Monday, November 28, 2011


Is saying farewell any easier if it is spread over many celebrations and observances? Ask me next week and I will tell you!

My departure date is not until December 1, but two of the expatriate families were leaving Zambia for home visits in mid-November. They were not due to return until January. So my first farewell party was November 11 with all the international families on campus. We had a big potluck dinner, shared music and stories, and took pictures. The host family, the Lunds, have four talented children, who provided entertainment with a recital including song, piano, recorder, and guitar.

The Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation Director hosted a farewell dinner for me at his home. It was a lovely evening of traditional Zambian food and good company. Dr. Temu has had the hard job of seeing MEF through a strategic planning process, with good results. The World Council of Churches is funding 21 Pan African students for training next year in two programs: peacebuilding and conflict transformation and services for orphans and vulnerable children. MEF’s prospects are improving.

Sunday I was asked to come forward in church so they could pray for a safe journey. I thanked them for the music, the joyful worship, and for including me in Bible study and other events even when it meant they had to translate everything into English because I couldn’t understand Bemba. Later on Sunday a group of women from the church came to pray with me and share their good wishes for my trip. In the evening, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Choir came to thank me for the help I gave at their fundraiser.

Each group of students in this semester’s courses planned a small farewell celebration during our last class period or afterwards, including refreshments and a class photo. One group, the set of students who are now completing the social work diploma program, has had me as a teacher each semester for the four semesters I taught here. They cleverly took a copy of the class picture, had it enlarged and framed, and presented it as a farewell gift the next day.

The last day for students to be on campus before semester break was Friday, and I was asked to give the reflection in chapel that day. They had a special choir who sang a farewell song. The Director, one of the members of staff and a student representative each spoke briefly, and they presented me with gifts--a devotional book and a chitenge traditional dress.

In my chapel reflection, I shared what Zambia has meant to me. There are aspects of the culture here that I treasure and will try to include in my life as I return home. One is the strong sense of community, interdependence, and family that sustains people through struggles and encourages them in good times. Another is the awareness of the presence of God in every part of life, the good and the bad, the high and the low times, and the joyful praise offered in song and worship. Finally, here in Zambia people take time to just “be.” They greet everyone who passes, sometimes asking about family or chatting, other times just saying good morning or afternoon. They call on you at home and sit and visit.

These three aspects of Zambian culture--resilient community, recognition and celebration of God's loving presence, and an emphasis on "being"-- offer some balance to our American focus on the individual, on self-reliance, and on “doing.” I am thankful for the chance this adventure has given me to experience another way of life for a period.

Now in my last few days, I continue to have friends and neighbors stopping by to leave a remembrance or to pray for me or just to visit one last time. The kids are giving me notes of thanks for the sandwiches and cookies. More than a few tears have been shed.

Zambia will always have a special place in my heart and my life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Black Angels

The first class of Zambian students to complete the diploma programs in social work, community development, and media studies, along with a set of Pan African students, graduated with great ceremony a couple of weeks ago. Like all festive occasions here, it had a distinctly African flavor.

The graduation was outdoors in the grassy area behind the dining hall. Canopies had been set up to shelter us from the sun. MEF has a collection of graduation robes with different colored trim, so each discipline or group had its own identity. Under the robes, most were wearing their best clothes and fanciest shoes. As in a typical American graduation, the candidates lined up two by two, followed by the faculty and administration. But instead of a slow and solemn procession, the graduates danced their way to their seats, punctuated by ululations from family members. Robes floating and swirling as they danced, it was quite a parade. Somehow they looked like black-garbed angels cavorting in the bright African sun.

The Boys Brigade band from United Church of Zambia, Mindolo Congregation played the processional, recessional, and in between. They look smart in their dress uniforms, and they don't carry music--they play entirely by ear, and they play well.
The other entertainment included traditional dancers and a troupe of acrobats. When the dancers are very good, as these were, member of the audience become inspired to join them. This is to show the audience member's ability to also do these dances, or it is to put money in the chitenges of the most skilled dancers as an expression of appreciation and recognition of their excellence.

There were prayers and blessings, speeches by honored guests and students. The Pan African students announced that they wanted to make a presentation of a gift to MEF. While here, this group of students had conducted various fundraisers--a car wash, bake sale, raised vegetables to sell, and hosted an African Cultural Night with dinner and entertainment. With the proceeds, they bought three printers to place in the computer lab so that students could print assignments without having to go to a commercial site. There was great applause from the continuing students when this was announced.

After the awarding of diplomas and a final benediction, pictures were taken and a traditional meal was served: nshima (staple food, a sort of corn meal mush), fish, chicken, greens, and cabbage and carrot coleslaw. No cake, just apples for dessert, but everyone was happy to share in this meal with family and friends.

The Zambian students honored in this event had finished their program last June, but as there is only money for one big graduation a year, they had to wait until the Pan African students completed their courses to have the ceremony. The first group of students I taught are finishing their studies the beginning of December this year, but they will participate in graduation next year. I will miss their ceremony, so I have told them I will dance with them in spirit.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Constancy and Change

In just over three weeks I will return to the USA. I've been reflecting on some of the projects and activities that have been part of my service here in Zambia. Some things have changed, some have been constant, many have had aspects of both constancy and change.

Yesterday I gave out more than 30 peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I know because toward the end of the afternoon I had to send one of the boys to the tuck shop to buy a third loaf of brown bread. Not a crumb was left at 18 hours (6 o'clock), when my kitchen closed. Each loaf makes 10 sandwiches, or 11 if you use the heels. At first ten or twelve boys would come to get cold water and a sandwich each day after school or mid-day on the weekends. Then more boys came, friends of the first ones. The ages range from 4 to 14. I wondered why no girls came. It seems that not only were they busy at home helping their mothers, but they were scared away by the boys. After we discussed this problem, a group of four little girls started coming. Then about two months ago, another group, seven girls and one little brother, all from the Police Camp compound, started coming. They get sandwiches on Friday through Monday. On Tuesday and Thursday it is biscuits and juice, and on Wednesday I give them homemade cookies. The schedule is because Tuesdays through Thursdays are my heavy teaching days, when I don't have time to make sandwiches.

The boys who come mainly run around the yard and climb trees and play ball before and after eating sandwiches. They imitate Michael Jackson as often as they demonstrate the traditional dances children do when they are in a wedding party. The girls want to color or to read. I keep art supplies, books, balls, Frisbees, and a few other things for them. I let them use the toilet, one at a time. Most of them don't have indoor plumbing where they live. The girls have sometimes asked if they could take a bath, and I have had to say no for a variety of reasons. But I see how they care about their appearance and want to be clean and neat.

The trouble with this ministry is that when I leave, it will end. And I feel bad about that. I wish Zambia had a school breakfast or lunch program. One of my community development students did a research project on nutrition in Ipusukilo Compound. She found that none of the families she surveyed at the government clinic ate three meals a day on a regular basis. Two meals was typical, and some families ate only once a day. One positive development recently is that a group of Canadian church women established a feeding program at Trust Community School. They have committed funds to run the program for two years. It's only porridge, but the teachers report that the students are more attentive and productive since the feeding program started.

Change and constancy characterizes my life with students, as well. The first group of students I taught have now finished the program, received their diplomas, and are seeking positions as social workers in government services or non-governmental organizations. But jobs are scarce. I wrote a blog about Kabutu Kabutu, a graduate who is starting his own program, Heart of Care Services for the Aged. He came to consult with me on developing a constitution, bylaws, and a project proposal. Now he is about to get the organization formally registered. He has received initial funding through some local community leaders and a church, and he will be presenting his proposal to a potential donor next week. Persweden, the student whose husband died suddenly last year, is now completing the program thanks to support from several people who heard her story and provided sponsorship. I plan to donate the proceeds of my "going home" sale (computer, camera, kitchen equipment, sheets and towels, etc) to our scholarship fund for social work and community development students. My packets of class handouts developed to supplement lectures will be passed on to the next lecturers for each of the classes I taught here.

Twenty-two months is longer than I planned to stay, but not enough time to do everything I wanted here in Zambia. My efforts to learn Bemba and to master the traditional dance steps reflected more good-humored effort than actual success. It would have been interesting to travel and see more of the country. My choice instead was to fully integrate into the life of a community, to join in its daily life, its celebrations, and its interactions.

My weekly schedule had a rhythm: daily chapel, teaching, Sunday worship, Monday movie night with the ex-patriate community, Tuesday night prayer sharing, Wednesday night singing group, Thursday evening Bible study, Friday morning shopping in town, and Saturday night Game Night with the students. I gave cooking lessons for students and community women who wanted to learn to bake cakes and cookies and prepare American dishes. Caroline's "drivers' wives" self-help group came to learn and is using cake baking as an income-generating project. I was invited to kitchen parties, weddings, fundraisers, holiday celebrations, family dinners, sports events, talent shows, and baby showers, and taken to visit projects in several compounds. Various people would stop by my house just to "visit." My time here in Zambia, full of activities and relationships, has been a meaningful way to start the new phase of my life that began with retirement two years ago.

