Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Birthday in Africa

I had a very unique and privileged experience to have my birthday in Africa. The eve of my birthday we had been in town where the leaders bought a huge chocolate cake which was a pleasant surprise after dinner. Then I went to sleep and woke up on one of the prettiest campsites of the whole safari. We woke up on the side of the Zambezi River. Then shortly after I woke up I was bombarded with all my friends who had made me lovely birthday cards. Ahead of us was a long drive to Mongu. On our way we stopped at a gorgeous waterfall which was a nice way to start my birthday. When we finally arrived in Mongu it turns out we were going to stay in a hotel. I had originally planned with several other ladies to not shower for the whole trip but when we were staying in a hotel I thought it was a sign that I should probably shower. First we walked around the small town on Mongu where Nick bought me a huge cream filled doughnut where I stuck in candles that my mom put in a package for me. Everyone gathered around me outside my hotel room and sang Happy Birthday to me. To cap off my birthday I had a lovely and refreshing shower. Then I went to sleep.

Love everyone back home and will probably tackle you when I see you!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Hospice then Shoes...Shoes...and More Shoes

So, today we started off by buying supplies for goody bags for patients at the Hospice. On the drive to the Hospice we began making the goody bags via supply line. Before we knew it all 2o bags were complete. Then we had gotten extra goodies for Peter the boy with T.B of the spine whom we had been communicating with in between visits. Once we arrived we were welcomed by several Sisters. We then met the infamous Peter; he is in a wheelchair and is almost 17 but in 7th grade. We were then divided into two groups to visit all twenty patients in the Hospice. First I went to go visit the women patients. First I met a woman named Precious who had been in the Hospice for 3 months and had four children as well as had a foster child. She was sitting in her bed and had immense trouble moving as well. Then I moved to the opposite side of the room where there was an extremely gaunt looking woman who liked around the age of 50 and was withering away; she spoke not a single word or English and hardly any of the nurses understood a word she was saying. It turns out that her story was that she had a stroke as well as she had been found in a ditch starving herself to death. They took her in to help save her life, from what they had discovered she has no family to stay with and basically no one out there for her.
The stories we heard were extremely depressing and made your heart sink. I wanted to help everyone and say that they would be better but I didn't want to give them false hope. I tried to keep myself composed throughout our visit but on the drive to the clinic I fell asleep. When I woke up outside of the gates to the Clinic was a wave of children who had hopeful faces to receive shoes. We went into the Clinic where I met Sister Grace for the second time. This portion of the trip the shoe give away I had been organizing with Sydney for a few months before the trip began. I was so excited to watch all of work be paid of with a large group of happy children. Sister Grace had invited about 40 needy children who needed shoes to walk to school. We set up the shoes in a matter of 10 or so minutes and in less than 10 minutes. Though after helping a few children find shoes that they fit into like Cinderella and her glass slipper. There were no more small shoes left and tons of small feet wanting and needing shoes. We did not have enough shoes for all of the kids who needed shoes. I was more than willing to take the shoes off of my feet if a kid needed my size. No kid needed my size and I felt so badly that I couldn't help but then I had to remind myself that I had helped many more with all the shoes we were able to give away. Once all the shoes had been given away all of the children still waited outside of the clinic doors some with happy faces and some with extremely sad faces. I wish I could have seen a crowd of all happy faces I wish we had been able to give all of the children shoes; but the reality was that we couldn't but at least we helped some. After, we walked through the wave of children we began our walk home surrounded by tons of children. On the walk I was able to unwind and take account of a very intense day.


P.S. Love all you back home...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Munali vs. Chelston

I would like to tell you all back home about apparent differences between the two high schools that we have taught at over these past few weeks. Munali Boys and Girls High school was made up of a bunch of rectangular structures, all connected by dirt paths, that within 20 or more students were crammed into with their faces buried into their notebooks. Not only have i never seen such dedication and such intense drive to ones education but the pride they took in their education was astounding. Chelstone was a totally different experience for me. I don't know why i thought that Chelstone was going to be exactly like Munali, because i was totally wrong. The Facilities overall were nicer and larger, but the student body had a totally different attitude about them. The Chelstone students were a lot more relaxed in class as well as out of class, unlike at Munali we were not approached as much as were were at Munali by students with tons of questions about life in the States. Please excuse my grammer mistakes its about 9:40pm and i am very tired. Although this is my first post of the trip please expect that it will not be my last.
Have a great day friends and Family back home. We all miss you very much

