Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Quiet, Simple Christmas

Christmas in Zambia was a refreshing experience, different in many respects from what I am accustomed to.

Imagine this: The Christmas season in Zambia is one week long, and it is almost exclusively a religious festival. There are no reminders broadcast on radio or TV about how many shopping days till Christmas. Santa is unknown, and gift-giving is not a part of most people's celebrations. I heard a medley of Christmas songs only once, during the week before Christmas, in Shoprite, Kitwe's main supermarket. We didn't sing carols, even in church, until Christmas Eve.

Yes, I missed some of the special music and pageantry presented at Christmastime at home, but I didn't miss the materialistic aspect at all. Nor did I miss the hectic pace and stress that sometimes characterizes the holiday season in America. Here life slowed down as our campus closed for a two week break from December 20-January 3.

All the holiday activity took place at church. There was a service each day during Christmas week. These took place in the late afternoon and were filled with joyful congregational singing, choral offerings, and a message about some aspect of Jesus or his life. Christmas Eve the service started later and included candle lighting. On Christmas morning there was a joint service with the English and Bemba-speaking congregations praising together. That service started at 9 am and lasted past noon, ending with communion.

The Mindolo UCZ congregation has several different choirs, and each had prepared special music for the season. The Praise Team is an energetic youth choral group with keyboard accompaniment. They sometimes dance while singing. The Jerusalem Choir sings a cappella, or accompanied by drumming. They wear purple robes and sing parts. Their repertoire ranges from traditional choruses to complex cantatas. The Women's Fellowship has its own choir, as does the Men's Fellowship and the theology students. I sometimes wonder if Zambians are born singing--all of them seem to have strong voices and the ability to pick up a melody after hearing it once. No choir uses sheet music.

After church on Christmas Day, most people went home to a big family dinner. Sharing food and visiting with friends and family seem to be universal features of holiday celebrations around the world. We joined with another Mindolo family for our Christmas dinner.

It was a simple, quiet Christmas made special by the services, the music, and above all by the presence of my daughter and grandchildren with me in Zambia.

Our hope for the new year is that there should be more peace and more love within ourselves and out in the world. May we make this wish a reality by our actions and reactions throughout the coming year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Family Fun

My daughter Cathy and grandchildren El'ad (age 7), Noa (age 4) and Matan (7 months) arrived this week to spend the Christmas holiday here in Zambia. Thank heavens for Frequent Flyer miles!

We will take a couple of trips while they are here. Just after Christmas, we will visit Victoria Falls and the nearby national park to see monkeys, zebras, giraffes, a white rhino, buffalo, alligators, impala, baboons, and a variety of interesting birds. Cruising the Zambezi River, we will see elephants cross from Zimbabwe to Zambia in the late afternoon. We may take a couple of short trips to interesting sites near Kitwe, and we will spend a few days together in Johannesburg at the end of their trip. Our main activity, however, will be to experience family time at Mindolo.

The local children have been on school break since early November, with little to do. I suggested that Cathy bring along books, sports balls, art supplies, and Legos in great quantity. Except for the Legos, everything else was familiar play material, and welcome. El'ad demonstrated Lego construction, and the kids immediately began to build a variety of structures. What was interesting was the collaborative efforts the Zambian children initiated. They would decide what they were trying to create, and then several would help make it. They built an accurate model of the duplex I live in, complete with doors that opened and closed. They have also built airplanes and various vehicles, as well as a whole city.

In addition to Lego construction activities, art projects, and outdoor games, the local children love to take Matan for walks in his stroller or in their arms or on their backs. They ask if we will let him sit with them while they draw or build on the porch. They talk to him and entertain him with funny faces, songs, and other interactions. He loves it!

The local language is Bemba, and the children are accustomed to speaking Bemba among themselves. Language does not appear to present a barrier to cooperative play, as they find ways to communicate with El'ad and Noa in a mix of English, gestures, and demonstration. So far, most of the heavy rain has fallen at night, so there are many opportunities each day for outdoor universal children's games like hide and seek.

I've been enjoying reading and telling stories with Noa and El'ad, baking cookies together, and playing games like Sorry and Concentration. We have visited the market and acted out dramas. I have gotten to know Matan, who was born while I was here in Zambia.

If only all my children and grandchildren could visit, I would be the happiest grandmother in the world!

Family Fun

My daughter Cathy and grandchildren El'ad (age 7), Noa (age 4) and Matan (7 months) arrived this week to spend the Christmas holiday here in Zambia. Thank heavens for Frequent Flyer miles!

We will take a couple of trips while they are here. Just after Christmas, we will visit Victoria Falls and the nearby national park to see monkeys, zebras, giraffes, a white rhino, buffalo, alligators, impala, baboons, and a variety of interesting birds. Cruising the Zambezi River, we will see elephants cross from Zimbabwe to Zambia in the late afternoon. We may take a couple of short trips to interesting sites near Kitwe, and we will spend a few days together in Johannesburg at the end of their trip. Our main activity, however, will be to experience family time at Mindolo.

The local children have been on school break since early November, with little to do. I suggested that Cathy bring along books, sports balls, art supplies, and Legos in great quantity. Except for the Legos, everything else was familiar play material, and welcome. El'ad demonstrated Lego construction, and the kids immediately began to build a variety of structures. What was interesting was the collaborative efforts the Zambian children initiated. They would decide what they were trying to create, and then several would help make it.
They built an accurate model of the duplex I live in, complete with doors that opened and closed. They have also built airplanes and various vehicles, as well as a whole city.

In addition to Lego construction activities, art projects, and outdoor games, the local children love to take Matan for walks in his stroller or in their arms or on their backs. They ask if we will let him sit with them while they draw or build on the porch. They talk to him and entertain him with funny faces, songs, and other interactions. He loves it!

The local language is Bemba, and the children are accustomed to speaking Bemba among themselves. Language does not appear to present a barrier to cooperative play, as they find ways to communicate with El'ad and Noa in a mix of English, gestures, and demonstration. So far, most of the heavy rain has fallen at night, so there are many opportunities each day for outdoor universal children's games like hide and seek.

I've been enjoying reading and telling stories with Noa and El'ad, baking cookies together, and playing games like Sorry and Concentration. We have visited the market and acted out dramas. I have gotten to know Matan, who was born while I was here in Zambia.

If only all my children and grandchildren could visit, I would be the happiest grandmother in the world!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wings, Legs, and More

Every season in Zambia seems to open a new episode of the long-running drama "Living with Bugs." We have just endured the Attack of the Swarming Termites. This followed the Invasion of the Tiny Ants. I am told that I will yearn for the return of the tiny ants when we reach the March of the Fire Ants. They pinch! The Annoyance of the Seasonal Pesky House Flies includes their performance preference for buzzing and dive-bombing around my hair.

Some episodes, like those just mentioned, have a limited time period or life cycle. Others are long-running plays. The Parade of the Medium Black Ants takes place only in the bathroom, around the tub and sink, but it has been continuous since my arrival. Other long-running acts include the High-Jumping Antics of the Grasshoppers/Mantises/and other Long-legged Skinny Green Insects, the Flight of the Giant Beetles, and the Occasional Surprise Appearance of the Spider As Big As My Hand, a horror act if I ever saw one.

It is not only the house where the drama occurs. The eggplant patch in the garden was the scene of the Battle of the Red Spiders v. Moses. The spiders won the first round, but Moses and some secret special spray look to be holding the spiders down for the count at the moment. We welcome the Dance of the Singing Bees and Wasps around the outdoor plants.

When the flying termites swarmed, they covered everything in their path, including us. One neighbor told me she just went to bed under the mosquito net when they appeared in the early evening, and the next morning she swept away the layer of carcasses all over her living room floor. If you leave a light on to attract them and a bowl of water to catch them as they fall, you can take off the wings and fry them for a snack. I chose to bypass this treat.

Zambia does have some beautiful insects, particularly butterflies. There were multitudes of tiny yellow ones for the first few months after I arrived, as well as every other color and size imaginable.

I do my best to appreciate and respect insects as valuable part of God's creation, although it is sometimes hard not to find them annoying. But then I remember the comment of Corrie Ten Boom (in her book The Hiding Place) about the fleas that infested one of the concentration camp dormitories in which she and her sister were held. She initially complained about the hated fleas. Then she noticed that the officers seldom came into that particular dorm, apparently to avoid bites. The prisoners became free to hold meetings and activities there without interference. Eventually she was thankful for fleas. So I guess I can be thankful for the interesting array of critters and creepy-crawlies encountered here in Zambia.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

World AIDS Day

December 1 was "World AIDS Day". Here at MEF, we observed it with a morning educational workshop on HIV followed by free testing and counseling offered by a community agency and Sister Margaret, the nurse in our clinic. Later in the day, some of the high school students who are participants in projects sponsored by MEF practiced dances, drumming, drama and poetry they had developed. They commemorated the day on Saturday in a youth-oriented event.

One in seven Zambian adults is HIV+, with the highest rates in urban areas. Life expectancy has declined to 39 years. Out of a population of under 12 million, there are at least 700,000 AIDS orphans. The epidemic has created labor shortages in many sectors, including education.

HIV/AIDS is manifested differently in sub-Saharan Africa than in other parts of the world. Here, 60% of the people living with HIV infections are women. Young women, between the ages of 15-24, have a rate four times higher than young men of the same age here in Zambia. Several factors seem to account for this. First, there is little comprehensive sex education, and misinformation about HIV abounds. There is a tendency for teenage girls to begin sexual activity at a young age, and with much older men. Gender violence is common, both within and outside marriage. Women are socialized to believe that they should never say no to their husbands or partners, or ever demand the use of a condom. A cultural norm of men having multiple sexual partners, even after marriage, contributes to the spread of HIV infections among women.