I am sure that more adventures still await, but Zambia will always have a special place in my heart. And there is a namesake here. Moses, who tends my garden, named his newborn baby daughter Ann!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Anthem Envy

There are many things in Zambia which need improvement. Just the other day, BBC reported that the Internet was evaluated in 190 countries of the world, and Zambia was nearly the bottom of the list. To be precise, it rated 189th. Only Lebanon has slower and less adequate connectivity. Many days we cannot download documents because the effort times out or it just never completes the process. But in some areas, Zambia shines.

In chapel, the day after Independence Day, we sang the Zambian national anthem. The melody is lilting and simple. The words clearly express the Zambian spirit and Zambian culture. I have anthem envy!

Here are the words to Zambia's anthem:

Stand and sing of Zambia, proud and free,
Land of work and joy in unity,
Victors in the struggle for the right
We've won freedom's fight
All one, strong and free.

Africa is our own mother land
Fashioned with and blessed by God's good hand.
Le us, all her people, join as one
Brothers under the sun
All one, strong and free.

One land and one nation is our cry
Dignity and peace 'neath Zambia's sky
Like our noble eagle in its flight
Zambia, praise to thee
All one, strong and free.

Praise be to God,
Praise be, praise be.
Bless our great nation
Zambia, Zambia, Zambia.
Free men we stand
Under the flag of our land
Zambia, praise to thee
All one, strong and free.

I imagine that many of us wish our national anthem were more reflective of our values and hopes. Go Zambia!

Monday, October 24, 2011


Today is Zambian Independence Day, and there are many celebrations. Reminds me in some ways of the 4th of July. It is sunny and hot. Our MEF students are enjoying a picnic and "brai" (barbeque) at a park. The Sunday School children from church are also enjoying a picnic outdoors, with lots of games and dancing and singing. The nursery school on the MEF campus had an Independence Day parade on Friday, marching, chanting, cheering, all of them wearing shirts or sundresses made from chitenge fabric with the Zambian flag as the design. Most of the flag is dark green, symbolic of the vegetation and natural wealth of the country. There are three stripes in the right corner, red for the blood shed to secure independence, black for the people, and orange for the copper and mineral resources. An orange eagle symbolizing freedom sits on top of the three vertical stripes. The kids were very enthusiastic in their celebration and it reminded me of the 4th of July parade Winterhaven hosts in Tucson, or the one we experienced at Ghost Ranch the last time we had a family vacation there.

One observance here was entirely different from our 4th of July commemorations in the USA. Many churches, Mindolo included, had all-night services last night to pray for the country and its leaders and to praise God for freedom and independence.

Another recent event here was a conference hosted by the Anglican Church and seminary on campus. The featured speaker was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican communion. He was in Zambia after visiting Malawi to commemorate 100 years of the Anglican church there. He spoke of the challenges and opportunities faced by the Anglican (Episcopal) church today. The unity of the denomination has been stressed by differences of opinion and understanding on two issues, the role of women in the church and the church's teachings and rules regarding homosexuality. He acknowledged that the church has no mechanism for global problem-solving, but they are concentrating on building relationships that can encourage unity. He has his work cut out for him in these difficult times.

Finally, we are getting ready to celebrate the graduation of one of the groups of Pan African students, the ones in the Youth Leadership Development Program, together with a group of social work, community development, and media diploma students. Such events are always a mixture of joy and sadness as we bid farewell to those who are going far away and celebrate their accomplishments. The Pan African students hosted an African Cultural Night a couple of weeks ago featuring food and music and dancing from their many countries. My friend Botho Divine Engagement is one who is graduating and returning to Botswana. I will really miss her strong spirit.

And in only 5 1/2 weeks, I, too, will be leaving MEF and returning home after a rich and rewarding Zambian experience. So I understand the mixed feelings of the students--relief to have finished their studies, sadness to be leaving friends and mentors, a sense of being unsettled during a time of transition.

Please keep us all in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bathroom Ants, Bathing Babies, and More...

The other day, I was thinking about some of the aspects of life in Zambia that have been unique, or notable in some way, or at least different from usual life in America. Here are a few:

Last night (Friday) I was lulled to sleep to the sounds of music and cheering coming from the church on campus. The church is not next door to me. It is located the equivalent of at least two city blocks away from my house. But the celebratory sounds were loud enough to carry in through my bedroom window. I wondered what was going on at 10 pm, and when I awakened about 2 am and still heard singing and drumming from the church, I knew it was surely one of the all-night prayer and praise sessions held every couple of months. I got up shortly after 6 am and a few minutes later heard about a dozen local youths on my porch. They were asking if I would make them a cup of Milo and a peanut butter sandwich. They were hungry after the all-nighter.

Now, why was I getting up at 6 am on a Saturday, the one morning of the week that I do not have somewhere to be before 8 am? Well, I have learned through experience that Zambians sometimes show up at my door as early as 6:30. My first visitor this morning--after the youths--was at 7 am. These callers do not necessarily expect to find you fully dressed. In fact, if they are a neighbor, they might appear in night clothes or casual lounging clothes themselves. But they have a request or a question or something to return or borrow. So they just stop by.

Traveling to town on a bus that took a new route, I noticed a sign for "Agatha's Firm Foundation School," and I was reminded of names of shops and services that have puzzled or amused me. There was a hand-cart a young man was wheeling through the market on which he had painted the name "Hummer" on the side. The "Joyful Desire Centre" offers secretarial services. You can eat at the High Class Food Cafe, or order carry-out from the Virtuous Christian Catering establishment. (They don't carry alcohol.) I wondered what people did at a "Fitment Centre" after seeing so many signs for them, It turns out that is where you go to buy "tyres." I have seen a sign for Just Imagine Investments and for Polite Spare Auto Parts. You can play soccer at the Mundane Football Club or order texts from the Annointed Christian Bookshop. The Alpha & Omega Grocers is next to The Most High Secretarial School. I can get my hair cut at Blessings Barbing or at Grace of God Hair Saloon. I would certainly be hopeful as I took my car to Auto Miracles and Odd Jobs Limited. The biggest mystery is just what they sell at a corner shop, painted orange, that I pass on the bus frequently. Over the door is the only signage, the statement "Jesus Wept."

Then there is the mystery of the bathroom ants. Black, medium size, not tiny like the kitchen ants or huge like the red biting ants, they are found in and around my sink and tub. What attracts them? I can't figure it out. When I go to brush my teeth or wash my hands, I try to start with a little trickle of water, so I won't wash them down the drain. But if I miscalculate and one does go down the drain, if I then wait a few moments, the ant will struggle out and climb up the slippery side of the sink and disappear. I admire their spunk.

Finally, a week ago I hosted Sheba, a former student in one of my classes, together with her 3-weeks old daughter Christina and her sister Chongo, while she took care of some work in her program. I learned that Zambian babies are bathed at least twice a day, often more. It turned out to be a real challenge, since the day after their arrival the MEF water pump broke down, and it took all week for it to be repaired. We had to haul water from the nearest station in buckets, and on the fifth day the MEF truck began to bring barrels full to our houses. I think the baby was cleaner than any of the rest of us, as we tried to ration the water between cooking and drinking and cleaning uses. The garden had wilted, but when water resumed after seven days, I was amazed at the resilience of most of the vegetables as they responded to the return of irrigation. It helped that we did have one good rain during that dry week. All of us appreciate the blessing of water service more than ever. And I am aware that all over Zambia, in villages and shanty towns and compounds, many people live without access to running water in their homes.

When I am back home, I will miss the music from the church. Several times a week at my house I hear the Boys Brigade Band and the various choirs practicing, usually in the late afternoons. Every morning I join my voice with those of the MEF students and staff in chapel. Often during the day I find a melody in my mind from one of these sources. It's an important part of life here, one that has enriched me.

As an Avery & Marsh song we learned at Ghost Ranch goes, "Different is beautiful, God bless diversity!"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Challenging Customs

I assigned a UN report on "Gender Equality and Social Institutions in Zambia" as required reading for my community interventions course. It generated the liveliest discussion we have had in that class.

The majority of social work students are women. The men tend to choose the diploma program in community development. There is considerable overlap in the curricula of these two programs, but social work has an image of being a woman's field more than does community development. So in my community interventions [social work] class, there are only two men and ten women.

The article on gender, in addition to discussing such issues as inheritance, domestic violence, ownership rights, and securing credit--all areas in which women suffer inequality--delves into official and traditional family law. I quote: "Husbands are traditionally the heads of families in Zambia. They have sole parental authority and make most of the important household decisions, including those regarding the use of contraception." And later, "The custom of paying a dowry incites domestic violence: having paid a bride price, the husband and other men in the family consider the woman to be their joint property."

The students agreed with the report in most respects. They said that while such practices are more universal in the rural areas, they also are strong in urban areas, even among the educated population. Bride price was identified as one of the primary motivators behind underage marriages. In villages, a daughter is a potential source of income for the parents. Girls are often kept home after grade 7 and marriages may be contracted at age 12 to 14. Pregnancy follows shortly after marriage, with detrimental health consequences in many cases.

