Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Story about Oreos, Walmart, and Culture Shock


It was a historical day when “The Oreo” came to Zambia.

Me and the other SALTer Tiffany had managed to get a day off work, which usually meant (admittedly) some form of escapism to find American culture within Zambia. We chose going to the movies, which meant an obvious venture down at the “Pick n' Pay” grocery store nearby to pick up some snacks.

Snack foods options usually included crisips (Zambian chips) or spinners biscuits (Zambian cookies), and the selection ended there. But this time, we were in for a surprise. We turned the corner, and there it was- a big life size cut out of a giant oreo advertisement and the oreos themselves to purchase in small packages of three. Strange things happen when you’ve spent enough time without certain cultural comforts. Its not like I was even that wild about oreos in Canada, but for some reason having it here was the best thing since sliced bread. Tiffany and me started jumping around in our excitement, and tried to take a picture next to the cut out until a security guard came and told us we could not take pictures with oreos… who knew. I don’t know what’s more strange, being scolded for taking a picture of an oreo, or feeling the need to take a picture next to the oreo as if it were some sort of celebrity.

So you might assume that when I finally arrive to the land of abundance, I would be that much more ecstatic about having these things at my finger tips. Oh, on the contrary. The first time I walked into Walmart, I felt like I was having an allergic reaction to the place. I kind of wanted to vomit, and run away, and explore the ongoing aisles of food all at the same time. I wanted to yell at people for buying into consumerism, but I also wanted to get my favorite shampoo that was just so dang cheap here. I wanted to get the things I had gone so long without, but I didn’t know where to start. I think I left the store with some yogurt that I didn’t end up eating because my body was doing weird things while adjusting back to American food.

Call me strange, but I just think there is something beautiful about being able to walk down an aisle in the grocery store and get excited about simple things like an oreo cookie. I think I valued things like that more in Zambia. When you break apart from society’s entitlement to “stuff”, the stuff you do receive becomes these precious gifts that you begin to cherish with a sense of gratitude.

I can’t help but think that our culture makes life unnecessarily complicated. In Walmart there was an entire aisle dedicated to every kind and variation of oreo you could possibly imagine….

You could get oreos in Strawberry Milkshake, Green tea, Birthday Cake, banana split, or gingerbread flavours. They came in mini or triple stuffed sizes. You could get them football shaped or in brownie form. For the “health conscious” they came in sugar free, reduced fat and in 100 calorie packages.



Now 50 options of cookie flavours may seem like a luxury, until I spend 20 minutes in the grocery store trying to decide between double stuffed or regular, mint or vanilla, family pack or regular size. I just think that in all the things of this world that should stress me out, picking out oreos should not be one of them.

But living in simplicity is not so simple as it sounds. I am navigating my way through a culture that has mastered the art of alluring me into the consumerist lifestyle that I am trying so hard to run from. I literally cannot escape it, nor do I think I should spend my life demonizing every packaged item as ‘the enemy’. But it’s finding that balance between need and want, necessity and excess. It’s finding out how to use my money to glorify God and other people, rather than placing my worth on the material things I have. It deconstructing words that are associated with money such as “power” “success” and “happiness.” It’s remembering that the “poorest” Zambians I met during my term had a wealthy spirit, and valued things we often take for granted.

After being home for over 4 months now, the excitement of oreos has lost some of its appeal. But now, and especially around Christmas time, I want to remember those who were rich in spirit, and use them as a guidepost for how I live my life and where I place my worth.






Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Changing the Face of Corporal Punishment

Mpungu Primary school is located among one of the poorest and most densely populated neighbourhoods of Lusaka. Violence is rampant, and the school is known to have one of the highest rates of Corporal Punishment in Zambia. Although the practice was abolished in 2003 when the 1996 Education Act Cap 137 was amended, this has not translated well into the reality on the ground in most schools in Zambia. As facilitators for an after school program called Peace Clubs, our team chose Mpungu as a simple staring place to dig a little deeper at the issue of Corporal Punishment to see if change was possible.



