Sunday, June 29, 2008

Drunker than skunks!

In Zambia there is this great saying that I find to be proven true over and over again: "Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet." Everywhere I go--- kitchen parties, church, a ride on a local minibus--- I make new friends. People so welcoming (the exact opposite of my experience on the streets of NYC). New Yorkers would freak out here. I met these hysterical ladies at a kitchen party over the weekend...

The bride was Jehova's Witness, so there were no drums (which was weird--recorded music was allowed, but no traditional drums). In retaliation ("you can't dance without drums") lots of ladies snuck cheap liquor into the event and filled coke and fanta bottles with the fiery liquid and got a little tipsy. :-) I love Zambia.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kitty Lost and Found

Franky decided to take a brief hiatus from captivity and had me feeling like a dead-beat “mom.” My friend Micke texted me, “Don’t worry about the cat. Cat’s are like women: they need their space, but they always come back when their credit cards are canceled.” Ha Ha. The kids in the neighborhood helped make signs and hunted all over the neighborhood. Thankfully Franky showed up last night, beat-up, but in one piece. He was hungry and eager for shelter, so I suppose Micke was right. Rotten cat. Rotten Micke.

On the one hand, life has been rather mundane: doing a little teaching, playing a little Settler’s of Catan, and shooting a little film. On the other hand, there has been lots of sad things: the loss of a baby and a professor, spending time with women in the local prison is haunting (how does one talk about freedom and hope in a place so depleted of soul?), and my 17 year-old friend Mirinda, 7 months pregnant, is debating whether or not to become the second wife of the man who impregnated her. She doesn't want to marry him, but she is cold and hungry and sleeps on the ground at night. My friend Peg reminded me of this quote by Henri Nouwen and is seems rather apropos:

"Our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need. If the church has a future it is a future with the poor in whatever form."

I'm not trying to be stupidly moralistic. I believe Nouwen is right.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Filming with Jane

I have a new friend visiting from Britain and she asked me to join her for an afternoon of filming yesterday. She is putting together a short documentary about a family that lives in a compound here in Kitwe. I taught all morning in a local church and then rushed home for a quick switch of clothes and roles. I rather like the denim and camera version of me—it allows for a different manner of storytelling.

The girls dressed up for the occasion (as you can see) and were eager to be on camera. The family recently opened a brick-making business using some new energy-efficient equipment (requires no petrol, very little cement, and uses local soil that can be dug from your own front yard). The bricks are much more hearty than the porous ones typically used that crumble after only a few rainy seasons. The hope is that this business and these bricks will improve the quality of life for the broader community.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Principles that guide “good giving” aren’t as straightforward as you might think, so allow me to share some basic lessons I have learned in the last six months!



GOOD GIVING: Invest in projects, people, and organizations that promote self-sustaining activities. Empower people. Equip people. Avoid making contributions that are not usable or replaceable without your assistance.

WHERE WE MESSED UP: American clothing donations flooded Zambian markets in the 1990’s and despite good intentions, this served to ruin the Zambian textile industry. Garments produced locally could not “compete” with free used clothing that poured in from abroad. When we give we must be careful that our donations are not doing more harm than good! Buy local and encourage others to support local businesses!


GOOD GIVING: This notion may sound very obvious, but I’ve seen countless examples of people giving, albeit generously, items that were never needed in the first place.

WHERE WE MESSED UP: I spoke with a Malawian physician recently who laughed as she recalled an American church that came to do a short-term mission project in her hospital. They brought dozens of boxes of old medical equipment that are now collecting dust in a corner of the hospital. Why, you ask? Because the equipment is simply not usable in their context! It was not what they really needed.

The hospital focused on delivering healthy babies to healthy mothers. The life expectancy of the average Malawian is 35. Disease and malnutrition are pressing issues and the American church failed to address the real needs of Malawians in that community. Let those receiving aid tell you what they need!

For more info on Malawi, check out info on the World Health Organization website:


GOOD GIVING: Have you seen the fantastic statistics on micro-lending? This is effective giving. Women in rural areas tend to be the recipient of micro-loans and these loans (often providing money to create self-sustaining, productive farms and small businesses) are improving community life all over the developing world!

WHERE WE MESSED UP: A wealthy church in Canada wanted to give a million dollars to support hospitals in Zimbabwe. They wanted strict control over where the money was spent, but in the meanwhile, they did not consider the fact that a huge lump-sum like this can do more harm than good. Corruption is rampant in nearly every sector of society (not just in Zimbabwe—this seems to be an issue all over Africa). Money was siphoned into the deep pockets of some wealthy managers and ended up failing to support local hospitals. “Control” by the giver isn’t the answer. The answer is partnership. Develop relationships with an organization. Find out the needs of the organization and together discover practical ways that you can meet these needs. Think financially small. Think relationally big!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

La La La La Luapula

Just returned from the rural Luapula Province where fishing, witchcraft, and cholera flourish. Local guides casually mention Archaeological sites from the Early Stone Age as if prehistoric rock paintings and tools are rather mundane and not worth much fuss. I tromped through rivers and waterfalls throughout the area and enjoyed a day off along the banks of beautiful Lake Bangweulu where curious fisherman drew their boats close to investigate the white woman lounging about in the sun, book in hand, looking very self-indulgent and bourgeois.

While I was in Samfya teaching a course in a small church that reeked of acrid ammonia courtesy of dozens of bats that dance in the rafters at dusk, we were alerted of a cholera outbreak in the community. Cholera devastates communities because they initiate fishing bans and bans on fishing means that people go hungry. Brutal. The minister had to go attend to a number of families in the congregation who were sick and suddenly bereft of loved ones. By the time we left about 30 people had died.

We traveled to a village called Mununga, which is proudly touted as the “heartland of witchcraft” in Zambia. People told me all sorts of stories about people turning into crocodiles and eating enemies and curses and charms and all kinds of black medicine. I attended my first exorcism, which is another story in itself, but I can offer the short version in one mass generalization: the West tends to psychologize and medicalize evil and human fragility whereas Africa personifies it. Demons and talking snakes and flying witches are a part of people’s daily lives and serve to explain all kinds of illness and hardship.

We stayed in a rather disgusting guesthouse where condom packages littered the ground and the stench of pit latrines lingered in my room at night. I wrote in my journal that first night, “We must be about two turns and a few kilometers from hell.” I had a good laugh when I found out that the name of this guesthouse is “God Knows.” But as my mom used to say, “Things always look brighter in the morning.” As we made our way to the church for our first seminar I had dozens of children following me around like lemmings. The toddlers were afraid and refused to get too close and I made some babies cry, but I eventually made friends with these small chaps. By day 2 we were playing “Nkoko, Nkoko, Chibata” (Duck, Duck, Goose) and by day 3 a massive heard of children were waiting on the doorstep of the church, ready to play with the muzungu when we arrived for our final day of teaching.

Interested in more info about wealth/health disparity in the world? Check out this website:

Here are some pics from the last couple of weeks: mamas cooking nshima and villagers eager to have their pics taken.