The women in my class, almost all in their early to mid twenties, spoke of their dismay at being considered inferior, being expected to be subservient, and being thought of as property. But, clearly, they felt trapped. Marriage is seen as necessary for survival. Jobs are scarce (40%-60% unemployment) and men are favored in the employment market. Culturally, there is little respect for a single woman.

It is not all bleak. I believe that there are Zambian marriages based on a partnership model. Even when the husband considers himself the head of the household, he does not necessarily beat his wife. But too many men do. And too many men exert total control over family finances. The general cultural acceptability of extramarital relationships for the man (having a "side dish" or "spare wheel") and condemnation of the same for the woman marks an interesting double standard.

Cultural patterns and practices do not change easily or quickly. Women here are socialized to be deferent and submissive. In the rituals associated with preparation for marriage, the woman is taught how to please her husband in every way. She is taught that she can refuse no request or expectation her husband makes or shows. This education is carried out by her aunts and other female relatives.

In the class, we discussed how privilege and power are maintained by the consent and cooperation of the underlings. Traditions will not become more egalitarian by themselves. It will require a movement. It will require a vision of something better, and hope for the possibility of change. Given that many people cherish the security and predictability of the status quo, efforts to create change will encounter serious resistance. But as women achieve more equality, more respect, and more opportunity, Zambia's development will move ahead.

I offered the class a saying of Mahatma Ghandi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world." For Zambian women--indeed for all men and women--may it be so!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Election Surprises

National elections just took place in Zambia.

Elections are always a time of excitement and expectant waiting and hoping. It has been that way in Zambia for the past few weeks, as the country prepared to vote on September 20. I've been impressed by the similarities and contrasts to elections in the USA.

First, terms of office and frequency of elections: Many African countries have a poor record of holding regular elections or having free and fair elections in which it is possible to unseat an incumbent. I spent time in Uganda in 1991 and 1993. Yoweri Museveni was President then, and he is still. (Has been since 1989, and over the years he has become increasingly dictatorial and repressive against his opponents or challengers.) Zambia, on the other hand, following an initial period of one-party rule after independence, has a competitive multi-party system. The president serves a five year term and can be elected twice.

Political parties: There were 11 contenders for president, from 11 different parties. However the two major parties are the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), which has held power for 21 years, and the Patriotic Front (PF), which just won this election. I was afraid that with the vote split so many ways, the power of incumbency would win out. However, Michael Sata of the PH is a well-known political figure who came close to winning the last election and was considered the only viable contender against President Rupiah Banda. His nickname is "King Cobra" after his vigorous and confrontational campaigning style.

Campaign Issues: Banda takes credit for Zambia's stability and positive economic growth. It should be noted that this relatively strong economy has not impacted the lives of the vast majority of citizens, who live in deep poverty and without a system of free education. Development has been possible largely through deals with China to mine Zambia's rich copper and other mineral resources. However, the country realizes little benefit in taxes, despite the dramatic recent increases in copper prices. And the working conditions and wages in the mines are notoriously poor. Sata promised to renegotiate the arrangements with the Chinese so that Zambia would share more of the profits and so that working conditions would improve. He campaigned on job creation, better education, and help for the most vulnerable. He also promises to fight corruption. Easier said than done, but this is a badly needed reform.

Campaign tactics: The usual rallies, marches, and debates took place. Campaign signs and billboards were everywhere. Banda was known to be offering sacks of maize to his supporters and fertilizer to farmers, and of course the roads began to be repaired in the month before the election. Sata had vehicles with loud speakers driving through the compounds urging people to register and to vote for him. He had a clever campaign strategy: his signs urged voters "Don't kubeke!" ("don't tell!"), meaning they should accept the mealie meal from Banda's party, but vote for Sata. International observers criticized Banda's vote-buying activities. Inappropriate use of public money for the incumbent's party activities was also documented.

Uniquely Zambian election customs: All campaigning was required to stop at 6 am the day before the election. I'm not sure why, but it was a welcome relief to have a quiet day. Then Election Day is a national holiday. Our students went to the chapel Monday evening to pray for a peaceful election (some of them come from countries where there has been considerable election violence). During election day, Tuesday, many churches were open for people to come and pray for peace, and our students kept up a prayer and fasting vigil all day. Several people shared with me the idea that the election was already decided by God--but they did intend to vote, they just knew the outcome would be "right," whatever it was.

Post-election activities: Voting ended at 6 pm Tuesday, and people went home. Results would not come out until the next day, since the count was by hand from paper ballots. However, they did expect local results on Wednesday morning, and presidential results later in the day. On Wednesday, announcements seemed to be slow coming. Results were being "verified" in a way no one seemed to understand. International observers had judged the election to have been well-run, with only a few examples of polls opening late or problems with ballot papers. But the delay in learning results made everyone anxious, especially the youth, first time voters, and members of the opposition party.

When the presidential race results had not been reported by Wednesday evening, unrest was evident. Thursday morning at chapel, we were cautioned to stay home or within Mindolo in case disturbances broke out. I intended to do just that, after a quick trip to town to get money and pick up a few fresh groceries for a dinner I was planning for friends. I called a cab so I could just go and come quickly. Well, it wasn't such a good idea. While in ShopRite, there was a panicked exodus of nearly everyone from the store when it appeared that the nearby open vegetable market might be burning. We got out just in time, since shortly thereafter the road was closed by rioting, stone-throwing youths demanding to know the results of the election. I gave the cab driver "hazardous duty pay" and had him take the household workers from our area back to their compound safely. News of demonstrations and destruction in our area, the Copperbelt, continued. People were suspicious that vote tampering was going on.

All day Thursday, reports of the results were promised, but didn't materialize. Then, just before 1 am Friday, I heard a great commotion outside. Cars were honking their horns, fireworks were exploding, people were singing and dancing in the streets outside of MEF in Mindolo Compound. The results were out, and amazingly, the opposition had won with 43% of the vote. (Remember, there were 11 candidates!) Sadly, two people had died in the disturbances in Kitwe on Thursday, but otherwise, calm was restored. And people are still celebrating today.

To have an election--especially one resulting in a change of administration--happen so well is refreshing and hopeful for the future. Zambia is being seen as a model for other African countries. My hope is that the new president will follow through with his campaign promises and will also put transparency and accountability high on his agenda. We are all eager to see what a difference the change will make. We know that words are easier than deeds, but at least there is an opening for a new beginning and a greater priority on the needs of youth and the poor.

The biggest surprise of all came when I learned that the new president was inaugurated today, on the same day the results were announced. No lame duck period here! And Banda left graciously. A model for other countries in Africa, indeed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Humbling Perspective

For the week preceding, and on the day itself, BBC had features about 9/11: eyewitness reports from survivors and reporters, interviews with persons who lost family members in the tragedy, reflections on the reactions and consequences of this event, and reports of commemorations planned in the USA and around the world. Commentators repeatedly spoke of the significance 9/11 as an event which changed the world. Probably the coverage was more extensive than usual because it was the 10th anniversary, but I recall a number of BBC programs last year, as well.

This morning, I heard another perspective, and it made me think. Once a week, BBC broadcasts a 5-minute dialogue between “The Resident Presidents,” two fictitious African heads of state, Olishambles and Kibakima (not sure about the spelling here, but that is how it sounds.) They make irreverent and often humorous observations about current events. Mostly their topic of conversation focuses on happenings in Africa. This morning, however, their piece was on 9/11.

One president tried to engage his colleague in conversation about 9/11. The other claimed to have been preoccupied with a party and to have paid no attention. The first was amazed that anyone could be unaware of the anniversary. His fellow president then challenged him: “How many people died in 9/11?” “About 3,000” was the reply. The next question from the inattentive president asked about the hundreds, even thousands of people who have died in Africa recently, in ferries that sank, election violence, and mass rapes and executions associated with civil wars--and commented how quickly these losses disappear from the news, or don‘t even make the news in some countries. The next question was “And how many have died in Iraq and Afghanistan?” “Well, I don’t really know,” was the reply. “I have heard that over 150,000 have died, including civilians and military,” announced the president who did not seem to care much for 9/11 commemorations.

While I understand that 9/11 was about more than numbers, the coverage has raised some issues for me. Is there a question of balance here? What do we emphasize in our commemorations? Do we also use the anniversary as an opportunity for a critical assessment of our national priorities and the effects of our responses to 9/11? Or do we mainly re-live and renew our horror and grieving?

Of course, being in Zambia with limited Internet, I do not know what the media coverage was like in the USA, or much about community observances. But I checked it and was pleased to see that Tucson Habitat for Humanity is still practicing the commemoration started on 9/11 in 2002--organizing Building Freedom Day and involving hundreds of volunteers in laying the foundations and framing a number of houses for low income families. Ten were started this year, in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Such an effort celebrates the core values of America. The volunteers will include people from all walks of life, different ethnic groups, men and women, working together in mutual aid. The family that will live in the house helps with its construction. The work on the houses will continue for about eight months before they are finished.

