Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Well, we've seen a whole new side of Zambia this weekend. We left Kitwe on Thursday after some fond farewells to our hosts, Uncle Eddy and Aunty Sue, at the guesthouse. Uncle Eddy presented Jason with a traditional African shirt complete with silver trim and front pockets, and Aunty Sue's daughter made me a welcome mat for our front door that says "Welcome to Zambia" in the colors of the Zambian flag. I love it...it's awesome. We set out with our friend, Blessings, and drove the 10 hours to Livingstone. It's very touristy and busy...expensive compared to the way we have been living, but also really, incredibly beautiful. We rented two tents with cots and bedding so Jason and Blessings shared a tent and the boys and I shared the other. I was happy to share with Easton as it gets really chilly at night here. The tents are great though and we wake up to the sounds of monkeys jumping through the trees above us, the roar of Victoria Falls in our ears and many other amazing animals and birds waking up around us. I love it here, I love waking in the night and remembering where I am and just being so incredibly thankful for the life we're living.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
We’ve been in Zambia for just about two weeks now and I’m just now getting to the place where I feel like I recognize the country again. Driving up to Luyansha from the Zimbabwe border, Zambia presented a new and different face to me. I’d never been along the southern border so the roads and villages were unfamiliar to me. As we got closer to Lusaka, the landscape began to take on familiar form although arriving in Lusaka, I felt like we had arrived in South Africa. There was a new strip of development in Lusaka that took me completely by surprise. A new mall, lit up billboards, casinos and hotels line the road along the approach to the airport. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Brand new trucks driven by a variety of ethnicities also made me wonder if we’d taken a wrong turn at the border. When I was last in Lusaka, in 2010, there was no evidence that this type of growth or investment was on the horizon. Now, Zambia seems poised to be the next developing country in Africa, with investments from the Chinese and South African governments beginning to stimulate the economy again. While these are good signs of growth, I know that it will take a long time for the benefits of this input to trickle down to communities like Mulenga, Zimba and Amulo that are still at trying to reach the place where they can begin to see the changes in their own lives. Even so, it’s encouraging but strange to be in Kitwe and seeing white person after white person make their way through the gas station where we are stocking up on supplies for the evening. I wonder what impact they are having on the economy in their brand new trucks and real estate investments here in the city. I try not to feel resentful of the white people who come and profit off of Zambia instead of pouring into the lives of those who need so much more than a stable economy. It’s an uninformed reaction, I have no idea why these families are here or what they are doing. I try not to project my own disillusionment onto others but I have to admit, it’s difficult at times. Much of it stems from my own inability to provide relief and restoration to so many that I meet. I lump everyone else in with me when I think of the collective “we” that have not risen to the challenges that Africa holds in front of us. How do we sleep at night? Shamefully well, I’m afraid. Even here, it’s hard to keep focused on the challenges. We need to rest our minds and hearts from the things we hear and encounter – it’s then I feel the weakest. I know that gogos have been going for years on so little, caring for so many with such limited resources and without rest. I’m beginning to understand that my life in Canada is different and in many ways, cannot compare with the lives we encounter here. I have been trying to reconcile the disparity since my first visit to Zambia. While here, though, it’s difficult to come home to a room with a bed and a lock and a toilet that I don’t have to go to out in the darkness. We’re paying $12 a night for the four of us to stay and it is basic and sufficient and yet it feels so much more than what we’re seeing in our daily visits and walking through communities. I know at the end of the day, hot and tired and thirsty, that there is a little money in my pocket for food, a safe place to sleep and clean water to drink. It’s enough to make me feel like we are living well above everyone else – and that’s enough to bring tears of gratitude and guilt, every night as my head hits the pillow.
