Saturday, February 27, 2010

Five Years

Five years ago we headed off into this daunting and glorious adventure in Africa. At the time we said we would stay five years. That seemed like a long time then—longer than a college education, longer than a president’s term. But now five years have flown by in a flash, a blur of experiences, surprises, frustrations, grief, and joys.

I look back on these five years and marvel at how God has worked. I see the person I was in the Austin airport as we said goodbye to family and friends in June of 2005, and I hardly recognize her. The Africa years have opened my eyes and my heart, changed my dreams and desires, toughened me in some ways, and softened me in other ways. I will never be the same.

And now our five-year commitment is nearing an end. In April we will be returning to the US to live. John and Leah are expecting our first grandchild on April 2, and we will arrive a week later, ready to step into our new role as grandparents. Sara’s wedding is June 19, and we have that event to plan and anticipate.

We will be in Austin for six months or so as we look for jobs and wait for the next big adventure God has planned for us.

For now we are making transitions and gradually turning over our responsibilities. A team of our co-workers here will handle the sponsorship program from this side, and I will continue to be involved through e-mails and phone calls. One of our sponsored students, Rajiv Siamweela, is taking over the record keeping and communication duties. He is finishing his college this year and will be teaching at the secondary school soon, so he will be directly involved with the high school students and will still have close ties to the college. So far he has been a quick learner and has proven to have both the ability and the desire to do an excellent job.

Our dear friend and co-worker Rodgers Namuswa will continue leadership training, with Sylvia Mancheesi teaching the women’s classes. Rodgers will also coordinate the student outreaches.

It was always our goal to work ourselves out of a job, and we hope we have accomplished that. Our five years have forever changed us, and we pray that God has used us for his purposes here and will continue to use us wherever he sends us.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Cake Dance

Note the girls are barefoot for the fancy footwork. They wore shoes during the ceremony.


Two weeks ago we attended the wedding of Mavis and Louis. Mavis was one of the first students I worked with in the sponsorship program in 2005, and she was in the first class that I taught in 2005.

We had grown close over the years as I tried to help her struggle through grief and trials that would have overcome a weaker person. Her mother died during her first year of college. Then her father became ill and lost his job. Just before she was to go home to do her student teaching in her final year, he called her and told her that he had been unable to pay the rent and she no longer had a home in Lusaka to stay in. Her four younger brothers were sent to live with friends, and Mavis found a place where she could stay in return for helping take care of the household’s young children. When she graduated, she got a teaching job and rented a one-room apartment for her and her two younger brothers. Through it all, she held on to an optimism and faith that inspired and impressed me.

Now two years out of college, Mavis was marrying Louis Phiri, the son of Namwianga’s superintendent George Phiri. The wedding took place in the Mission’s auditorium and was an occasion for the entire community to celebrate.

Zambian weddings are festive, joyous, and colorful. The attendants perform elaborate dance steps down the aisle as they enter, the music is loud, and the audience freely expresses approval by ululating, clapping, and cheering. So everyone celebrates with smiles and laughter—except the bride, that is. She is expected to look sad and keep her eyes down to show her sorrow at leaving her family. Mavis followed the tradition and kept a solemn face.

Many guests skipped the actual ceremony and came just for the reception. Here the celebrating ratcheted up a notch with louder music and more audience participation. The attendants changed into different outfits and there was more elaborate footwork as they entered ahead of the bride and groom. A master of ceremonies kept the audience entertained with jokes. Louis’s parents spoke to the audience and the couple, and since both of Mavis’s parents have died, her cousin filled in by giving the speech for her side. Mavis and Louis followed the Zambian tradition of presenting a gift to both families, kneeling in front of them to present large baskets of fruit.

Next the attendants shuffle-stepped out of the room, entering a few minutes later with extra-fancy footwork for the knife dance. They brandished the knife for the cake as they danced down the aisle. The bride and groom cut the cake and had a piece, and then the male attendants took the individual layers and performed the cake dance back down the aisle to take the cake outside to be cut into small pieces for the guests.

The guests were served chicken, beef, rice, and sodas, and then the MC announced that it was time to give gifts to the new couple. The groom’s parents announced that they were giving the couple two cattle and a large sum of money. The bride’s family chimed in by announcing that they were also giving some cash and animals. The MC called for everyone to bring gifts, and a procession of guests came forward to either deposit gifts on the front table or place cash in a large basket. Two designated helpers began to count the money as the MC urged more giving. At last the total cash amount was announced, and the audience cheered and yelled their approval. The wedding party danced down the aisle and out the door one last time, ending a celebration and beginning a new family.