Projects like these build community solidarity. They contribute to a climate of peace and respect. They reflect what is best about America, our “can do” approach to solving social problems and our willingness to cooperate and collaborate to help one another. I wish our Congress would see the model represented by the spirit of Tucson and begin to collaborate and cooperate on programs which will benefit the entire community, and especially the poor and vulnerable. We need to create jobs, extend educational opportunities, develop more affordable housing, and make health care available to all. This will only happen if we agree to pay our fair share of taxes and if we take a hard look at how much we are spending on military endeavors and our ever-expanding correctional system.

I am left meditating on what is the appropriate balance between concern for security and for freedom. Perhaps a better question is what will provide us with more security and freedom, at home and abroad? Is it more investment in fences, walls, and weapons? Or investment in creating opportunities for human development through education, work, and technology? It’s not as simple as that makes it sound, but I believe we need to be asking these questions and looking at a wider range of creative options in public policy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blessings and Burdens of Being a Teacher

Every teacher hopes her students will use what she has taught. This is especially true of teachers in the professions, since the knowledge imparted is intended to be practical. So it pleases me when graduates come back to discuss how they are trying to develop projects in the community or programs at agencies.

Sometimes they come just to let me know what they are doing. More often, they come for consultation as they struggle to make what they learned work in the real world of human and organizational complexities. Usually they are looking for ideas about resources for collaboration and support.

Here in Zambia, jobs are scarce in any field. Official unemployment figures are reported to be over 40%. So some of the more enterprising social work graduates try to start a social service endeavor by themselves or in partnership with a church.

Menard came to see me a few weeks ago and took me to visit the community school he is assisting. It is located in a poor shanty town off the main road. He is helping them to find teachers, enroll students, and finish building a permanent facility. Right now they are meeting inside a building that looks about to fall apart. It certainly will not survive heavy rains, which are due to start in October. He had a budget for the materials they need to complete a new, sturdy structure. The community can donate the labor, but they need cement and bricks and other building supplies. I helped him think about some natural connections they could make with international church partners, since the school originated as a church project.

When Kabutu came with an organizational design for Heart of Care Services for the Aged in Mulenga Compound, I helped him amplify his idea. We created a three-fold brochure with the basic information: vision, mission, auspices, how they got started, what they do, how people can help by volunteering, making referrals, or supporting the program, and the basic contact information. I'm not as skilled at producing such brochures as my children are, but we thought it looked pretty good. We even found a graphic for the cover and will try to incorporate a photo on the back. Now I am consulting with him as he shapes up a formal proposal and seeks funding and a permanent location.

Kabutu, too, wanted me to see the community and meet with some of the leaders and participants in his project. Mulenga Compound is far off the main highway, down dirt roads that twist and turn, full of bumps and ruts. We got out at a clearing next to the tiny donated one-room office of Heart of Care. It was filled with elders, sitting on benches and the dirt floor. They decided it was more pleasant outside under the trees, so we held our meeting there. About a dozen or more elderly women and one old man were in attendance, along with a half-dozen community leaders. One woman was blind, another showed me the support bandages around her knees to help keep her steady, the man used a walking stick, and others showed evidence of various mild disabilities. The program was to hear a bit about the plans and activities of Heart of Care, and for me to offer some words of encouragement. They wanted me to know that many of the elderly were helping raise orphans. Some lacked food security, most had health problems, shelter was inadequate, and they needed to find ways to earn a little money to care for themselves or their families. I commended their resilience and commitment and their spirit of unity in working together for self-help. I was thinking about the many needs this group represented and the few resources they could easily access. In a place of deep poverty, the elderly and children suffer most.

The church and the wider community group Kabutu is working with in Mulenga Compound have also established Tiyezye Community School. They meet in a building with brick walls and a cement floor, and openings where doors and windows will someday be installed. It needs a roof before rainy season. It also needs desks and benches. Children in one classroom are squatting or sitting on bricks, one per child, arranged in rows. The teachers are volunteers; most of them are still in training and combine their teaching with attending classes at the local education college. I think community schools could be considered a movement, since they spring up in compounds and shanty towns all around the urban areas, providing the free primary school education that the government should be guaranteeing to all children. Without them, thousands of children, mostly orphans and desperately poor, would be growing up illiterate.

One of the students still in the program, Enala, wants to establish an orphanage after she graduates. I have asked Kathe Padilla to share her experience creating Chishawasha Children's Home with the student. I won't be here to see her progress, but I am trying to help her as much as possible now so that she can work effectively in the future.

My title for this blog is the blessings and burdens of being a teacher. One of the joys of teaching is to see students creating programs based on what they have learned. The student or graduate is doing the work, but you helped him or her develop the knowledge and skill needed to establish the project or organization. That's the blessing part. The burden is struggling to help them find resources in these difficult economic times. It is hard to visit the compounds and see the deprivation and desperation these programs are trying to alleviate. But I feel honored that my students want me to see what they are doing with their education. I am proud of how they are trying to make a difference. It may be small, as they are starting from scratch, and it may be fragile, nourished by hope and prayer. But they are patient, persistent, and passionate, and those qualities will carry them far.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Visiting Villages

Kitwe is the second largest city in Zambia. It is about two-thirds of the size and population of Tucson. MEF is a few miles out of town. So are many of the compounds and shanty towns where I have visited community schools and helped with development projects.

Until recently, I had not experienced village life here. Now I have been "into the bush" twice in a month. The first time was when Jenny, Adrian and I took Violet and some of her possessions to the village where she will teach fifth grade.

Jenny has a sturdy Toyota pickup truck, a necessity for traveling back roads. Our first challenge was finding the village. Road signs of any sort--speed limits, warnings, how many kilometers to the next town--are almost nonexistent anywhere in Zambia. No streets or roads have names outside of the urban areas, or if they have names, they lack signage. If you ask directions, people talk about taking "the third road after the bamboo stand, where there is a big rock", for example. If you come to a fork in the road and no one is nearby to help, you probably end up choosing the more traveled, well worn road--and hoping for the best.

Violet had been to the school to sign paperwork, but she had ridden a bus to where the road to the village left the main highway, then she found a ride on a truck on top of piles of burlap bags. So she didn't really know the directions well. But we managed, after a few false starts, to find a fairly direct route. The paths into the bush are uneven, rutted dirt roads. We were glad it was not the rainy season yet.

The village includes a compound, or set of houses, clustered around the school, then lots of little dwellings spread out among the trees and brush. There are some permanent cement houses for teachers, each with two or three rooms, painted blue and white like the school. The teacher's house where Violet will live is still occupied by the now-retired headmaster, who refuses to leave until the government gives him his pension. So the pupils and teachers built a little one-room house out of mud bricks for Violet to live in until the other house is available. Most of the village houses are made of mud. Some have thatched roofs, others have corrugated metal roofs. The latrines are outside, as is the cooking area. The teacher's houses have electricity and stoves and refrigerators, but this is not the case for most villagers.

There is a well and a hand-pump near the school. We watched many children filling jerry cans with water while we were touring the school and meeting one of the teachers. As we looked into the classrooms, we saw rough wooden desks and benches, blackboards, cement floors. The classroom of one teacher had the letters of the alphabet with corresponding pictures painted like a frieze on the walls--"D,d dog" for example. Her room also had hand-made charts with multiplication tables and other information. It is up to each teacher to develop such materials.

Violet will return next week as school opens September 5. She will need to carry food staples and other supplies with her, since the nearest markets are far away. The teacher who showed us around has taught at the school for four years. She will be a good support for Violet as she begins her career.

The other village visit was to carry some food out to a cousin of Caroline, my friend who tried to feed me caterpillars. The cousin was recently widowed and is caring for about 10 children, some her own and others orphans. This village seemed even poorer than where Violet will live. There is no electricity. There is little water to irrigate gardens. Many people crowd into tiny houses at night to sleep. During the day the children play outside under the mango trees. They must walk several kilometers to the nearest primary school. Where the latrines in Violet's village had mud brick walls, here they were holes in the ground surrounded by four poles and three burlap walls. Again, cooking is done outdoors over charcoal. Probably most people eat only once, or at most twice, a day--nshima (corn meal mush) with a sauce of beans or perhaps a bit of chicken, and greens.

Life is hard here, but people still dance and sing and are thankful for what they have. The country is at peace, and people try to help each other. I am continually amazed by the resilience of the human spirit!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another Success Story

Violet, who has been doing my laundry and cleaning my house for the past 18 months, has finally been posted at a school! She will teach fifth grade at Mukutuma Basic School in the Lufanyama District of the Copperbelt region.

Violet had completed her teacher training program and was awaiting the results of her performance on the national teachers' examination when I first arrived. A few weeks later, she received news that she had failed--as had 84 of the 89 students in her class. They were invited to register for some remedial classes (with a substantial tuition charge), continue studying, pay another examination fee, and try again.

Violet had been confident that she had passed, since all along she received excellent marks in nearly every subject. She went to the school officials asking to see her results so she could learn what she needed to study. They refused. Adrian, the Chaplain, and I discussed this situation and decided to investigate it. It just seemed unreasonable that the vast majority of students should fail, if the school had been doing its job preparing primary school teachers.

When we spoke with the director of the teacher training school, he told us there had been rampant cheating among the students, and that was why they all failed. This was hard to believe, and certainly out of character for Violet. Not only did the director blame the students, he couldn't explain how this cheating had gotten past the supervision of the exam proctors. In addition, there was no acknowledgement that perhaps the school had prepared them poorly for the examination. Or that any kind of mistake had been made.