The HIV infection rate within Zambia's prisons is nearly 30%. Official rules state that sexual activity between inmates is prohibited, so condoms are not allowed, despite efforts of various groups to advocate for a change in this policy. When ex-offenders return home, they may spread the infection to their wives and girlfriends.

Even though churches have begun to participate in HIV/AIDS education and many have even encouraged condom use, there is still a high degree of moral judgment and stigma evident. Family members are said to have died from malaria or TB or other conditions, without acknowledging, even to themselves, that HIV/AIDS was the underlying cause. I was surprised to hear so little mention of anyone caring for an infected friend or relative. With over 200 students and probably 40 staff (including security, kitchen, housekeeping, and special projects plus lecturers and administration), there is no support group on campus for those living with HIV. MEF does have an AIDS policy assuring that there will be no discrimination and giving medical leave for treatment.

Zambia has made a commitment to the Millennium Development Goal related to combating HIV/AIDS. How close the country will come to its aspirations is the issue. Prevention and treatment efforts here have been hampered by the inadequate health care system and corruption within the Ministry of Health. Antiretroviral treatment is available to less than 2/3 of those who need it.

Where do we go from here? The medical community, social workers, and the church could mount a strong, visible campaign to get people to talk about HIV/AIDS without shame or judgment. I'm planning to engage in some low-key informal activities at MEF that might lead toward the formation of a support group if there is interest and willingness among the students and staff. Any other suggestions?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Re-Use, Recycle, Renew

I see the most amazing array of American tee-shirt messages on the streets and around campus every day: names of universities, large and small; mottoes of campaigns, recent or ancient; souvenirs of long-forgotten festivals or conferences; logos and mascots of sports teams; commercial ads for products not sold here. The used clothing market is huge in Zambia. I suspect that items that are not sold in thrift shops or church rummage sales in America somehow are shipped to various Third World countries, and so I encounter the tee-shirt messages from home.

BBC just ran a program about a controversy connected to second-hand clothing in Kenya. Officials there were proposing to enforce a law already on the books prohibiting the sale of used underwear. However, the customers who were interviewed by the reporter said the price was right and they wanted to be able to continue buying used lingerie. And the sellers, too, thought the market demand justified continuing to allow such items.

My friend Margaret, one of the Pan African students completing her course in Peace Building and Conflict Transformation, will graduate on Friday. She invited me to worship today at the church she has been attending. They were giving the students a farewell party and urged them to bring a friend to the celebration. I noticed that their well-worn hymnals were from the U.S., and the copyright date was 1975. Discards from a church some years back when they purchased new ones, sent for recycling here. Many congregations in Zambia have no hymnals or songbooks at all, which limits their singing to a few classic hymns, so such recycled hymnals are a blessing.

Zambians engage in internal recycling, as well. When I first arrived, I would flatten plastic bottles before putting them in the trash (which is then thrown into a pit in my yard, burned and buried). One of the MEF workers saw me doing this and told me that people would take all my big plastic bottles if I would leave them intact. I now save them for Moses, Violet, or some of the children who live outside the MEF gate. They use the bottles to carry water from a central source in their compound to their homes for washing and cooking. Bottle caps are recycled into wheels for toy trucks made from cartons. Metal ones, with a hole punched in the middle and strung together, become an anklet that rattles when doing certain traditional dances. All of the organic material such as cut grass, fallen leaves, and household food scraps are composted and used to renew the garden soil.

We see an interesting contradiction to the commendable tendency to recycle any re-usable container. That is the nearly total insensitivity to litter here. People drop candy wrappers, snack packages, small plastic bottles and soda cans along paths, in the market, or out bus windows. True, there are few trash receptacles in most locations, but even where there are such bins, trash abounds on the ground nearby.

Some students have recently initiated a "Keep MEF Clean" campaign on campus. I hope it helps!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weather Drama

Just before the storm started, the power went off. Since it was not yet raining, we thought the outage would be brief. How wrong we were!

A community development student, Sheba, had come over Friday late afternoon to bake a cake. We had combined the dry ingredients in one bowl and were about to blend the liquid ingredients and stir the two together when the lights went out. "Well, at least it wasn't in the oven," I remarked. We sat down to wait and see if the power would be restored shortly.

When the storm hit, it was as fierce as any Arizona monsoon, and more. Crackling lightening, booming thunder, sheets of rain, all punctuated by blasts of wind that bent the trees toward the earth. Watching it, we were awed by the magnificence and the power of nature. Next door, Jenny said that Frankie the cat's fur stood on end and his eyes were wild. She held him to calm his pounding heart, but when she got up to get something, he bolted and ran under the bed, from which he has not yet emerged.

Darkness fell as the storm went on and on. It seemed as strong as time went by as when it had begun. We heard explosive cracking sounds that I later recognized as branches--and indeed entire trees--being blown down. Drumming rain on corrugated roofs makes conversation difficult, so we mostly watched. The displays of lightening were magnificent. Sheba asked for a blanket and wrapped herself in it. I lit candles, cleaned up the kitchen, covered the cake-making bowls, and waited.

The storm settled into hard rain, with no sign of letting up. Sheba decided to return to her dorm, equipped with my rain boots, umbrella, and flashlight. We agreed that when the power was restored, probably by early morning, I would put the cake together and bake it so she could take it to the event she was attending on Saturday. I read for a bit and headed for bed.

Saturday morning, there was still no power. When I glanced outside, there were broken branches everywhere Then I stepped out the door and saw the tree that had crashed next to my house, part of it touching my roof but fortunately not damaging it. We go to the market Saturday mornings, so we all piled into Jenny's truck and discovered that it was going to be hard to get into town. MEF workers had cleared the tree that fell and blocked our campus road, but when we turned onto the public road we saw that a fallen tree blocked the access to the main highway. So we went by a circuitous back route known to Jenny, observing broken roofs, trees, and debris all along the way. But there was power in town, so we had hope that our power had been restored.

After shopping, we returned to find the electricity still off. I used my computer until it ran out of battery. Couldn't charge my phone, so it was quiet. My radio runs on solar batteries, so BBC kept me informed and entertained. I began to fear for the food in my refrigerator and its freezer compartment. Lunch was a peanut butter sandwich, dinner a tuna salad. Jenny had a friend in town who offered to put our perishables in her refrigerator and freezer. Hungry students joined my usual kids in asking for PB&J sandwiches and water. Fortunately, I had just purchased my week's supply of sandwich ingredients and had lots of boiled water on hand. When the power is off, we lose water, too. The MEF pump stops working.

The student dining hall prepared dinner over charcoal as we continued without power. We saw the electric company trucks working, but apparently there were several lines down and transformers hit by lightening. Sunday we got up and found still no power. Walking to church I saw how most of the fallen trees had been cut into chunks appropriate for the bonfires people build at the funeral house after a death.

Well, power was restored after 47 hours. People who experience tornados or hurricanes are doubtless used to such extended outages and worse, but it was an unusual experience for me. The storm was dramatic, the destruction saddening, and the inconvenience a reminder of how dependent we are on technology.

We put the cake together and baked it this evening. It was delicious!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seasons and Changes

When the rains finally came last week, the children danced, whooping and leaping and welcoming the end of the dry season. Already the grass is green and growing, and Moses, who tends my garden, is looking for his slasher. The graceful white egrets have returned. They are playing in my yard and nesting in the tree by the dam. And the frogs serenade us nightly.

Now, instead of dust, we have mud. Our houses will be sprayed against mosquitoes and the ants, I am glad to say, seem to have gone underground. The termites have swarmed and disappeared.

Our MEF social work students are completing their research projects and preparing for final exams. The lecturers are busy grading papers, composing examinations, and calculating grades. It is near the end of the semester everywhere here in Zambia. During the church service, all the 7th and 9th grade pupils, nearly a hundred of them, were called forward to be prayed for as they entered their national exam period. Zambian schools are modeled on the British system. Students must pass these exams to go on for secondary education. So it is a time of intense preparation all around.

It is also a time of transition on campus. Some of the Pan African students who have been in the Peace Building and Conflict Transformation Program are graduating December 3, and we will really miss them. Our Chaplain's term of service is over in December, and he is debating whether to renew after returning to the United Kingdom to spend some time home with family. The Interim Director of Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation, William Temu, will arrive in December from Tanzania and will stay for a year. All these changes leave us with some unsettled feelings as we celebrate, bid goodbye, and welcome the new.

About now, back home I would be starting to plan our extended family's big Thanksgiving dinner. That is something I will miss here. I wish all of you a
joyful holiday. Eat some pumpkin pie for me--and don't forget the whipped cream!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The YWCA has been part of my life since 1960, when I joined as a student at Stanford University. The Student YWCA was the heart of the civil rights movement and other peace and justice concerns on the campus, as well as a center for women's leadership development. Over the years, I served on the boards of the Tucson and Phoenix YWCAs, on the National Board, on the Executive Committee of the World YWCA, and worked in various volunteer capacities as a trainer. The YWCA's emphasis on racial justice and human rights helped educate and shape my advocacy and activism.

Here on the MEF campus, there is a vibrant YWCA. One of the key programs is work on gender-based violence. The approach is two-pronged. First, the YWCA offers services to women who are victims of such violence through a shelter and a counseling program. They provide practical and emotional support and advocacy for these women as they leave abusive relationships and begin new lives. They also provide education on issues of gender-based violence for health workers, police, youth, and others. They have engaged in awareness campaigns on radio, TV, and through newspaper articles and stories.