Mavis and Louis have teaching jobs in a nearby community, and her brothers will be living with them. We are proud of them and glad that we could share in their special day.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Chicks in the Coop

We have a new brood of chicks in the coop. This one was the first to drop down from the nest as others were still hatching. It will be interesting to see which hen the chicks identify as the mother, since two different hens have been sitting on the eggs!

We have another junior rooster situation brewing. The daddy rooster has decided the coop isn't big enough for him and his adolescent rooster son. He won't allow him to stay on the same side of the pen and chases him away any time Junior tries to get close. One of them is destined to become dinner, I'm afraid, unless we can find a new home for Junior.

The People at My Door – Chilala

Chilala is a sponsored student in grade 10. He’s bright, articulate, and energetic. Tuesday he knocked on my door: “Madam, I am speaking in chapel tomorrow. I’ve worked really hard on it, and I think I have a good message. I would love to have you come and hear me.”

Chilala sat in the village for a year after grade nine because he had no money to pay for high school. He got a sponsorship last year and quickly became active on campus in clubs and sports.

The secondary chapel service is at 6:30 in the morning. I was delighted to give up my morning jog to hear Chilala speak. He delivered passionate talk about the power of God to overcome difficulties, and I listened with delight, proud of the fine young man he is becoming.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Simalundu Photos

Sylvia Mancheesi has been my translator for several months. Now she takes over parts of the training seminars on her own. She is a nurse at Kalomo Hospital and teaches Sunday School at Mwaata in Kalomo. Sylvia says she has 75 kids from toddlers to teens in her class.

David and Rodgers had their class under the trees.

The village ladies came clapping and singing to greet us--a welcome sight after our three and half hours of jolting over bad roads.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Another Day in Two Worlds

We set off early Saturday morning for an outreach to Simalundu to do teacher training and leadership classes. We quickly filled the Land Cruiser with passengers. Rodgers, Sylvia, and Fortune came along to translate for David and me, Ellie Hamby and Elizabeth Halale wanted to talk to the community about the medical mission in July, and Austin Siabeenzu came to record singing groups for Namwianga's radio station.

We bumped over the infamous washboard stretches of the Kabanga Road for the first two hours before making the turnoff to Simalundu. Then it was another hour and a half of bone-jarring misery as we dodged potholes, rolled through mudholes, and careened over eroded ravines in the roadbed. After that brutal journey we were greeted by the Simalundu ladies clapping and singing to welcome us--and were blasted by the baking heat that provides yet another reason why very few people ever make it to Simalundu, and even fewer ever choose to return.

The Simalundu community was created in the late fifties when the Tonga people were displaced by the building of the Kariba Dam. They were torn from the fertile areas of the Gwembe Valley they had farmed for centuries and dropped into the barren, desolate area that is now called Simalundu. There were no programs to help them, no resettlement assistance; they were left alone to survive as best they could.

Today Simalundu has an elementary school, a grain storage building, and a clinic building--with no medical personnel to staff it. Untrained workers dispense what little medicine is available. The church, though, is large and active, and on Saturday five local congregations gathered for our workshop. We started out in the grain storage building--a metal structure built by World Vision for food relief efforts. Ellie Hamby and Elizabeth Halale addressed the group and talked about plans for the July medical mission. A few minutes of that oppressive heat and we were relieved to dismiss our classes outside to meet under the trees.

My class went well, and as we sat around talking afterward, I asked the ladies about some of our students at Namwianga who are from Simalundu. We were told that Eric, a recent high school graduate, had been bitten by a very poisonous snake called a puff adder recently. Since both my translators, Sylvia and Fortune, are nurses, we took them and headed over to see Eric. He had received some traditional herbal treatment, but his foot was swollen and he was obviously in pain. Fortune and Sylvia agreed he needed to go back to Namwianga for treatment.

Some of the women had prepared a delicious dinner of chicken and nsima for us. It was 3:00 before we finished and started loading up for the return trip. We managed to squeeze Eric and a friend of his into our already crowded vehicle and started off. The next three and a half hours were another endurance test over the awful roads. At Namwianga we dropped off Eric and his friend, assured by Fortune that he would get antibiotics and a tetanus shot that night and be ready to go back to Simalundu on Monday--the only day there is any public transport available.