It just felt fishy. And as I thought about it, the main person to benefit from this massive failure was the owner of this proprietary private education college, as he now would get more tuition from the students and a second exam fee.

Adrian went to someone who had contacts with the Ministry of Education. He got an appointment for Violet to see this official to explore the problem. When she met with him, she found out that her name was not on the national list of students who had taken the exam. She showed him her documentation, and he said he would call in the school director to find out what was going on.

We still do not know exactly what happened between the Ministry of Education and the school director, but a few weeks later, Violet was told that she had passed the exam and was given an official results document. Then the wait began for posting at a government (public) school.

Before she received confirmation of her posting, Violet signed up for a course run by Kitwe Teachers College (KTC) to upgrade her teaching skills. It meets during school breaks, and then continues with independent study while participants return to their teaching duties or await their posting. KTC is affiliated with the University of Zambia, so we trust there will be no issues around corruption or malfeasance in this education program. Violet is both excited and anxious about being a student again. Mostly she is eager to begin teaching.

Lufanyama is quite a way off the main road, at the edge of the Copperbelt Province. While remote, it has electricity. The community has built a small house for each teacher. Violet commented, after going to visit the place, that if I think I have seen poverty in the compounds surrounding Kitwe, wait until I see the village life. Most of the children do not own a pair of shoes. They come to school barefoot and in ragged clothes. Many will not have a pencil to their name, let alone notebooks, pens or rulers. but they want to learn, and she wants to teach. Transport for Violet to get to a town to shop will most likely be by riding on the back of a truck loaded with lumber or sacks of corn or some other product. Busses only run to the main highway. After that, it is an hour or two on whatever vehicle passes by to reach the village, or from the village back to the highway. She will receive hardship pay because of the conditions.

So, another success story. Violet is employed in the field she trained for and has a calling to do. My new helper for laundry and cleaning is Memory. She just completed teacher training and took the national exam and is awaiting results.

Isn’t this where I came in?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Current Events Here and There

Zambia will hold a presidential election September 20. The incumbent President, Rupiah Banda, is running for re-election. He succeeded to the presidency three years ago in a special election after the death of the third Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa. However, his candidacy for the office is now being challenged. The issue is his parentage. His opponent claims Banda's father was born in Malawi.

Why should it make a difference where his parents were born? It does, and that's an interesting story.

After independence in 1964, Zambia had a one-party system. The first President, Kenneth Kaunda, served for 27 years before he lost his office in the first contested election. Candidates from the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) have won every election since then, although in the last election the Patriotic Front (PF) candidate came quite close to winning.

Once in power, the second President, Chaluba, was interested in securing his position. He therefore wrote an odd provision into the constitution he was drafting, and which was later adopted. It required that the parents of any candidate for the office of the President must have been born in Zambia. It was widely understood that the reason for this criterion was to prevent Kauanda, the former President, from running again. Kaunda's parents were born in nearby Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Now that constitutional provision is being used to question whether Banda, the incumbent, can be a legitimate candidate for election. One of his parents was allegedly born in Malawi. Banda has denied this, saying that his father only worked in Malawi as a casual laborer, but was born in territory now part of Zambia. His opponent has brought forth a challenge, and the court must decide in the next few days, before the ballot papers are due to be printed. Since this issue was not raised the first time he ran, just after Mwanawasa's death, I doubt that the court will decide for the challenger...but who knows?

Andy used to say that legislation based on one case was usually a bad idea. It may make the party in power feel good, but it often has unanticipated consequences later on. Banda tried to get the constitution changed with respect to this provision, but Parliament did not approve his request.

The other current events I have been following relate to the budget deficit battles back home in America. BBC has quite good coverage, and it is interesting to listen to commentators from another country as they try to understand and critique our system. They are knowledgeable and good critics, but sometimes seem puzzled by the degree of acrimony and pig-headed uncooperativeness they witness in Congress and between the GOP leadership and the President.

From my place of distance, I think there is a lot of "fear-mongering" going on in America in the popular media. Yes, it is too bad that Standard & Poor's has downgraded our credit rating from AAA to AA+, but since when is Standard &
Poor’s such a good judge of creditworthiness? They gave all those sub-prime financial instruments [that are now recognized as junk bonds] AAA ratings! And I agree with the BBC commentator who said he found their declaration that we need to reduce Medicare outlays offensive. It is not their role to recommend policy directions, and if it were, how about recommending reducing spending on the wars, which are a major drain on our economy and the source of 35% of our debt?

What we need is more revenue (tax the wealthy again) and more investment in recovery. Unemployment benefits need to be extended, given the reality of the shortage of jobs. That money goes right back into the economy in purchases of goods and services. The extremely wealthy tend to save, or to spend on things like a second house, which does not stimulate the economy as much as buying food and gas and daily need items. The ever-growing gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots"--or, really, between the upper 10-20% and the rest of the people, is not only wrong, but I believe that it is dangerous.

We don't see such dramatic differences here in Zambia. Yes, there may be some wealthy Zambians, but I have never encountered one. There is a small middle class and mostly poor people helping each other and their families as much as they can. Sometimes they can't, and we have child-headed families and street kids and abandoned elders, but not by choice.

Living in a place where there is more equality feels good, even if the standard of living is low. We all feel as if we are in it together.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Debatable Question

What do you do when the government fails to provide certain basic services that are generally agreed to be a public responsibility? This is a question we may be facing in the United States one day in the not-too-distant future. It is a question many Zambians confront every day.

Under this heading we could certainly discuss clean and safe drinking water, roads, a sanitation system, health care, and a social security system. Not to mention public education. In each of these areas, Zambia fails to provide even minimally adequate services in some or all parts of the country.

What happens when these services are missing? People suffer many preventable illnesses and do not live as long. Many children die before they reach school age. Road fatalities and injuries are common. In old age, people often descend into deep poverty. Citizens lack power when they cannot read or speak well. The country fails to develop.

One answer to what to do when the government does not fulfill its responsibilities is that the people come together and do their best to do it themselves. I've been thinking again about community schools here, especially because one of my students invited me to visit the school he has been helping, Jenna Community School.

I know he hoped I would have some ideas about how they could raise the funds needed to build a permanent structure. The foundation has been laid for a 6-classroom facility, including a small library and office. Currently the school is meeting in a flimsy church building that doesn't look as if it will survive the rainy season. Just as with Trust Community School, a third to half of the pupils are orphans, some living in child-headed families. Others live in very poor families where the parents can't pay the school fees attached to government schools, or buy the uniforms and school shoes and other things deemed necessary in the public system. Without the community school, these children would be home all day or on the streets.

The teachers are paid a small salary, the equivalent of US $35/month. You might wonder how anyone could work for so little. In some cases, they have a spouse who works a regular job and provides support. Sometimes they also farm or have a small business or income-generating project in their off hours. Sometimes they just cope somehow and see the position as volunteer work until they are posted by the government in a regular school. This, of course, means that there is frequent turnover of teachers, even when they love the community school and would like to stay on permanently. I admire the community spirit and the dedication of all those who work with community schools in Zambia.

The government has the capacity to tax, control of natural resources, and the power to create a stable and secure environment for the development of its citizens. We need to encourage people to be self-reliant and neighborly, to work productively and to care for their families. That is a given. But should we also expect that individuals provide alone--or at the community level--for all basic needs? Isn't there a proper role for government? Consider some of the many features of a good quality life that have traditionally depended on government support: safe medications, reliable water and power, universal opportunities for basic education and training, access for people with disabilities, public transportation, safe food, and social insurances. In all of these areas, Zambia has some services, but many deficiencies. And in America, there seems to be an acrimonious debate underway in which one side sees government as unnecessary, even evil.

I guess I feel more sympathetic to Zambia's situation and predicament because they have so many challenges and are so new at being an independent country. It is harder for me to understand why in America we are having this debate, why so many are unwilling to pay more taxes, why some elected officials are so resistant to continuing to provide basic services for all and compassionate care for our vulnerable populations.

Here's my final reflection to ponder these days: In Zambia and in America, how can we create a respectful process for conversation between diverse groups, to hear and understand what each fears and what each hopes for, and so we can explore the consequences of different policy choices? And in both places, how can we cultivate and strengthen our sense of community and mutual responsibility?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Difficult Days

Four days a week I make peanut butter and jam sandwiches for kids. The other three days they get "biscuits" or cookies and juice drink when they come to visit. Somewhere around 20 boys and 8 girls come by each day, including a few little ones who only ask for half a sandwich. Each week, we use 4 kilos of peanut butter, 10 loaves of bread, and four large cans of jam, plus the juice drink and biscuits/cookie ingredients. It adds up.

Moses, my gardener, was in the house the other day when a big group of boys came asking for sandwiches. Perhaps he had overheard me exclaiming to Violet about how high my grocery bill was last week, or perhaps he was mad at the kids because someone had taken some of the tomatoes I was allowing to ripen on the vine. Whatever the reason, he started yelling at the kids. They shouted back, and before I could intervene, Moses had gone out on the porch an slapped one of the boys for being disrespectful.

