Dear family and friends,
Weeks have passed since our arrival…much busyness and brain power dispersed in varying directions!!
Our arrival this year took us through the southern door of Livingstone via Johannesburg. By happenchance our plane was the first British Airways A380 to arrive in South Africa and as we approached our stand several fire trucks flanked the plane on both sides to effectively christen the ship! It was quite exciting. Lovely to be on a new plane, although the toilet door latch was not quite working – making for rather tentative visits to the loo…..and the hand towels were hiding such that I mistakenly dried my hands with a toilet seat cover (new!). Ah well, it was a good trip.
Warm welcomes are good for the soul and they have been plentiful. Arriving here feels so familiar…yet we are always mindful we are guests and try not to make too many social blunders!
For a few days we were at Namwianga Mission, close to Mbumwaes and the finances to be balanced. This task is now done! Initially we were with my sister Connie and a friend, Donna, who (thankfully) are both good cooks. Also sharing the house, we discovered, was a rat which helped itself to our bread on night #1. Night #2 we rat proofed the larder.
Two weeks ago we ‘shifted’ from Namwianga Mission to Seven Fountains farm, literally just up the hill. If I was to rename the farm using descriptive terms, it would be called ‘farm of locked gates and many keys’. First I must explain that Seven Fountains farm is a 6000 acre working farm and home to eight hundred head of cattle. Most of the acreage is leased to a good neighbor, Chris Cairns, who shoulders the headaches while we get to enjoy the serenity and beauty! The locked gates keep the cattle in, and the poachers out (in theory at least) and the keys…well the keys seem to come with the continent.
Seven Fountains is where Kasensa is situated…and Kasensa is where we are now situated.
Kasensa, a home for temporary baby care, has been “under renovations” for the past while. Not the physical structures, but rather the philosophical and practical responses to families in crisis. Mostly, this follows the unexpected death of a new mother, though sometimes it is related to the poor health of a new mother. The status quo has been to presume that the family is not capable of providing proper care, and sadly this has led to a general assumption that it must be true! We are finding, though, with some encouragement, family meetings and practical helps such as bottles and formula, most families can find a way to care for their baby. This allows for much better brain development for the baby such as the fundamental beginnings of trust and attachment. It is all good! This approach also transfers much of the work from the nursery at Kasensa out to the communities where the babies and their families live. Our colleagues, Richard and Sue Krogsgaard, spent the previous six months at Kasensa educating to this end; encouraging others in similar ministry, and developing a strong relationship with the local arm of Social Welfare in Kalomo. We have arrived to find most everyone on the same page – everyone working in shades of grey because each family dynamic is unique – yet all striving for the same end goal of keeping babies as close to family as possible.
Four month old twins remain in the nursery here and they are close to returning home to their family. Their mother has started taking anti-psychotic meds and shows promising signs of improvement. Every other day we take them home for five – six hours to be with their family at Simakakata (the blind community just up the highway) along with a care-giver to observe and assist when needed. The grandfather is blind…leaving grandmother as the hub of the family. They have three daughters living with them, each with children of their own. Fathers are ‘around’… We can see the love they have for the little twins and are confident that as soon as Precious, their mother, is stable, we can return the babies home for good.
Kasensa is also home to a milk program for babies needing formula. Recently a new mother came with a two month old baby. She was accompanied by her husband, her father and father-in-law. [I might insert here that mum sat apart from the men…and it was explained to us that a daughter-in-law and father-in-law do not speak to one another in traditional Tonga culture!] Mum had had a nasty breast infection in January and was fearful of breast-feeding. She brought a note from a clinical health officer to say that she had milk but was requesting formula. Hmm… We encouraged Mum to nurse often and gave her some Tylenol to take twice a day for five days for discomfort. We think she will do fine!
A day or so later another baby came accompanied by an aunt and uncle. The mother has TB and recently spent time in the Kalomo Hospital. The baby is lovely, healthy…and aunt and uncle are doing their best to care for both the mother and baby. This family is now part of the milk program and will come each month for review and further formula. As well, we will visit them soon to gain further understanding of their living situation.
Early last week we were guests of honour at Nalabumba Christian Community School where there was a gathering to celebrate the handover of a new duplex for teachers. Rural schools in Zambia are not simply classrooms…but are small communities where staff reside on-site. The government will not post teachers to a rural school until accommodation is available for them. Hence, developing a community school is much more comprehensive than building classroom blocks. This, combined with a cultural affinity for expressing thanks and celebrating, results in formal gatherings to cut ribbons and hand over keys! Much protocol is observed starting with introductions of each speaker followed by a speech from each group representing the school…were there eight? I think so. Then, ribbon cutting and ululating provided by the ladies...and finally – a meal of village chicken, rice and nsima. Lovely!
The container is in Dar es Salaam waiting for truck transport to Kalomo. We are waiting patiently.
As I finish typing today I am on the screened verandah enjoying birdsongs, the sound of gentle breeze in the trees…sunshine…cattle lowing…insects chirping and whirring. Beside me, within a crack in the concrete floor, tiny ants are moving dirt from underneath to up above. Man builds, and busy, persistent critters arrive to demonstrate their own ingenuity and strength. How long would it take them to revert home to soil?
Time to fetch the boom and dustpan.
