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Visiting Zambia

FEBRUARY 2013

Dear family and friends,

Our home away from home came into view very early Saturday morning. The plane landed as Lusaka yawned and stretched and began her day. The Sampa family met us at the airport and together we enjoyed two days catching up on family news and exploring the countryside around the city. On Sunday we were treated to a game drive at a private lodge and as the sky cracked with lightening we drove through the emerald savannah and saw many of Africa’s animals….at one point stopping to allow a python draped across the road safe passage into the grass.

Monday morning we headed to town to shop. Although Lusaka is a city on the move, traffic creeps slowly during rush hour – which is most of the day… We picked up groceries, fuel, a few curios and managed to squeeze four of us into the truck as well

Richard and Sue arrived a week before us and got the house at Namwianga ready for our stay. They discovered a pair of owls in residency and quickly shooed them out, but evidence of their time in the house was sprinkled on bedding, furniture, and the cross beams supporting the thatch roof. With help from a long ladder and some sponsored students the house cleaned up nicely and some wire mesh now keeps the place owl-free. Richard also dispatched a rat and set out poison for additional opportunistic rodents so Steve and I arrived to a fairly civilized home! The wall spiders are aplenty but we are grateful for their eagerness to feast on mosquitoes and we remain on friendly terms.

Tuesday afternoon we had a meeting with Shepherd and were nicely working through a list of “things to discuss” when Ruhtt called him on his cell. “There are two thieves on campus and they have guns – lock the doors!!” We looked outside and saw students on campus strolling along as though all was well….but we are visitors here and visitors can be targets so we quickly locked doors and windows and closed the curtains. Shepherd, meanwhile, called Andrew Sibwalu and got the low down on the robbery. Two young men had arrived by taxi and gone to the High School headmaster’s office demanding cash. They were wielding guns and the headmaster allowed them to search the office for whatever they might like to take. They took his cell phone, stole the taxi and headed for the road back to town. Fortunately for the school there is no cash on the premises so the thieves were none the richer, and now they were being chased! Our meeting resumed though interrupted by a few more phone calls with updates. By the time the meeting ended the thieves were in jail in Choma, cell phone retrieved and guns seized. We opened the windows, enjoyed the fresh air and relaxed.

The past week has seen heavy rain and yesterday afternoon we drove from Namwianga (home) to Seven Fountains to visit Kasensa and the Simoongwe family. Namwianga and Seven Fountains share a common boundary and we are able to take a short-cut through two paddocks…slowly easing uphill from the cell tower to Kasensa. As we drove uphill, the water ran downhill and many sections of the path were completely submerged. Stay tuned…

Immediately following hugs with our hosts I dashed for the nursery to visit the babies and the aunties. Nelia was bathing the youngest, Faith, and she smiled at me - “your baby is there” – and she looked over her shoulder at a plump little one lying on the floor. My baby!! I scooped Chipo up and marveled at how beautiful she had become. And big! The tiny infant is now a solid chunk of baby girl. I think she recognized my voice and was happy to be held for a while.

Supper was lovely and all the while that we ate and visited we listened to the rain coming down. It was heavy rain, and lightening flashed in the distance. Around 9 o’clock we decided that if we hoped to make it back to the guesthouse we had better make haste or plan to spend the night at Kasensa. Richard kindly offered to open gates (or did he?!!) and Sue and I hung on to whatever would keep us from injury on the drive home. As we drove and slid downhill towards home, the water coursed alongside and underneath us, frequently spraying over the bonnet of the truck. The headlights shone through the spray giving the appearance of driving through a lit fountain. Sue and I tried to remain calm while our husbands in the front seats made sounds similar to those made while watching sports on television: WOW….look out!!....GREAT!!....yeow!!....oh – look at this!!!!... At last we reached the final gate and the assurance that we would not be spending the night in a truck in a wet paddock.

