Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Religion and Maps

I knew the issue of religion would come up at some point during my stay at Ubumi and these past couple days, it has. Even though I have never discouraged them from Christianity, I have also not participated in the Christian traditions that are extremely normal for them. They are very smart kids, I knew they would notice. They finally asked me why I don’t and we had a very, very good conversation. After the initial shock of hearing ‘I don’t believe in God,’ I let them ask me any questions they wanted (they had many) and tried to answer them to the best of my ability. We talked about other religions like Hinduism and Islam. They were surprised to learn that the Abrahamic religions essentially share the old testament and that the stories of the flood and the tower of Babel exist in other places besides the bible. We also talked about how my decision not to believe in God falls under the right ‘Freedom of Expression’ and that every act of expression, as long as it does not harm anyone, deserves respect. I am so proud of these kids for how eager and intelligent they are, I can’t say it enough.

Although I tried very hard to keep this conversation as objective as possible, I’m afraid I left them with a conundrum that I had not foreseen. They approached me about a day after this talk with this issue: they all agreed there was no way I was going to hell but that I couldn’t go to heaven either. I appreciate their concern, and it was genuinely heartbreaking, but the best answer I could come up with was ‘It’s okay, I won’t go to either place. I am very happy to become part of the earth again.’ After a little explanation, we all agreed this was satisfactory.

Since I arrived at Ubumi, I have been wishing I had brought a large world map to hang on the wall. I’ve asked the children and administrators alike many times for a world map of any size just to use for lessons but I haven’t had much luck. Today, my second to last day at the orphanage, I brought two large posters- one with the English Alphabet and the other a very simple continents map. As we were examining these, Stephen disappeared for a few minutes. (It is important to note here that: One- The office was locked, so none of us could get in, and Two- The home itself is very simple, not very many nooks and crannies.) When he came back, he was carrying a laminated world map which is bigger than he is and complete with Cleveland and Kitwe. I have absolutely NO idea where this map came from but I immediately taped it to the wall.

The jumping castle purchase is in the works but I’m afraid I won’t be here for its arrival, they will have to send me some good pictures.

I ventured into a huge Zambian open air market called Chisokone (I am unsure about the spelling) with our maid and my friend Alice this week. I am not kidding when I say she saved my life more than five times. Mostly by pulling me out of the way of ridiculous cars that come from nowhere and not leaving me in the center of this huge place. If she had left me, I’m sure I could have wandered for days and starved before I’d found a way out. It was truly an unforgettable experience. I bought way too much Zambian fabric called chitenge (again, unsure of the spelling) and learned how to barter properly.

On Friday I will hopefully be venturing to Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park in Botswana. I am extremely excited and can’t wait to take some good pictures. I know that the falls are breathtaking but it is the end of the dry season so I’m afraid there won’t be much water. After our safari, I will be returning home. There is an extremely slim chance I may come back in a month or so. I am hoping for the right circumstances so that I can.


Monday, October 27, 2008


If you haven't seen my photos and would like to, here is a link to the public album:


Friday, October 17, 2008

Dear Friends,

This past week I have been to visit some of the children that have been placed back into their communities from Ubumi. I am happy to report that all of them are doing well at home and in school, which is very encouraging.

These visits have taken me into rural Zambia and made me realize how amazing Ubumi really is. The kids who come here are safe, fed, and able to play unlike some of their less fortunate counterparts who are malnourished and live in what they call child-aided homes. This means there is an older child (maybe around 9) caring for younger children. This kind of lifestyle leaves no room for the joys of childhood and it’s heartbreaking.

In Musonda good things are happening. A toilet and shower complex has just been built for the school children which will improve hygiene exponentially; A chicken run is fast being erected that will give local women a chance to raise and sell chickens and eggs; The maize mill is almost up and running; Community school attendance is high and the kids are very, very eager learners.

The kids at Ubumi are doing great! Despite a broken toe, an accidental punch in the face, and a minor miscommunication about the authenticity of WWF Smackdown and Spiderman, everyone is quite happy. Stephen had to read the story book version of The Lion King and I found out they have never seen it. I took it upon myself to sing them all the songs at the appropriate times in the story and they were sure I was inventing them on the spot. I can’t say I’m not flattered they think I’m capable of such musical genius but I had to tell them the sad truth.

