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!