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Matebeto with Birdland on Sat. June 28th

I would like to record about the Matebeto (Thanksgiving) we attended on Saturday June 28th, even thought Margot already wrote a comment on that day. I had written a personal journal entry online about the day, and thought I would put it up on the blog.
What the Zambians call a “Matebeto" is in essence a Thanksgiving, hosted by Olive and rest of the staff of the Birdland school. They held this celebration to thank the group I am with here in Zambia for the computer training we have provided to them as well as the many donations and fundraising we have done for them.
We arrived a little early, and entered their school yard to see chairs and parasols set up in a semi circle, with a long low table in front of several of the chairs in which Melinda and the rest of the trip leaders were asked to seat themselves. The table in a way framed the leaders apart from the rest of us, giving reason for Peter and some of the other leaders to later allude to the fact that they felt a little awkward in such a position.
We sat in the yard as parents of Birdland students, friends of Olive, and other members of the community or schools of the area trickled in through the iron gate and found a place to sit. If we were smart we had already lathered ourselves in sun screen. I felt SO underdressed in my corduroy pants as women wearing dresses of colorful prints entered the yard. Olive came in beautiful as always in a green and black two part dress with her hair high up in a bun (she had clearly gotten it styled for the event). I know that Olive and her staff had been preparing the meal and planning for the Matebeto the entire week beforehand. They had even made dresses of the same print for all the women on the staff.
As we waited, Miranda got up and walked to a circle of about six or seven women near the back of the school house. These women had been playing drums and singing for already a while, and Miranda had gathered up the guts to approach the women and ask if they would teach her to dance. They immediately adorned her with a waist wrap (I believe this is to accentuate the bootay from the rest of the body so that it moves as a unit when dancing) and began to show her the ways to twist and jerk her hips by rhythmically raising one of her feet at the appropriate moments. The traditional Zambian dancing style is rather discreet, but very precise (the hips and feet move right on beat with the drums!).
We shared another AWESOME moment with the drumming and dancing women after the meal when Sydney came up to the drummers of the group and asked to play the drums. I jumped right up and followed Sydney when I saw that she had a drum between her legs, as I have been trying to reap any opportunity for some drumming lessons (I did so a week ago outside the Church off the Palabana road). It was so fun to pump out the bass rhythm for the dancing women in front of me…even for two minutes.
Through this all, a woman from the tuck shop that shares the walls of the school yard (a tuck shop is like a little convenience shop with candies and drinks) came and took orders for “softies” (soft drinks).
So the meal….The staff of the school, all in their matching wonderful dresses, and led by one of the best dancers from the drum circle, came into the yard from the back of the school building where the kitchen had been set up. They danced and sang their way to the low long table in front of Melinda, Peter, Olive, Mindy, and Nick, where they slowly kneeled, each woman holding out a pot or dish in her hands, which they placed on the ground in front of the table before retreating. Two women remained and picked up each dish one by one and presented the contents to us. Included in the HUGE array of foods was: n’shima, rice, beans cooked two ways, pumpkin leaves cooked two different ways, pumpkin seeds roasted the way we do in the States for Halloween, sweet potato leaves, roasted peanuts, mushrooms cooked with ground nuts and two other ways, okra, spinach relish, red bean relish, ox liver, ox heard, fried chicken, bush meat (gorilla? see note), fried fish heads and bodies (take your pick!), dried fish, fish soup, cassava (charred, boiled, or dried), “Zambian bologna” (a meat-less dish made of ground roots which only looks like our bologna), wild fruits of the region, and…drum roll…caterpillars!
I have tried bugs before (ants and crickets in a Seattle Science Center “Science Night” sleepover when I was in grade school) but I don’t remember eating insects in a meal setting. The caterpillars were very chewy and bitter. I think I would have liked them better had they been fried and crunchy.
Note on the Bush meat: As we sat and contemplated the array of foods and textures on our plates, one question of many arose: what exactly IS bush meat? Cody was close to positive that it was gorilla meat. I somehow doubted that the staff at Birdland would be serving us gorilla, as it is probably not readily available to anyone in the city without special delivery of sorts, on top of the fact that I do believe gorillas are a protected animal in much of Africa (?). Alex, a friend back home, had told me that the national dish of Zambia is monkey (even though I have not heard this as the truth from any Zambians. Where did you get this information, Alex?), so perhaps bush meat could be gorilla meat. However, after inquiring, we learned that this specific bush meat was impala. Bush meat can be anything killed in the bush, but varies upon ones location.
All this food was presented to us and we were asked to stand and form a line in the front of the school house where three or four long tables had been aligned to support all the dishes. We took a plate and began what had to be a very selective rationing of the food. There was no way anyone could fit everything on their plates, so what some kids like Cody did was take a bit of anything he had never tried before (which, it turns out, was pretty close to everything). Other kids, like Cheray, knew their own tastes and stuck to the foods they knew best and knew they would eat. I managed to take a little of everything minus the meat dishes because I knew that I would have trouble eating them (for digestive reasons). Albeit, I DID try some of the chicken and fish from other kids after we had sat down and people realized they had much too much food on their plates. A charred taste underlay most of the food, maybe due to the fact that it had been cooked over the same charcoal. When I smell the charcoal burning here I am reminded of the taste of the food.
I could keep writing about this Matebeto and the discussion it spurned afterwards among our group, but it would take up pages and pages. In short, we were pushed to think about the impact we are having on Olive, Birdland, and the other people we are helping. We talked about the differences in the ways people around the world thank each other, and that giving us a feast was the way in which these people could thank us, even if it meant stretching their wallets. They may not have anything other than their generosity in heart and open arms to thank us with. We also discussed the guiltiness many of the group members felt after not being able to finish all the food on their plates, especially when we had been enjoying this feast squat in the middle of one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Lusaka. All in all, though, we reached the conclusion that we cannot feel too guilty about not eating the food. While we can offer our knowledge of computers and our willingness to help, these wonderful Zambians can offer their homes and their great food, which is just as fulfilling and stimulating. We were unable to express how thankful we were for THEIR thankfulness toward us!

