sits on top of the three vertical stripes. The kids were very enthusiastic in their celebration and it reminded me of the 4th of July parade Winterhaven hosts in Tucson, or the one we experienced at Ghost Ranch the last time we had a family vacation there.

One observance here was entirely different from our 4th of July commemorations in the USA. Many churches, Mindolo included, had all-night services last night to pray for the country and its leaders and to praise God for freedom and independence.

Another recent event here was a conference hosted by the Anglican Church and seminary on campus. The featured speaker was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican communion. He was in Zambia after visiting Malawi to commemorate 100 years of the Anglican church there. He spoke of the challenges and opportunities faced by the Anglican (Episcopal) church today. The unity of the denomination has been stressed by differences of opinion and understanding on two issues, the role of women in the church and the church's teachings and rules regarding homosexuality. He acknowledged that the church has no mechanism for global problem-solving, but they are concentrating on building relationships that can encourage unity. He has his work cut out for him in these difficult times.

Finally, we are getting ready to celebrate the graduation of one of the groups of Pan African students, the ones in the Youth Leadership Development Program, together with a group of social work, community development, and media diploma students. Such events are always a mixture of joy and sadness as we bid farewell to those who are going far away and celebrate their accomplishments. The Pan African students hosted an African Cultural Night a couple of weeks ago featuring food and music and dancing from their many countries. My friend Botho Divine Engagement is one who is graduating and returning to Botswana. I will really miss her strong spirit.

And in only 5 1/2 weeks, I, too, will be leaving MEF and returning home after a rich and rewarding Zambian experience. So I understand the mixed feelings of the students--relief to have finished their studies, sadness to be leaving friends and mentors, a sense of being unsettled during a time of transition.

Please keep us all in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bathroom Ants, Bathing Babies, and More...

The other day, I was thinking about some of the aspects of life in Zambia that have been unique, or notable in some way, or at least different from usual life in America. Here are a few:

Last night (Friday) I was lulled to sleep to the sounds of music and cheering coming from the church on campus. The church is not next door to me. It is located the equivalent of at least two city blocks away from my house. But the celebratory sounds were loud enough to carry in through my bedroom window. I wondered what was going on at 10 pm, and when I awakened about 2 am and still heard singing and drumming from the church, I knew it was surely one of the all-night prayer and praise sessions held every couple of months. I got up shortly after 6 am and a few minutes later heard about a dozen local youths on my porch. They were asking if I would make them a cup of Milo and a peanut butter sandwich. They were hungry after the all-nighter.

Now, why was I getting up at 6 am on a Saturday, the one morning of the week that I do not have somewhere to be before 8 am? Well, I have learned through experience that Zambians sometimes show up at my door as early as 6:30. My first visitor this morning--after the youths--was at 7 am. These callers do not necessarily expect to find you fully dressed. In fact, if they are a neighbor, they might appear in night clothes or casual lounging clothes themselves. But they have a request or a question or something to return or borrow. So they just stop by.

Traveling to town on a bus that took a new route, I noticed a sign for "Agatha's Firm Foundation School," and I was reminded of names of shops and services that have puzzled or amused me. There was a hand-cart a young man was wheeling through the market on which he had painted the name "Hummer" on the side. The "Joyful Desire Centre" offers secretarial services. You can eat at the High Class Food Cafe, or order carry-out from the Virtuous Christian Catering establishment. (They don't carry alcohol.) I wondered what people did at a "Fitment Centre" after seeing so many signs for them, It turns out that is where you go to buy "tyres." I have seen a sign for Just Imagine Investments and for Polite Spare Auto Parts. You can play soccer at the Mundane Football Club or order texts from the Annointed Christian Bookshop. The Alpha & Omega Grocers is next to The Most High Secretarial School. I can get my hair cut at Blessings Barbing or at Grace of God Hair Saloon. I would certainly be hopeful as I took my car to Auto Miracles and Odd Jobs Limited. The biggest mystery is just what they sell at a corner shop, painted orange, that I pass on the bus frequently. Over the door is the only signage, the statement "Jesus Wept."

