Seven weeks. Seven weeks of being different because the color of my skin is white. To stand out, to be treated differently as a result has been a very new experience in and by itself for me. 'Muzungu, Muzungu! How are you? How are you? Hello, my friend!' These are just a couple of the shouts and comments one hears here and there when crossing town on our way to Mackenzie Community.
Mackenzie: To hear or read about poverty is one thing. But to personally experience poverty on a broad scale, every day – that is a quite different thing altogether. The community's hopes rest on its children, not only because they are the implicit support for their parents and grandparents once they reach old age. But also, because these children can obtain a basic education for free at the Mackenzie Community School, which is the first but most important of many steps towards a better future. Between 50 and 80 of the more than 200 students showed up week after week for the art and craft classes which luckily, I was permitted to take over from my predecessors. Taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours in the afternoon these classes provided some of the most fun times of my stay, despite (or maybe because of?) the multitude of challenges involved (the language barrier, the need to prepare with very limited supplies, the challenge to include all children despite often significant differences in their age).
Masala: Regardless of whether you are thief, customer, or seller, looking for food or clothing – everyone finds something in this bustling marketplace. Right next to it is St. Anthony's Orphanage where already only a couple of hours spent with the children there make a difference. It is hard to believe how much joy one can bring to these kids – who otherwise do not seem to be engaged in many activities - by simply lifting them up, playing ball, tossing them around or riding the swing with them for a couple of minutes.
When talking about Zambia it is important to realize that the concept of 'being on time' has been thoroughly removed from their vocabulary. This made giving computer lessons a rather challenging undertaking. The challenges of starting on or at any time not only included students but also the teachers at the Suburbs Girls School. And despite the nagging feeling here and there that I could have spent my time with more productive activities there were students who did make use of the opportunity provided and with their enthusiasm and willingness to learn kept me going.
The relaxed approach to time seems be part of the Zambian soul. On the one hand this can manifest itself in meetings where after two hours one can not shake the feeling of still being at the same spot as when the meeting began. And then there are the afternoons spent trying to cut through a 12mm steel pipe using a handsaw... despite the fully functioning Bosch electric cutting saw lying right next to the work area where this project took place. And opening a breakthrough in an interior wall to insert a new frame and door can easily take more than half a day and the full attention and strength of six grown people. And no, I am not making these things up... all these impressions took place during the first phase of the Community Health Center project where we were remodeling three rooms in the existing Mackenzie Community Center.
Openness towards strangers and a deeply ingrained hospitality are also wonderful cultural characteristics of the Zambian people. Sometimes, however, it can take on almost unimaginable dimensions as I experienced in a visit to the bush village of Kapalu. Kapalu, situated close to the Congolese border, is part of the iChange project portfolio since 2010 and I had the unique opportunity to visit it twice during my stay. On one occasion we played a game of soccer with the village youth followed by the weirdest lunch of my young life. There are easier experiences than having 200 adults and children silently but closely watching you taking up the offered meal, while they must wait and with many of them being malnourished. On the other occasion we had to pay to be allowed to see the tribal chief – only to be chided thoroughly about certain aspects of village's cooperation with iChange that he was not happy about. In the end, however, these differences were resolved amicably and both visits became yet another important and valuable experience of my time in Zambia.
What other impressions did this wonderful country, and its people offer me during my short time there? A breathtaking waterfall that is next to impossible to describe with words, seconds of total freedom and exhilaration during a 111m freefall (bungee jumping), a hippo which out of empathy visits caged chimpanzees daily, beautiful handcrafted paintings, as well as a visit to five of the 72 churches where everybody sings and dances.
Villagers who walk 3 hours (one-way, make no mistake) into the Congo to fetch water, dirt, and dust - not only on your clothes but everywhere, including your nose and lungs. Days at a time without electricity and sometimes even without water; children who do crazy overhead flips over rocks (and subsequent painful scrapes and scratches for me in my attempt to do the same), a soccer game right next to the airport area in Ndola, riding a bicycle through town together with another person – and a 17kg backpack.
Many, many mulishanis and bwinos; eating nshima and capenta with my bare hands, and – impossible to forget - one of the many delicacies of the Zambian culinary landscape – caterpillars. Waiting eight hours for a pre-arranged meeting, which makes one learn and realize the meaning of the word 'patience' in a whole new way.
Seven unique and unforgettable weeks, many new impressions and relationships, and a new place to call home. Zambia – the REAL Africa (copyright by Will). Thank you.
Attempting to really understand what I am trying to say? No problem – my recommendation in this case is, go and see for yourself!