Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Please pray for my dad!

My poor dad was in a terrible accident last Thursday and has been in the hospital recovering from four broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a lacerated arm! Sad, sad, sad Papa Don! I hadn’t been able to figure out where my family was over the weekend, but I found out on Monday that they have been at the hospital. I spoke with him on the phone tonight and he is now at home, in a lot of pain, but recovering! Please keep him in your prayers!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The rainy season began the day I got malaria

I was laying in the bathtub, icepacks on my face, when the rain began. And with the rain came the insects. You know you are sick when swarms of little winged bugs find their way into your bathroom and you watch them with utter nonchalance. I simply picked myself up, flicked off the ones that landed on me as I toweled off and shut the door behind me. Kindly, my Canadian friend Scott braved the bathroom later that night, killing all the bugs and flushed them away while I lay curled up on a chair in my living room. I am fairly well recovered now as I write this, but still have that achy feeling all over. I developed a rocking headache that was soon followed by high fevers, chills, nausea, and the like. This lasted for a couple of days, but thankfully the treatment is fast acting. I have spent the last few days sleeping. Poor me. I have had loads of visitors all bearing home remedies and diversions. The ex-pats (non-Zambians) bring movies, books, and lots of pills (to my delight) and my Zambian friends bring prayers. And they aren’t joking around when they pray. On the second day I was home sick I seriously had three different groups come to visit and took time to pray for everything imaginable—my body, my mind, my home, my drugs, my bed, etc. You name it, they prayed for it. How wonderfully kind and seriously non-western. Not the prayer part, but the visiting part. I am used to people tip-toeing around me when I’m sick, but here, people gather around and linger. It has been exhausting, but I have been well loved this week. And all the while it rained.

I've had some requests of pics of ME to prove I am alive and well, so, here you go!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Some highlights from the Eastern Province…

I just returned to the Copper Belt (“home”) after two weeks in the beautiful hill country of Zambia. At dusk the hills look like giant dinosaurs: their scaly escarpments nestle villages and towns into their valleys like colossal protectorates. While in Chipata I took a lovely walk at sunset. The sky was a warm buttery yellow, like thick lemon frosting whipped up and spread across the heavens. The sun was the color of orange sherbet and it reminded me of the Dixie cups I ate as a child. Do you know the kind I mean? The kind with the little wooden spoon? It was one of the first moments I felt totally alive since being Zambia. Loneliness has plagued me here, and yet, as I walked alone up the red dirt hills I felt perfectly content.

Two of the ittiest bittiest toddlers I have ever seen came tottering out of a brick house with their hands outstretched, draped in colorful chetenge, their wiry black hair straining in all directions. Instinctively I knelt down and reached out to them as well. Such vivacity exuded from their every pore and I was reminded of how singly-focused children tend to be. When they are happy nothing can deter them. When they are sad they are utterly inconsolable. Maybe this is why the little HIV babies, those babies whose bellies are distended from malnutrition, whose eyes stare out hollowly from their skulls, look so painfully alien. Those babies whose affect has been replaced by the fog of hunger. Today I finished eating an ice cream cone in front of three little boys who were begging for food. It was a low point. Kangwa (the director for whom I work) told me, ”If you feel bad about this you will die. You will never make it in this world.” Even if he is right, I still felt awful. The boys’ faces were singular in their intent. They wanted my ice cream. Why couldn’t I just march back into that shop and buy them each a cone? I had the money in my pocket. Because it is a handout? Because it encourages them to remain beggars on the street? It is amazing how a scenario like this one can begin to represent all the injustice in the world. One of the boys had been severely burned and was missing an eye and an ear. And yet, this was not what perplexed me the most. It was the sweater he was wearing, rather, the sweater he was swimming in. Why on earth was he wearing a sweater during the hottest season of the year? I fear it is the only piece of clothing he owns. Unbelievable.

I’m sweating. Did you ever see that movie with Matthew McCoughnhey and Sandra Bullock that took place in summertime in the Bayou? I can’t remember the name—the courtroom drama—O, that’s right, A Time to Kill. Anyway, throughout the movie everyone glistened with sweat and I remember thinking that it looked rather seductive. I am definitely hot and definitely sweaty, but the last thing I feel is sexy! Sticky and lethargic is more like it. Even the mosquitoes are tired. Zambia is ridiculously HOT in October!