Minister of Education and Fabric Shopping

Today we had the pleasure of meeting the Minister of Education in Zambia. First he asked our opinions on what we thought of Zambia and the effect the country has had on us. We all went around the table in the over-sized conference room. My opinion of the country thus far was that everyone in the schools we taught have such a drive to learn. If they have something within their reach they will try to achieve many things in life. I have never met so many kids who spend their free time practicing the new skills they learned. Then the Minister of Education told us his plan for all of the schools. He told us that he hoped to be able to provide a majority of the schools with the ability to access laptops as well as the internet. His hopes were quite high for the circumstances which they are in, seeing how hopeful he was created a sense of a possible achievement of attaining all of his goals. He seemed to have a reasonable plan to achieving his goals which is not saying that it would be easy. It was such a pleasure to have been able to meet him and be able to ask him questions. Then we continued onto our next part of the day the...FABRIC SHOP!
Then we continued onto Safique's Fabric Shop. Once we arrived fabric was hanging every possible point; from the ceiling and all over the walls. I immediately saw the fabric that I wanted for my clothes that our tailor Elizabeth would make. My fabric has purple and yellow X flowers all over the fabric. I decided to make pajama bottoms out of the fabric. The people throughout the fabric shop were extremely helpful in terms of telling us how much fabric we would need to make the outfits we wanted. Then we went to Birdland to meet Elizabeth who would make our clothes. As soon as we walked through the Birdland gates we were bombarded with little kids. Then we had a long line for the tailor to take our measurements as well as the piece of clothing we wanted made. I hope my pajama pants turn out well but I have faith in our tailor!

Love y'all back home!
P.S. Happy Early Birthday Padre!!!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stepping away from the group for an evening...