In our first workshop, I sat on a wobbly plastic chair in a dark classroom among the 35 pupils we had called into discuss physical abuse. When we asked them to tell us stories of the physical violence they receive as punishments, they practically jumping over eachother with an endless supply. My stomach turned as I wrote down statistics like “35 out of 35 pupils have been beaten with a whip” or “28/35 pupils have experienced ‘stick handsy’ – a painful punishment that involved placing  sticks between each finger and squeezing the fingers together until they practically break ”. And to my dismay, it didn’t stop at physical violence. I filled the entire chalkboard at the front of the classroom with names that they have been called by their teachers, such as “rat”, “cockroach”, “head like a pumpkin” and “useless”.  Pupils also named several cases within the home. They reported being accused of stealing, sweeping and cleaning for long hours, while others claimed to be beaten with a stick of a guava tree or a cooking stick when they committed offenses.  
 A 10 year old girl was in charge of drawing water in a 10 Liter container. One boy who was living with his step parent was in charge of all the household chores, while the girls took care of the babies. One child was responsible for going across town to buy foods for his mother to sell at the market before school at 5am. The stories seemed endless. There also seemed to be an evident connection to home and school life, as most children who reported coming late to school were the ones subjected to corporal punishment from the teachers. Though the pupils laughed as they told me these stories, I couldn’t help but question where the justice was in this, or what was unconsciously happening to each child’s development. South African researchers at the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention Jesse Mconnell, Tarrio Mutongwizo, and Kristen Anderson state, “As corporal punishment is itself the infliction of physical violence on a child by usually an adult or authoritative figure, it bears within itself a legitimization of violence which is passed on to its victim. It signals the acceptability of dealing with conflict or expressing one’s feelings of anger by hitting others in realization or in offence. Children are natural imitators- they learn the language and social behaviour by imitating their parents. Children assume that their parents and teachers conduct themselves appropriately, and children replicate accordingly.”

In our next meeting with only the teachers of Mpungu, I struggled to hide my anger towards the people who had inflicted pain to the pupils I had just met. But surprisingly, Issa Embolo- the founder of Peace Clubs- handled the situation with more grace than I could have, as he began speaking to them from a position of non-judgment. He began the workshop simply by asking the teachers to come up with a list of challenges they face with pupils in the classroom such as noise making, late coming, and fighting.  Doing this activity helped to create a mutual understanding of how challenging children can be at an early age, which created a gateway for more honest dialogue as we continued. Issa added that the purpose of our workshop was not to encourage or justify a child’s misbehaviour, but stressed that the way we punish them needs a fundamental change.

While the teachers all agreed with us that beating should be eliminated in the home and classroom, they admitted that they honestly did not know what other method to take when it came to disciplining a child. The act to eliminate corporal punishment is a fairly new concept to Zambians, considering that physical violence as a form of punishment has been a deeply imbedded philosophy that was taught to them by their parents, grandparents, and far down the family line. I struggled with their heartfelt questions about what is considered “good punishments” and “bad punishments”, because I knew that the answer wasn’t that simple. However, one suggestion we made was that the length and severity of the punishment should be equivalent to a child’s age and circumstance. For example, though picking up papers is not technically considered physical violence, making a child pick trash around the school yard for the entire day under the boiling sun begins to deprive children of their basic human needs and right for education.  A further look needs to be taken at how punishments can effect a child’s mental association with going to school. And for many children in Zambia, school has become a place where they fear getting beaten, not an environment that fosters growth and learning. Beating a child becomes a simple solution to a complex problem. It take less than 5 seconds to slap a child across the face, but it takes much longer to sit down with them to understand why the child is acting out in the first place. And often times, teachers only see one half of the equation. Though it may look like a child is deliberately coming late to school, without more dialogue or connection to the home they may not know that the child is being forced by the parents to run to the market across town each morning to buy food.

The teachers seemed open to new methods, but were stilled overwhelmed by how to change this system of punishment. So, we decided to give them three months. We challenged the teachers to take what we discussed to heart, and to experiment with new forms of discipline and use it as an opportunity for creativity and discovery.



 
When we returned 3 months later, we met separately with the teachers and students just like we had in our first meeting. And against my scepticism, the children explained to us that during the time we were absent, there were almost no cases of corporal punishment in their home or school. The statistics I wrote down were no more than “1/25 or 0/25” on punishments like being slapped, kicked, or punched. We asked the students what types of punishments they were given when they misbehaved, and they reported that most of the time they were told to pick up papers around the school. However, this time they were allowed to work in groups of 2 or 3 and it was always after school hours.