I had a nice, long conversation with Peter Mwalye, a groundskeeper at a guesthouse in Chipata. We discussed the weather, the uniqueness of village life, city life, and the legacy of colonialism. Tonight I was reminded that the political system that currently governs Africa was thrust upon them (sans Lesotho and Swaziland which have remained kingdoms). Democratic, representative government is the legacy of the colonizers and is not indigenous to the African continent. In much of the western world, democracy is a given, assumed to be the one and only proper political structure to govern a society. And yet, Africa continues to reel from the radical political and cultural transformation instituted by the colonizers, the consequence of their abrupt departure, and from the repercussions of neo-colonization brought about by economic globalization. Spearheaded by corporate managers and investors, nourished by marketers who create a climate of false-need (those who reinforce the decadence of the wealthy elite), and reinforced by those who have been tempted and buckled under political and militaristic power, fractured African society continues to struggle to survive (let alone thrive).

PCUM youth, I thought of you today!
I was touring some “conference facilities” that had dorm rooms like the ones we stayed in at Lake Champion and laughed thinking, “Emma Jenkins would be furious if she were forced to stay here.” I was picturing all the girls (Emma, Elena, Liza, Callie, etc…) crammed into one of these rooms (lizards, spiders, and mosquito nets-a-plenty) and hearing, “There is no way Carmen.” I have no idea if any of you are reading this, but please know I miss you and love you all!!! I hear that Jonathan Cornell is your new youth pastor! He is a cool guy. I am so happy for you guys!

Did you know there is a difference between rural and remote? I was privileged to spend a few days in Lundazi, a place where very few westerners actually ever find their way. It is a rural community near the border of Malawi. While Lundazi is rural, I was told that it is not technically remote (this is reserved for the villages in the bush which cannot be reached 6 months of the year because of the rainy season). Each village is composed of dozens of huts and the village is named after someone who founded the tribe or some event that occurred in the area. It was good I brought my own mosquito net because I stayed in a very modest (read: sketchy) guest house where I slept on a mattress that sunk in the middle right down to the wooden slats that were supposed to support it. Big toads hopped up and down the hallways and loads of beatles, spiders, and mosquitos joined me for the night. The people that run the place are absolutely delightful and offered wonderful hospitality. As we unpacked the car a cart pulled by two cows parked next to our vehicle. The cart was stacked high with charcoal and two gentleman brought the small black lumps to the kitchen where it will be used to boil water and prepare food. It is a strange thing to see a truck lined up alongside two bulls tethered to a wooden cart. Surreal, eh?

Good morning Animal Kingdom!
I went on a couple of game drives in South Luangwa National Park (I know, rough life). Woke up at 5 a.m. to some rustling outside and peaked outside to find a giraffe munching on some leaves outside my window. Unbelievable. You know, they chew like cows—that methodical circular motion. He didn’t seem to mind that I interrupted his breakfast and was just as interested in me as I was in him. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Parting thoughts...
I continue to be haunted by the gaunt faces of the men that stop by my house to beg for work and food, the elderly that walk for miles and miles for church or to sell firewood, the staggering unemployment that destroys the dignity of countless men who choose to lose themselves in the Zambian version of bathtub gin, and the thick haze from coal fires in the early morning. It is as if the whole sky is consumed by the poverty and sadness of the Copper Belt. I grow tired of the black smoke that pours out of blue mini-buses swerving in and out of traffic (at times striking pedestrians as they attempt to get home to their dirt floors, contaminated water, and their inexplicably hopeful families). Last week while in Lusaka I saw a row of elderly women wrapped in chetenge, mallets in hand, methodically chipping away at stone that they hope will soon adorn the paths of rich mazungu’s or the Zambian elite. I know this all sounds rather depressing, but it is difficult to report all the wonderful stories without also sharing the devastation as well. What’s the good of a witness if it isn’t honest?