Greetings once again!
Early Wednesday Steve drove our visitors to Livingstone for some sightseeing before flying home. I stayed behind to catch up on various tasks and had such good traction that by noon the idea of joining them seemed reasonable. One can go by bus to Livingstone for about $10 and the schedule was such that I could join the others by suppertime. The buses are coach-style and have a good reputation for speedy delivery and a not so good reputation for safety! It was my maiden voyage on such a mode of transport and my first clue that things were going to be a bit dicey was the chat with the ticket seller. “Where does the bus drop people in Livingstone?” Mr. Ticket seller replied - “at the bus station”. Alright then… “I need to tell my husband where to pick me up – where is the bus station in Livingstone?” He looked up and replied - “just in town”. I boarded the bus holding my little red wheeled suitcase and there being no room overhead, perched it on my lap. In front of the suitcase: my purse. A young man of generous proportion sat beside me at which time I got the giggles at the sight of the situation. Each time he shifted position his left elbow caught my seat and reclined me to dental chair position. Thankfully when his elbow released I popped back to a spongy upright. My seatmate and I both began texting. First text to Steve: “On my way”. Before pressing ‘send’ the bus was taxiing down the highway ready for lift-off. Second text to Steve: “Pray for me”. Reggae music was booming and horn was honking. Third text to Steve: “don’t know where bus station is – ark a local”. [I meant “ask” but was texting on an ancient phone so trusted Steve could interpret.] Eventually I eyed up my seat mate and popped the burning question. “Excuse me, can you tell me where the bus station is in Livingstone?” He replied: “It’s just in town”. Oooookay. With my limited knowledge of Livingstone I began naming banks and shops “is it near?” He explained that it was a block away from the main road, and it began to gel that the station was at the wild and crazy market. [What was I thinking boarding this bus?? Fifty Zambians and one short white lady…] My seatmate of generous proportions introduced himself as ‘Brighton’ and we chatted for the remainder of the journey. The sun set as we approached Livingstone and it was dark when the bus pulled into the station – at the shady crazy market. Brighton kindly took the little red wheeled suitcase from my lap and led the way off the bus – straight through a gauntlet of taxi drivers calling “taxi madam!!”. I was thankful for every inch of Brighton’s height and breadth and was not going to let anyone or anything between us, only allowing enough space as is fitting for a married short white lady and a young also-married man. Carrying the little red wheeled suitcase by the handle (“it has wheels – you can set it down if you like”…“no, it’s okay”) he accompanied me up the dark lane to the main road and we crossed the four lanes together. I called Steve to give him the exact location and my young man waited with me. Minutes later the vehicle appeared and though it was a long reach up I gave Brighton a big hug of relief and thanks. It has been my experience that when help is needed, God provides, and I was thankful for His provision that night!
Dinner was at Olga’s Italian Restaurant in town and though I couldn’t reconcile the name “Olga” with anything Italian - the food was terrific. If you are ever in Livingstone do stop there for a meal.
Back at Kasensa…
We are watching baby Inonge’s neck carefully. The folds of skin are chronically damp so we lay her on a lap with her head somewhat dropped to expose the skin and allow it to dry. Several times a day we dust her neck with cornstarch and remind the care givers “no soap, no cream”. Inonge is adorable. Her brother Mukabesa is also adorable. Their mother, Precious, is slowly stabilizing and we are encouraged by the progress!
Last week we visited Siabalumbi Christian Basic School, located about 5 km from Kasensa. Siabalumbi is one of the schools ZMF-C has supported for the past ten years and we have seen much progress…though this year we find some situations of concern. The education system is complicated and just when you think that the paved highway is just around the corner, roadblocks arrive! The government has posted four teachers to Siabalumbi, which one would assume is a good thing – and on the financial level – it is a good thing – but these four teachers are not particularly interested in their pupils and the head teacher explains that they are pulling everything ‘down’. He has talked to the local office of the department of Education (the DEBS) about surrendering them back to the government, and this might be a good solution but for the fact that there is a moratorium on hiring teachers for two years. So….who will teach the students in these classes if four teachers are surrendered? The head teacher asks “Can you help us to hire four teachers?”
Also at play in the education system are differing views on the appropriate age to begin teaching in English. Most all children begin their education knowing only a tribal tongue, yet by Grade 7 final exams are given in English. English is the language of Grade 9 exams; Secondary School; College and University; commerce and newspapers. When is the opportune time to begin learning a new language? Should it be immersion – or should English simply be one of the half-dozen or so areas of instruction? Oh for wisdom! It is clear that for Zambian children the ladder of education is a very tall ladder with rungs missing and others cracked. It is only those who somehow navigate the missing pieces who complete school and move on to higher learning. We don’t have access or influence to change systems, but classroom by classroom and student by student some help can be arranged. Ruhtt Mbumwae has advocated for Christian education these past ten years and despite heartaches and headaches she plows on. Her tenacity inspires us and so we hang on, too, and rejoice when students graduate and when teachers teach well and when the dreams of parents and their children come true. This afternoon the sky is swollen with bruised purple clouds and in the distance we are entertained by forks of lightening. It is a majestic sight. Thunder rumbles and reminds us that our God is an awesome God.
Blessings upon each of you!