Upon meeting with the teachers, we were surprised to find how active they were in experimenting with new approaches to discipline, and how much they had learned for themselves about punishment in the past 3 months. They came to the conclusion that if change in physical violence is to occur, there must be more dialogue between both the teachers and parents, and teachers and pupils. The teachers are now placing more of a priority on developing personal relationships with pupils in order to discover the root causes of why they may be acting out in class, rather than just resorting to violence. Through this, they have found a direct tie from the issue of late coming to parents forcing children to work for them in the morning. They are now addressing this issue with parents when they come in to pay school fees for their child at the beginning of each term. Since this dialogue started, there have been hardly any issues with pupils coming late to school.

The teachers were also getting more creative about how they handle misbehaviour. When a child was acting out in class one day, one teacher decided to do a “role swap” with the child, where the teacher acted out as the pupil disturbing the class, and the pupil was given the role as the teacher to try and figure out how to manage the behaviour. Putting the pupil into the teachers shoes will be a lasting example of difficult it can be to control a classroom. Mr. Tempo, a teacher at Mpungu reflects on the experience by saying, “We have achieved a lot of things through this experiment. We are happy because we are not experiencing the same misbehaviour in the classroom that we were before.”

I left the classroom of Mpungu Primary school that day with a changed attitude towards tackling the issue of corporal punishment. The teachers I once bitterly resented transformed into powerful symbols of positive development, and tore down my pre-conceived notions about how effective small attempts can be.  Change will not happen overnight, but running away from an issue that demands our attention will do greater harm to the pupils as they grow and develop. Teachers at Mpungu have proved how this cycle can be broken if we allow creativity and openness to replace old imbedded philosophies on the effectiveness of violence.




Sunday, 2 June 2013

6 weeks, 6 things.


I was riding in the backseat of the van on the way home from a wonderful combined birthday lunch for me and the other SALTer Tiffany. Our MCC rep turns and asks us, “so there’s 6 weeks left until you leave Zambia, what are 6 things you want to do before you leave?”, and this actually turned into a fun sort of game. And I have to say, it was also a little encouraging that we had a hard time coming up with things we still wanted to do, and that some of our answers were kinda lame. That means all the exciting adventurous things have already been done, right? Anyways, here is the list!

1)   Go to the elephant orphanage during feeding time
How did I live 9 months in Lusaka and NOT know that there was an elephant orphanage close by?! Apparently there’s a place that has little baby elephants and they let the public come visit at 11am everyday during feeding time. Yup, that’s happening



2)   Get my Chitenge suit made
Zambia is known for these wonderful fabrics called chitenges, and they are literally used for everything- wraps, table cloths, curtains, baby carriers, and chitenge suits, which are like a formal tailored top and skirt for formal occasions. I just bought my fabric a few weeks ago, but now I just need to go to the tailors to find the cut and style that I want! I gotta leave Zambia looking in style ;)



3)   Eat Crocodile meat
A few weeks ago the MCCers went to a crocodile farm (oh the things you find in Zambia…) and they had lots of croc meat for sale. I think I may have tried some before, but I want a real croc meat meal before I go, so Kathy promised to do a croc stirfry or something for our last meal. Hey, I’ve eaten so many strange things this year, might as well end it with some cool meat!

4)   Learn how to make nshima all on my own
Nshima is the staple food here which I eat everyday. I have had countless occasions where Zambians have asked me to help cook it, but its usuaaally just so that they can have a good laugh because I clearly do not know what im doing (in my defense, it takes a strong arm to stir it to get the right consistency!!). But I want to learn how to make nshima from start to finish, so that I can bring some mealie meal home with me and make it for my friends.



5)   Go to Maahak Indian restaurant
This ones a little lame, but there is an Indian restaurant that I pass everytime I go to the MCC guesthouse. Apparently its amazing, and ive made a “mental note” of going there almost everytime I pass by it. Ive eaten more “cultural dishes” than I ever did back at home, and when I was on vacation I was exposed to this wonderful thing called curry, and Indian food (yes, in Africa of all places). I need to go to Maahak and see how Zambian Indian food compares to Tanzanian Indian food!