I have finally been able to begin to dabble in what real life in Lusaka means. We spend most of our days here busing back and forth from our home base, Pioneer Camp on the East end of the city limits, and one of the three schools we are working with.
After having traveled on my own since my last Zambia trip with SAAS in 2004 (when I was an incoming high school Junior) and having learned that the world is at my finger tips and accessible when I want it to be, I have come to Zambia this time with a more independent outlook. I want to see more of the city, more of the night life, more of where the real Zambians live and actually ride public transportation. I guess I am craving a more spontaneous traveling experience.
So on Wednesday night of last week (the 25th of June) I took initiative and decided to go out for the night with Heidi. She used to teach at high-school but has lived in Lusaka for almost two years as a sponsored volunteer to help local schools and organizations develop more sustainable computer and internet programs, rather than depending on the consistent help of outside donors or air (such as, ironically, our SAAS group now). It turns out that the Indian food here is comparable if not better than some of the Indian food found in Seattle. I don’t know why I would assume otherwise, actually. We ARE closer to India here.We went to a play titled "Two Maids and a Street Vendor" by a Zimbabwean director. The two women actresses from Zambia and the male, a Sudanese refugee, performed little snippets of what modern Zambian life is like (the chit chat between women, the interactions among romantic partners...).
I told Heidi that I had wanted to watch the German-Turkey semi-finals game of the Euro Cup 2008. (YAY DEUTSCHLAND!) Turns out some of her friends were watching it at a German bar somewhere in Lusaka so we joined them. Yes this was a German bar full of whites, probably people working with aid organizations around Lusaka, but it allowed me to see that there are communities and networks of people who are accessible to people like me who are interested yet somewhat unsure as to how to go about integrating into the life of a foreign city, especially in a third-world country very different in social norms and culture than Seattle or anywhere I have lived. And yes, these people are NOT Zambians, but they have found ways to feel comfortable and safe and “at home” in a place that is so foreign to me. This I find admirable. I want to let go of that fear…. And I will be challenged in one week when I will be here alone for 10 days while the rest of the school group goes on a safari trip. Sadly there was no place for me on the trip because I signed up late, but this will give me an opportunity to branch out and be on my own agenda. Jeanette, a friend of Heidi, invited me to go dancing tomorrow night with a group of people, but I will remain with the group until they go on safari.
It was SUCH a great experience to go out with Heidi, even if it was only one night. As we drove on the Great East highway through the city in her car (steering wheels on the right side), watched puppies being sold like newspapers by men walking up and down the aisles of traffic-jammed lines of cars, and entered the residential neighborhoods and the barricaded homes and living complexes, I was finally getting a sense that this is a real place that will continue moving when I am gone and has its own rhythm. It is really easy to see “Zambia” (or any place one travels to on vacation or for service or for whatever short-termed reason) as a month-long excursion, or blip in time and space. But the more pieces of a place I see, the more comfortable I feel being in said place. I feel sheltered and ignorant if I only see the outskirts of the city and not the chaos of the inner city, for example, or if I only experience buying my groceries in the huge supermarkets with white-skinned managers rather than buying my produce in the morning markets from the local ladies. I want to SEE and HEAR, at least, everything I can, even if I will never really know how it feels to be so poor I cannot afford lunch for my family or a mattress for my child (I have heard SO many stories like these, and many much worse, from the primary school kids i have been interviewing as part of my work here) or even if I don’t know what it feels like to have to live in a housing community that is guarded at night by an armed watchman because of theft and threat of security (more common here than in my living arrangements in Seattle or Bellingham).
I am here now and I better take advantage of learning about one more part of the world first-hand. I will have plenty more opportunities to make this trip my own experience as well as a group experience. As for now, I am proud of my increasing independence and I hope I have the courage to push myself in my 10 days alone here. (!!!)The people here are so warm and open, and it is rubbing off on me. I feel so peaceful most of the time here… I want to do what feels the most right for me, and to take every chance to do something a little new, or whatever it is that feels best at any given moment. This can lead to internal conflict, because there are always so many things to potentially do...Ill just take it at my own pace then!

Sunday, June 29th - Day to Relax!

Because today is Sunday we all got to relax and take a break from our hectic schedule. At about one o’clock today James, Rachel and their families came over for and early dinner. James and Rachel run the computer labs at Munali High school. They brought their spouses and their babies, Earl and Jahoash. Everyone had so much fun playing with the babies outside and talking with James and Rachel. For dinner Cheray made lasagna, which was amazing, and we also had cornbread, coleslaw, baked beans, and corn on the cob. And for dessert we had chocolate cake. Overall the day was some much fun and it was a very nice time to unwind and relax.
- Laura