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.