In addition, the YWCA engages in political advocacy to strengthen the legal framework in response to gender-based violence. Without a comprehensive and effective public policy, fully and meaningfully implemented, gender-based violence will continue to be tolerated. And so the YWCA trains its members in effective citizen participation. They work for legislative change and program development to prevent and address this deep-seated and pervasive social evil.

The YWCA has other programs, as well. There is a drop-in center for at-risk youth. There are educational programs on topics such as HIV/AIDS prevention, self-care and caregiving, personal financial management, and widow's rights. The other day, I attended the graduation ceremony for more than 30 women who had completed training courses which would equip them for small income-generating endeavors--designing, cutting, and tailoring clothing, batik, and tie-dye production. It was a joyfully Zambian ceremony, filled with song, dance, and thanksgiving. The speakers and the family and friends recognized the sense of empowerment, mutual support, and hope that were developed in the participants through this program.

The purpose statement of the YWCA of Zambia includes two commitments: to develop the whole person, body, mind and spirit, and to unite and empower women to create a just society. Long may they continue with strength and courage!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Day of Fasting and Prayer for MEF

These are hot, dry days in Zambia, made beautiful by the bright red, purple, magenta and yellow flowering trees--jacaranda, flame trees, and what look to me like magnolias. Rains were supposed to start the last week of October, but we are still waiting. Our water is brownish-orangish colored when it comes out of the tap lately, and we go for longer periods without water. The rains will be welcome, whenever they come.

MEF (Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation), where I am based, is facing severe challenges these days. Ongoing financial struggles, together with changes in leadership, have created a sense of uncertainty and worry. Classes and projects are going forward, but there are questions about the future of this well-respected institution. The chaplain and his student committee decided to sponsor a "day of fasting and prayer" for MEF. It took place yesterday.

Such events are traditional in the African Christian community. My congregation (Mindolo United Church of Zambia) holds all-night prayer vigils quarterly. I haven't attended yet, but I heard the praise singing wafting through my windows as I went to bed on the occasion of the last one, two weeks ago. They particularly pray for healing of members and for the work of the church.

Our MEF day of fasting and prayer started at 6 am and ended at 6 pm. Some of us were there for the full 12 hours (myself included), while others came for half-day segments. Some who could not come fasted and prayed around the edges of their workday or other obligations.

In the chapel, we sang. We prayed. We had Bible study. We prayed. We danced. We prayed. We joined in guided meditation. We prayed. We listened to reflections and testimonies. We prayed. People stood, knelt, or sat according to their preference and the type of prayer.

Our prayers took different forms. Some times of prayer were silent. Some were communal. We offered intercessory prayer for each population at MEF--the governing board, acting director, incoming interim acting director, administrators, support staff, volunteers, lecturers, students, retrenched workers, funding partners and donors. We prayed using Psalms (Ps. 86, for example). We did a body prayer of confession and forgiveness. We had a time of praying aloud. We did a walking prayer, touring the campus and praying in classrooms, the administration building, dormitories, the dining hall, and recreation areas. We prayed individually and in small groups. We illustrated our prayers by creating words and images with art supplies. Between times of prayer we rocked the chapel with our song and dance. Everything in Africa seems to have an element of joy, no matter how serious the event.

A day of prayer and fasting is hard work. We were tired at the end of the day, tired but energized and encouraged. There was a sense of unity of purpose and mutual support.

Perhaps I'll participate in the next all-night prayer vigil at my congregation!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fun and Games at MEF

There is an amazing amount of talent on any campus, and Mindolo is no exception. We experienced the creativity of the students Friday afternoon and evening, in the first Inter-Class Festival organized by my Community Intervention class.

When we began the semester, I told my students that Community-Based Intervention Strategies was a practice class. We would certainly learn about community theory, but we would also learn how to bring about constructive change in the community. The students had three assignments besides the final exam. In small groups they were required to engage in a change effort in one of the compounds or shanty towns near Mindolo and report on what they accomplished and what they learned at the end of the semester. Individually they had to write a community analysis paper about the community where they were working (or the one they lived in.) Finally, as a class, they had to initiate a project that would improve the quality of life at MEF.

When they organized themselves for the class project, they decided to bring some new social activities to campus. They had complained last semester that there were seldom any activities on the weekends. They were learning about asset-based community development in the course, so we did an assessment of the community capital we might engage to create campus-wide social life. The students came up with four ideas--and decided to divide themselves into four groups and do all four: Saturday Movie Nights, a debate, sports competitions, and a talent show (Inter-Class Festival).

Despite some challenges, all these activities have happened, or are ongoing. The Saturday night movie sometimes becomes a games night (cards, chess, Scrabble, and board games) when the projector is not working. The sports competition was delayed by lack of equipment, but a request for a grant from the student activity fees has resulted in basketballs, ping-pong paddles and balls, darts, and soccer balls. The debate topic was "Is MEF a Christian Institution?" and created some interesting reflection on what it means to be a Christian, as well as a Christian institution. Finally, the Festival took place yesterday, at the beginning of a holiday weekend.

There were 4 categories of performance: sketches (skits), music, poetry, and dance. In each category, there were at least two or three acts. They included traditional dances from Zambia, a South African miner's dance done in red polka-dot rainboots, a men's dance group, a variety of kinds of poetry and music, and three outstanding skits. The media students presented a skit about Zambia's quest for independence. Education students presented one about AIDS, but my favorite was the social work students' comic tragedy about a marital drama. The husband is mean to his wife, and after verbally abusing her he goes to meet his girlfriend (an all-too-common occurrence here). The wife, desperate to make her husband happy, consults a witch doctor to get a potion to increase his desire for her (also an all-too-common occurrence here!). She goes home, prepares food, and awaits her husband's return. She waits and waits, and finally decides to take a nap. While she is napping, their teenage son comes home hungry. He sees the food set out for his father, into which the potion has been mixed, and he eats a bit, thinking that his father will never notice. The wife awakens when her husband returns, but he sees that someone ate part of the food and refuses it. He storms out, just as the teenage son comes in and sidles up to his mother, cooing, "I love you, Mom! Really!" as he begins to chase her around the kitchen...

The costumes were excellent, especially the traditional dancers and the witch doctor. I wish we could have videotaped it. We had prizes for the participants and cookies for all. We will do a class evaluation next week (what we liked, what we didn't like, and "bright ideas" for the next time we do something like this). So far, we have learned two lessons from our efforts. The first is how important communication is to the success of a project. That is a challenge here, with no email network among students. We post notices and use word-of-mouth, mostly. The other is that there is a lot that can be done with whatever resources already exist in a place, if you look around and expect to find them.

Once I figure out how to post pictures on the blog, I'll attach some from this event. I wonder what next semester's students will want to do in the Community-Based Intervention Strategies class?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time Patterns

"Don't you get bored?" one of my students asked me one day. "There isn't much to do around here."

"No," I replied. "I don't have time to be bored." Which is the truth. I seem to use up all the hours of the day in work, visits from students and others, domestic duties, chatting on Skype with my family back home, and an assortment of activities and events that punctuate the week. I brought a Kindle (electronic reader) filled with 49 books I intended to read in my spare time, and I've finished just two in the 8+ months since my arrival.

That got me to thinking where my time goes, and how time is a bit different here in Zambia compared to time in Tucson.

Many things do not start on time. If you are invited to a Kitchen Party that is supposed to start at 1 pm, plan to go at about 3 and you'll find the dancing is just starting. I was walking to the church for a wedding scheduled for 9 am, when the bride's mother passed me going the other direction in a truck with the sound system for the reception. She stopped and advised me to go back home, since the wedding couldn't start without her and she was not yet bathed or dressed for the event. That wedding actually got underway at 10:30! And most of my classes start 15 minutes late, but I keep them an extra 15 minutes so it all works out.

On the other hand, church starts promptly at 8:30 am, and you'd better be there on time if you want a songbook and a good seat. I haven't quite figured out which things are flexible time and which are exact. Some long-distance busses post a schedule which they keep to (more or less, within an hour or so) and others post a schedule but don't leave until the bus is full. You have to ask to learn the usual practice of each bus company--and be willing to be surprised even then. The "wait till the bus is full" policy seems to predominate. With the cost of fuel here, it makes sense.

Back to the question of where my time goes. There are the teaching hours, preparation for classes, and grading papers--that takes half of every day, including weekends most of the time. I use the Internet, the library, and books I brought to prepare handouts for the students, and it takes time to get those printed since there is only one good printer and one copy machine easily available. This term I'm teaching human behavior, community intervention, and social services in developing countries. The last is a course I took over mid-semester when the instructor began her maternity leave. It has been fun, but demanding. The comparable social services and policy course I taught for years was based on the situation in America, and developing countries face some different issues and have different systems. So I'm learning together with the students.

Where else does my time go? I cook for myself daily and offer cooking lessons a few times a week. Cooking everything from scratch takes a bit longer than when you have packaged and frozen things to work with and blenders and mixers and diswashers to help. My cakes and cookies are in high demand, not to mention the peanut butter and jam sandwiches and water or juice drink I provide for kids and other hungry people. For financial reasons, my supply limit is one loaf of bread a day, 3 kilos of peanut butter a week and two huge cans of jam, as well as three bottles of juice concentrate. When it runs out, I offer cookies if I have any, and I always keep jugs of boiled water in the fridge for the kids who play soccer and basketball nearby.

Then there are the regular activities--chapel every morning, Saturday night Movie Nights (or Game Nights when there is no functioning projector), Bible study Thursday evenings and singing on Wednesday nights, Sunday services, and going to the market Saturday mornings. About once a week I invite someone to dinner or have an invitation to dinner.