Despite tremendous suffering, there is life and joy and beauty. I am awed by life’s paradox. My coworkers are hysterical and regularly assess the weight I have gained or lost, I am constantly welcomed by generous spirits wherever I go, and I have met wonderfully educated and hopeful Zambian youth who work with tenacity and compassion on behalf of those most fragile in their midst. I met a few 20-somethings who work for the Jesuit Center for Theological Inquiry who freaking rocked my world. They are unbelievably well-versed in the complexity of Zambian politics and history, development projects that are thriving and faltering, and can hold an audience captive for hours as they motivate political activism in the church. Check out their website if you like:

Monday, October 8, 2007

"A Rescuing Place"

It has been a rough couple of days. Emotionally draining anyway. I preached in a little village church on Sunday where about 50 congregants walk 8 km from the bush to attend. The service was three hours long (whew!) and we didn't leave the church until 3 p.m. (the hottest part of the day). It was pretty humbling to crawl into a car while a crowd of people twice my age began the long trek home. On Saturday morning two gentlemen stopped by the house with a sack full of hand-carved crafts. Their cheeks were gaunt and I had no doubt that whatever I bought that day would provide food for many family members. The men spoke very little English, but after our transaction one man gently laid a hand on my arm and simply said, "Hungry." I promptly went inside and made sandwiches of butter and jam. It was painful to watch them walk away, gingerly eating their meager meal. This morning someone knocked on the door and simply said, "Please. Work. Please sweep." He gestured to my lawn, suggesting I might hire him to do some work for food. It is literally impossible to describe the magnitude of the poverty here. After church yesterday we drove past the compound "Ipusukilo" which means, "a rescuing place" in Bemba. It is a compound for those who are sick, unemployed and have nowhere else to go. Many grandmothers caring for orphaned children live here. Do you want to hear something scandalous? There is a recent trend here in the Copper Belt in which women within this demographic (widows, caring for their grandchildren) intentionally contract HIV, so that they might get assistance from NGO's. Sometimes I think my heart is going to burst.

Gorgeous Hair Saloons

Hand-painted signs advertising, "Hair Saloon" are everywhere. Not hair salon, but hair saloon. Hillarious. I am pretty sure that there is no alcohol served in these joints, so I think it was originally a typo that spread like wild fire. I'll try to get some pictures to share.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Some statistics...

My friend Rochelle asked me all sorts of good questions about life in Zambia in her last email and it inspired me to offer some statistics that you might be interested in...

Most of these statsitics are from the World Health Organization. If you've got some spare time, check out their website (I've linked it here). Their information about Zambia is excellent and it is a reputable source.

- About 1 in 5 Zambians have HIV or AIDS
- The average life expectancy for men and women is just under 40 years
- 40% of the population is under the age of 16 (I have heard Zambia called "A nation of children")
- It is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world
- In Zambia you have about a 20% chance of dying under the age of 5 years
- Independence from British colonization occurred in 1964
- Since independence there have been three presidents (the national hero Kenneth Kaunda, Fredrick Chiluba (who is being investigated for corruption and fraud) and the current president, Levi Patrick Manawasa)

President Manawasa was in Seattle last week and the Times wrote the following article: Get To Know Us Zambia SaysCheck it out if you like...

Some random factoids about my life here:
1) What do I eat? I cook for myself when I am at home, but EVERYTHING tastes different. Even if the package says it is doritos or rice krispies IT IS NOT THE SAME. And what is with the metric system? I cannot figure out grams and liters for the life of me (pathetic American). When I am travelling I eat standard Zambian fare-- lots of cabbage, fried chicken and nshima (Anthony is pictured here making this delectable corn mush). Many people don't have enough money to eat meat or vegetables regularly, so their standard diet would include scones (biscuits), nshima, casava, or rice twice a day. Lots of carbohydrates!
2) What's the weather like? HOT!!! The rainy season starts in a month, so there is relief on the horizon. Zambia has three seasons-- hot, rainy, and cold, although I have a hard time believing in this mythic "cold season."
3) Do I always drink bottled water? Yes! If I don't drink it bottled, I always boil it.
4) Do I get much free time? When we are in town I work a standard Monday-Friday schedule. I get Saturdays off, which I usually spend at the local market, visiting neighboring compounds, or hanging out at my house.
5) Vacation time? Yep! My friend Peg is coming out in December and we plan to spend Christmas in Zanzibar and Tanzania. Next month I will be in Kenya for a week and I get an additional 4 weeks off for travel. Anyone want to come to Africa? I hope to get to South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, and Lesotho while I am here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Gettin' Hitched?