This weekend, after dropping Cathy to the airport in Ndola, we had two free days to spend around the city of Kitwe. Saturday, we decided to go check out a chimpanzee refuge that we had heard of from Uncle Eddie, where we stay. We planned to drive out early and spend the day there. We headed to Chingola, about 52 km north of Kitwe and thought we’d have lunch there and then head out towards Sowesi and into the bush where the refuge was. We got about halfway to Chingola and arrived at the crossroads to Mufilira and the DRC border when traffic came to a standstill. A few days earlier, we had passed the scene of an accident on the bridge there over a small river where a semi-truck had been hit and overturned into the water. Today, a crane stood on the bridge, attempting to lift the disabled truck and trailer back onto the roadway. Unfortunately, this is the only way north and by the time we thought of turning back, we found ourselves in one of five lanes of traffic jam on a one and a half lane road bottlenecking at a small bridge. I’m not sure what the weight restriction would be on a small cement bridge over little more than a creek but what I was thankful for was that we were not parked on the bridge with the numerous semi trucks on their way to the border, filled with fuel, acid, and copper ore, not to mention the crane, the truck bed that was waiting to receive the disabled truck and about 200 curious bystanders.
This morning, Blessings and Towela picked us up and brought us to Amulo. Amulo is a community on the outskirts of Kitwe with a high population of vulnerable children. Amulo is in the shadow of a large copper mine, tucked into the backyard of mining houses and the working poor. Once again, you leave the tar roads to get to Amulo, wind through rough roads that we call "dancing roads" as they make you dance around the vehicle whether the music is on or not. I joke with Blessings that I'll be dancing like an African after all the dancing lessons I've had on these roads. We arrive in Amulo and make our way to the building that now houses the care point. In August of 2010, when I first visited Amulo, this building stood empty but it held promise. It was cement blocks with a tin roof and was divided into several rooms inside that could be transformed into classrooms. Today, I saw the fulfillment of that promise. The front steps were covered in plants and were the first evidence of life within. As we entered the first small room, adjoining it was another small room lined with benches and filled with children and their notebooks, waiting for their teacher to arrive. Imagine children coming early to school and waiting for their teachers! Another room housed the brazier and charcoal on which a few of the care workers cook, under the watchful eye of Maggie, the woman who supervises that the meals are enough for the 50 children but also that they provide good nutrition. Maggie and the care workers are well aware that the meal they provide each day is often the only meal that the children can rely on. Down a dark hallway, another small room is lined with benches and has a chalkboard and it is in this room that the older children are taught. We are welcomed by Godfried, who is standing in as the community based organization's coordinator while Pastor Boyd, who usually leads it, is away at seminary training. Godfried and I walked the community together in 2010 and he is a grandfather to all the children of Amulo and a friend of all. He is friendly and wise, he speaks with great care for all those he visits, whether a patient or child. Today, he leads the care workers in a Bemba song that he has adapted the words to welcome us to Amulo to walk with him. It's the sweetest thing to be sung to by this man. I know he is so sincerely thankful for the visit and considers it an honour to have us, though we see it as the same for us to be with him. Introductions are made and we leave the boys at the school to join in with the teachers there, knowing full well that they will be safe and looked after. Jason and I join several care workers and we walk through the community and hear the challenges and accomplishments of the area from those we consider the experts on what is happening here. Our first visit is to the home of 13 year old Memory, and her mother, Precious. Memory is home but is bathing when we arrive so we sit with her mother for a while. She tells us that it is just she and Memory, as her husband has passed away. Having been widowed, with a child, she is incredibly vulnerable. Two women on their own are targets for those who would abuse and exploit them. Precious' mother lives relatively nearby but as they own their home, it is important for them to stay in it and keep their small plot. Precious' mother provides some food for the two of them but it is not enough to sustain them. Memory joins us in the small living room and she is shy. She speaks quietly and acknowledges the care workers when they tell her that she is supposed to be in school. She explains that she is not feeling well but they challenge her to go to school as often as she can and also to attend the meal. She nods although I am not sure she would go today. We stay for awhile and pray with Precious and Memory as we leave. They ask us to pray for provision of food and safety for them both, and for good health. From here, we walk to the home of a small 7 year old boy named Gift. Godfried sweeps Gift into his arms and although Gift is blind, it is clear that he responds to Godfried's voice, he is smiling. Godfried explains that Gift became very sick when he was about 2 years old and became paralyzed and blind. Now, he has trouble controlling the movements of his limbs and head and he grinds his teeth so violently that they are jagged and broken. We sit with Gift and his father, who also cares for three other siblings in the house. The father is kind and gentle with Gift but he expresses his worry for this son who can not eat well, doesn't walk and needs a lot of care. When we ask if they do exercises with Gift, the care workers and father both explain that they spend time working Gift's limbs and it seems to be having a positive effect on his abilities to move them. In this home, the care workers come and offer beautiful respite to a father raising four children on his own.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
