Forgotten Voices' Mission:

"Demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their communities."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

6/4 - Shedding My Backpack for Mapalo

Ryan again. After a long night of working on some documents for Remmy, I got up late this morning. Katie was up earlier than me, as always. I had to skip breakfast to make up for lost time. At 9am, we were meeting Remmy to visit a place called Jubilee Center and go into the community to attend a Homebased Care Volunteer Training Session in Mapalo, just outside Ndola.

I decided today that I would shed my backpack. I've noticed something again that typically hits me around day 4. Americans (including me) love their backpacks. We carry them with us when we travel so a map, food, water, camera, money, etc are always within The backpacks provide a buffer between the realities we see and the life we know back home. They also cause problems. Caring for them. Watchign them closely when we set them down. Pulling them close when we pass through a crowd. And they are just heavy with all the stuff. So Katie had her camera in her purse, so I chose to shed my backpack. Glad I did. It was one of those "experience Africa" days that I love. I may have missed it worrying about my pack.

After tracking each other down at 9:20, Remmy, Katie and I set off. First to put air in the tires of Remmy's 1990ish Toyota Camry, as the front left was not looking too good. The roads would be bumpy, I was told, and I was thankful not to be driving. Remmy did, instead. I've driven many a road in Zimbabwe that was "bumpy" but few have compared to the roads we saw today...extreme divots from the rains... all mud in the rainy season, molded to seemingly undriveable conditions as the mud has dried. But we managed...sorta.

Following a brief time at the Jubilee Center, where we met with Martin, the National Micah Challenge Director and an impromptu visit with Lawrence, the Executive Director of Jubilee (a friend to many that I know in the states)... we set off again for the Mapalo District and the Homebased Care Volunteer Training Session.

About 10 minutes from our destination, the front left tire blew out - puntured by a spike thrown into the dusty road. We pulled over to the right side of the road along this dirt road, just under the shade of a tree. The air was flying out of our tire loudly, giving off a hissing noise and spraying dirt everywhere - everything is dusty here.

The funny thing about traveling in Africa is you never know when you will have an incident like this, but you'll surely always have one on every trip. This dusty road seemed like the perfect place. Spare tire? check. "Wrench"? Check. Jack? Nope. Had loaned it to Martin, leader of the Micah Challenge, who we met with earlier in the day at Jubilee.

One of the most significant changes to the development of southern Africa has been the addition of cell towers, with coverage available pretty much anywhere now in Zambia. So - a quick call to the driver for Jubilee Center, who was at the training center we were going to, and we had a jack and a changed tire... after finding a bottle cap, old wire, and other assorted objects to make the wrench fit the tire bolts. Americans are known internationally for their ingenuity, but we have nothing on the "make a plan" Zambians.

We were off again. Homemade kites made out of garbage bags and sticks could be seen everywhere on the powerlines, permanently part of the mystic of Mapalo. Some kids still ventured to set these kites to air, gaining some wind and enjoying the 70 degree day with flight.

As we approached Mapalo's high density area, the stark contrasts between the city life and this one were evident all around us. Zambia's middle class has grown, making 3 distinct groups of people. Mapalo was full of "lower class", but also entrepreneurs on the cusp of emerging into the next tier. Stands of all varieties lined the busy, canyon-esque, dirt road that pierced through Mapalo...clearly the main drag. We saw only 3 cars in the final 10 min drive. Walking and biking were the preferred ways, with fuel costs up to about $7/gallon.

When we arrived at Mapalo Community Center and Church for the training, we were late (clearly). A swarm of children surrounded our car, a rare sight only enhanced by the car's white passengers. I was told that the local people were used to white people, who often came to do research on Mapalo's high density conditions.

Mapalo means "blessing" or "blessed". It received a name change a few years ago when a group of churches pressured a local MP (member of Parliment) to start improving the conditions of the community, after decades of only caring when elections came around. The pastors helped form a group called Ndola Development Trust, which now helps build up the community and is supposed to start improving infrastructures like roads (they haven't gotten that far, apparently).

Mapalo's old name meant "brutal people dwell there." The area used to be a hideaway for murderers and criminals from Ndola's streets, who would flee to Mapalo to blend in to the high density abyss. Looking around, it is easy to see why the old name fit - not so much because I felt unsafe, but more that I kept seeing people appear out of seemingly nowhere - houses built into trees, living places built out of abandoned train cars from a century ago.

Things have improved here, in large part because of the churches and agencies like the Jubilee Center. The Homebased Care Volunteers were meeting for the day, one of 6 each year. About 20 were in attendance, out of 280 that Jubilee trains year round. From all denominations.

Katie noted that she has been reading for some time about homebased care, orphans & vulnerable children (OVCs) and child headed households (CHH). Technical jargon in the international development field I belong to. She especially enjoyed seeing social work in action, where the policies hit the ground.

Two interesting observations from our time with this group of volunteers, as we snuck in the far back row to listen: 1) the volunteers enthusiastically brought it to the attention of the trainer from Jubilee Center that there was an obvious bias against non-English speakers in the program. Less passionate people were being plucked from the pool of volunteers to work for the program for pay, simply because they could read & write in English... a popular job requirement with western agencies like Forgotten Voices in Zambia. The volunteers felt that their voices were not being heard or cared for and in a way, used by the voices of English speakers... sadly, I've heard this before. A tricky dilemma. 2) there was a fascinating discussion on how to list 20+ year old heads of household that weren't married. For the purposes of Western agencies, anyone under 18 leading a household is considered a Child Headed Household (CHH), an important distinction in terms of how many services the family could receive. But in the local culture, a person is a child or youth until they get married - so age isn't the defining characteristic like it is in the West. The workers were concerned that adhering the standards of the donor agency may change the local beliefs that define adulthood - marriage. Fascinating tension that they will continue to work through.

We slipped out to avoid further distractions that our white faces had already briefly caused the seminar. Kids shouted gleefully at us, "white man" rained from all around us as we returned down the dirt road toward Ndola.

After a brief lunch at the Chicken King, where we were entertained by some local musicians playing on the street that had just struck "an unfair" record deal, our leftovers were snatched up by a street kid living on Broadway - one of the main streets, apparently full of street kids that had not connected with one of the many agencies trying to "empower kids" in the community. No matter how many agencies, it doesn't seem that the score will ever say we are winning this war - a reality that I am coming to with every day we are here. The boy that took our lunch had to run, as 2 other men swarmed around him quickly - hoping to overpower him and take the food.

This was all before 2pm. For "lazy people" as at least a few Americans have called them to me, resiliency is a characteristic that define virtually all the people I've met in Africa - anything else would not lead to survival.

We dropped the tire at a local gas station near TCCA that promised to fix it, despite the large hole. In America, there is no way we would've kept that tire. As Katie rested, I walked back to our apartment where we were staying to get my computer to begin writing some of this down and to prepare for a mtg w/ a local ministry leader at 2:30pm. I saw the man at the tire place already rigging a solution to our tire. He smiled and affirmed my faith that he would indeed plug that tire. His livelihood depended on it in a way I will never understand.

Off to play some volleyball and tennis, before an evening meeting with a guy that has been struggling to drive 7 hrs up to meet with me before we depart Thursday - so far he has been traveling for 3 days and his car has stopped working twice. Resiliency indeed.

Bye for now.

Continue praying for Ndola, Mapalo, TCCA, those studying here, and for us as we see so much, learn about life, and just love the best we can... allowing God to sort out the score and help us have faith that God will in fact redeem all of this.

Ryan & Katie

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing and I am thankful your journey is going well. God bless!!!