I taught the kids ‘mother may I?’ and I love the way they scream it, ‘Mah-da mayeye?!’ They never, ever get sick of this game. We use scissor steps, big steps, little steps, monkey steps, and jumping steps but unless Memory or I are the mother, it’s mostly just big steps which John likes to call “Laaaaah-jah Steppers.” (larger steps.)

They taught me a very complicated game called Eagle which I can’t explain yet and which I’m very bad at playing. It looks suspiciously like hopscotch with many more rules. I only just learned this game, it turns out, because it has begun to rain which packs down the sand and prevents jumping feet dust storms. The rain is a huge relief, it cools everything down and makes the plants greener. The first time it rained while I was at Ubumi, there was mutiny. They were specifically instructed by their caretaker to not get their clothes wet… I’ll skip the details and tell you it ended with all of us mostly naked and wrinkled enough to be about one hundred and ten years old.

I was told that Marco’s birthday was Tuesday… I’m skeptical about this but we dumped cool water on his head and sang about twenty rounds of ‘happy birthday’ anyway.

I am extremely sad to report that I have to cut my stay here in half to come home for some semi-emergency dental surgery. I am leaving Kitwe around November 1st and will be home the following week. I haven’t begun to really think about leaving the kids yet, it’s far too hard. I wish I could come back but it’s just too expensive. I know I will come to Zambia again, it’s just a matter of time and money. The bright side is I will hopefully be able to send lots of great Christmas presents and help out with Children of Ubumi.


Friday, October 10, 2008

A New Conversation

It has taken me the twenty years of my life and thousands of miles of world travel to realize why I am a young supporter of Barack Obama and his message of hope. As an American, female Kent State student volunteering in Zambia, I am perpetually bound to my skin and culture. It’s as if my light color and trendy clothes advertise: “I have unlimited access to any resource you can possibly think of. All you have to do is ask.” And they do but I do not have gifts for everyone in Zambia.

I want to tell them that the richest resources in the world could be in their hands too but, sorry, my culture and I are currently controlling them. Unfortunately, this conversation is between nations, not people. The actual conversation goes something like, “please, madam, food?” “I’m sorry I have nothing.”

How can I possibly explain to the starving, naked child that I am a citizen of another America that they can’t always hear? An America that doesn’t approve of its own government and whose collective heart aches at the thought of starving children and inequality? I cannot. I am finding that these skin induced barriers cannot be broken by one person’s language alone. If they could, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, and Gandhi would surely have destroyed them all by now. I hear them every day, those revolutionaries who have energized whole nations with amazingly optimistic rhetoric. For so many decades of these brilliant minds crying for justice, peace, and democracy, how can I not have an explanation for this child?

The answer lies in the fact that there is an international conversation going on that I seem to have no say in. I had no part in the coup that killed Patrice Lumumba, I made no decision regarding the invasion of Iraq, and I’m very afraid I won’t be able to save the life of Evo Morales. My international conversation is between family in India, friends in Germany, loved ones in The United States, and the orphans I care for in Zambia. All of these people are also regrettably unheard in the international discussion I am not a part of.

My professed representation in this conversation saddens me daily. The drama that exists in the American political system makes me want to grab most of our politicians by the scruff of their necks and yell, “what are you doing? Can’t you see there are children starving to death?”

I have come to believe that Obama may want to do just the same thing (with much more style of course). And, uninhibited by federal lobbyists, he also wants to add, “Can’t you see we’re positioned to be the most generous nation in the world?” and, “Why has our tax money been so horribly managed?” and, “Why is discrimination still rampant in the United States?” So many of my peers have had something of a political awakening when it comes to Obama, and this is why.

He is asking the questions that many of my previously apathetic generation have already asked, and then answered themselves with, “things are completely out of my control, why bother trying to make change?” It is refreshing and exciting to finally hear a presidential candidate wax passionate about grassroots organizations, independence from fossil fuels, and a second look at global human civil liberties. Simply to feel as if he cares has been enough to raise so many young Americans out of their political stupor. (And it doesn’t hurt that he’s exceedingly charming either.)