If you could send out a prayer or some good thoughts for us tomorrow, we're spending our last days in Mulenga. Please pray that I will be able to locate and spend time with two very special people ~ Loveness and Eva. I'm praying that I'll find both of them early enough to arrange time to just sit with them and their families for awhile. I'd hate to leave without having that time with both of them. Thanks! P.S. -Sorry for the lack of photos...still trying to find a reliable way to upload quickly! Photos to follow! Much love, SVB
Zimba - 2012-05-11 We’ve begun to observe that working with the poorest of the poor, often means working beyond where the pavement ends. Today was no exception. We drove to Mufilira on the D.R.C. border and when the pavement ended, drove on some more until we reached the community of Zimba. I first visited Zimba in 2010 with George Snyman, Lynn Chotowetz, James Tembo, Blessings and Towela. Today, Blessings and Towela brought Cathy, Jason, the boys and I to Zimba and it is a community that is undergoing incredible transformation. On my first visit, Hildah, the “Mother Theresa” of Zimba, met us in her yard. She was tired but excited about the possibilities of partnering with Hands at Work to recruit and train volunteers to help her care for the orphaned and vulnerable children in her community. Even at first glance around the community, we could see that it was an immeasurable need. There were children everywhere but most were afraid to come out to greet us. Many were dressed in threadbare clothing, most were unkempt and dishevelled and looked liked they lacked a caregiver. Some were sporting the large swollen bellies of hunger and/or worms. Many were curious but lacked the energy to come out to see what was happening. It was an unusual response as in most communities, the children gather to see any visitors and follow along looking for adventure. As we walked in the community, back in 2010, we passed a small building that advertised itself as a child rearing advice centre with an open door for those who wished to ask questions on rearing children. We heard from Hildah as we passed that the building had stood empty for years, no one could ever remember anyone manning the post or accepting parents and children to ask questions. Across the large yard of this small building stood a decaying brick building that once housed the police court proceedings. Again, the building was standing empty except for the left behind furniture of the court. We carried on and visited a small girl named Charity, who was three at the time, and her grandmother, also named Charity, who was her namesake’s only caregiver. Little Charity was listless and detached and incredibly tired for a child of three. George sat with her on his knee for the length of the visit and she was pretty unresponsive to his voice or gestures. While we visited with these two, a group of children began to timidly gather around us and after a long while, we were finally able to engage with them, finding that many of them didn’t know their ages, didn’t attend school and were often unsure of when their parents would come back from the fields or the cities to care for them. Fast forward to today’s visit – we arrived in Zimba and find Hildah and several care workers in the building that formerly claimed to house the child rearing advice centre. They are cooking for 63 + kids and those same children are in the courthouse turned schoolhouse across the yard. We peek into the dark building and see benches of children, row on row, and children sitting on mats on the floor. There are two simple blackboards, three teachers and the kids are engaged in the lessons they are learning. In the kitchen, several small children, mostly toddlers, sit around on a mat while the care workers make the noon meal. They do this seven days a week, not stopping on the weekends, knowing that they often supply the only meal these children eat. Today it is nshima, cabbage and sausages. The small children are fed first while the older ones are in school and then round two is to feed the school aged ones next. While we are there, we play with the kids as they get out of school. There are skipping ropes pulled out, a soccer ball and a couple of Frisbees. The kids are energetic and curious and even though many of them still are in questionable health and various states of dress, they are happy and seem to be thriving. The children’s faces tell the stories of lives transformed by the love of the care workers. Small children clamber to be held, to sit on a knee, to just be talked to, while the older children laugh and play games, run and shout, dance and jump. What a difference from my last visit. I was so afraid for the children of this community when I was here last, I knew objectively that rallying volunteers, raising support, developing a care plan and then motivating care workers to feed children and provide schooling can all take a lot of time. Hildah apparently felt the same urgency and put her mind to get it done. Today, Charity is a thriving five year old. She is tall and her eyes are bright, she has weight on her frame again and she’s mischievous and playful. She runs from Blessings to Towela, to Aidan and to Cathy...hugging, laughing, pulling, playing. Then on to me and Easton and whoever else catches her eye. She’s proof of a life transformed. She now lives just down the road with Hildah as her grandmother was unable to keep caring for her. Hildah asks me to take Charity’s photo so she can have a picture of her. I am happy to comply. The girl in today’s photo doesn’t bear much resemblance to the limp, listless girl in my first photo of her. Thank God for Hildah, for Hildah is how God transformed Charity’s life from lacking to loved.