6)   Have a Peace Festival
Last year, Peace Clubs had a “peace festival” where every Peace Club in Lusaka (there’s over 18) got together for a big party to showcase what they’ve been doing this year through songs, testimonies, debates, skits, ect. We’ve scheduled it to be for June 29th, but a lot of work and planning has to be done before hand if its going to happen! I think this would be an amazing finale to an amazing year of working with these schools.



So there’s my list. But then that got me thinking… what are 6 things that I want to do when I am HOME? Here we go…

1) Quality time with my friends and family
Well this one is obvious. I am excited beyond belief to just be in the presence of my friends and family. I have spent a year maintaining important relationships though emails, letters, and the occasional skype call. While I admit getting letters across continents is pretty magical, I can do without ever having to email Blaine long messages on my tiny phone keyboard and replace that with actual hangouts. I have some exciting plans lined up like a road trip with my mom to Montréal, but I am equally excited just to BE with the people I love.








2) Stay out past 10pm
Kind of sad… I know… but its true. I cant even remember the last time I stayed out past dark. Its partially because there is nothing to do past dark in Lusaka, partially because I live with a host family and partially because we have killer watch dogs if I come in after my family goes to sleep. Just one of the things I’ve given up this year, but I am ready to be a normal student again who has a social life!!!

3) Get CLEAN!
Ok, that makes it sound like I don’t bath here or anything (I do, promise). But some things about the environment where I live make the simplest things impossible to maintain. Like walking through dirt roads everyday in sandals during cold season?! My feet… are a mess. When I was in Zanzibar me and tiffany decided to splurge and get pedicures, and if its even possible, our feet actually got worse afterwards. The pedicure ladies are going to have there work cut out for them. As well, hand washing and wearing the same clothes for an entire year (and remember Zambia is pretty much always hot, so my clothes never get “seasonal breaks”)? My clothes are done. Who wants to go shopping for a new wardrobe with me?!

I cant believe my feet used to look like this once....



4)   Drive
I have spent a year, and a good portion of my day using the “mini bus” as my main mode of transportation to work. Its basically a small cramped van that would defy hundreds of laws back in Canada. I has been adventurous to say the least, but I am more than ready to not have to pray for my safty everytime I step into a vehicle ;) And to have the freedom to go where I want, when I want!


5)   Spend one night completely alone in my room,  guilt free
I know, I know, im an introvert at heart. I love my host family, I absolutely NEVER get the house to myself. On top of that, living in a collectivist culture makes it unacceptable to spend a lot of time in your room because they think im either sleeping, sick, or depressed. I miss my bed room. I spent so much time in the summer decorating it and adding in little touches to make it a relaxing and a place of comfort for me. I actually day dream about tucking into my big duvet covers, enveloped in all sorts of pillows, turn on my twinkly lights and candles and just spend the night with some popcorn and a good movie.




6)   Cook exciting dishes
Like I said before, I eat Nshima Every. Single. Day. Variety, flavor (oil does not count as a flavor!!) in dishes is something that I truly miss. I am excited to not only have control over my diet again, but get free reigns to experiment with good foods again.





Friday, 31 May 2013

A pilgrim heart, and my continual search for “home”


For those who have not read my previous blog posts, I work with over 30 peace clubs in Zambia, and that has required me to do a lot of travelling to monitor and meet with teachers in Lusaka where I am based, but also to the surrounding villages in Southern Province. I feel like my job description should have included something along the lines of“SALTer will be expected to be adapt to nomadic way of living, becoming “pilgrim-like” and comfortable with living out of a backpack”… Though I live with a host family, I seem to be continually on the move. The past few months have usually been divided up between a few weeks at my home in Lusaka, dispersed with trips to Southern Province to monitor Peace Clubs or help facilitate teacher trainings in rural schools. Oh, and a pretty sweet vacation to Zanzibar mixed in there too.


But as a result of that, this year I have lived through a constant internal battle to find a home where I can truly belong. In Zambia what I consider to be my home is Lusaka, a developing city of over 30 million people. I work in the city center- the hub of congestion, with an inescapable amount of poverty, noise and harassment. It is far from picture perfect, but after living there for almost 9 months, it is the one place aside from my home in Canada that I know like the back of my hand. It is my home in the sense that I have grown comfortable with the culture. I can take the mini bus to most places in town by my self with ease, I know how to handle drunkards who shout offensive things at me, I catch myself thinking response in the local language first before I use English, and I know where I can get the best and cheapest shwarma in town.  But do I find peace and rest in that home? Sometimes, yes. But the peace comes in shorter glimpses... waves of fleeting moments that help me through and remind me of the reason I am here when I lack the sense of belonging even in my comfortability. I have found profound moments of joy here even admits a harsh environment, and that is not to be denied.