I went out to put an end to the situation, but it was escalating out of control. I couldn't tell what they were shouting at one another because it was in Bemba, but the voices were loud and angry. One of the boys, visibly upset, ran to the field next door, picked up rocks and clods of dirt, and started throwing them at Moses, who continued to yell and shake his fist in a threatening manner. I stood between the warring parties and tried to make them stop, but it was several minutes before I was able to calm everyone down. The boy who was upset said that Moses had been insulting his father.

One reason it was so hard to resolve this situation was that we were dealing with cultural issues. In Zambia, it is acceptable for parents to beat their children. It is expected that children will respect and obey their elders. Even though I had told Moses that physical punishment is not permissible in my family and beatings are not allowed in America, he felt he was behaving appropriately. (Spare the rod and spoil the child.) The children know that I do not approve of yelling at them or striking them, so they felt free to go against the norm and challenge Moses. Once the conflict started, it gathered steam and only grew worse and worse.

I spoke with all the parties separately. Moses understood that I meant what I said about hitting children. I may not be able to prevent him from shouting, but there will be no more physical contact. The boys agreed that they needed to apologize to Moses and to show him respect in the future. I offered to teach them some non-violent problem-solving approaches during their school break.

Apparently the boys and Moses met and talked a couple of days after the incident, and things are calm again. And I do plan to follow up with some vacation activities with the kids. Constructive, non-violent problem-solving is a skill we all need to cultivate.

Just a few days ago, I heard about the tragic bombing and shooting spree in Norway in which nearly 100 people died. Most of them were youths who were at a camp on an island. One man, a native Norwegian who called himself a Christian, has admitted responsibility. As always, these incidents raise many questions. Before the perpetrator was identified, the bombing in Oslo was labeled as a "typical al qaeda attack." Once the shooter was found to be a native Norwegian, suddenly it was simply a "crazed individual." The evidence show that this was a carefully planned attack, not the sudden rage of a depressed or unbalanced individual.

Just as we try to keep track of the potentially dangerous al qaeda terrorists, I believe we need to recognize and watch the potentially dangerous far-right extremists (or any extremist, for that matter). And although I have heard no mention of it in any news reports, I suggest that we should be asking questions about access to automatic weapons and ammunition.

The one positive note in this situation was the report that among the many people who gathered at the cathedral in Oslo after the tragedy were many Muslim citizens. When asked why they were going into a Christian church, they said they wanted to show their solidarity and share in the grieving.

May that spirit of unity prevail in these difficult days.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wise Words

Riding on a bus one day, I saw a motto on another bus that I didn't understand. "Teeth are just bones" it said. Puzzled, I asked one of my students what the meaning was. "It's a Bemba saying, and it means that you shouldn't trust a smile to mean friendship, teeth are just bones."

Since then, I have been collecting African sayings. Most are easier to interpret than the Bemba one. Some I have heard on BBC Africa, which broadcasts "wise words" every morning.

Sometimes the same idea appears in two expressions:
The ax forgets, the tree that has been axed will never forget.
He who gives the blow forgets, he who bears the scar remembers.
Or another pair:
A cutting word is worse than a bowstring.
A cut may heal, but a cut of the tongue does not.

Here are more sayings I have collected:

A chattering bird builds no nest.
If you are in hiding, don't light a fire.
He who cannot dance will say the drum is bad.
Don't hunt what you can't kill.
Money can buy a bed but can't buy you sleep.
Cross the river in a crowd, and the crocodile won't eat you.
No matter how tall your father is, you must do your own growing.
The hen does not attend the meeting when the fox is the chairman.
Ashes fly back in the face of he who throws them.
There is nothing more expensive than a lost opportunity.
If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.
Water all seeds--you don't know which will grow.
He who inherits the leopard also inherits the spots.
Like ants, eat little and carry the rest back to your home.
There is no shortcut to the top of a palm tree.
Never start a quarrel with fire when you are dressed in dry leaves.
Not everyone who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it chased it.
It is a fool who rejoices when his neighbor is in trouble.
Pray for a stronger back rather than a lighter load.
A word to the wise is wasted--spare them for the dumb.
He who receives a gift does not measure.
If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.

And my four favorites:
When elephants fight, the grass suffers.
He who forgives ends the argument.
The path is made by walking.
In the school of life, the lesson comes after the test.

I was reflecting the other day that not all "words of wisdom" that we might have been taught are truly wise. As a child, I heard that "Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never harm you." It wasn't true. As adults, a friend and I, discussing the effects of taunting, gossip, and name-calling, re-wrote the saying: "Sticks and stones may break your bones but words may break your heart." My grandmother taught me to "consider the source" when dealing with painful words, but how much better if we can sometimes prevent them from being spoken at all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Success Story

Samuel Mwanamundu, a tall, slender young man with a confident walk and an intense sense of direction, came by to borrow my camera. "We are having a sports day and I want to get pictures of the kids in action. Then I will put them in an email to send to our supporters." The event was sponsored by the Zambian Institute for Youth Development, an organization Samuel has helped establish. Its purpose is to involve street kids and other vulnerable children in activities that will develop life skills and equip them for independence and self-sufficiency.

Samuel, age 21, knows firsthand what these children need. He lived on the streets for awhile. He knows the risks, the attractions, the desperation, and the exploitation that are part of that life. Kids end up on the streets for several reasons. Some are orphans. Some have fled abuse or neglect. Some are on the streets during the day to earn money for their families and go home at night with food or supplies.

Samuel was born in 1990 in the northwestern part of Zambia. His father died before he was born, and his mother succumbed to TB when he was 6. He and his younger brother were taken in by their grandmother. There was not enough money to pay school fees, so he went out on the streets to sell matches and paraffin. His great-uncle then took him in so he could go to school. Unfortunately, the uncle drank heavily and mistreated him. After 8th grade, when he started to resist the beatings, the uncle threw him out ("chased him away" as they say here). On the street, he slept in the bus depot and tried to find odd jobs so he could feed himself. Some days he was hungry, and many days he was afraid. Someone told him about Victim Support, so he went there. They took him to Salem Children's Village, an orphanage. There he attended grades 9 and 10, but the orphanage ran out of funds and closed. A church offered him a place to sleep for awhile, and he encountered a missionary who helped find a sponsor to pay his school fees so he could finish grade 12. He passed all the national exams.

When I met him last year, he was living in a shed about the size of a typical bedroom. The shed was behind a house and contained a bed, a table, a chair, and all Samuel's belongings, mostly clothes and books and eating utensils. He had a goal, to go to Bible College. He said his faith is what has helped him survive and grow and he believes he can help others through becoming a pastor as well as through work with the Zambian Initiative for Youth Development. He felt the strong call to ministry when he was living in the orphanage.

Samuel's story could be told over and over here in Zambia. He was fortunate in not staying on the streets too long, and on finding sponsors and organizations to help him. There are many young people, equally talented, who are not so lucky. Their potential goes undeveloped. Their leadership capacity may be diverted into criminal activity if no other means of survival seems to exist. Every time I go into Kitwe to shop, I see the street kids begging. Some are high from sniffing petrol. Scuffles often break out as they compete for jobs guarding cars, unloading grocery carts, or washing windshields. Some have adapted so well to life on the streets that they resist efforts to put them into training programs. They like the freedom of the streets. But most never have a chance for any other life, since there are few services and many vulnerable children.

I helped Samuel with his application to Bible College. He was admitted and provided with a scholarship. He has done well in coursework and now is also going out to preach and teach at different churches on the weekends. He continues to work with the Zambian Initiative for Youth Development, as well. Go Samuel!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"No Woman Should Die..."

Caroline came by to tell me the sad and shocking news. One of the driver's wives (the group she is organizing for mutual aid) died in childbirth this week. The baby died, too. She wondered if I would like to contribute to the collection of funds for the family. The husband is left with four children to care for, the youngest only two years old. Because three of the four children are girls, and it is not considered suitable in this culture for a single father to raise girls alone, Caroline thought the children might have to go live with the grandmother.

This was not the first death in childbirth I had heard about, but the first where I had met the woman. The maternal mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa is more than twice as high as in other developing countries in different regions. The United Nations adopted a set of eight Millennium Development Goals to guide its work for the period 1990-2015. Countries were asked to sign on and to give priority to the goals in their budgets and their development plans. One of the eight goals is to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015. Zambia signed on and has succeeded in making some progress, although not enough. The rate was 750 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000, and today it is 591/100,000. Eight Zambian women die each day from pregnancy related causes. Infant mortality is significantly higher, with 48 newborns dying each day. Zambian women carry a lifetime risk of maternal death of 1:38.

Maternal mortality rates also include pregnant women whose death is related to abortion. Abortion is culturally unacceptable in Zambia. It is viewed by most people as sinful or even as murder. While medical abortion is legally available under certain limited conditions, it is a rare occurrence in clinics or hospitals. So some women die from botched or "backstreet" abortions. Many don’t die but suffer serious illness or disability. Newspaper articles have reported on women swallowing battery acid, taking herbs which turn out to be toxic, and being internally injured by other means to try to cause a miscarriage.