Oh friends, I'm sorry it's taking so long to get anything out to you. Time is flying by us in Zambia and every day I try not to be bitter about the fact that we should have just come here in the first place. It's home to me. I'm not saying I would have missed our time in the communities of South Africa and Zimbabwe, I loved it all. What I am trying to say is that I don't know that I could ever spend enough time here in the communities of Zambia, particularly Mulenga. I love the people, the kids, the market, the dirty streets, the clean swept yards, the impassable roads, the fires burning, the taverns pumping out loud music, the women selling kapenta (small fish) and tomatoes, spinach and sweet potatoes from their stands, the broken houses, the indescribable lack of adequate toilets, the school house, the sugar cane, the shanties leaning this way and that like an image in a funhouse mirror. I love the hedges with their gluey branches, the village chickens that meander throughout scratching for something to eat, the entrepreneurs of Mulenga with their cell phone charging shack or tyre repair shop in the yard, the man who makes and sells cooking pots in all sizes, the woman who tries to teach me a little more Bemba each time I pass her house. Most of all I love the care workers...like Elizabeth, who serves 100 kids per day making shima and kapenta and cabbage or shima and cabbage and sausage, or shima and soup...every day. She smiles more than when I first met her and she's lost the hard look in her eye that was distrusting of anything or anyone unfamiliar. I love that when I show up in the skirt she gave me last time I was here, she gets teary eyed and holds my hand for just a few extra seconds. Care workers like Cynthia and Gitness, who I've stayed with and shared meals with and slept overnight with. They've moved into leading roles in the community and watching children clamber at them as mothers moves me to tears. I remember crying with Cynthia as she wept over a husband who left her years ago because of an inability to conceive a child. His loss. Literally. Here is a beautiful woman with children all around her who call her mother. She is a mother to many children in Mulenga, not by biology but by love. She knows the names and needs and living conditions of these children but also their favorite game, their grades in school and where they sleep at night and probably what they dream. Gitness too, is more and more beautiful each time we meet. This time was the most fun, she saw me and her first words were, "Welcome home!" She laughs easily now and her smile is contagious. She used to bring up the rear when care workers walked together but now she is front and center, leading the way into the homes of the community. She still hobbles on her once broken foot but she continues to walk miles a day to visit the children of her community, without complaint. I know the room she stays in is often shared with any woman that needs a safe shelter or some medical attention. She sleeps on a small wooden couch in a small cement room. If someone needs that couch, she will sleep on a small sofa chair sitting upright. I've only been to her home once when it was just she staying there. That's her nature. This morning, it's Sunday, so we drove to Mulenga to hear our friend, Blessings, speak at his church. We drove into the community and made our way to the building where I had last attended Blessings' church. They had met in a school classroom with another church in the adjoining class. The walls didn't reach the ceiling so each church congregation sang louder and louder and prayed louder and louder. Why they didn't just join together is beyond me? This morning was no different although I warned Jason we should peek in and make sure it was Blessings' church before entering or we'd spend the entire service with the wrong congregation. Sure enough, at the first room, there was no sign of Blessings. Next room? No sign of Blessings. We were sent to a building behind the one we were in. Two more churches? No sign of Blessings. We did see our little friend, Peggy, outside so we stopped and chatted with her for a minute but she agreed with everything I asked so I didn't think she was a reliable source...she just seemed happy to be with us! We left her there and then started up the road to see if maybe they met in the Mulenga school. On our way, we passed Dickson, who was our driver, when I came with a team. It was great to see him and he was happy to see me. He is doing well, working at a steady job and his family is well. It made me really glad that we had come as every time I come, I look for him and haven't been able to see him, only speak on the phone. We headed along the road and then heard my name being called. It was Kennedy. I can't say too much about this boy other than I feel he is part of my family. He feels it too. Today, he was very hungry and looked extremely tired. He's not doing well - for many reasons. Life is hard when you're a boy and