We had only been home a few minutes when I got a Skype message on the computer from our friends in Austin who were hosting our daughter-in-law Leah's baby shower. We had our camera on, and they had theirs on, and through the marvels of Skype technology, I was able to participate in the shower. I got to greet most of the guests and see the baby gifts for our first grandchild.

I was struck once again with the realization that technology allows me to live in two very different worlds.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Good News About Meagan

Louisa Duke just sent us this report on Meagan's appointment with her doctor:

"The CT scan did NOT look like lymphoma. She did test positive for mono. It's definitely not a light case of mono, from the looks of things, but I believe she will be okay."

We are all thankful and relieved! Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, February 08, 2010

High School in Zambia

After five years in Zambia, I am still trying to understand the intricacies of the Zambian educational system, but I have finally mastered the basics of getting into high school . Here's what it takes: A student attends a Basic School for grades 8 and 9. At the end of grade 9, the student (called a pupil here) takes a government exam--actually eight exams, each lasting for two hours or more. It consumes over two weeks of the school term just to take the exams. Then the pupil goes home--usually in November--and waits for his "results." These come out in February. In 2008 and 2009, the results weren't sent out until mid-February, but this year they were ready by February 1. The results of the grade 9 exam are extremely important. Only those who make above the "government cutoff point" are guaranteed a spot in a boarding school. Those who make below cutoff must either wait for an opening or accept a spot in a day school. For those in remote villages, a day school education means staying in town and living away from family in a rented hut alone or with a friend or two. It also means doing all your own cooking. (My friends who have done this tell me they had to spend hours every day searching for firewood and trying to find odd jobs just to buy their food, leaving little time for studying.)

High school is not free in Zambia, so those lucky ones who earned a place in boarding school now have two weeks in which to "report" by showing up at school with their fees and school supplies.

So right now all over Zambia there is a mad scramble to get the money together for fees and supplies. Pupils go to their relatives, their neighbors, aid programs, and their friends asking for help. I have hopeful pupils at my door from 7:00 in the morning until late afternoon. All come with a slip of paper showing their total test score--for some, that will be the number that seals their future. Some of those who come are accepted on sponsorship at Namwianga. Some are referred to other programs. And some who have low scores are advised to repeat grade nine and try for better results.

Some have the money for school fees, but need school supplies. School supplies here are far more than just notebooks and pens! Boarding pupils must bring their own mattress, sheets, blankets, buckets for taking baths and carrying water, a garden tool for campus maintenance, toiletries, and a school uniform which includes black shoes. And of course a trunk or suitcase to lock up your belongings is helpful too. The costs for school supplies can easily be almost as much as a term's tuition. My spare bedroom is full of mattresses, uniforms, school supplies, and toiletries to help out those who are sponsored at Namwianga, and usually I can provide a little for those who are going to other places.

What happens after the two week "grace period"? Those who didn't report to school within the two weeks will lose their places--and their chance to go to high school and be in boarding this year. Now some of those who had lower scores will be offered places, and the scramble for fees and supplies continues.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The People at My Door - Mpande

Mpande Syakabonze called from his village two weeks after the college term started. “I am desperate. I have no money to pay for school fees. My parents are telling me to give up. Can you help me?”

I knew Mpande well, because he has been at GBCC for two years. He is an excellent student with a winsome personality, spiritual depth, and a determination to get an education. I told Mpande to come, and I heard his full story when he arrived that afternoon. His parents are peasant farmers with seven children of their own and two orphans to raise. They cannot provide any help for Mpande. He managed to pay for his first two years of college by running a small business. In between school terms, he bought chickens in the villages and took them to town to sell at a profit. He would then use that money to buy goods in Lusaka and bring them back to sell in the villages.

He struggled along until last December. That’s when he took on a partner who agreed to sell his goods for him. The partner disappeared, leaving Mpande with no profits and nothing to sell. Still, he didn’t give up. He planted a maize field in hopes that it will produce a crop that he can sell for cash, but the harvest won’t be for another two months, and the money will not be enough. Mpande has only one more year to go to finish his education. I told him I would find him a sponsor. Zambia needs teachers like this guy.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Update on Meagan

Meagan landed in Oklahoma City at 10:30 on Monday morning and was seen by a specialist Monday afternoon. We received this information in an e-mail from Richard Prather:

I just got off the phone with Meagan's mother, Sally. No surgery in the immediate days as of today's exam. More labs pending. Initially the doctors have moved cancer further down on the differential list. That is good news. They are running more tests but are managing it as a treatable issue until they have a definitive diagnosis.
No surgery and less likely cancer, although not completely ruled out yet, is the bottom line for the day.