I received my first marriage proposal this afternoon. In middle school my friend Jennifer Linnett predicted that I would be proposed to at least three times before I ever got married, so I guess I have two more to go. I came home early from work today to find some quiet space to write a sermon and before I had a chance to sit down at my kitchen table I heard a knock at the front door. A young man in a shirt and tie shifted his weight nervously from one foot to the other and muttered a request for some water. Now, it is not uncommon for me to receive strangers at the door, particularly at lunch time (in case I have an extra PB and Jelly), so I promptly went to the fridge and poured him a glass of water. Before I had the chance to shut the door he asked if I had time for a chat. When I hesitated, he immediately suggested, “Just a few minutes please. I really need your help with something.” Dillema. “Do I chat with this guy now and offer some hospitality or do I tell him to scram?” Kindness, or guilt, or cultural confusion kicked in and I invited him in for a short conversation. To make a long (and obscenely awkward) story short, this guy told me that he had been watching me for some time and felt compelled by God to come and talk to me. He confessed that he wanted to marry a white woman and this was the problem I was supposed to solve. Needless to say, I told him that this was simply not possible. He asked if he could at least have my phone number to which I replied (bewilderment GLARING on my face), “No!” Gutsy move random stranger, but no way on God’s green earth. I went back to work to consult with my wonderful Zambian colleagues who all had a good laugh and assured me that this is not standard dating protocol. They also suggested that I keep the freaking door shut. Good advice.

And here is some other good advice: when the water that comes out of your faucet begins to smell like death it is probably a good idea to get this checked out. For the last few days when I filled the tub for my morning bath I noticed that the water smelled a little off. Yesterday it was particularly bad, so I insisted that maintenance come see to the problem. And yep, you may have guessed it. Dead rat in the hot water tank. That’s a nice image, isn’t it?

Not bad for 48 hours. A marriage proposal and sharing bath water with a decomposing animal. Awesome.


A woman named Charity comes to clean my house two days a week. She does laundry and irons everything impeccably (rids the clothes of larvae AND makes me look good). Her husband is currently unemployed, so her wage supports the entire family (five children between the ages of 8 and 15). She and I were having coffee and toast together yesterday morning and she shared some of her life story with me. Her parents died when she was small, so she and her sisters were farmed out to various family members who were less than eager for more mouths to feed. Both of her sisters are now widows and likely have AIDS. We both sat quietly, choked up. I told her, “None of this makes sense Charity.”

And none of it does.

I have already met dozens of people with stories much like hers. Hungry bellies, disease, poor health care, and rampant unemployment pervade local life. I asked her if she thought that God was present in the midst of all of this. And she said, “O yes Carmen. I cannot imagine what I would do without God. It is only because of God…” Her voice trailed off and she was lost in her own thoughts, a smile faint on her lips. I am constantly awed by the faith of those I meet.

A little futbol with the boys...

I think 4th, 5th, and 6th grade boys are the coolest. Pick-up soccer games are pretty common here, but because of my schedule I had not been able to jump into a game until Sunday. A fantastic group of about 20 boys were delighted to play some futbol with the muzungu. They were all ridiculously skilled and incredibly forgiving!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Race Course

Race Course is a compound where my new friends Richard, Mirinda, and Anthony live (they are 20, 18, and 14 respectively). They live with their grandmother and are "double orphans" (this is what children call themselves who have lost both parents). Richard invited me to attend the class he teaches on Saturday mornings (mostly life-skills and HIV prevention) and I admit I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Picture me and about 20 other Zambian kids between the ages of 12 and 18 all crammed like sardines onto little benches outside a shabby stone community center. Richard proceeded to offer a 1 hour lecture on human growth and development (using lots of hand motions to make sure I understood what was going on). Hysterical. I hadn't been in a sex-education class in about 15 years!

After the class a herd of kids and I paraded through the streets (little people pour out of the wood work when a mazungu comes to visit) to go to an HIV "sensitization" performance. Girls danced to drums and a small group of youth performed a skit encouraging the community to embrace the sick in their midst, rather than leave them to suffer alone.

No one in Race Course has running water or electricity, but the compound is full of life and laughter. Women twist one another's hair into braids while children make toy cars out of wire and plastic jugs. Boys and girls sell eggs, vegetables, and cellphone minutes in small huts built with chicken wire and cedar planks.

Anthony made nshima, which is a Zambian favorite (maze meal porridge usually eaten at lunch and dinner). He offered to share, but I know that he and his siblings budget about 3000 kwatcha a day for food (75 cents USD), so I politely refused. Humbling, is it not?