Next morning the sand paths and roads were alive with ants and other critters moving about, perhaps trying to find dry land. Ants had dissected the road in front of the house in a number of places and we had to pick our steps carefully so as not to step on their marching lines. Especially the army ants which can dash up a leg in a split second and send one dancing and swatting!

Students have been coming to Ruhtt’s door for several days now – all of them hoping for sponsorship to attend high school. They come with parents and uncles and aunties and sometimes a church leader. And they come with their Grade 9 school results, usually wrapped in a thin plastic bag. We look carefully at the results and especially look at their test results in mathematics and English. Many manage to pass the government cut-off point yet have failed math and almost failed English. Through the years we have learned that students need to be strong in the core subjects to manage high school and it is sad to find so many who are not. It isn’t their fault that they were not taught properly and we are very aware of the vulnerability of the uneducated. Slowly we sift through the applications and this year we decided to give some of the ‘barely there’ students a trial sponsorship for two terms. We explain that they will have to push hard and ask for help, and if they can pick up their marks by the end of Term two, we will carry on with sponsorship. I think some will succeed!

Yesterday we attended a meeting with the head teachers at three schools supported by ZMF-C. The meeting began 1 hours late due to damage done to the Kabanga road the other night. The same night we floated downstream to Namwianga, the VanWyk dam broke and the water washed away a great chunk of road. It undercut the road such that no vehicles can drive across, although a sliver of stable ground remained for pedestrians to cross. The Nalabumba teachers drove to the washout, walked across on the safe side of the former road, and waited for Shepherd to pick them up. Zambians are very patient people (I am learning from them!) and we all visited while waiting for the stranded party to arrive. It was a good meeting.

Zesco has advised that the power will be off from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. tomorrow….so I will say ‘goodnight’ and send this off. Thank you for your prayers. We are eating well, sleeping in comfortable beds and surrounded by wonderful friends. We are blessed!

Till next time,

Joan

Dear family and friends,

We are enjoying the warmth here and all the more so as we hear of cold temperatures at home…. Grass is growing and trees are in flower. Today a thunderstorm surprised us and kept us entertained for several hours. It also hijacked the electricity for a good stretch of time and the casserole planned for dinner became a pasta salad!

There is no diesel in town so our wings have been clipped and trips are carefully planned. We are told the truck bringing fuel should arrive any day. Meantime we are learning patience and priorities.

Students have been arriving most every day seeking sponsorship for Grade 10. They look so young....yet some are already in their 20’s. They bring their school results and if they have passed the government cut-off point they have an acceptance letter to a high school. It is interesting reading their exam results. Most write eight exams and the sum of all eight results determines their total score. A student can fail math and science yet pass above the cut-off point if they score well in religious education and Chitonga (their local language). We look carefully at their scores in mathematics and English, knowing that if these are low they will struggle in high school. Some are encouraged to repeat Grade 9 so as to gain a better academic foundation, and others have been given a trial of two terms in high school to see how they do. The program manager, Ruhtt Mbumwae, agonizes over some of the decisions. Especially for the girls, whose options are to attend high school or return to their villages and……………

Yesterday a student named Ruth came with her mother and uncle. She repeated Grade 9 last year because she had been below cut-off the previous year. This year her English and Geography results were missing – lost – and where there should have been a number, there was an “X”. Even so, Ruth scored above cut-off. Her math mark was impressive, her spoken English is good, and we are confident she is a very capable student. Ruth’s father abandoned the family nearly two years ago and last spring her youngest brother died. Mom is struggling to raise the children and hopes that Ruth can have an easier life than she has had. When we got the okay from the Deputy at Kalomo High school and we agreed to sponsor her, her mother cried. You can only imagine the joy and satisfaction to have a small part in her future.