Contrastingly, when I come to Southern Province for work, my soul immediately finds rest. My mood shift is so predictable that you could almost chart it on a map. I have space to breath, the people I meet are warm and welcoming and I do not deal with the stresses of harsh city life. But, I am also very aware that it is also not my home. When I take these trips I come in as a visitor, living at the mercy of other people’s kindness and hospitality. I trust that though I never fully know what I can expect, there will always be someone to show me the way. I am in a constant state of learning, trying my best to adapt to a whole new culture that is completely different from Lusaka though they are only 5 hours away. This is not a bad thing, but the short snippets can feel like teasers- they show me the best parts of each place without giving me enough time to dig my roots into the nitty gritty aspects that might drive me up the wall like Lusaka. On one of my trips, I was staying with a teacher who called me while I was out for a walk to come back to her place for lunch. When I answered the phone she said, “Rachel, you can come home now!” And I smiled at the simplicity of that statement, and the thought of Sikalongo being my home after only being there for one day. Since my time in Zambia, home has become an ever expanding definition that has stretched into so many different contexts and situations…I hardly know what to make of the word anymore.



And that is when I realized that I might be longing for something that I cannot find on this earth. The existential ache for home is something that we as humans have to live with, and my year seems to be a continual search for a sense of “home” that does not exist here in its fullest form. Its not so depressing as it sounds though. I believe that coming to terms with the truth that life can never stay as it is, is a natural part of the human journey, and brings us closer to God and our eternal home. It puts less pressure on each place I travel to as becoming the end all and be all destination of perfect peace, but fosters a sense of discovery to find the little sign posts and teasers along the way.

An author I love named Joyce Rupp says, “Because we are pilgrims whose homeland is not here, we search, travel, discover, live with mystery, doubt and wonder. We must give ourselves to the human journey and not try to by-pass it because it is in and through our humanness that we discover the beauty of the inner terrain. It is though this that we are transformed into who we are meant to be.”

As I am only two short months away from coming back to my home in Canada, this theme has pervaded my thoughts entirely. An ache for a home, belonging, roots, family, understanding and stability has grown deep within me. I am admittedly growing weary of nomadic life, though I know and have seen the value of the journey time and time again. Though it may not be my “eternal home”, it is a home that my little nomad self has grown a deeper appreciation for, and I cannot wait for the day when I can sit down with my mom, my boyfriend, and my friends again and sink into a the home that gives me a great joy, as temporary as it may be ;)



Monday, 15 April 2013

From Student to Storyteller



 Sitting in my seat among the 17 other girls at the Macha Girls Secondary School Peace Club, I began the session by asking the class a simple question. “Have you ever bullied or been a bully at this school?” Perhaps in fear of judgment, they all quickly shook their heads; no. However, as a female myself who has endured through those formative, yet painful years of high school, I have come to the conclusion that no place can be void of the malicious behavior girls can so easily inflict on each other. The student’s anxious faces were not doing much to convince me either, but I bit my tongue as we dug into the Peace Club curriculum lesson called “Bullying.”

 We began by breaking down the term bullying into 4 types: physical, relational, cyber and verbal. As we delved into each of these, the simple and over arching word bullying became increasingly more specific and relatable. Although, it’s easier to stand from the sidelines and categorize others as “the big bad bully” since you’ve never actually thrown a punch at a fellow classmate, it takes a lot more courage to admit the subtle things we all do on a daily basis that hurt others. So I prodded them with simple questions, and I shared some experiences of my own.  And all of a sudden, the room quickly transformed into an open forum on bullying. It seemed as if every person had a story to share about the mistakes they have made as an offender, or the pain that they have endured as a victim.  I marveled at the way a once quiet classroom could be so willing to share and indulge in the supportive community around them. Especially, on a topic which is makes each person so vulnerable.