Then there is the mystery of the bathroom ants. Black, medium size, not tiny like the kitchen ants or huge like the red biting ants, they are found in and around my sink and tub. What attracts them? I can't figure it out. When I go to brush my teeth or wash my hands, I try to start with a little trickle of water, so I won't wash them down the drain. But if I miscalculate and one does go down the drain, if I then wait a few moments, the ant will struggle out and climb up the slippery side of the sink and disappear. I admire their spunk.

Finally, a week ago I hosted Sheba, a former student in one of my classes, together with her 3-weeks old daughter Christina and her sister Chongo, while she took care of some work in her program. I learned that Zambian babies are bathed at least twice a day, often more. It turned out to be a real challenge, since the day after their arrival the MEF water pump broke down, and it took all week for it to be repaired. We had to haul water from the nearest station in buckets, and on the fifth day the MEF truck began to bring barrels full to our houses. I think the baby was cleaner than any of the rest of us, as we tried to ration the water between cooking and drinking and cleaning uses. The garden had wilted, but when water resumed after seven days, I was amazed at the resilience of most of the vegetables as they responded to the return of irrigation. It helped that we did have one good rain during that dry week. All of us appreciate the blessing of water service more than ever. And I am aware that all over Zambia, in villages and shanty towns and compounds, many people live without access to running water in their homes.

When I am back home, I will miss the music from the church. Several times a week at my house I hear the Boys Brigade Band and the various choirs practicing, usually in the late afternoons. Every morning I join my voice with those of the MEF students and staff in chapel. Often during the day I find a melody in my mind from one of these sources. It's an important part of life here, one that has enriched me.

As an Avery & Marsh song we learned at Ghost Ranch goes, "Different is beautiful, God bless diversity!"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Challenging Customs

I assigned a UN report on "Gender Equality and Social Institutions in Zambia" as required reading for my community interventions course. It generated the liveliest discussion we have had in that class.

The majority of social work students are women. The men tend to choose the diploma program in community development. There is considerable overlap in the curricula of these two programs, but social work has an image of being a woman's field more than does community development. So in my community interventions [social work] class, there are only two men and ten women.

The article on gender, in addition to discussing such issues as inheritance, domestic violence, ownership rights, and securing credit--all areas in which women suffer inequality--delves into official and traditional family law. I quote: "Husbands are traditionally the heads of families in Zambia. They have sole parental authority and make most of the important household decisions, including those regarding the use of contraception." And later, "The custom of paying a dowry incites domestic violence: having paid a bride price, the husband and other men in the family consider the woman to be their joint property."

The students agreed with the report in most respects. They said that while such practices are more universal in the rural areas, they also are strong in urban areas, even among the educated population. Bride price was identified as one of the primary motivators behind underage marriages. In villages, a daughter is a potential source of income for the parents. Girls are often kept home after grade 7 and marriages may be contracted at age 12 to 14. Pregnancy follows shortly after marriage, with detrimental health consequences in many cases.

The women in my class, almost all in their early to mid twenties, spoke of their dismay at being considered inferior, being expected to be subservient, and being thought of as property. But, clearly, they felt trapped. Marriage is seen as necessary for survival. Jobs are scarce (40%-60% unemployment) and men are favored in the employment market. Culturally, there is little respect for a single woman.

It is not all bleak. I believe that there are Zambian marriages based on a partnership model. Even when the husband considers himself the head of the household, he does not necessarily beat his wife. But too many men do. And too many men exert total control over family finances. The general cultural acceptability of extramarital relationships for the man (having a "side dish" or "spare wheel") and condemnation of the same for the woman marks an interesting double standard.

Cultural patterns and practices do not change easily or quickly. Women here are socialized to be deferent and submissive. In the rituals associated with preparation for marriage, the woman is taught how to please her husband in every way. She is taught that she can refuse no request or expectation her husband makes or shows. This education is carried out by her aunts and other female relatives.

In the class, we discussed how privilege and power are maintained by the consent and cooperation of the underlings. Traditions will not become more egalitarian by themselves. It will require a movement. It will require a vision of something better, and hope for the possibility of change. Given that many people cherish the security and predictability of the status quo, efforts to create change will encounter serious resistance. But as women achieve more equality, more respect, and more opportunity, Zambia's development will move ahead.

I offered the class a saying of Mahatma Ghandi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world." For Zambian women--indeed for all men and women--may it be so!