I saw a t-shirt today bearing the words: “Africa isn’t for sissys” - and it is true. The kids who are coming to the door every day are not sissys. The other day a student came from Nalabumba asking for sponsorship. He was the top student at this school and we had agreed ahead of time that we would help him. “How did you come?” “On foot”. “What time did you leave home?” “4:30 in the morning”. Nalabumba is nearly twenty kilometers from here….and this young man had come the day before as well, but didn’t find us at home. I am happy to tell you that ‘Passmore’ is now attending Namwianga Christian Secondary School and we expect will be a good student. About an hour after leaving him at the deputy’s office he was back at our door. He didn’t have a mattress! We pinched one from a rollaway cot not in use and sent him back to the dorm for a good night’s sleep. I expect he slept well after walking several marathons in two days.

The maturity, the humility, the kindness, and respectfulness of most young people here is remarkable. I find myself envious at times. There is a depth within them created by hardship and going without that I will never attain. They do not whine and complain and they don’t have that awful thing we call ‘attitude’. They are grateful. I want to hug and kiss them all but refrain and just shake my head at the amazing strengths they have.

On Tuesday we visited the bustling town of Choma. It is where we do our banking and there is a small but lovely museum. And a restaurant! We ordered from a menu and enjoyed fries and burgers under a shade tree. It does not get more pleasant!

My head has been buried in excel spreadsheets most evenings this week….unthreading funds within programs with multiple projects. One is completed and balanced and another is teasing me with an outage of approximately $50.00. I know it is in there playing hide-and-seek and I plan to find it! Next will be construction with six projects to separate and balance. Shepherd and Ruhtt, the Simoongwe and the Siazilos are the ones who must contend with paperwork and accounting throughout the year...and I am grateful for the time they invest in something necessary but not terribly exciting!

We worshipped at Seven Fountains today and stopped at Kasensa to see if any of the little ones would like to go along. Rosina and Abigail volunteered () and we three toddled along to church. Abigail is two now and quite the little girl. She sat quietly on my lap until just before the sermon...when her bladder let go making us both damp and uncomfortable. We toddled back to Kasensa for a new set of clothes, missing most of the lesson but in time for the visiting Namwianga Secondary Choir. Eleven young men sang and their voices filled the church. I constantly marvel at their passion and talent for singing and harmonizing – no voice lessons here, no reading music, and no instruments – it comes from ‘within’ as Zambians say….

Blessings upon each of you!

Joan

Dear family and friends,

A cup of tea and a quiet afternoon…time to jot down a few more memories and reflections. The bookkeeping is balanced and slowly the piles of papers are getting stapled and sorted and filed in the appropriate binders. Steve and I are almost ‘used’ to the new currency – the ‘rebased’ Kwacha. As of January 1st the Kwacha has deleted three zeros….making 1 million a mere 1 thousand. It sure beats packing around bricks of small bills.

On Tuesday of last week we moved up to Seven Fountains to stay at Kasensa. The Simoongwe family, who are currently managing the program for babies, have taken a well-deserved holiday for the week and left us in charge We are having fun figuring out the television, the gas stove and the dreaded KEYS!! The babies are very sweet and compensate for any frustration with matching keys to locks and understanding how get the evening news broadcast to find its way to the little television in the living room.

This may sound terrible but I try not to spend too much time with the older toddlers, lest they attach to someone who is only here for one week. Instead, I dote on the babies who will not miss me! We cuddle and chat and already baby Faith, born Christmas day, is smiling and cooing. This is a good sign that socially she is on track. It is hard to replace the nurturing of a mother and the necessary attachment to a caregiver. The older toddlers, especially, display some signs of attachment struggles and this is why the program at Kasensa involves early counseling with the family to facilitate a return to family as soon as possible. The earlier, the better for the baby.

The staff here functions like a large extended family. In fact, many are related to one another but it would require a flow chart to fully understand who is connected to whom. Suffice it to say that they are a closely knit group and committed to the care of these wee ones. They laugh and tease and sing to the babies…they work hard for their wages.