More and more, I am seeing the ways that Peace Clubs acts as an outlet for people to not only share their story, but to feel like that story matters. By creating an atmosphere for students that encourages freedom of speech, we allow the opportunity for students to see the change needed on their own terms. When each student can look around the classroom to see others nodding their heads in agreemen,t or sharing similar stories of their own, they can’t help but feel like their life and experience has the power to change others.  Each student becomes their own storyteller, and through that, they can begin to see the change that is needed in themselves, rather than through fear inflicting lectures and punishments by authority figures. After telling her story from years of being a bully, Mapuwo Chip, a member of Peace Clubs comes to the realization, “Peace clubs teaches us not to find the bully, but to find the root cause of the bullying and then find the solution. It also teaches us not to remain the same, but to change.”  Similarly, Daphne Chimmkaam, the president of Peace Clubs at Macha Girls says, “Before I joined the Peace Club I always thought I could bully people who are younger than me; because,  I thought I was big, but all I got was hatred from all my mates”


Peace Clubs feeds the innate desire every person has to express themselves.  Whether it be through the story telling and dramas we had in that Peace Club session, or the testimonies each student wrote to us; we are placing value to their thoughts and opinions. This will be invaluable to each of them as they grow and develop as members of their community. Daphne concludes, “Peace club has taught me a lot. It has taught me how to live with my friends and family (sic), it has taught me the right way to express my feelings. I believe that we are going to promote peace in our families and communities and at large the nation”



Small Footsteps, Radical Movements


It started small. An advert in the local newspaper promoting a Masters program in Peace studies was all it took for Pamela Hanchobezyi- a teacher at Sikalongo Secondary school in Zambia to spark an interest in pursuing further education. Having just completed her bachelors degree in Kenya where she was exposed to some courses in Peace issues, Pamela began entertaining the idea of the things she could do in her own community with a specialized degree. However, in taking this opportunity, she was aware of two things: Firstly, she knew that she would be ostracized and categorized as “too educated” by both men and women in her community. She also knew that because of this, her chances of getting married were almost impossible. But despite the negative cloud of judgment and misunderstanding that followed her, Pamela kept walking.

As someone who comes from a western country where education is seen as the key to success, I had trouble understanding how one can be considered too educated. She explained, “Men are intimidated by women who are more educated then them. Women who are uneducated don’t understand why I would want to pursue education, when marriage guarantee’s security.”

 She explains further that many Zambian women feel as though their roles should only include things like cooking and cleaning, though Pamela is working to change these sterotypes. She says,  “Men think marriage is having a child. It is not about love or commitment; it is about using the women to produce children.” When I asked Pamela whether she would rather be educated or married, she quickly voted for education. “If this is marriage, I don’t want any part of it.” I couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

Pamela describes the harm in a culture dominated by patriarchy by sharing countless stories where battering and adultery is a common occurrence. But with a lack of employment opportunities, women rely on their husbands for income, which creates a continual dependency on the male to support their family. So, inflicted with fear they remain trapped and unaware of all the opportunities waiting before them.

But I see a different sense of wonder in Pamela. Though I was fooled by her sweet demeanor when we first met, her intolerance to accepting inequality is evident through her determined nature. Pamela sees life as a playground. She uses each environment she is in to engage with the community and challenge a male dominated mind-set. After the idea was planted by a fellow MCCer to hold her own workshop on gender, it only took her one week to organize and gather women in the community to come out to this event. She has also used her experience from her Peace Studies Master’s program, and from various Gender workshops to actively lead an afterschool program called “Peace Clubs.” With her passion for these issues, her pupils have gained a deeper understanding of peace within the school and home.

Her footprints are different then the others in her community. But with each step she makes, people can’t help but notice the counter-cultural markings of a woman who is fighting for justice. Some people see the trail she leaves behind and join in, eager to explore what it means to be defined by their own achievements. Some watch timidly from the sidelines, wanting to join, but are trapped by duties and expectations. And some look down on her, waiting to criticize every wrong turn she makes. But despite all of this, she is moving. She is moving further away from a society where male patriarchy is deep rooted, and into a place where freedom reigns and opportunities are endless.