trying to be a man but without any guidance. At 14, he's as small as Easton and he's struggling. He hasn't been attending school - it's a long way to the school in Kitwe area and he doesn't eat well or take care of himself well. I challenged him last week to go to school. I asked him this morning if he had been to school this week and he said that he had. I believed him. He also told me that he was very hungry. I could see that that was the truth. I had brought along some soup and carrots from the market so I passed them to Kennedy and sent him home to his grandmother. I'm not sure where life is going to take Kennedy but what I do know is that he knows we love him and that we are proud of him. I'm just not sure it's enough. I'm sure it isn't. Some day, I'll be able to write Kennedy's story without crying but for now, I am just going to ask you to pray for this boy. He's absolutely gorgeous but he is now fragile and more vulnerable than ever. I am afraid he may not be here next time I come back. I pray I'm wrong. As we carried on, we stopped by Chrispin's stall in the market and greeted our friend. He works hard and does his best to support his family. He's always free with a smile and happy to see us. I am hoping this week we can sit with him for awhile and catch up on life together. We left Mulenga without having gone to church but I feel like we were still there to connect with God and with those we ran into. I always feel at home in Mulenga, although I still stand out as a mzungu with my white skin and odd words. It's those who see past those things that really make it home. No wonder I feel so homesick when I'm away from Mulenga. It gets harder and harder to leave each time, not knowing when I'll be back.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
We've had an amazing first few weeks here in Zambia...I'm definitely feeling at home here. The boys are doing well and keeping up the pace. I'm definitely feeling time slipping away on us here in Kitwe. There is so much to say but so little time outside of communities right now so I will just leave you with the promise that the stories coming out of the northern copperbelt region are worth waiting for. We've been heartbroken, welcomed, loved, and encouraged. We've laughed, we've cried, we've been lost and found and we've reconnected with people we love very much here in the communities. I can't wait to share it all with you but wait I must...it's late and tomorrow is another early start but I promise...I promise...that what comes out of Zambia will be worth the wait. Love and miss each of you!
Thursday, May 3, 2012
This past couple of weeks has been exciting, new and challenging. At times I forget that when I agree enthusiastically to add Zimbabwe to my itinerary that I am bringing along three others with varying degrees of willingness. When we were leaving South Africa, packing up our belongings, Easton asked if we could just skip the rest of the trip and head back to Canada. He figured if we were moving on, we may as well just go home. Zimbabwe held nothing for him...sporadic electricity, questionable bathroom facilities and intermittent running water? Hard sell. Harder to sell? No Nintendo DS, more math homework than he cared to think about and staying with a family of people we don’t know. I have to say, if all of us were a bit homesick at the outset of leaving South Africa, we hit the wall here in Zimbabwe about day three. We miss our dog. We miss our home and comforts. We miss our neighbours and kids on the street and work and pizza and flush toilets. Jason admitted that his worst homesickness stems from missing the Stanley Cup playoffs. I remind him, ever so gently, that his team never makes it anyway but it doesn’t seem to help. The way the Wings have been playing, I might be better off missing the playoffs. So, we had a rough few days, talking each other down from the ledge of despair. Days are always easier, we stay busy, walking in the community and doing home visits, learning and seeing new things every which way we turn. Now, a little more than a week later, we seemed to have put that wave of homesickness behind us, at least for the moment. Travelling into the Honde Valley reminded us how very unique our experiences are here. We are doing our best not to wish it away and long for what’s next. Our time in the homes in Pimaii showed us very clearly how lucky we are in that we have such a home to return to and long for. Here the people long for the promises of independence to come to fruition or they long for the kind of days where there is a luxury to wallow in longing. Often, they’re just too busy trying to survive. As one gogo pointed out to us, her life is like that of her chicken. Outside the door, followed by hungry chicks, was a mother hen. The gogo watched it scratch in the dirt trying to stir up something edible for the line of chicks in its wake and said she felt like that was her life as well: trying to make something out of dirt for her children and grandchildren to survive on. I have never known such a struggle to feed my kids or just to survive. I have to say, I’m so proud of my boys. Home visits can be difficult and awkward and uncomfortable. It’s hard to sit still in the face of such pain and need sometimes. