Friday, May 28, 2010

Customs, Courtesy, and Interesting Names

The chief and elders from one of the Zambian tribes were on the MEF campus for a few days recently, holding a court session. We were given instructions in how to greet the chief respectfully if we should encounter him. Women were to kneel before him, clap our hands twice, and say good day in either his dialect or our native language if we didn't know his. Men did the same, but only bending one knee. I saw the guests in their long traditional robes at a distance one morning, but never had the opportunity to try the greeting ceremony.

Zambians have some everyday customs related to greetings that are interesting. Young women and girls often curtsy when greeting or serving an older person or someone in a high position. Men use a three-part handshake with friends and acquaintances, sometimes including women. It involves extending the hand horizontally as if to shake hands, touching, then moving the had vertically and locking thumbs, then back to the shake. Hard to describe, but not too hard to learn.

Equally interesting are Zambian names. Most people seem to have both an English name and an African name. For the English names, Biblical characters are quite popular. Three brothers who come to my place regularly for PB&J sandwiches are Aaron, Moses, and Gideon, and their cousin is Lazarus. There are many men named Shadrack and Mishack, but I have yet to meet an Abednigo. Ezekiel, Leviticus, Enock and Esau are other men's Biblical names.

Women are more likely to be named for qualities or characteristics: Beauty, Blessing, Bright, Charity, Faith, Fanciful, Gift, Hope, Innocent, Magnificent, Memory, Offering, Pardon, Patience, Precious, Princess, Prudence, Respect, Shalom, Style, Wisdom.

Sometimes you wonder what the family was thinking when they named the child (truly!) Wedlock, or Unwanted, or Orphan. There are quite a few people named Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but I haven't encountered any other days of the week. Men have the surnames of U. S. presidents as their first names--Kennedy, Roosevelt, Nixon. There are men named Shakespeare and Dickens and Amadeus. More than a few have first names like Finnegan, Rodgers, Macdonald, Wellington, Blackwell, and Davison.

Then, there are the two-word names like Happygirl, Goodluck, Keepon, Wiseman, Passwell, and Lovemore. And finally there are the creative names like Devilious, Lubinda, and Loveness. I am told that there is one tribe that names their children for products, and so you have a Spoon, a Hosepipe, and a Cellphone! Surnames are often melodic: Timba, Musama, Lubinga, Kachele, Chisanga, Kabutu, Chibundi. And place names are hard for us to pronounce sometimes: Chimwemwe and Twatasha are compounds near Mindolo, and our river is the Kafue.

I am back in Zambia after a 2-week absence. My daughter Cathy was expecting a baby May 18, so I scheduled a visit for May 16-25--but the baby still hadn't come when I had to leave. More news soon!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Working Without Pay & Ghost Workers

The elementary and secondary schools had a break after Easter. They were scheduled to resume classes May 3. But for the past couple of weeks most of the kids have still been hanging around outside. I asked what was going on. Oh, they told me, our teachers aren't coming, so we just go and study with our classmates for a little while, then we come out to play. Why aren't the teachers coming? In the government (public) schools, it seems thay have not been paid since the end of last year. Turns out that government health workers haven't been paid, either. Both groups are apparently discussing going out on strike.

Up until now, the teachers have been working every day, despite the missing paychecks. How do the teachers manage to go without salaries for four or five months? They all ofer "extra lessons" before and after school, for which the pupil pays. But that is a pittance. So I don't know how they manage. But now I understand why I have had people come to me asking to borrow money to tide them over until they get paid.

This happens in NGOs and other institutions, as well. Money is scarce, but the work is there and needs to be done. And the patient Zambians carry on in a way I doubt that most of us would. I'm told that with the threat of a strike, some back pay will start to be found. I certainly hope so!

At least Zambia does not seem to have the "ghost worker" problem that Uganda had when I worked there, and according to a report on BBC, still has. These are individuals, usually political appointees, who are put on the payroll but never come to work. They just collect their salaries. There is a move to find and stop such corruption, but it has been going on for more than 20 years.

I thought our budget woes in Arizona were bad, but this problem of work without pay in Zambia gives me a new perspective on how awful some situations can become--and yet how people somehow cope and keep on providing services to children and those who are ill.

I am on my way back to the U.S. for a short trip to be with my daughter and her family to welcome a new grandchild due May 18. They are living in Washington, DC. Cathy has already packed four 50-pound suitcases with books and supplies needed in Zambia, and I will fly back with them on the 26th of May. So you may not see a blog next week, but I'll be back the week after.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Human Rights and Zambia's Prisons

Most places, prison inmates are among the least privileged people in the population. This is certainly true in Zambia. Human Rights Watch, together with two Zambian prison advocacy groups, issued a report this week on the deplorable conditions in jails and prisons here. They were called "death traps" because of malnutrition, rampant HIV/AIDS and TB, and abusive living conditions.

I had wondered about prison life when I heard that the offering we take at the monthly joint chapel service (MEF, the 2 seminaries, and the YWCA) was donated to the local prison. The money is used to buy soap for hygiene and supplemental food.

The inmates receive one meal a day of n'shima (corn meal porridge) with a watery bean sauce. This ration provides insufficient calories for a grown man. All of them must work. Some women inmates have babies and young children living in prison with them. No additionsal food is provided--they must share their mother's portion. The vegetables grown on the prison farm are sold in the market rather than being used to feed the men.

There is one doctor for a total census of 16,666 inmates. That doctor reported that over half of the health problems he attended were related to or complicated by malnutrition. Condoms are not made available, despite the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within this population.

The facilities are holding four to six times the number of prisoners for which they were designed. Cells are so overcrowded there is no room to lay down at night. The men must sleep in shifts on the floor. Because the guards are understaffed and overworked, a system of prisoner social control has developed and is tolerated. The strongest and most vicious are in charge of maintaining order. They occupy the only cots in the cells. They grant favors and protection in exchange for sex or for commodities received from family packages.

Other abuses found during the investigation included failure to provide water to the crews who worked outside in the hot sun, no pay for prison labor, and mixing of young prisoners with older, more serious offenders. Solitary confinement in one prison visited by Human Rights Watch took place in a windowless cell filled with ankle-deep water and no toilet facilities.

If families have resources, they try to supplement the diet and provide blankets and warm clothing for their incarcerated loved ones. But many inmates have no family able to help.

Life in Zambian prisons violates United Nations minimum standards that a state must observe for those deprived of their liberty. Zambia's own laws require an adequate diet for inmates, as well. We hope that the Human Rights Watch report will stimulate reform efforts to bring improved living conditions and more humane treatment for this population.