Obama speaks to and for the America that I love and the America that I want the rest of the world to know. In Zambia, I have been asked by a girl of eleven, “Will that [Obama] make white people nicer like you?” Her question is devastatingly simple and I want her to know that many Americans are “nice like me” but they are clearly being misrepresented.

For all the Americans who volunteer their time to help those in need, who start inter-faith dialogues, who have huge amounts of empathy and intelligence, for the Americans who dream of the day when race and gender truly don’t matter, Barack Obama represents a very new opportunity.

I believe he has evolved into the next great American revolutionary voice. While his charismatic predecessors have made extravagant strides on a national level, Obama will open the door for America to join in a new, international dialogue on equality, peace, and unity. My peers and I will certainly have a say in this fresh conversation through his voice.

I can only hope that a new global understanding will develop and result in what sounds like the goals cited time and again by Miss America contestants (whose women have had it right all along): an end to ignorant fear and world hunger. This new world vision may sound young and idealistic, but so did Civil Rights and the possibility of a viable non-white presidential candidate in the United States. The process will be long and will not be easy but keeping our precious hope in Barack Obama’s campaign for change can move us forward into a new millennium of peace.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A small update:

Last weekend I went on my first Zambian road trip. We went in the Ubumi van to visit the twins who are away at separate boarding schools in Ndola, about 70 k away from Kitwe. These trips are not easy because petrol is roughly ten dollars a gallon (and I thought anything above 3 dollars was thievery).

The first school was called Mupapa Academy. It’s a private, Christian school and I was surprised at it’s condition. The buildings were haphazardly laid out and constructed and the living quarters were a bit dingy for 1.2 million Kwachas per term. To their credit, new living facilities are being built so maybe there will be improvements. Harriet seems to like the school okay but she was very upset to see us go, I wanted to take her with us.

We went to Novice’s school next. It’s a government school called Chiwala. This place was considerably nicer and I find this a bit ironic… An interesting fact- the late President Mwanawasa of Zambia went to this school.

It was nice to see a bit of the Zambian countryside driving to and from Ndola. The jakaranda trees are always beautiful no matter how many times I look at them. If you’ve never seen them, google it.

We’ve gotten a new girl at Ubumi this past week. Her name is also Memory so we call her Memo or use their last names. Unfortunately, Memo is not new to Ubumi. The orphanage tries very hard to integrate the children back into their communities and, if they can, with relatives. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and they have to come back. But I can’t say we’re sad to have another playmate.

On the jumping castle front- the one in Pennsylvania didn’t work out. BUT- we’ve found a manufacturer in South Africa that is in our price range thanks to the lovely people of the Hudson foundation- Children of Ubumi.

This weekend we may visit the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world- Chimfunshi, I’m excited about this.

Until next time,

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Seize the Day.

Muli shani ('greetings' in Bemba),

The summer vibe is alive and well in Zambia. It is extremely hot. I frequently consider emptying our fridge and climbing in. If anyone would like to send water guns, water balloons, or a sprinkler, the kids and I would be very, very thankful. We have a pool in the back of our house but it will never be filled, my parents say. I am very bitter about this.

Due to the heat, I make the kids drink lots of water. So much that they have changed the way they say the English word. They used to pronounce the ‘t’ very particularly, ‘watt-teh’. Now they say ‘wah-dah,’ which I can only think is some hybrid of our two accents.

In the past week or so, we have been discussing their rights as human beings and children. First, I let them teach me. They told me their rights included, “education, love, and play time.” They were very happy to learn that they were not far off the mark.

The first right we talked about was ‘freedom of expression.’ They listed ‘coloring, singing, and praying’ under this heading. They are very intelligent children. I then traced each of their hands onto construction paper and let them color the page. On the back of each piece of original artwork, they delegated words for me to write down. This was their idea. They all mostly wrote the same thing which sounded like: “Dear Children, You are my lovely family and I love you very much.” We even made a page for Marcos which read: “Dear Children, Thank you for all the nshima, I love you very much.”

I am hoping to paste their individual pictures on each page, bind them together, make copies and give them each their own booklet.