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that each story is unique – they all contain common denominators of struggle and hunger and loss. I wonder at times how much Aidan and Easton can process, when we speak of it later, sometimes they just shrug it off or seem to have figured it out pretty clearly in their minds that this is the reality here. I watch them interact with gogos and small children alike, finding ways to communicate that surprise me. Aidan has grasped the Shona language nicely and slips easily between the words he knows in Shona and English. Easton’s specialty is body language, he finds ways to wrangle himself into the hearts of gogos and small children alike. In the midst of culture shock, hyper attentiveness and homesickness, the boys have both proven themselves to be generous hearted and loving. Aidan, car sick and tired, plays game after game with any child that asks. He entertains Shamah, Farai’s 5 yr old, on the long car trips and sidetracks her while waiting yet again for everyone to finally be ready to move by playing clapping games and making faces at her. He’s become one of those junior high boys that always impressed me when I was a youth leader...the ones that you tell their mother how amazing they are and the mother shakes her head and wonders if we’re talking about the same boy. I get it now. I’ve seen my son in light of who he is apart from me. He is generous, tireless and kind. He gets cranky and hungry and homesick but will still give his best to others. I love that in him. I’d be proud of him if he was just in my youth group. The fact that I get to live with this kid? I can look past dirty socks trailed throughout the house, snarly morning faces and stinky hockey equipment and see how fortunate I am. Easton, with all his quirky moods and non-stop chatter, has firmly embedded his place in my heart with his passion for life. He may be the one in our family who has had to endure the most attention, wanted or unwanted. There have been times where all he longed for was time alone so sought out a seat in a hot van to lay on when someone asks to see him so we drag him back out on display. He’s been a surprisingly good sport but there have been times where I’ve known we’ve pushed his limits asking him to play just a little longer, put up with a few more questions and to extend just a little more patience with those that touch his clothes, his hair, and his skin. I have asked more of these boys in these past months than I thought I would and at times, I wonder how much is too much. Yet, in the light of the things we’re learning and experiencing and seeing, I know that they are capable, they are soaking it up and they are showing character I hadn’t thought existed in ones so young. Did I believe they had it in them? I had hoped they did. Now I know they do. I know that before we came, I struggled with at what age the boys would be ready to handle all that they would see and experience. I asked George and Lynn once how old they thought the boys should be before coming to Africa and being exposed to such things and George challenged me, as he’s done so often by asking me at what age I brought the boys to a mall and exposed them to materialism and consumerism? With that still stinging in my soul, we’ve come. We’ve exposed them. We’ve infected them with the knowledge that life is not fair. All is not well. “Over there” is right here. “Those people” have names like Dumisile, Prince, Simba, Clifford and Bo. The idea that there isn’t anything that can be done is a lie. That people are doing it. That lives are changing, one by one. Communities are being transformed, one by one. We’ve seen the ones that are being changed and the ones that are changing them.
This about sums it up ~ when we arrived in Zambia, one of the care workers here greeted me by saying, "Welcome home!" I am so happy to be in Zambia. It's changed and grown and stretched while I've been gone but what stays the same is the warm welcome back I receive every time. We're staying at Kachele Farm until this weekend and then will be in Kitwe for the duration of our time here in Zambia. We're taking every opportunity to spend time in the communities, particularly Mulenga, where we have so many friends and loved ones. We're all well and healthy, surviving the 25 hour road trip from Zimbabwe. We miss our Zim friends very much already. There were many tears shed saying good bye. I hate good byes particularly when the return visits are so few and far between. I know though that we have a home in Zimbabwe always and that we take with us a lot of wisdom and love shared. Despite sickness and inconvenience, rough roads and homesickness, we're very grateful for every day we have here!