Finally there is the uniquely African habit of "dropping in" to visit. Nearly every day, several times a day, someone or some group will stop by my home. Sometimes they come with a purpose. Students deliver their papers or ask for clarification of an assignment. At least once a week I have someone, usually a student but not necessarily from Social Work, who comes for informal counseling over a broken relationship or a conflict situation. Of course there are the people who want to tell me their story and who are asking for money to pay school fees or to feed their family or to start a small project. I always listen, at least, even when I cannot help. And then there are the people, especially teenagers/young adults, who just come to sit and ask how my day has been. We usually talk about their school or whatever they are involved in, but sometimes we just sit and eat cookies.

And so goes my week. At one point I thought I would have time on my hands, time to read (I started the project of again reading the entire Bible, but have only made it through Samuel, so far), time to write poetry, time to practice yoga. Walking is my main exercise, and there is plenty of that, and I've created spaces for reflection, meditation and prayer in the early mornings. But time seems to be in short supply, at least extra time, empty time.

And has anyone else noticed that the older we get, the faster time seems to go?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Soccer Feet

Whenever I have visited Trust Community School or other projects in the poor areas near MEF, I have seen groups of kids, usually boys, playing football (soccer) on dirt lots, most with bare feet. Ow! They are intent on their game, having fun. Sometimes the ball is a genuine soccer ball. Other times it is a makeshift or homemade ball. Always it is well-worn. Spectators cheer.

Yesterday I went with Jenny, a mission partner from the United Kingdom, to see a football match. The team we were to watch was young boys from a shanty town where she has been working with a local self-help group on nutrition and income-generating projects. The game was part of an informal regional tournament, with teams from all the area compounds competing on a brown grassy field. (It's the dry season.)

I remember well watching soccer tournaments at Fort Lowell Park and other Tucson fields when Michael, Miles, and Johnnary were on teams. Before we would leave home, we had to find the shin guards, uniform, soccer socks, soccer shoes, water bottles, was a production getting ready to go!
So when Jenny and I arrived at the tournament field, many things were familiar. Groups of boys were clustered around coaches. Red, blue, green, black, white, and striped shirts distinguished one group from another, mixed in with kids wearing the usual variety of thrift-store leftovers from America that find their way to used clothing stalls in Africa.

Right away, however, I noticed the differences. All the teams had matching shirts, but not necessarily matching shorts. Shoes were another matter. A team would come off the field after their game, and immediately the boys with shoes would sit down, take them off, and pass their shoes and socks to some other boys about to play in the next game. A few pairs were real soccer shoes, the others were athletic shoes of some sort. I never saw a shin guard, let alone many soccer socks. And a number of boys played barefoot. Here and there a team had one or two bottles of water to be shared among the players, but I saw no sign of snacks.

How had they gotten to the tournament? A few teams had a coach with a pickup truck, one team had rented a minibus, but most of them walked many kilometers in the hot sun to arrive at the tournament site. And would walk back afterwards.

Jenny's long-range vision is to help her compound's self-help group to create a community park where the kids can have a sports field, playground equipment, and an activity center with a children's library. There are many kids not in school, and even those enrolled attend only half-days because overcrowding necessitates double shifts at most schools. A playground would give a location for healthy activities and could become a center for community gatherings and literacy education. And a place for soccer practice, of course.

The main reason we had gone to see this tournament was to take photos of the teams from Jenny's compound. A group in Scotland had sent money for six pair of soccer shoes. They were being used for the first time this week. And they brought good luck--the teams tied or won their games.

Ole, Ole, Ole!!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dreams Deferred?

We are all interconnected. What happens in one part of the global community affects another part, until it ultimately comes down to the local area. When the world is in an economic downturn, institutions that depend on charitable contributions and donor grants receive less. Sometimes, much less. The needs do not decrease, just the resources.

We are seeing this interdependence in a painful way at Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation these days. Money is short. Services are being cut back, employees are facing layoffs and retrenchment, and student fees are increasing. MEF runs programs such as Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies through grants. The diploma programs in social work, education (primary school teacher training), and media studies increasingly depend exclusively on tuition and other student fees.

Of course, the students and their families do not have more resources than they did last year. Substantial increases in tuition and accommodation fees hit them hard. Some are contemplating leaving the program half-way through as deadlines for paying delinquent accounts approach and the Kwachas to pay are not there. Families are struggling to come up with whatever they can pay, students are working part-time if they can find work, and every means of economizing is being tried. (I am sure this is a familiar story to many of my American readers, too!)

There is no easy solution to the difficulties faced by the institution or by the students. In the U.S., student loans have become a lifeline for many attending college--although I worry about the debt load some students carry into their careers, especially for lower paid professionals like clergy and social workers. But here in Zambia, there are no student loan funds, either at banks or through educational institutions. And the institution has no easy access to resources, either. It depends on the tuition to pay its bills. Electricity charges in Zambia have just increased dramatically, and an educational institution uses a lot of electricity. Food prices have been increasing, as well. Nothing at MEF is luxurious. There is no “fat” to cut.

I can see the dilemma from both sides. As I sit with a distraught student worried about being evicted from the dormitory, I see the institution struggling to pay its employees. So many elements conspire to create this reality: some inadequate financial planning and management skills on the part of MEF, the students, and their families; loss of donor funding and investment income due to the world economy; absence of a system of support for higher education in Zambia; the high incidence of orphans because of HIV/AIDS and the demands this places on family resources; Zambia’s 40% unemployment rate and abysmal wages.

MEF has a dream of educating leaders for the needs of Africa. These students have a dream of improving themselves and becoming productive social workers, teachers, journalists.

And I think about the powerful Langston Hughes poem that starts with the lines: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” and ends with “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

Hard times, hard questions, but hope that a way through will be found and the dreams will not have to be deferred.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


One of the challenges I occasionally face here in Zambia is recognizing my students and calling them by the correct name when some of them change appearance so dramatically from one day to the next. And it is mostly the hair that changes.

There are an amazing number of ways an African woman can arrange her hair. She can leave it natural and close to the head, or comb it into an Afro or an Afro puff (where the hair is pulled back and secured with an elastic, then puffed out from the elastic.) There are multitudes of braided styles. I have seen cornrows with and without beads on the ends. Sometimes braiding involves much more intricate designs than simple rows. Although "hair saloons" abound, offering braiding and other hair styling, braiding is often done by friends or family. Once, when I was younger and had longer hair, an African woman asked if she could try to braid my hair. Taking a small section, she began the process, but she soon gave up, complaining that "European hair is just too slippery!"

Braided hair can be augmented by long or short extensions, and these can simply provide longer braids or can be pulled into pony tails or other styles. Dreadlocks are not very popular here, but I see them sometimes. Little girls often have a knotted style, in which the hair is carefully parted in sections to make patterns (triangles, for example) and the hair in each section gathered into a knot with the end tucked under. Sometimes colored elastics or barrettes or beads are used with this style. Adult women may knot their hair, as well.

Perhaps because of the influence of international fashion, quite a few Zambian women use some kind of relaxer or other straightening process on their hair. They then style their hair in a bob or another smooth arrangement. Sometimes they leave the hair wavy, other times straight as a pin. There are also styles in which the hair is slightly relaxed and shaped into many long corkscrew curls. The possibilities seem to be limited only by the imagination. Studying different hair styles has become a favorite part of my people-watching here.

And then there are the wigs. A woman can dramatically change her appearance with a wig, and much of the time I don't even know it is a wig because it looks so natural. Some are full wigs, some just partial wigs integrated into the natural hair.

Occasionally women here wear scarves or elaborate headdresses that entirely cover the hair. Some of the scarf styles are quite fancy, both in the colors and fabrics, and the way the scarves are wrapped and tied. The uniform for the church women's society of the United Church of Zambia includes a white head scarf. The traditional dress of some regions, especially when worn for celebratory occasions, includes coordinated headdresses.

Men in Zambia seem to have only two choices in hair style: natural but short and kept close to the head, or shaved bald. I have seen no dreadlocks or Afros on men here.

As for me, I have been afraid to get my hair cut here, so far. This fear dates from 1993, when I had the worst hair experience in my life in Uganda at a beauty shop that claimed to know how to cut "European hair." The memory is still strong, so I have been letting my hair grow. It is almost--but not quite--long enough for a pony tail or other pulled-back style. But for the moment, it is at that scruffy, in-between stage, so I'm glad you can't see me!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Progress at Trust Community School

Skits. Poems. Songs. And from the gathered community, ululations and dancing and clapping. Three children were chosen to come forward and be dressed in their new school uniforms and sturdy shoes--with every child to be given his/hers before the end of the day. Piles of composition books, pencils and pens were stacked up for distribution. And the City Councilman was in attendance to congratulate them on finalizing the acquisition of the land for the new school.

On Friday I was an Honored Guest again. The occasion was the celebration at Trust Community School of their gifts and their progress.

You may recall an earlier blog about TCS, written on April 24. TCS is an example of a self-determined, asset-based community development project. It has been strengthened by partnerships and investments by individual and organizational donors. Little ceremonies like this one help the community express their gratitude for support. They also offer opportunities for the children to demonstrate what they are learning to the community and the guests.

Racecourse, where TCS is located, was originally a squatters' settlement populated largely by refugee families from the Congo. Now it has a mix of refugees and Zambians, all living in tiny houses without electricity or indoor plumbing. Many of the families are caring for "ovc", orphans and vulnerable children.

