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!