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.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chishawasha Children's Home

Chishawasha Children's Home is located just outside of Lusaka, Zambia's capitol. Kathe Padilla, from Tucson, set up the Zambian Children's Fund (ZCF) and founded Chishawasha about 12 years ago. The home and school serves AIDS orphans. I visited last month when on a layover in Lusaka.

The campus is impressive. Except for the first house, which is larger, all the resident orphans live in cottages with 12 children and a Zambian housemother. Like any other family, the children share the chores of cooking, cleaning, and tending the garden. Each house has a small library of children's books, something I had seen nowhere else in Zambia. Many children here (probably most of them) have never had picture books or chapter books to read at home. There are few public libraries, and they are not free. Books to purchase are unavailable or extremely expensive. So it was rereshing to see a collection of books for free reading in the cottages.

The school educates both the 70 resident children and a simiar number of orphans living with relatives in the area, grandparents, mostly. The orphans from the surrounding community receive breakfast and lunch as part of the school day.The facility reminds me of an elementary school back home--attractive classrooms with many posters and maps and displays. When I commented that the desks were just like the ones my children used in school, Kathe said they were surplus from Tucson Unified School District which had been shipped by ZCF to Zambia! Every two years, ZCF ships a container full of school supplies and items Chiswhawasha can use of sell to raise funds.

The school teaches grades 1-8, with the intention of adding each grade of high school as the current 8th graders progress. They have a new computer lab thanks to a generous donor. With their own generator and other equipment, they have dependable electricity and regular, strong access to the Internet--which I must admit, I envied.

The Zambian school system is based on the British model. All children take a standard national examination at the end of the 7th grade. They must pass at a certain level in order to progress on to secondary school. Because the past educational experience of some of the children at Chishawasha is inconsistent and sometimes lacking altogether, not all of them will be equipped to complete school through grade 12, or they will be too old to continue in school. So there are vocational training opportunities being developed at Chishawasha. I visited the carpentry shop and was impressed with the equipment and plans.

Like most charitable endeavors, the Zambian Children's Fund and Chishawasha Children's Home are in constant need of financial support. In order to move toward self-sufficiency, they are opening an income-generating project next month. They were given a plot of land on the road between the Home and Kafue national park. They are erecting a rest stop for tourist busses. There they will have clean and modern toilets and a store where snacks and crafts created by the children can be sold. I encourage you to check out their web site for pictures and more information on the program.

The children cared for at the Chishawasha Children's home and educated through the Zambian Children's Fund have opportunities to learn and develop to their full capacity. One small program cannot meet the huge need of Zambia, but it transforms the life chances of a number of future Zambian citizens--and potential community leaders.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blessings and Burdens: Families in Zambia

Everywhere in the world, family is our source of comfort, nurture, and connection. (And, inevitably, also a source of some degree of aggravation!) Family is necessary for survival in places where there are few other resources. That is certainly the situation here in Zambia. Younger people are expected to care for their elders in the absence of something like our Social Security system. Children depend on parents and relatives to feed and clothe them and pay school fees.

When usual family structures fail on a large scale, as has happened because of deaths due to AIDS, people add distant relatives and even the children of neighbors or friends to their families. Such children are not always welcomed by the entire family and sometimes are treated as servants; other times they are integrated as additional and equal family members. But it is always challenging to accommodate the expense of additional family members you did not count on having.

Recently I observed several examples of the blessings and burdens of family among Zambians I have gotten to know. The first situation was that of Aaron, a 9th grade student living with his grandmother. He asked if I could help him with part of the bus fare to visit his mother in Lusaka. She is quite ill, and he had not seen her for a year. He had worked and earned half of the cost of a ticket, but the semester break was nearly over and he needed to go right away so as not to miss any school. I agreed to help and gave him the money. A few days later he came to see me, and I asked how the visit had been. He told me that he was very sorry, but he hadn't gone. When he had gotten home with the money, his grandmother saw it and told him she wasn't feeling well and wanted to visit the doctor. She said she would pay him back from what she earned in the market, but she has not. So he came to tell me that he knew I had given the money to him for a purpose, and since he hadn't used it that way, he wanted to tell me he would do yard work and pay me back. We were disappointed that he had not been able to see his mother.

Violet, who cleans house and does laundry for me, asked this week if she could have an advance against her salary. She was asking for a large sum, so I asked what was going on. Some relatives from a village had shown up on her doorstep, unannounced, expecting hospitality. Several weeks had passed, and she was having trouble feeding and caring for them in addition to her own boys. They told her they would return to their village if she could give them transport money. Hence, the request. They have now returned to their own home.

Finally, my friend Caroline, who is raising 12 orphans in addition to her own children, had a family setback. Her husband, a taxi driver, was hospitalized for a week with a severe case of malaria. Fortunately, he recovered, but with hospital bills and the loss of his salary, they could not manage. They had to move to a smaller, less expensive rental home in a different compound, at least temporarily. In order not to disrupt the education of the children, she had to ask various friends from her old neighborhood to take in the orphans temporarily. She continues to support them by giving food and school supplies to the families providing temporary care, and she is grateful that she was able to place all of them in good homes until she can resume caring for them.

On my personal family front: My ninth grandchild was born May 29, a few days after my return to Zambia. His first name, Matan, means "gift" in Hebrew, and his middle name is my late father's name, Loyal. Cathy and the baby are both doing well, as are Asher, the father, and Noa and El'ad, the sister and brother. I have been able to see Matan, live and in real time, on Skype--one of the marvels of modern technology.

Blessings to all of you and your families!