"No woman should die while giving life." This is the motto of a Zambian campaign to reduce the number of deaths that occur to women during pregnancy, delivery, and the month immediately following childbirth. The needs are many, especially for trained birth attendants and accessible clinics and hospitals. Only 47% of births happen with a skilled attendant present. Only 60% of pregnant women receive four prenatal visits with a health care provider. Few receive postpartum checkups. Early marriages are common in villages, and very young girls who become pregnant often experience prolonged and obstructed labor. One UNICEF report called the high rates of maternal mortality "the scandal of our times."

The maternal mortality rate is much higher in rural areas than in cities. There, medical facilities are often too far away to reach by walking, and transport is expensive or unavailable. One innovative project in a rural district in Zambia involves providing villages with sturdy bicycles to which a trailer is attached designed to carry the pregnant woman to the clinic when she is in labor. Another program is extending and improving the training and equipping of midwives.

Just for comparison, I looked up the figures for maternal mortality in the United States and was troubled by what I read. Thirty-nine countries have rates lower than ours, which is reported to be 17 per 100,000 live births in 2008. Our rate has been increasing; it was 12/100,000 in 1990. And it is four times as high for African-American women than for white women. So I would suggest that we have some work to do at home on this issue.

"No woman should die while giving life." Good goal to keep in mind as we look at our health care system in its brokenness and limitations. Of course, not all maternal deaths are preventable, but most are. And so we should.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Public Mourning

This week I have been learning something of Zambia's history. The second President of the Republic of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba, died and we are in a period of national mourning. BBC and the newspapers have been full of discussions of his life and legacy, a very mixed story.

Chiluba was the first president to win a multi-party election in Zambia. Formerly called Northern Rhodesia under British colonial rule, Zambia became independent in 1964. It was ruled for the next 27 years by one leader, Kenneth Kaunda, under a single-party system.

Kaunda established a strongly centralized government and closely guarded his power. He imprisoned Chiluba without charges when Chiluba, a labor leader, appeared to be gaining popularity as a political challenger. He campaigned against the corruption and autocracy rampant in the Kaunda administration.

Chiluba united a number of groups into the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). They forced Kaunda to hold an election in 1991, and Chiluba won with over 70% of the vote.

People had high hopes when he came to office. His election was hailed as a shining example of democracy in action in a continent where the norm was "imperial presidencies" of long duration. He was called a "Black Moses" and a "Liberator". His policies and initiatives at first brought an expansion of civil liberties. He drafted a constitution which included freedom of the press and freedom to form political parties. He worked to modernize and liberalize the economy.

This impressive set of reforms did not last, however. As one commentator put it, after a few years, Chiluba was no longer transforming the system, but instead, Chiluba was being transformed. He began to spend lavishly on his personal wardrobe and lifestyle, from public funds. Economic mismanagement and corruption began to re-emerge in the government. The accountability mechanisms outlined in the constitution he promulgated were not enforced. He began to act to suppress other politicians, often jailing opponents on trumped up charges. He even tried to get an amendment to the constitution as he was reaching his limit of two five-year terms, but a public outcry stopped him.

Comments I have heard here vary. Some honor the accomplishments of bringing in multi-party democracy and press freedom, with no mention of his appropriation of at least $50 million of public money for his personal use. There was a long trial at which the weak judicial system here acquitted him just this year, because the judge said that his well-documented excessive personal spending couldn't be proven to have been from government money. (Chiluba claimed that it was "personal gifts from admirers" whose identity he would not reveal.) Others condemn him not only for corruption, but also for failing to live up to his promises of strengthening democracy.

All over Africa, there are examples of leaders who stay in power for many years, either because the system allows it or because they manipulate the system. Some months ago there was a close election in Ivory Coast which the incumbent president lost. He then refused to leave office. He surrounded the presidential offices with military loyal to him, and the newly-elected president set up his administration in a hotel guarded by UN peacekeepers. It took months to get the old president out, even after world leaders and the United Nations all declared the election free and fair and the result clear.

I have been reading some analyses of the governance issues in Africa, and there seems to be a consensus that many nations do not have a balance of power between executive, judicial and legislative branches of government, with too much power in the presidency. Decision-making and implementation is controlled at the national level and not shared with districts/states/regions. Many countries don't fully recognize freedom of the press, and they suppress dissenting viewpoints. Recently in Zimbabwe and Uganda, members of opposition parties have been thrown in jail for criticizing the government or leading peaceful demonstrations. Civil society institutions are weak, and people feel powerless because there is so little transparency and accountability in the government structures.

All of this is to say that while I am quite critical of America right now--both our foreign policy and the way in which our domestic policy decisions have increased inequality and eroded community--nonetheless, I definitely see some of the strengths of our system. Of course, we are better in concept than in practice, like every human institution. But I do appreciate our strong constitution and bill of rights and our balance of powers. And the opportunities to practice advocacy and to work for change.

I hope we can see more of that in Zambia.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Drivers' Wives, Unite!

Caroline, a Zambian friend, invited me to a meeting last Saturday. (She's the one who has taken in 12 orphans and cares for them along with her own family.) She asked if I would bake a chocolate sheet cake to take along, and said she would come to accompany me since otherwise I might never find the place.

She was right. The meeting was in the small space between two houses in a compound called Chimwemwe, which means "Happiness" in Bemba. I never could have found it in a taxi, so Jenny drove us there. She had intended to come to the meeting, too, but had a conflict. So she just helped with transport.

We had chairs and mats to sit on, a tree to shade us, and music from a stereo set. About twenty women were there and about double that number of children and youths. As soon as Caroline and I arrived, she led the women in a cheer: "Drivers' Wives, UNITE!"

This was a meeting of the Association of Drivers' Wives, a self-help, mutual aid organization Caroline has initiated. Their first purpose is to set up a fund to assist the women and children who are widowed and orphaned when a driver dies in a road accident. They also plan to help families pay for health care, and ultimately to create a cooperative loan fund the members could tap into when they want to start an income-generating project. There is no universal Social Security system here in Zambia, or even worker's compensation or unemployment insurance. People are on their own, or cared for by family or friends when in need. So mutual aid associations are a means to share some of the risks of life and supplement the resources of the family.

The Association of Drivers' Wives has an ambitious long-term agenda with their goal of creating a fund big enough to meet crisis needs and eventually also to support a revolving fund for seed money for members' small businesses. For today, our purpose was to get a progress report on the work of becoming a registered, chartered organization, and to celebrate with prayer, singing, dancing, and the traditional "brai" luncheon: roasted chicken, rice, relish, potatoes, coleslaw, and, of course, the cake for dessert. We managed to make one cake feed everyone--bigger pieces for the adults, bite-size portions for the children. Reminded me of the feeding of the five thousand...

There was competitive dancing between the teenage girls, daughters of the members, to see who could do the traditional dances best. The mothers couldn't help but join in, and finally even I had to attempt dancing, too. I think you have to start as a young child to master the hip and waist movement that is the heart of the dancing here. Everyone applauded my effort, but I think they were being kind to the Muzungu.

And, as I have learned to expect, I was asked to offer words of encouragement to the women in their efforts to organize themselves and raise money for their self-help activities. This was easy to do, since their enthusiasm and hard work were evident in this event. I was impressed with their strength and their hope.

We concluded with the chant, repeated like a cheer, "Drivers' Wives, UNITE!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Potions and Prayers

Are you a woman afflicted with "bareness"? Or maybe you have a family member who is "bewited"? Do you have things moving in your body? Are you after more "man power" ? Do you need help selling property or attracting business or bringing back a lost lover in 24 hours, no less!? (It seems to take 28 hours to bring back stolen property, however.) Do you need to have bad spells removed from your business or home? I'm not sure if this is the same as "body, house, and property cleansing," but that service is also offered. Illnesses such as cancer, blood pressure, TB, HIV/AIDS, skin problems, body pains, and madness are also on the list.

All of these conditions, and many more, are treated by people who call themselves "herbalist healers" or practitioners of "African, Indian, Arabic and Chinese Medicine." Some of them offer guarantees. The initial consultation fee is 20,000 Kwachas (about $5), but I don't know what the treatments cost. These traditional healers advertise their services in flyers passed out on the streets of Kitwe. The examples I have cited above are direct quotes from these ads.

Dr. Ojaku "has got herbs from Nigeria and in the tropical forests of Africa" and as well he will be "telling you your problems using Spiritual Powers and the Rock." Dr. Organ Lwazi is associated with the "Herbal Joint Research Under World Medical Clinic Research Centre", as is Dr. Isa.

The list of issues for which treatment is offered, as contained in the advertising, gives an indication of what people are stressed about here in Zambia. They seem to fall into three categories: body/health problems, love/relationship problems, and business/economic problems. I suspect that many of the issues in the first two categories are similar to what people might consult doctors and mental health professionals about in the U.S., but I doubt that many of us take our business or financial concerns to healers.

