Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lessons from an Avocado Tree

One day shortly after my arrival in Zambia I was chatting with my neighbor, Jenny, in my back yard. She observed that it was a shame my avocado tree didn't produce fruit. I was surprised to learn that I had an avocado tree. My acquaintance with how avocados grew came from sprouting their seeds in an effort to grow house plants in the distant past. I had not recognized that one of the many trees in my yard, along with those bearing mangos and guavas, was a tall, leafy, but barren avocado tree.

The next day I spoke with Moses, who tends my garden. We looked at the tree and saw that it needed care. It was receiving no water in the dry season. That day we dug a trench around it and gave it water. Moses thought compost might help nourish the ground around it, so he added compost to the soil. Some weeks later when he was using chicken manure to fertilize another part of the garden, he included the avocado tree in his treatment.

With time, the tree began to bear fruit. Lots of fruit. We picked the low-hanging fruit, some avocados fell off the tree and we gathered them up, and sometimes Moses climbed the tree to get the high fruit before it fell. I had avocados to eat and avocados to share. There is a family here at MEF with a child with disabilities who follows a special diet including avocados, so I became a major supplier for their needs. When students asked, I gave them avocados to add to their meals.

As I reflected on the avocado tree, it seemed to me there was a lesson to be learned. Any living thing that is neglected and not nourished may stop producing fruit. In our own spiritual life, if we take no time for meditation, singing, reading sacred texts, praying, or following other practices that nourish our souls, we can become lost and dry. The hopeful part of the message is that even a little attention and nurture may renew and restore us.

Another lesson came from the avocado tree. One day recently, Moses asked if I had given permission for someone to harvest most of the fruit that was still on the tree. I said no. He asked me to look at the tree. Indeed, all of the low-hanging avocados were gone--quite a few, in fact. Moses said he had seen one of the casual workers from MEF that morning, selling avocados in the Nakadole Market. He suspected they were from my tree. My first reaction was to be angry that someone stole my avocados. Then I thought about the fact that fruit trees are often seen here as community property, especially if they are not behind a fence or a wall. My tree is on the edge of the yard, close to a path used by many people. And I also realized that the money that came from the sale in the market was probably needed for school fees or other family expenses. The worker might even have interpreted my sharing of the avocados with many neighbors as permission to participate in the bounty of my now fruitful tree.

And there is still the high fruit yet to be harvested... What a great tree!

Friday, March 11, 2011


Zambia commemorates two national holidays in the same week in their calendar: International Women's Day (March 8) and International Youth Day (March 12). Just as last year, we observed these days with special chapel services at MEF, and there were parades and demonstrations in Kitwe in which many students, workers, and staff participated. A neighbor with a television set reported seeing some of us at the Women's Day parade on the local news.

This year, MEF hosted a workshop on gender-based violence in conjunction with International Women's Day. Usually this topic is the focus of two-week training sessions for which there is a substantial registration fee. This workshop was free and open to the entire campus. It was a fitting way to celebrate the holiday.

I planned to write a litany for our chapel service, but while online to look something up, I found all the ideas I wanted to include in a litany already developed for the occasion by a UN-related ecumenical group. We found it so meaningful that I would like to share it with all of you.

A Litany of Truth
.... As women we come to refute untruths, to challenge injustices, to confront oppressive structures that bind us. We, therefore, are called to declare the following truths:

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that women should feel and experience that being a woman is of secondary value to the community.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that women are created women, the image of God, co-workers with God in caring for life, in struggling for the liberation of humanity and for a world order that respects each one’s dignity.

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that land has to be robbed from women and their communities by transnational, profit-hungry companies.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that the earth belongs to the living God and God’s people belong to the earth.

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that women–and men–must remain divided by sexism, racism, economic injustices and imperialism.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that all women and men are called to be in solidarity with each other’s struggle for dignity and justice, to learn from one another and to challenge one another as sisters and brothers in critical and prophetic solidarity.

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that becoming a refugee is an acceptable and inevitable situation for millions of women and their children.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that the whole people of God is called to denounce militarism, to challenge the root causes of poverty in the name of God of Hagar, who as a refugee was the first person who dared to give God a name.

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that women should accept rape and incest, battering and humiliation, as the fate of women.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that Jesus Christ has come into the world to heal the broken community between women and men, to restore our sense of self, dignity and inclusion.

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that young girls should not be given the opportunity to learn how to read, to write, and how to analyze the developments of their countries.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that everyone is called to respond to the gift of life and to the needs of our community with all our heart, all our soul and all our reason.

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that sexual slavery, bondage and prostitution cannot be counteracted or eliminated.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that Jesus Christ has come into the world to overturn the tables of injustice, that women and men, empowered by the Holy Spirit, should challenge poverty and patriarchal culture.

One voice: IT IS NOT TRUE that women and men cannot live in mutual and just relationships, respecting one another’s integrity and personhood.

All: THIS IS TRUE: that God the Creator has given us the responsibility and trust to care for all of creation in humility and faithfulness, to work and to love as co-creators of God.

HOLY LIVING GOD, The day and the night whisper your name And sparrows proclaim your glory. Make us, by grace, the winds of justice and the flames of peace in the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Anna Karin Hammar and Jean Sindab
Into Action: A Resource for Participation in the Ecumenical Decade
Churches in Solidarity with Women

Monday, March 7, 2011

May I see your license, please?

Until recently, every time I was in a private vehicle going to town, we had to stop at a moveable police road stop along the way. Usually we were waved through, but we noticed that others were sometimes detained. The purpose of the road block was not clear, it just seemed to materialize and be in operation some days, and not on others.

Now we have learned that such road blocks have been discontinued except when there is a specific reason to set it up. Why? They were revealed to be a mechanism for extorting bribes if the police could find some fault or defect with the vehicle or the driver. A number of traffic police had become quite wealthy from the system.

BBC reported recently that a survey conducted in developing countries identified corruption as the most important issue on people's minds. Certainly it has been in the news here in Zambia. This was especially true when international funding agencies withheld $300 million in grants for combating malaria and other diseases because the Health Ministry could not account for how last year's grant was spent.

Transparency International defines corruption as "abuse of entrusted power for private gain." Every year they produce a report providing a numerical value representing the perceived corruption in 175 of the world's countries. If a country receives a rating close to 10, they would be considered "highly clean". The Scandinavian countries and New Zealand receive ratings near that standard. A zero rating signifies a country perceived as "highly corrupt."
Zambia's 2010 rating is 3.0. USA's is 7.0. Three-quarters of the countries included in the list fall below a rating of 5, so corruption is quite a persistent problem in most of the world. It can be found in public works and construction projects, defense and arms contracts, and other areas of large government spending. Practices such as nepotism, political patronage, and bribery abound.

Zambia has an anti-corruption agency, but a weak legal system to back it up. Ordinary citizens seem resigned to corruption as an evil that cannot be stopped. We have not seen street demonstrations here as have been happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, but at least one newspaper has called for Zambians to organize to protest corruption and demand better governance. I wonder how much more investment in education Zambia could afford if corruption were reduced. It's an expensive phenomenon, worthy of a campaign to confront it.

And what about America? A rating of 7 is nothing to be proud of. What can we do to become "cleaner"?