The original school was built by the community in 2005 on land loaned to them by a property owner, who planned to sell it after a few years. Knowing that they needed to work on a more permanent location, representatives of the community began the long and complex process of petitioning the Kitwe City Council for a plot of land for the school. Various fees had to be paid to register the school as a charitable entity, to record documents, and to apply for the plot. Many communities become discouraged by the multitude of requirements and give up. This community, and this school, did not. (What is that saying? Success is made up of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration!)

They kept their vision strong by starting to plan the buildings they would construct when they had the plot. They had architectural drawings to look at, and the existing school to maintain. So they kept on.

The final fee to acquire the plot of land was paid at the beginning of September, thanks to the generous effort of a couple of individuals in the U.S. who sold some of their belongings on ebay to raise the money. The school uniforms and shoes were a gift from a Zambian Non-Governmental Organization impressed by the work of this school. And so we celebrated.

A parent gave thanks. The parents pledged to continue to work for the resources needed to build the new school on the plot of land they have acquired. Thanks were expressed to the teachers for their efforts, to the children for their attendance, to the donors and the board of directors. Prayers were said. There were tears of joy and a sense of movement.

Much is yet to be done, but for today, we celebrated the progress thus far in this tiny corner of the world with so many hopes and dreams.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

School Shoes

School for first through twelfth grades started back last Monday after a winter break of six weeks. So I was surprised to see several kids hanging around during school hours. I concluded that some of the schools must start on different timetables.

Then one of the boys asked if I could buy him "school shoes." He had not started back because the only footwear he had now were shower shoes (flip-flops), and they were not allowed. He showed me the holes in his old school shoes and explained that a previous missionary had bought them for him. I know that he is an orphan living with his grandmother and other siblings. "If I buy you shoes, you will be able to start going to classes?" I asked, and the answer was "Yes." So he went with us to town today and I bought shoes for him.

Next a seventh-grade girl came by my back door looking sad. I asked her what was wrong. I knew that she had been attending school this week, so I expected her to tell me of an argument with a friend or something similar. She told me that "Madam" (her teacher) would not let her come back to school on Monday unless she came in "school shoes." I looked at her feet. She was wearing decent-looking flats. They were made of plastic, but the style covered her foot and looked fine. She said that the teacher had told her she didn't look respectable when she marched and sang the national anthem wearing those shoes. She asked if I could buy her "school shoes." Again, she is an orphan living with her sister and grandmother.

This request made me mad. What right did the government school have to demand that children wear a certain kind of shoe to school? Okay, flip-flops might be unacceptable for health and safety reasons, but Patricia's shoes would have been fine in the U.S. I told her I would write a note explaining her situation for her current teacher, asking that she be allowed to continue to go in her plastic shoes. (She had indicated that last year's teacher had not complained about her shoes.) She took my message to the school, because there were Saturday "extra classes" being held. She returned with the following note, written by the deputy head: "Please help Patricia buy shoes for here we don't allow plastic shoes. We chase away those who have plastic shoes until they buy school shoes. We can give her the stockings, please just help her with the school shoes."

Education is supposed to be free for grades 1 through 7 in government schools in Zambia, but the system does not work that way. By law, the parent-teacher association has the right to impose fees and require uniforms, and they all do. UNESCO estimated that one in five children of that age in Zambia is not attending school, and I'm sure they are counting community schools as well as private and government schools. The only reason a child would not be in school here is the family's inability to pay the fees or buy the uniform.

"Free" government schools are quite creative in finding ways to charge fees--fees to enroll in school; fees for gym clothes and uniforms; fees for study guides and booklets; fees to take the end of term examinations and fees to get the results officially recorded. And, of course, students must buy their own composition books, pens, rulers, and other school supplies. There are no textbooks, just review booklets. School sessions are short, and children are encouraged to take "extra lessons" (for which they pay the teachers) after school. The teachers are so underpaid that they must offer extra lessons to feed their families. It's a terrible system.

I know that we have serious problems with public education in America, as well. In most school systems, our teachers are underpaid and overworked. Families are expected to help with classroom supplies, and in some systems children share books and cannot take them home (at least in Arizona.)

How many pairs of "school shoes" will I end up buying? And when will we wake up to the consequences of the failure to invest adequately in quality education for our children, in Zambia and in America?

Saturday, September 4, 2010


It takes awhile for a newcomer to figure out the money in Zambia. For one thing, no coins are used, only paper money. Coins once were part of the currency, but inflation has caused their demise. Production of coins stopped when their value became less than the cost of the metal used to produce them. The smallest bill in circulation is now worth only the equivalent of a U. S. penny, so there is no need for anything smaller. Old coins, called ngwee, are sold to tourists as curiosities.

The unit of money in Zambia was the pound under colonial rule when Zambia was Northern Rhodesia. Now it is called the Kwacha. The largest note is 50,000 Kwachas (roughly equivalent to $10) and the smallest is 50 Kwachas (one cent). There are eight colorful bills, each with a different tree on the front and a different animal on the back--50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, 500, 100 and 50 Kwachas. The ATM gives 50,000 and 20,000 bills. A loaf of bread will cost between 4,900 and 5,500 Kwachas, about a dollar. Bus fare from MEF to Kitwe is 2,500 Kwachas (50 cents). Shoes can cost from 20,000 to 100,000 Kwachas, or more, depending on the type. A fast food meal (hamburger and fries) would run 25,000 Kwachas.

One of the MEF program coordinators, Bruce Mubanga, told a good story about money in chapel Friday. He said the Kwachas held a meeting one day. The 50,000 note introduced himself and boasted that he often traveled with tourists and that he was well-known in ShopRite (our major supermarket.) The 20,000 note said he was found at restaurants, bars, and clothing stores and he frequently associated with taxi drivers. The 10,000 note spoke of being used to buy "talk time" for cell phones. The 5,000 note reported that he usually traveled around the stalls in the outdoor market. They all looked expectantly at the smallest bills, and the 1,000 note said he would speak for all of them--the one thousands, five hundreds, one hundreds and fifties, worth one dollar to one cent. "Well," he said, "We have never seen many of those places you have mentioned, but we are quite familiar with the church offering plate."

We collect an offering once a month in chapel to provide assistance for prisoners. This time, after Bruce told the story, the offering included many larger bills and was more than had ever been collected before. Maybe we all need the occasional reminder about our spending priorities!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cooking Classes

It all started when Violet, who cleans my house, wondered if I could show her how to fix some of the dishes that Muzungus like to eat. She had been asked to do some cooking for another international volunteer she worked for. And she had tasted some of the food I prepared for lunch when she was here and liked it. So began our Saturday or Sunday afternoon cooking classes.

We began with mostly simple and often traditional dishes--pot roast with potatoes and carrots, homemade spaghetti sauce, chicken breasts with lemon-butter sauce, chili, baked stuffed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, roasted vegetables, lentil soup, shepherd's pie, baked chicken with rice, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and orange and onion pork chops. We got a little fancier with cauliflower with cheese sauce, ratatouille, and baba ganoush.

Sometimes other Zambians would ask how we prepared vegetables they seldom have tasted. (Greens, tomatoes, and onions seem to be the dominant ingredients in the side dishes that accompany meat and nshima or rice, the typical lunch and dinner staples.) After I demonstrated baba ganoush (eggplant baked until soft, the inside scooped out, seasoned with garlic and mixed with tahini or mayonnaise), Mwiinga invented a version mixed with ground peanuts in place of tahini/mayonnaise. It works!

It is possible to find cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, purple eggplant, sugar peas, cucumbers and other vegetables in the market--but they are scarce. Sometimes they have been imported from South Africa and are only found in the supermarket. Besides tomatoes, onions, and different greens, Zambians seem to use okra, carrots, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, and a kind of local white eggplant that can be bitter. All of these are available in abundance in the outdoor market, as well as avocados and fruit.

In June, just before final exams, I thought about how I had always brought homemade cookies to my ASU students at exam time and decided to do the same here. I made chocolate chip cookies, having brought the essential brown sugar and chips from home, plus two kinds whose ingredients are readily available here, peanut butter and oatmeal cookies. They were popular, and the cakes I have baked have also been appreciated by all the Zambians who have tasted them. So soon students were asking how to make cookies and cakes. More demonstrations.

Of course, the cooking experiments and classes are becoming more and more a mutual exchange. Margaret from Kenya has taught me how to make chapati, the flat bread that is a bit like tortillas. We make it with whole wheat flour, though, and it is really delicious. I have learned how to stir nshima with a big wooden paddle, and what kind of leaves can be cooked as greens. (Who would have guessed that pumpkin, sweet potato, and even broccoli leaves are delicious?!)

Sharing different cooking traditions, and eating new foods, is a delightful way to interact and learn about each other. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Celebrating Youth Groups

As a mission volunteer, I have learned to expect—and enjoy—a variety of new experiences. Sometimes we are asked to bring greetings or provide remarks at meetings and events. We might be the “honored guest” at a fundraiser. That usually involves making a contribution, giving a talk, and joining in the dancing and singing. We are given opportunities to judge debates, share brief reflections in chapel, pray publicly, and sit among the VIPs on occasion.

Recently I was invited to offer a “message of encouragement” to members of my Zambian congregation’s Girls’ Brigade group on their annual enrollment Sunday. This would take place during the church service. I attended the English language service at 8:30, then joined the Bemba service at 10:30. Every pew was filled to overflowing, and the church holds at least 400 people.

The Girls’ Brigade was formed in 1964 as an international movement. It united three Christian girls’ organizations that had been founded in Scotland, England and Wales in the late 19th century. It encourages physical, educational, and spiritual development and service. According to their web site, Zambia has the fourth largest membership in Africa. The uniform has a royal blue skirt, white top, and blue cap. Sometimes they have a red sash. Older girls also wear a tie.

