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.

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