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!