As the service began, the Boys’ Brigade brass band played lively music, and the girls entered in a line, moving rhythmically in steps that appeared to be something between a march and a dance. My best guess is that there were between 60 and 70 girls. After the older members took their places on the front benches, the new enrollees came in, each with a lit candle. They sang a song with a refrain “Carry your candle into the darkness, carry your candle to light the world.” Their faces were solemn and I felt the sacredness of the moment.

The service included various prayers and songs, awarding badges and armbands to members of the Boys’ Brigade, recognizing the leadership of the Girls’ Brigade, and finally enrolling the new girls. They recited their motto in unison. Deborah Blood, an American UCC pastor who was here for a month, and I got to help put on ties and caps and congratulate the boys and girls. Since the entire service was in Bemba, I had an interpreter translate my remarks. In between, there was some dancing, a choral offering from the Women’s Christian Fellowship choir and another from the Jerusalem choir, and more music from the brass band. Every now and then someone would break into ululation to express their joy and pride in the children.

It was 2 pm when I made my remarks. Some of the girls danced up the aisle with cakes to thank those of us who had helped in the service, and we wished we could enjoy them on the spot—but the service was not over yet. We still had the offering, Scripture reading, sermon, and benediction to go! As we recessed and headed for home after 3 pm, I heard the Boys Brigade band playing and saw the Girls’ Brigade dancing out in the church yard.

Zambians certainly know how to celebrate and to include the whole community in the event. And despite having spent nearly five hours in a service whose language I don’t understand, I was neither bored nor tired (only hungry). The spirit and the meaning of the day impressed me deeply.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Buckets and Candles

I never imagined how much I would come to depend on buckets and candles as part of everyday life here in Zambia.

Water is a sometimes thing. I have had no hot water for about a month, because the pressure is too low to fill the water heater. Cold water usually comes on at 5 am and stays on until 8 am, then returns around noon for a couple of hours, and again from 5 pm to 7 or 8. It trickles from the bathroom faucet, runs a little stronger in the kitchen, but apparently my house gets it before Jenny's so she has even less. It is dry season now, so we do not water the grass, only the vegetable garden. Rain comes back in November.

How do we manage? I store water in buckets in the kitchen and bathroom. My bathtub is large and deep, and it is almost always kept full of water. This is because we need a source for filling the buckets for the garden when the outside tap is not running,for doing the laundry, and for filling the toilet tank and the pans of water we heat for washing dishes. I drain all but a few inches on Sunday morning, add many pans of boiling water heated on the stove, and take my weekly "full bath". Otherwise it is "cat baths"--and I wash my hair in the kitchen sink.

At least here at MEF we do have water in our homes. Many Zambians have to get their water from a communal faucet, or a river. The high mineral content (Kitwe is in a copper mining area) makes the water look a little orange, but it seems to be safe for drinking once boiled.

Electricity is more dependable than water, at least for us in MEF. The same is not true for the nearby compounds, where they experience lengthy outages several times a week and virtually every weekend. And, of course, there are parts of Zambia without any electric power at all. At MEF we lose electricity about three or four times a month,sometimes for a short period, but other times for many hours or a full day.

Twice the electricity has gone off about 10 or 15 minutes after I had put a cake in the oven. The first time this happened, I just left the cake alone, didn't change the thermostat or open the oven door. The power was restored 4 hours later, and I then waited until the cake smelled good, opened the oven door, and miraculously it survived. Didn't rise as much as usual, was a bit denser, but tasted good all the same. The second time it was off only half an hour, and that cake was hardly affected. Who would have guessed cake batter would be so resilient?

I will appreciate having more dependable public utilities like electricity and water when I return to the U.S.--and well-paved roads, as well. Here, the roads are so full of ruts, potholes, and eroded shoulders that driving is truly hazardous. Pedestrians are also at risk of falling into holes or tripping over bumpy, rocky roadsides. When it rains it is even worse, of course, as the holes fill with water and are more difficult to see and avoid. Many side roads are not paved at all. Dirt roads become impassible for ordinary vehicles in the rainy season.

It must be a real challenge to decide where to invest public money in a poor country: schools, health care, roads, the electrical system, water, agriculture, public sanitation, technology... Is it better to spend a little on each and have poor quality services in every sector, or concentrate resources in a few areas and totally neglect others?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Respect, Response, Relevance

Those of us who are veterans of Peace Corps and other long or even short-term international experience know, when choosing to live in another country for a period of time, to expect cultural differences and surprises.

We set forth with the intention to learn about another set of customs and world views, as well as to offer service. We come with an attitude and orientation that is respectful, curious, interested. While we are sometimes confused, we try to be always listening with an open mind and heart--to the best of our ability. We generally find many common values. We often even find some unfamiliar but comfortable practices and customs we would like to import back into our home settings. And we also find some practices and customs that disturb us or become a challenge.

It's easy to underestimate how difficult it can be to be respectful toward cultural values that contradict those we cherish. I've been reflecting on this because it impacts my teaching as well as my daily life here in Zambia.

The other day, Shalom, a social work student, was the morning speaker in chapel. The theme was covenant. She began by using an example to illustrate the concept of covenant. Her example was marriage. Marriage was a covenant, she argued, in which the husband was head and the wife was submissive. As she continued, I found it hard to listen. I wanted to tell her that it was possible to have a partnership marriage. I wanted to explain the benefits of a more egalitarian covenant.

In my human behavior class, we had a lively discussion about corporal punishment of children. Beatings and "canings" are common practice. They are defended as necessary to teach correct behavior at home and to maintain order and respect at school. One student disagreed with her classmates about the efficacy and necessity of severe corporal punishment, but she was clearly in the minority on this issue. In this class I did present theory and research evidence from social learning regarding the relative effectiveness of harsh physical punishment and other forms of discipline. To be fair, I acknowledged that the research was mostly conducted in Anglo European settings, although some recent studies include cultural diversity in the subjects or cross-cultural comparisons. I heard a speaker on a BBC radio program argue that the African child was different and physical discipline was a necessary part of the culture.

Belief in witchcraft and demonic spirits is strong here as a way of explaining misfortune or illness, even among some well-educated people. There was a meeting of the student body to discuss an issue that arose in the dormitory last semester. A student felt she was being "used" by evil spirits and asked some of her friends to come to her room to pray with her. Their prayers were not only fervent, but loud. It was near midnight, and it awakened other students. There is a form of prayer that involves shouting and walking while praying, and it had happened late at night in the dorms before. So the Head of Programs set a policy that while Mindolo encouraged prayer, loud praying could not take place in the dormitories after 10 pm. Students needed to go to the chapel or another location if they wanted to pray this way at night. He further recommended that students who felt possessed should go to their pastors for exorcism.

In the Congo, the UN has reported a serious problem of children accused of witchcraft. Many are driven from their homes, or they run away from the harsh "treatments" imposed on them to rid them of evil spirits. They end up as street children. This is not widespread in Zambia, but my students say it happens here, particularly in remote villages. No one defended such scapegoating, but many seemed comfortable with the concept of external spirits that could harm people. Most felt it was the devil at work causing this trouble.

One part of the course I am teaching is a module on basic counseling, since these students will be expected to work with HIV+ persons and others in need of support. I gave them handouts on active listening and other counseling skills and told them we would practice in class. The next session, one of the students announced that she was confused because some of the material I gave them to read stated that giving advice was not a good counseling technique. She--and indeed, the entire class--thought that giving advice was the primary purpose of counseling. They were shocked when I affirmed that giving advice was not the main role and function of counseling. "But they will come seeking advice," they insisted. I explained the desirability of helping people discover within themselves what they needed to do, and the benefit of clients learning problem-solving skills.

But I was also questioning myself: Is this model I'm teaching a Western cultural construct? Can giving advice be a more appropriate and effective model in this culture? Are there some universal values in social work along with others that are particular to a given culture? Certainly respect for the dignity and worth of every individual seems basic, but perhaps self-determination has different dimensions and expressions in cultures that value family obligations and respect for authority.

And so I struggle... And wonder... And try to listen and learn...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Frankie the Cat and Other Animal Friends

Frankie the cat is a large Siamese who lives with my neighbor, Jenny. Few Zambians keep pets, although there are dogs and cats that seem to find ways to take care of themselves living outdoors. But Frankie is a house cat, and quite a character. I care for him when Jenny is out of town.

Frankie was rescued a few years ago by the person who lived at that time in the house where I live now. He was a skinny, injured, frightened kitten. He still has a crooked leg as a result of some abuse or accident. But he was nursed to health and loved into good behavior. His personality emerged. It became evident that he saw himself as royalty, and he clearly has a mind of his own. He expects to be fed twice a day. He possesses the capability some dogs also have, of giving a look that suggests that he has not eaten in days and is about to perish from hunger—so sometimes her manages to get three meals a day, two from Jenny and one from me. Once we noticed how fat he was becoming, we coordinated our feeding schedules and he is back to two meals. Still, he purrs as he eats, which is quite a trick, I think.

One evening when I was caring for Frankie, and we were alone in the house, I heard a noise and a splash from the bathroom. Puzzled, I went in, and there was Frankie, shaking water from his fur and looking grumpy. He had fallen into the tub, which nearly always has several inches of cold water in it. (My faucet leaks, and we have times without water, so I keep water in the tub and dip it out for washing dishes or watering the garden.) I knew he sometimes climbed up on the ledge of the tub, but I never thought he would fall in.