Monday, 25 March 2013

Disenchanted



The first time I came to Macha (a small village in Zambia), I came away feeling enchanted. It was the first place I had travelled to outside of my placement location in Lusaka, and by that point my built up perception of Africa was plummeting. You know how the grass always looks greener on the other side? Well Lusaka doesn’t even have grass, and Macha was abundant with it… even in the dry season. I walked along the red dirt roads with the sun on my face and flowers blooming around me and I felt instantly at peace. I belonged here, and it seemed torturous to have to leave it to return to the congested, noisy, walled in city of Lusaka.





So how is it that fast forward 5 months, I’m speeding down that same dirt road in Macha trying not to yell a profanity as I’m clutching my skirt in one hand and sweating profusely, trying to navigate along the winding paths to find the Peace Club that I was an hour late for? Was it just me, or did things look much bleaker this time?

During my first visit back in October, I came down to attend the opening of Francis Davidson School’s girls hostel opening. As I sat in on the celebrating and speeches, it felt like the epitome of development work done right. This project came from a great need voiced by local families, the funds were appropriated to the right people, and the building of the hostel was done through community effort. The girls who were in most need of a place to safe place to stay were getting their chance at a proper education by being taken out of broken homes and putting them in a conducive learning environment. It truly was a beautiful story.

The problem was that I only came for the end result of all this. I didn’t get to see the behind the scenes work of what it took to build the dormitory brick by brick. I didn’t see the people who were responsible for deciding which girls were most in need of a place to stay. The blueprints, the stress, the anxious moments of “will this actually pull through?” were left from my sight. To me, change looked so attainable, and I was excited to celebrate the end result without having to dig my feet in further.

But my task during my second trip was a little bit less inspirational. As a Coordinator for Peace Clubs in Southern Province, my job also requires me to check in on the peace clubs that we don’t get to observe very frequently living a 5 hours drive away. But still drenched in that enchantment of my first visit, I rode into Macha with an undeniable eagerness. Ready to see peace work in action, I called up the schools to set up appointments.

To my discovery, not only were none of the Peace Clubs running, but the teachers weren’t even willing to meet with me to discuss why. On top of that, the weekend training session I had organized was cancelled on account of an important “sporting event” that every teacher forgot to mention to me when me and my boss had arranged it with them weeks prior. With each excuse given, my heart sank a little more. “Do they even know how much work and stress and money went into planning this trip? What’s the point of even being here if they don’t even care?” I felt useless. And in with my anger came one of the most stressful weeks of my term to date.

Although I try my best to live in that laid back “African time” “things-just-didn’t-go-according-to-plan” mindset, I can’t deny that I am first and foremost a result- oriented Westerner. I couldn’t let this slide, so I quickly became the determined little Mazungu biking around the windy back paths of Macha, hunting teachers down in their homes and desperately trying to find answers. I pulled out all the inspirational messages of encouragement as I sat down with them, and bit my tongue as I heard non-convincing responses to why their peace clubs weren’t active. I walked away many times feeling defeated and tired, but picked myself up the next day to do it all over again.

From my experience in Macha, I am beginning to think that the problem with development work is that it too often skims the surface of issues and gives off the impression that everything is fixable. We hand pick the stories that donors would find heart warming, and in doing so we give a distorted picture of the work it takes for things to be successful. It leaves out the story of me running around Macha, meeting unwilling teachers in their homes and coming away feeling discouraged. Maybe things will change after my week, or maybe they wont, but something tells me that telling a potential donor that no peace club is running in Macha would not make them want to jump in and fund our organization.

I don’t want it to sound like my year in SALT has turned me into one giant pessimist, because that is far from true. For every story I have of disappointing development work, I have a handful of other stories from students and teachers who have been deeply impacted by the work of Peace Clubs. But while I hold onto those stories, I take off my rose tinted glasses... understanding that those success stories don’t always happen over night. Though it would be easier to sit up in the Lusaka Peace Clubs office all day and mindlessly believe that all peace clubs are well on their way, we are doing a greater injustice to the organization in the long run by not getting the full story.  The optimistic side of me will never fade in believing that exposing failure becomes an opportunity to get messy and grapple with issues on the ground. Though it is much less glamourous, they become a part of the stepping stones required for those success stories to take place. In ten years I hope to come back to Zambia and see Peace Clubs in Southern province alive and kicking, knowing that it came from all those "what am I doing here moments" :)