Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A gray day

The sky is ill-tempered at the moment. The dark gray clouds are belching out claps of thunder and the rains are surely on their way. Floods have plagued Zambia and I’ve no doubt this storm will wreak havoc on the mud huts in neighboring communities. Here I sit at my kitchen table, grateful for electricity and for the tiny squares of delicious goodness (a.k.a. Starburst candy) courtesy of my cousin Tonya who sent a lovely parcel.

Wish I could take a hot bath, but alas, I think hot water may be out for a while. We have had some serious power outages (for 2-3 days at a time), which often means our water gets cut off. I keep enormous garbage cans full of water to use for washing and drinking—just in case.

I preach this Sunday in one of the biggest churches in “Chimwemwe” which is one of the largest compounds in Southern Africa. It is only second, in size, to Soweto in Johannesburg. Should be quite the event.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Feeling a bit tired

Went to my first funeral today and I am feeling wiped. My good friend and co-worker Edna lost her brother early this morning and funerals in Zambia begin immediately after the death of a loved one. These funerals often last 3 or 4 days (including home visitation, preparation of the body for burial, and finally a graveside burial). We went to Edna’s home today and all the furniture had been moved outside to make room for all the women. Men grieve together outside while women gather indoors to weep. And I am not joking around when I say ‘weep.’ Every time a new person enters the house the women gathered begin to wail. Women throw themselves on one another and express their grief together. Most of my coworkers plan to return to Edna’s house and will sleep there for the next few days (until burial). Grieving the loss of a loved one is intensely communal, like most events in Zambia, and I am privileged (and overwhelmed) to be a part of this process.
I really am tired. Perhaps this is because I had an extremely busy weekend. These pics are from one of the events I hosted on Saturday. Seven young women gathered in my home for lunch and dancing. We had a fabulous time, although I could not help but feel a little guilty as they admired all the “things” I have.

They were enamored by all the pictures of friends and family that I have hanging on the wall in my kitchen. I had to explain Halloween costumes (a holiday that is so WEIRD to people here), snow-suit clad children, and images from fancy houses (aka “pretty darn average homes of my friends in the U.S”).

A group from the U.S. arrived last week for a study tour and kindly shared some American goodies, including a People magazine. I poured through every page yesterday (I am a sucker for pop culture), but admit I was rather disgusted by the time I was through. The main substance of the articles were self-indulgent movie star’s bedroom/exercise/eating habits and endless praise for effective diets. What is wrong with us?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tropical Paradise

Couldn't resist throwing on some more pictures from Zanzibar. But what is the deal with crappy formatting? Blame it on my mac (hating the blogger site) or my internet ignorance. This aside, pretty amazing place, eh?

The picture below was taken just off "Prison Island" where Peg, some Canadian friends, and I went snorkeling. The next picture was taken in Stonetown where Peg and I wandered around one late afternoon. Its narrow, winding streets remind me a bit of Venice. As the sun went down we watched some boys play soccer on the beach while fishermen brought in their boats and scrambled up rock walls to secure their rigs for the night. Delightful.

Troy Aikman and liturgy

On Sunday I attended Catholic mass with my friend and co-worker Phyllis and I was rather bewildered when the liturgist for the day, after reverently bowing before the altar, turned to the congregation to reveal a baggy, black tee-shirt featuring a gigantic picture of Dallas Cowboy Troy Aikman with helmet dawned and a big toothy grin plastered across his belly. The liturgist stood beneath an enormous, awkward painting of the Last Supper where nine white disciples are gathered around faded gray loaves of bread with the fair, flowing-haired Jesus sitting austerely at the center. I say nine disciples because three of them are decapitated. Age and weather have taken their toll, so the three poor guys hover headless in the background. The windows in the church are hand-painted with scenes of Jesus engaging Africans in daily life. Tools are limited, so the scenes have been depicted using poster paint and despite their crudeness, they are oddly beautiful.

I hadn’t been to mass in years and as I knelt to pray I was properly humbled by the grandmothers that sat on either side of me. There was no complaint on their lips as their kneecaps found the hard, wooden kneeler, whereas my knees creaked in protest. Between the mamas to my right and my left and the hundreds of devoted Muslims I encountered in Zanzibar, I have been reminded this Christmas that discipline is not my strong suit. I rarely find myself in an uncomfortable posture of prayer and I even more rarely recite prayers in unison with my sisters and brothers in faith. Humbling indeed.

A smooch on New Years

Little Jason Smith threw his arms around me and gave me a big kiss during our New Years festivities this year. Jason Smith is 4 and I have decided that it is pure flattery when someone insists on kissing you, no matter the age. We had a Mexican Biesta (Jason has trouble with his r’s) and rang in the New Year playing games with some friends in the neighborhood.

I've maintained my weight

I am happy to report that I have not gained weight. My office-mates assessed me carefully and have decided that I “maintained” while on holiday. This is still a weird phenomenon I have not grown accustomed to, despite its regularity. People are constantly commenting on my weight (“fat” is complimentary). This is a pic of me with some of my Christmas presents. THANK YOU to everyone who kindly sent me lovely Western things. I literally cradled the bag of cheerios my sister sent to ensure they would not get squished in my luggage.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

All that blue

I love the Indian Ocean. On Christmas morning, Peg and I traipsed out into the tidepools alongside dozens of women and children who were looking for octopus. Small creatures get caught in the shallow water, so you see children, buckets on heads, tromping through the warm aqua marine water, flipping over coral, to look for the slimy little creatures to sell in the market.
The warm breeze catches the colorful chetenge fabric of the head coverings and skirts of the women, so the landscape is painted with what look like brightly painted flags billowing in the air. Stunning. The afternoon was spent sipping ice cold cokes from the bottle and reading books (Angie sent a wonderful collection of short stories edited by Ira Glass). This was pure self-indulgence people.

The internet is being so slow, so I'll try to post more pictures another time. Happy New Year! Blessings upon you!

Spice Island

My friend Peg just got on a bus this morning to start her long journey home (to Seattle) after visiting me for the last couple of weeks! We spent 10 days on beautiful Zanzibar, which is an island just off the coast of Tanzania in the in the Indian Ocean. Gorgeous.

Nicknamed "Spice Island" this little tropical oasis boasts some of the best beaches in the world with ancient turtles (they stretch out their leathery necks for you to rub them), Callibus monkeys (that can be found no where else in the world), stellar snorkeling and scuba diving, and fresh sea food that is to die for. The island is about 95% Muslim, although the boys that led us on our "spice tour" promptly introduced themselves as "A Christian and a Muslim"-- unintentionally flaunting their easy friendship, seemingly unaware of the painful tension that seems to be rapidly increasing in our world due to fracas and careless and dangerously ideologically driven religious and political leaders. This is a blog. Am I supposed to write things like this?

Back to a lighter topic, we were told that cinnamon is an aphrodisiac for women and clove is an aphrodisiac for men. Thought this might be pertinent information for some of you. Five times a day the call to prayer wafted in on the breeze alongside the smell of sweet pineapple (tis the season), cardamom, and blossoms bursting with fragrance.

Peg brought all sorts of fun gifts from the U.S. (cheerios, Rolling Stones, the New Yorker, chocolate, movies, home-made goodies, and books)-- thanks for your generosity friends--- I felt pretty darn spoiled.