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 Those babies whose affect has been replaced by the fog of hunger.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:


sarliefin said...

"At dusk the hills look like giant dinosaurs: their scaly escarpments nestle villages and towns into their valleys like colossal protectorates." Now those are some SAT words. Your writing is exquisite and helps us all understand what you are experiencing and learning and sharing with these wonderful people. Thank you for taking the time to write, my friend.

Emma said...

Hahah yes Carmen I would die!
In October (the 16th-19th) the 8th grade went to Colonial Williamsburg. It was an awesome trip, the 8 hour bus ride went quickly to my surprise. Later we went to Jamestown before arriving at our hotel. The first 2 nights we had activities, and everyday we went into tour groups. The purpose of the trip was to help us gather more information on our topic of choice (mine was Peyton Randolph). The last night we rented out a go-carting place- it was a blast! Anyway, this is where I'm going with this story. We ate dinner and 1 lunch in a cafeteria style "resturant" called 'The Golden Corral.' It was an expierence...
Plus, our hotel was nasty. It was motel, and it was called 'Americas Best Inn.'
I was in a room with 3 of my friends. We had to move out of our first room because one of the beds was infested with lice. The only room left in the building MKA was staying in was the suite.
In was huge, dark, and just grimey. Whenever you plug or unplugged something in the electrial outlit, the power would go out. Once it came back on a few seconds later, it made a loud screeching noise. It was like something you would see in cartoons or a tv show.
The first night, our toilet was broken. Somehow, I managed to fix it... I have no clue how.
Every morning we ate a "continental" breakfast of hard pancakes in a room that smelled like mildew.
There was also a very creepy old guy staying in the building next to ours. He would make odd faces at us while we walked past... remind me to show you the immatation when you get back- it was quiet something. Some of the boys said they would "protect" me from this guy, but when they saw him, they ran away!
Finally, our school hired a security guard to sit outside our building at night to watch us. He had a long rat tail, and he was really scary. Every night he would come past our rooms and tape the doors. The boys played a hilarious prank on him called "light show." Remind me to describe it to you in detail some time.
One of the boys also found a dead cockroach in his pillow, and another came back with flea bites (he had to visit the doctor a few times). Luckily, the kids next year won't be staying in the same motel, but then they won't have the great stories like we do.

Jonathan is great, Elena and I had fun on the retreat- but it's just not the same. He did a lot of things that reminded us of David and Rhoda- including the food sitting on his teeth. It must be a Princeton thing...
Well that's it. I hope you're feeling better and that we can talk soon.
- Emma Jenkins