We next talked about the right to education. Mostly they taught me this one, listing all the great reasons to go to school which they love to do. This day, we read out of Stephen’s school books, I read a sentence and they repeat it. They love doing this.

Our talks of freedom also included one day discussing HIV/AIDS. I am happy to report that they are well versed and serious about protecting themselves. They quizzed me, I just barely passed.
Today we talked about what it means to have dignity and learned ‘Seize the Day’ from the Newsies. (‘Nothing can break us; no one can make us give our rights away. Arise and seize the day!’) I desperately wish I had the actually movie to show them, I know they would love it. We are laying out plans to make our own music video to this song. I think in the coming days we will talk about why it’s important to know their rights and what happens when human rights are not recognized; then respect and discrimination.

While I am teaching them about rights, they try to teach me Bemba words. I am extremely slow but the kids assure me that I am doing well. Today I learned ‘musungu’ which means ‘white person.’ It occurs to me that I have heard this word many, many times while walking down Nile Avenue in blissful ignorance.

Until next time, peace.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Humor and Due Course.

I have found a jumping castle! It is in Pennsylvania of all places. E-bay is truly one of the more brilliant ideas to come out of our age of technology. I rushed to the internet connection at Copperbelt University this morning to try and coordinate the purchase and shipping of it but I’m not one hundred percent sure it will work out yet. On the twenty-five minute walk there, I passed through and under a field of high tension electricity wires that created this odd chirping noise level with my head. I have never experienced this electrical sensation before so I could not have known that this was secretly a warning. If my life were a novel, I would call this ‘foreshadowing.’

My activities at the orphanage are finally finding a rhythm. When there is power, we dance and I work on the website. I tried to teach them the game ‘I Spy’ but it turned into a far more exciting game they call “I Spell in the World” which involves no spelling whatsoever. It does, however, involve running around the whole house and yard, shouting colors and wrestling each other. The ‘Hokey Pokey’ has remained intact and they love it (I’ve limited them to singing it once a day though). In the morning I try to work on the alphabet with the two little ones who don’t go to school yet. I’m not sure how successful my work will be. Working on their English is a big priority but reading together takes a huge amount of patience.

Now that they know me and we are comfortable around each other, they have started to show me their mischievous sides. This has made me aware of one large disparity between caring for children here and in the US. Safety standards are somewhat different. Sometimes I will scold them for doing something I think is dangerous ( i.e. A four year old handing a large, sawed-off, rusty garden tool above his head to another boy in a tree) but they just laugh at me. Not because they are being disobedient but because they think I’m being silly. I have spent many stern minutes trying to explain that I am scolding them for their own safety. Sometimes I think they understand and sometimes I don’t.

I also figured out that there are no readily available first aid supplies at the house and I was struck with terror. My goal this weekend is to purchase the supplies to make a kit. They are strong kids but I’m wondering where I should draw the line between those hyper-active-super disinfectant-hypochondriatic families in the US and the independent six year-olds fending for themselves and their siblings on the streets of Zambia.

You all have heard me complain about the slowness of business here but today it was just the opposite: everything happened at once. The washing machine, the plumber, the internet men, and my dad with two Indian colleagues showed up at virtually the same moment in time. The same moment, in fact, that the power was out and my mom and I found out about a mounting minor crisis in the form of faulty ATMs (which have magic-ed away a few million in local currency of my dad’s money…). Since I couldn’t do anything about the lost money, I focused my attention on reconnecting with my beloved western culture through the World Wide Web (but mostly facebook). We had paid for internet service for our house a few days ago and they were supposed to have come set it up yesterday but fate had them show up during the weekly load shedding (which is a scheduled power outage). My silent prayers to the electricity gods were answered when the power came back on and they hadn’t left. But I paid for it by tripping over their extension cord (which ended up not working anyway) and spraining my left wrist. But spraining my left wrist saved my Nikon from a devastating fall that would most certainly have killed it. The electricity gods are only fair (and must be in cohorts with some particularly fickle ancient Chinese philosophers and Mr. Bush for their sense of humor and due course.)

In the world news arena, I am afraid to listen to BBC anymore. Things are not looking good, are they?