A peculiar habit of Frankie’s is the way he gets a drink. He either puts his paws on the rim and dips his head into the big emergency water supply bucket in the kitchen, or he climbs up and laps his drink when water is flowing from the tap while I am brushing my teeth. I’ve never seen him use the water bowl next to his food dish.

Another day, when Frankie misbehaved at home, Jenny scooted him out the door against his will. He gave her an aloof look, and proceeded with great dignity to enter the termite mound next to the house, which had a cave-like opening. I believe he thought he was hiding, but the tip of his tail stuck out so we knew where he was.

The other animal interactions I have are with insects. Zambia has many beautiful butterflies: tiny bright yellow ones, black and white spotted ones, and a multitude of other colors and patterns. I enjoy watching them every day in my garden and on my walks. The ants are another story. I do not know how they detect it, but within moments of spilling something with fat content, hundreds of tiny ants appear. One evening after entertaining guests, I noticed that about a teaspoon of guacamole had fallen on the floor under the table, and an army of ants was surrounding it. I decided to go to bed and clean it up in the morning. No need. The ants had done as good a job as our dog used to do. The floor was clean. They appear within moments of the spill, and hundreds at once. Then they disappear again. I wonder where they live…

It’s been a busy week with new class preparations as the semester just began. The textbooks donated by ASU faculty are being well used, so thanks, again, my friends.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let Me Off the Bus!

Zambians tend to be easy-going, soft-spoken, respectful, and friendly. They raise their voices in song and sometimes in worship, but not often in argument. People greet you as you walk. They frequently will stop to chat if they know you. Drivers may speed, but I have seen no evidence of road rage. It's a pretty mellow place. So this experience was exceptional.

I was going to town on an errand and got on a minibus. It had a spiderweb crack in the front windshield, indicating that at some time something or someone had bounced against it, but I didn't notice that detail until later. We started off, and I saw that we were going to go by the back road route, passing by the entrances to several compounds before reaching the heart of town. That was fine with me, as I was in no particular hurry.

After several stops to pick up passengers along the road, the driver made a stop which must have been improper in some way--not far enough from the traffic lane, or in the wrong area--and the police pulled up. They asked the driver to come out. He locked his door, opened his window just a crack, and instructed his "conductor" (the young man who collects fares) to keep his door locked. He then tried to placate the police officer. "Sorry, Boss, Sorry, Sorry, Sorry" he kept saying. Then when the insistent officer walked a slight distance to consult with his partner, the bus driver took off. The police got in their car and followed us.

The other passengers were commenting, but it was in Bemba, so I couldn't understand what they were saying. From the tone, I thought they were on the driver's side in this confrontation. (Sometimes police here are interested in getting a quick payment of a fine on the spot, or possibly a bribe.) So we drove on, at a fairly fast speed. When we stopped to add more passengers, however, the police again stopped. They positioned their police car right in front of the minibus and spoke to the driver again. After a heated discussion, I believe they instructed the driver to turn the bus around and come to the police station.

He did turn the bus around, but then he took off like a shot and sped along the road. As soon as there was a dirt road into the nearest compound, we went barrelling down that road, scattering chickens and people right and left. The bus rocked and jolted and skidded around curves. (These roads were full of people--school children with their backpacks, mothers with babies on their backs, people carrying sacks to the little market stands.) All the passengers were holding on for dear life as we drove through these crowded roads, barely a lane wide, full of ruts and holes and rocks, as well as the pedestrians. We kept turning sharply over and over again at corner after corner, leaving huge clouds of dust behind us. Now the bus passengers appeared to be telling the driver to please slow down, take it easy, as we bounced and shook and were scared that we would crash into something or run down someone. I think we all genuinely feared for our lives.

Finally we saw the main road ahead again and the driver pulled up to it. He looked both ways for signs of the police and didn't see them. He pulled out cautiously and stopped someone to ask if they had seen any police. When the answer was no, he proceeded to continue on quickly into town, making no more stops.

By the time we arrived, we had all caught our breath and calmed our hearts and were just grateful to have survived the trip. I know that one person, at least, had prayed aloud during the ordeal, and the rest of us probably prayed silently.

On my return trip, I found a clean minibus, no cracks in the windshield, with a quiet, polite driver. It had a sticker on the front window in the corner proclaiming that the bus was protected by the blood of Jesus, and I took that as a good sign portending a safe return trip--and it was.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Four bottle caps, a milk carton, and a stick

There is an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Here in Zambia, I have observed that scarcity--and creativity--also lead to invention. This is especially true with kids.

Play is universal, and children everywhere find, are given, or make playthings. What do four bottle caps, a milk carton, and a stick make? A truck, of course! Bottle caps are wheels, the milk carton is the body, and the stick, stuck in the middle of the body, is used to push it along. This is usually a toddler or little boy toy. Sometimes they cut out windows and add bottle cap headlghts to make it look more realistic.

Older boys want wheels that actually roll, so another version of a vehicle is made of coat hanger wire, two or four recycled wheels from an old wagon or a now-defunct plastic truck, and a stick or rod for the axle. If two kids both have vehicles, they will race them, running and pushing the "car" ahead of them.

Two sticks from bushes or trees can be bound together to make the frame for a home-made kite. The string comes from patiently unraveling a burlap maize sack and twisting the pieces of heavy thread together. A plastic bag, opened into a diamond shape, becomes the body of the kite. The windiest month is about to come, and I expect to see kids flying kites all over the grassy field where the education students were practicing traditional dancing all last month.

Of course, such universal pastimes as rolling tires, playing tag and climbing trees is always fun--especially if the tree has guavas in it. The most developed art I have observed, however, is the construction of a ball from discarded plastic bags. This involves stuffing as many crumpled or rolled up bags as possible into one bag, massaging it to make it round. Then it is wrapped in strings gotten from unraveling a burlap bag that maize meal came in. Once the plastic bag is completely covered with string, they take it to a charcoal cooking fire and hold it near the heat to bind it all together. A well made ball will actually bounce.

And what do they do with the ball? Play soccer, of course!

What about girls? Their play seems to imitate their mothers, using empty cans and sticks to play at mixing nshima (corn meal porridge), making dolls from scraps of fabric and carrying them on their backs, modeling dirt/clay figures, and holding tea parties. Girls don't seem to have as much time to play as boys, since they are often helping their mothers with household chores. They can be seen freely and happily singing and dancing whenever there is music.

I have enjoyed getting to know a group of children who come to show me their school work as they enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or some homemade cookies. It makes me miss my grandchildren less to have some Zambian children in my life.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Zambian Kitchen Party

American bridal showers pale by comparison with a Zambian “kitchen party.”

I was invited by a friend here to go to Mufulira for the kitchen party of her niece. We took a bus and a taxi to get there, about an hour away from MEF. Vivienne told me that friends and family form a planning committee a couple of months before the event, to pool their resources and plan the food and other details. The kitchen party is almost as important as the wedding, and I would come to see why.

We arrived early, so that Vivienne and her daughters could help with preparations. Chairs were set up on opposite sides of the yard. The food table was on the third side, closest to the house, and at the far end was a decorated canopy under which the bride-to-be and her spiritual advisors would sit. In the corner next to the canopy there was a huge display of gifts—pots and pans, dishes, tableware, small appliances, a dish cabinet. These were brought in advance by family and close friends. Other wrapped gifts were brought by guests and stacked inside the house. Popular and traditional music came from a cd player. People bustled around cooking, decorating, and greeting each other with ululations.

Soon I noticed that women were going into bedrooms and changing into traditional dress. The bride came from one region and the groom another, so there were two different styles represented by the two families. At the appointed time, I was taken to a front row seat, and the singing and dancing began. The bride’s family’s regional costume was a very full skirt, mid-calf length, with rows of ribbon above the hem. The top was a flowing tunic, also decorated with ribbons, and a shawl or apron around the waist. Many were made in solid colors with contrasting ribbons—red with black ribbons, blue with white, bright yellow with orange—and others were patterned fabrics, still with ribbon trim, earth tones. They danced and sang. Then friends of the bride in floor-length colorful dresses came and danced another style of traditional dance. They had chitenges folded and wrapped around their hips to emphasize the waist and hip movements. The dance represented a request that the family find a husband for the bride so that she could start a home and family.

Then three women drummers came and set up next to the canopy. All through the singing and dancing, there were ululations, and from time to time guests would join in the dancing on the grass. Then there was a hush, and a path of grass mats was placed from the house to the canopy. A long row of dancers emerged, led by the bride’s closest friends and cousins, The next five people in the line—the bride and her advisors—were covered by a cloth as they danced (reminded me of a Chinese dragon dancing), and they were followed by more friends and family in the line. The bride was danced into the canopy, and the grass mats were removed. She remained covered by the shawl, although her advisors emerged from beneath it. Wrapped gifts were carried from the house and placed near the canopy. Attendants brought a few to be opened, and the giver to be recognized—perhaps honored guests, I’m not sure, but the bride is still covered and the gifts are opened by attendants.