Several sponsored students in their gap year (between Grade 12 and college) are working at Kasensa alongside the staff. One is Douglas Fungwe, a hard working young man if ever one was. About an hour ago he and Jackson Tembo, the gardener cum handyman, raced around the corner of the house yelling and shouting – this usually means only one thing – SNAKE! Steve came in to fetch me “Joan, there is a snake in Tendai” – Tendai being the house next-door where the Siazilos live. I decided to forgo the photo opportunity, not knowing how quickly a snake, when being chased, might dash out an open door and past the waiting photographer Five minutes later Douglas called me to the Kasensa kitchen door. He had a long stick draped with a long green snake (now perished)…“A green mamba!” Knowing that all green snakes are labeled with this notorious class, whether or not they actually are, I tried to find a snake book in the house to properly identify it. No luck with the book….perhaps when we are back in the land of high speed internet we can see if the right decision was made for Mr. Green Snake.

Students continue to arrive looking for Grade 10 sponsorship. While Ruhtt is in Peru I have been registering and paying fees and hoping my naivety isn’t showing too badly. Today I made one final payment to the Finance Bank, found my guy at Kalomo High School (his name is ‘Most’!) and gave him a copy of the receipt. This makes a total count of twenty-two new Grade 10 pupils at Kalomo High School. We arrived home at noon to yet another hopeful pupil. His name is “Ocean” and strangely enough I recalled that name from a few weeks back when Sue K. and I were scanning the long list of Grade 10 pupils posted outside Kalomo Secondary. Perhaps it was the uniqueness of the name? We couldn’t be further from the ocean in this part of Africa! At any rate, Ocean will now have to wait until Ruhtt returns home next week.

On Saturday we met a gal who should be honoured with an “Africa isn’t for sissys” t-shirt. Her name is Eunice Mubita and she has been within the sponsorship program for a number of years. Eunice is completely blind – where her eyes should be a lovely warm brown they are milky white, with only faded grey spots to indicate a pupil. She was in town at El Pantano, at the take-away…alone. “How did you get here?” “The train.” “By yourself?” “Yes, my uncle put me on the train to Kalomo.” The train had arrived at 3 a.m. and somehow Eunice had made her way to El Pantano to wait for someone to arrive who could give her the school fees she needed to begin Grade 10. She has been assigned to a special school for the blind in a town called Mumbwe, north of Lusaka. Eunice pulled out her acceptance letter and said she needed school fees, a uniform, money for groceries and money for transport. She had nothing. Imagine. And she had no one to accompany her. With help from one of the college students, Mohammed, we got her sorted out with funds for this and that and bought her a bus ticket for Lusaka with the Muzhandu bus company, a decent bus where she would be safe. She requested to take the latest bus so that she would arrive in Lusaka in the morning, having nowhere to overnight in Lusaka. We introduced her to the ticket salesman so that he was aware she was waiting and needing some assistance. And then we said goodbye – praying that she will find her way…. She will. She is no sissy, this girl.

After church yesterday we visited Kalomo Hospital to give away a few goodies made by loving hands in Canada. Visiting the hospital has become one of our customs and an annual reminder to be thankful for our medical system back home. If you want to experience poverty…if you want to see what it can look like – and smell like – this is a good place to find out. We visited a new mother and babe, listened to another in the throes of childbirth…and visited the children’s ward. It was enough. It was enough to re-set our perspectives and to wrestle with some tough questions such as ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ – how is it that some can have so much and others have so little? How can we who have much share with those who have little – and share in such a way that it does not harm? What are the precious pieces that bring progress and stability to a people who are desperately in need?

On that note….my tea is finished and our days in Zambia are nearly at an end. Once again, we have been incredibly blessed by our weeks on this side of the world. I hope to be less of a sissy than when I arrived last month. A photo of Eunice on my refrigerator will help We leave here having received so much more than we are able to give. Thank you, Lord,

Blessings upon each of you,

Joan

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