From the lists on the ads, health issues specific to women center on fertility, and men's issues on sexual performance. Particular relationship problems mentioned include dealing with jealousy between spouses or neighbors, getting and keeping lovers/mates, overcoming misunderstandings, preventing your mate from cheating, and getting your boyfriend/girlfriend to marry you. (Zambians seem to favor engagement periods that last sometimes for several years.) Dealing with hatred and 'spells" (witchcraft?) was also featured on the lists. In the area of business and finance, the herbal specialists promise help with attracting customers, selling property, having good luck, finding and keeping jobs, getting promotions, winning court cases, and starting enterprises. The one service I found that related to kids was help with passing exams.

As an alternative to these traditional healers, some churches offer "deliverance" services or ceremonies. These are designed to deal with the same problems listed above, plus such issues as being troubled by nightmares or disturbing thoughts, or being possessed by demonic spirits. They consist of vigorous prayers and "laying on of hands", punctuated by singing and dancing. Some of my students have attended such observances and report that many people are helped by the interventions.

Personally, I'm sticking to "an apple a day" and positive thinking--seems to work for me!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Come, sisters, let's put a little wiggle in our walk!

Friday afternoon this past week we went to the Kitwe Copperbelt Agriculture and Technology Exhibition, or what in the U.S. we would call a county fair.

In a lot of ways it was like the county fairs I have attended in the past. There were competitions for the biggest and best produce grown by different farmers. (It's amazing how huge some pumpkins can grow--but here they are cream-colored, not orange. People cook the leaves as greens, as well as eating chunks of pumpkin as a vegetable.) Farm machinery was on display. Kids could get their faces painted and buy cotton candy, popcorn, and fritters. Nurseries had acres of plants for sale. There were pony rides and bicycle trick competitions and many marching bands in their full dress uniforms, complete with baton twirlers.

For amusement there was a live snake and crocodile house with lots of interesting specimens, an arena with rotating entertainment acts, competitive break dancing, clowns with balloons, and more.

For education we visited halls with materials about cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, malaria and other diseases, information about the work of NGOs on gender and development, centers on environmental issues, displays of medicinal plants, and various government-sponsored exhibits. We enjoyed seeing the art gallery which had an exhibition of drawings and paintings by children from various schools.

Vendors were selling many different items, including fresh and prepared food, tools, toys, clothing imported from different Asian and African countries, plants, sports equipment, and animals. One snack stand reminded me of the Oscar Meyer “wienermobile” that used to tour around America. Instead of a car shaped like a hot dog, it was a kiosk shaped like a Coke bottle on its side, with a window in the middle to sell the drinks.

We visited a hall sponsored by the area prison, where they had exhibits describing their programs and services. They were also selling items made by inmate workers in the prison industry at that institution, as well as crafts produced by individual prisoners on their own. I bought a doormat and even met the woman who had designed and made it.

Since it was a school day, many nursery school and primary level classes were there from different schools on field trips. In Zambia all school children wear uniforms, so these school groups made big splashes of color wherever they went. I watched one group which appeared to include the entire school, one grade behind the next like stairsteps. The uniform for each grade had a small variation--a different colored sash or style shirt so you could tell the grades apart, but the basic color scheme was the same, and there must have been over 100 kids there in their lemon yellow and tangerine accented outfits.

Speaking of clothing, members of political parties, or supporters of specific candidates, often advertise their preferences with wearing apparel. In addition to custom tee-shirts (which are not so common here), the outstanding article of political attire is the chitenge (2 yards of fabric used as a wrap-around skirt) with the image of the candidate in huge medallions all over the cloth. I saw many supporters of Rupiah Banda, the incumbent President, at the fair in their political chitenges. Some of the women had quite broad backsides, giving plenty of exposure to his smiling face!

We left at dusk with new plants for our gardens, educational materials for our classes, and a handmade basket and doormat. I had learned about some vegetables and grains I had never encountered before, and my mind was filled with a collage of colorful images for my memory bank. It was a good day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

spare wheels and side dishes

I just read an excellent article by Jim Wallis (of Sojourner's magazine) about some of the powerful men in America and elsewhere--politicians, sports figures, celebrities, and CEOs--who have been in the news for their disrespectful, abusive and denigrating behavior toward the women in their lives. The revelations have included extramarital relationships, sexual harassment, assault, and more. And yet these men generally maintain their positions in business, politics, and entertainment and seem to suffer few consequences for their actions. Jim Wallis calls for men, as well as women, to speak out forcefully against these abuses. If you are interested in reading his commentary, go to, his blog. It is also on the Sojourners' web site.

Here in southern Africa we hear of "side dishes" and "spare wheels"--the girlfriend a married man may have in addition to his wife. Women bemoan the frequency of this occurrence. They acknowledge that many women stay with their husbands despite these relationships because of economic dependency or religious teachings about divorce.

In addition to these extramarital affairs, another common experience for women is initiation into sexual activity by older men. Teenage girls are frequently seduced, enticed, pressured or forced into sexual encounters, often resulting in pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

These patterns of behavior--early initiation into sex and husbands who are unfaithful--contribute substantially to the incidence of HIV/AIDS among women here. In the age group 15-24, the rate of infection is actually higher for women than it is for men.

The point Jim Wallis made in his commentary about disrespect for and abuse of women was that men must speak up and condemn this behavior. Women regularly respond to such problems by complaining, confiding, and expressing their outrage. Sometimes they organize, as in the "take back the night" movement. He points out that men are less likely to do so.

Here in Zambia I have noticed such matter-of-fact and casual references to the prevalence of girlfriends on the side that it almost sounds like expected, even acceptable, behavior. Unless this attitude changes, the practice will not change. Cultural customs are difficult to confront and challenge, but they can and do change with organized movements and persistent effort. We can begin at home with the socialization of our sons and daughters. And we can speak up to condemn behavior that demeans and harms the dignity of women, whoever is the perpetrator and however common it may seem.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Should I be concerned about the ants in my computer?

Maybe I have eaten cookies too close to my laptop's keyboard, and a few crumbs have fallen between the keys. That's the only explanation I can come up with to account for the invasion of the tiny ants into my computer. And without a vacuum cleaner, I'm not sure how to suck up the crumbs, let alone the insects. Fortunately the ants seem to be a seasonal occurrence, so in a few weeks they may disappear. Meantime, I have troops of ants marching around in my computer.

These tiny ants also somehow manage to get into the boiled water while it is cooling. And they are so exceptionally tiny that they are visible, but hard to fish out. So I have told the kids, as I give them drinks, that it is okay to drink a few ants--they add protein to their diet.

This week I have been thinking about my "only in Zambia" experiences. These might happen in other places, but my encounters have been here. I'll share a few.

Some of the women from church told me one day that there is a Bible study every Friday afternoon for our zone. They wanted me to know that I would be welcome to attend, someone would translate from Bemba for me. I told them I would come whenever I could, and wrote it in my calendar. So the next Friday, I walked to church, where a few women were beginning to gather. They greeted me warmly. Then the women who had invited me to come asked if I would like to lead the Bible study. "Today?" I asked. They nodded. I don't know if the intended leader was ill or if they felt asking me to present was a polite thing to do. I thought the best response was yes. Was there a particular Scripture for the study? Apparently not, I could choose. I decided that my strength for a spur-of-the-moment topic was forgiveness, so I chose several passages and led a discussion of its importance, value, and difficulty of in our lives. Various people shared; forgiveness is always a juicy topic.

Similarly, as an "invited guest" at a fundraiser or other festive occasion, I have been asked unexpectedly to make a few remarks or to "give a word of encouragement." Now I try to remember to come prepared.

Few people keep pets here. There are stray cats that wander around the campus, at their own risk. Cats, especially black cats, are seen as symbols of witchcraft or of evil. Children might throw stones at them. A small black cat started coming by my door, and since I spoke kindly to him, he adopted me. I decided not to try to make him a house cat, but just to feed him at the back door. After awhile, I began to try to pet him. As soon as he saw me move my arm, he would run and hide, afraid of being hit. It has taken months to win his confidence, but he will only come to be stroked when no one else is near. The belief in witchcraft persists in Zambia, even among educated urban dwellers, and cats suffer for it. So do widows. Often the relatives of the husband will accuse the widow of killing her husband by poison or witchcraft. Of course, this allegation helps to justify their repossession of all of the late husband's belongings and property. This situation exists in many developing countries, not only in Zambia.

Here, it is common for people to drop by for a friendly visit at any time of the day or evening, without advance notice, and sometimes with no particular purpose except to greet you and talk for a few minutes. It reminds me of when I was a child living out in the country, where people might come by on a Sunday afternoon to sit and chat. Only in Zambia, though, have I had visitors at 6 am, even once on a Saturday. Those early birds have generally been students with a request or a purpose. They have morning prayers at 5 am some mornings, so I guess most of them are dressed and ready to go at daybreak.

One of my favorite "only in Zambia" experiences is the spontaneous dancing in church. If the choir is singing a favorite praise song in Bemba, with a strong beat, some of the women, older as well as younger, will spill into the aisles and begin to dance. The spirited movement, and the ululations, are testimony to their openness and their joy. I am aware of how often my inhibitions prevent me from doing something expressive, and I try to learn from these women.

Living in a different culture is a constantly enriching experience. I recommend it to other retirees!