Then the groom’s family came dancing in, waving small leafy branches. They gathered at the canopy, singing and accompanying the groom. He approached the bride, knelt, and after some exchange of greetings, he gently removed the shawl and uncovered her face. She looked down demurely. He presented her with a basket of fruits and vegetables, symbolic of the pledge to see that she always had food. He also presented her with a decorated basket filled with household and cleaning items, symbolic of her responsibility to manage the house. Then he led her out of the canopy and she went with him to meet his parents, kneeling before them and greeting them. She then brought him to her family, and he greeted them. The prospective bride and groom then greeted all the guests, and we were invited to eat. Everyone visited with everyone else, and the party went on. The meal was rice, roasted chicken, beef in gravy, coleslaw, potato salad, and a traditional dish made of ground nuts and some sort of root vegetable. We left after eating, in order to get a bus back in good time, but the party went on for at least another hour, I’m sure.
What a wonderful way for two families to celebrate an upcoming wedding, with ceremony, symbolism and joy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

On the Dignity and Value of Work

The butterflies and bees are playing among my zucchini plants in the garden, which are in full golden-orange bloom. I’ve already harvested carrots and green beans, and by next week I will have spinach and onions. The broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes, and rape will be coming in after that, and there are herbs, as well.

So when did I develop such a green thumb? I didn’t. It’s all due to Moses. And it has led me to reflect upon the dignity and importance of work.

After settling into my half of the duplex where I live on the MEF campus, I noticed that my neighbor, Jenny, had a worker who came a few hours a week to water and keep her yard neat. My side was quite overgrown, so I figured I should also find someone for a similar arrangement. Jenny told me that after an initial cleanup, about six hours a week would maintain my part of the yard, which was mostly grass, trees and bushes.

The very next day, Moses knocked on my back door, “slasher” in hand, offering to clean up my yard. We negotiated the price, and then he said if I liked his work would I consider keeping him on to maintain the yard. I let him know what I was prepared to pay and how many hours a week he should plan to work and suggested that he could have flexible hours to fit with whatever other work he was doing. He explained that he had been unemployed for some time, just doing “piece work” (day labor) since he had been let go by the mines in a retrenchment.

It took a week of full days to get the yard clean and neat, but I noticed that the next week Moses came in the morning and stayed all day, raking the dirt, chatting with passersby, and preparing a garden bed in one corner. He asked what I would like to plant, noting that he thought there had been sweet potatoes in the past. I reminded him of our agreement, that I was paying for only a few hours a week, and he agreed that he understood. Yet he came every day.

I finally understood that he needed to be working, that it was a source of pride for him to have a job. He guarded my house when I was out, and reported any visitors or children running around. He suggested planting more of the yard in garden beds, pointing out that then I wouldn’t have to buy vegetables in the market. So I gave him money for seeds and chicken manure. He used our compost pile to enrich the soil. He said that he had learned about agriculture in school.

As he prepared the garden, raked leaves, and trimmed the border hedges, people began to comment on what a nice yard I had. Moses glowed.

Unemployment in Zambia is 40%. This is true for all levels of education, so I fear for the future of my social work graduates. The needs are there for human services, for road repair, for environmental cleanup, for health care, for smaller classes and more schools…but the money is not.

Moses and I have come to terms on appropriate compensation, and I have a huge vegetable garden now. I must admit that eating veggies fresh picked is a delight, and soon I will be sharing produce with hungry people who come to my door. And I have a deeper appreciation of the value of work to the human spirit.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Victoria Falls and Livingstone

This week, I took my first tourist trip in Zambia to see Victoria Falls, a game park, and the town of Livingstone. Another volunteer, Patty, and I went with a Zambian friend, Angelina, and her grandson, Prince.

We boarded the Mazhandu Family Bus at Kitwe Monday morning for the 12-hour trip,including rest stops. A pastor prayed on the bus before our departure, asking for a safe journey. (On the way home, we got a sermon and an invitation to give our lives to Jesus, too!) The bus was comfortable. They even served snacks and drinks, free--more than some airlines today. Unfortunately, they also played Nigerian movies, which are rather like overdramatic soap operas, at high volume for about 6hours of the trip. The rest of the time the driver played beautiful praise music.

Patty and I stayed at a guest house, while Angelina visited with her daughter, who only has one bedroom so couldn't put us up. Having a Zambian friend with us was not only fun, but a great advantage. She knew the area, and she advocated for us--got us into the Falls and museum for the Zambian rate, insisting that we were working in Zambia and thus qualified and should not be considered tourists. This saved us a lot of money. She also negotiated for us at the craft market, so we good great bargains there, too. It was lovely to get to know Angelina's daughter and other grandchildren.

Victoria Falls are an awesome natural wonder--broad sheets of water, eight gorges, surrounded by rain forest full of rare ferns, monkeys, and lush trees and plants. Their original, traditional name (Mosi-oa-Tunya) means "smoke that makes noise," referring to the mist and tremendous spray from the falls. We rented rain capes, since you cannot help getting wet from the spray, especially this time of the year. We saw rainbows in the mist. Spectacular!

We also took a tour of the nearby Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park to see the animals. One edge of the park runs along the Zambezi River which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The guide, in telling us that we might not see the elephants, commented that elephants don't understand borders, and they wander between the two countries, generally in Zimbabwe in the day and returning at sunset to Zambia. It would have been fun to watch them swim across the river, but we saw the park in the morning. We did encounter warthogs (kind of ugly and reminded me of javelina), velvet monkeys with big eyes, gentle, deer-like impala, playful chimps and gorillas, majestic buffalo (with birds on their backs, who eat the ticks!), zebras (each one has a distinctive pattern of stripes, and they take dust baths like horses do), giraffes (did you know that the female giraffe has hair on her horns?), storks, eagles, and other birds, crocodiles (even an albino), and finally a white rhino. It was a good visit with a knowledgable guide.

The Livingstone Museum included collections and information on the archeology, history, geography, and culture of the area. There was a huge relief map showing the falls and its gorges, which helped put that into perspective. I especially enjoyed learning about life in a typical village, David Livingstone's adventures, the struggle for Zambia's independance, and some traditional religious practices through the many displays.

Zambia is not crowded with tourists, and it is more affordable than many places. I hope that some of you will consider a trip here if you ever come to southern Africa. Take a look at the Bradt Guide on Zambia (by Chris McIntyre) for accurate information--or email me. It was a great trip, and I look forward to exploring some other wonderful sights while here in Zambia.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Young Widows' Network

Because of a chance encounter, I have been on Zambian national TV!

Three weeks ago, a young woman, Evelyn, followed me out of church and asked to speak with me. She told me that she had organized four groups of young widows in the compounds near Mindolo, and they were having a joint conference/fundraiser June 12. Would I buy a ticket and come if I had the time? I asked her to tell me more about herself and this endeavor, so she came and had tea with me.

Evelyn completed a social work/community development diploma a year ago, and hasn't yet found work. (Side comment: this is an all-too-common reality here in Zambia.) But she decided that while she was waiting for employment, she could use her skills to organize other young widows for mutual support and group education and action. Many young widows are HIV+. Their husbands strayed and brought AIDS home and have died, but they are surviving and raising children. One of Evelyn's goals is to encourage all the widows to be tested and know their status, and to reduce the stigma attached to being HIV+. She is not herself HIV+, but she is aware of how important it is to begin the anti-retroviral medications early.

I shared with her that I, too, was a widow, and that Jenny, my neighbor, had organized a widows group in another area not far from us. By the time I brought Jenny and Evelyn together, Evelyn had decided to invite us as speakers, along with the MEF chaplain and a friend of mine who is a student and is a widow from Kenya.
On the appointed day, we all gathered in a high school auditorium for a very Zambian style meeting. First, all the leaders and speakers processed in, to lively music. The meeting opened with praise singing and prayer. Groups were introduced. One of the older widows spoke about the difficulties of widowhood and the value of working together. Then we sang and danced.

Next we had a talk by the chaplain, who used the story of Ruth and Naomi as his theme. After he spoke, there was more singing and dancing, and even the speakers, including the chaplain, were expected to dance. The women applauded our efforts, although we lacked their grace and expertise--but we made up for it with energy and enthusiasm! More reflections and then a presentation by a City Councilman. That is why we were on TV. He brought a cameraman and his presentation was filmed, with us in the background at the head table. Next came the collection of offerings of financial support for the work. A cloth was placed on the floor, and we all sang and danced our way to the cloth and dropped our money onto it. Even the politician contributed, as well as promising them assistance from his office.

Lunch was served, prepared by some of the women--chicken, rice, coleslaw--and the program continued. Margaret spoke of the challenges faced by African widows because of tradition and poverty, but recognized their resilience and faith, as well. Jenny spoke about group process and empowerment, and I followed, speaking about how to develop participatory, self-reliant, cooperative groups and how to plan projects. More singing, dancing, and praying followed, and the speakers and leaders processed out and formed a reception line to greet the participants.

Both Jenny and I had illustrastions in our talks that seemed to help the women understand our main point. To explain empowerment, she spoke of a man who found a butterfly chrysalis and saw how the butterfly inside was struggling to emerge. Trying to be helpful, he cut a slit so the butterfly could come out, and it did, but it crawled out of its cocoon,fell onto a leaf, fluttered its wings, and never flew. It needed to struggle in order to make its wings strong enough to fly. Outside help can be crippling, but our own efforts strengthen us. (This story comes from

To illustrate my talk, I brought along a bundle of twigs. I asked for a volunteer from the audience, a strong woman. One came forward. I pulled out a single twig and asked her to break it. She easily broke it in half. I said that alone, we can sometimes be broken by difficulties. Then I asked her to try to break the bundle of sticks. She grabbed it with both hands and tried hard, but she couldn't break the bundle. That's what happens when we join together and stay together as we work in groups. We have strength and power!

Evelyn was an amazing facilitator and organizer of this event. She knew how to balance sitting time and active time, how to celebrate and motivate, and how to involve everyone in some part of the event. Now comes the hard work of cultivating leadership in the groups and finding income-generating projects to sustain the work. The life of a widow in Zambia is more difficult than most of us in America could ever imagine, but this movement offers help and hope.