Monday, June 8, 2009

Update on Charity

Hi everyone,

We have a story to tell, and it is one that may only come from Zambia. As many of you know, we had a rather interesting time in Livingstone, and it only got a little more interesting. After waking up early Sunday morning for a day in the game park (which was incredible) we head over to the market. We did a little shopping but wanted to get back to Choma at a decent hour to visit Charity's family for mourning. While Erma was trying to reach into the truck, she slipped and fell backwards onto the dirt road. There was some blood, confusion, tears, prayers and frozen corn to help with the process. Needless to say, we did get pushed back a little in our schedule. Unfortunalty, we had plans for dinner and did not return to Choma with enough time to stop into Charity's home. At our dinner, we were told that Charity had not died, and that there was confusion about who exaxtly passed on.

As of now, Charity is alive and well and our prayers go to the other family in mourning. Erma spent the evening in a "hospital" for some check up and returned this morning in good condition and high spirits. We made the long journey to Lusaka today joyous to come home but sad to leave. As a team we will find closure to our work as our plane takes off at 8:50 am Tuesday and we touch down in Newark at 10:35 Tuesday night!

See you all then and keep us in your prayers as we travel....(20 hours of fun)


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pouring in Zimbabwe

Now that our work is done, it is time to sit back and enjoy a bit of Zambia’s beauty. We have spent much of our stay here absorbing culture, living amongst the people and soaking the beauty of the country…or at least we thought so. The team packed the Hiace once again for an overnight stay in Livingstone, Zambia. We have heard so much about this place, and we were eager to see Victoria Falls. Though Livingstone is only 120 kilometers away from Choma, it took a solid 3 hours to get there due to detours and potholes in the road.

We arrived at Victoria Falls early in the afternoon. It is truly an amazing thing to experience! The falls are so high that the pounding water creates a mist that rises for hundreds of feet in the air. As we walked along the falls, this mist showered us like a steady rain. The mist also makes visibility very poor – we were unable to see the full length or height of the falls. I think it was a reminder for us all how awesome our God is to be able to create and sustain such a natural wonder!

After seeing the falls, about half of the team (Ron, Larry, Matt Ndala and our guest Kristen) decided to take a hike down to see the “boiling pot.” After the water from the falls hits the Zambezi river, it gathers and churns before taking a sharp turn around the gorge. As we hiked down to see this, we saw dozens of baboons on the cliff. There were big baboons and small baboons, playful baboons and lazy baboons, friendly baboons and shy baboons. Many of them played along the path we were hiking on, and we came very close to them. It was so much fun to see these interesting animals up close. We finally made it down to the boiling pot, after fording streams, climbing over wet, slippery rocks, and taking a couple spills in the water. It was a great adventure for us all!

No trip to victory falls is complete with an attempt to get into Zimbabwe. The whole team went through immigration and got access to walk across the bridge into Zimbabwe territory. Since the currency is no longer being used, there are marketers selling the bills as currency all over the place. It was a neat adventure walking all the way to the border. Matt, Jess and I tried to get a stamp so that we could go through the border but the police said it required a $30 Visa. $30 was not a worth a 10 minute walk into the border of Zimbabwe and back. Our time was greeted with a Warthog which was something many of us only remember from the creatures in the Lion King.

After our time spent in the market and a delicious dinner, our team decided to return to Victoria Falls this evening to witness a phenomenon called a moonbow. Since it was a full moon, we could see dim rainbows over the falls produced by the light of the moon. I must say, it was absolutely incredible and something none of us have seen before. According to the reputable Wikipedia, the moonbow can only be seen in three different places in the world – Kentucky, Hawaii, and Zambia.

Bishop Hamukang’andu called us last night with some sad and shocking news. We found out that a lady named Charity, who was one of the most enthusiastic and gifted members of the tie-dye coop, was killed in an accident yesterday. She was in the back of a bus with many other people returning from a funeral when a tire popped and the bus overturned. As far as we know, at least one other person was killed, and we’re not sure if there were more casualties. Of course, this news hit our team very hard, especially for Christine, Jess, and Ali who spent so much time working with Charity over the past few weeks. Our team gathered back in the lodge last night to grieve and pray together. Please be in prayers for Charity’s family and the families of others involved in this accident. Please also pray that our team is able to minister to this family as we go and visit later today.

This morning we are going to the game park in Livingstone, then we’ll return back to Choma. We would ask for your prayers as we finish up the last couple days of our stay in Zambia.

-Larry and Matt

Thursday, June 4, 2009

“Do you see the moon in America?”

There are many luxuries of the western culture that we don’t realize we have until we forced to live without them. Of course there’s the obvious like electricity, running water, and roofs which don’t contain rats. However one luxury I believe we all over looked is the knowledge we have of our world around us. During our time in Simaubi, I suppose I assumed these people would have some concept of what American culture was like; due to the fact, that America seems to be known all over world these days. However as I spent time with the villagers of Simaubi working on the VSLA, I realized they had no concept of anything other than their own village. This came as a surprise as I was asked questions about America. The idea that we didn’t eat any Nshima in America was a difficult one for many of them to grasp. Imagine trying to explain what an American kitchen was like if the only thing they knew was an open flame fire for cooking dinner and light. Or in another situation, how do you explain what our houses look like, if the only thing they knew is a house of mud bricks and a thatch roof. After having many conversations with individuals in the village, I came to understand what the people imagined about America. One person thought America was huge with probably 15 states. I have to admit I chuckled a little to myself when I corrected him with the fact that there were actually 50 states. Others thought our houses were made of sheet metal and there was an over flowing supply of Nshima. (Corn meal and water that basically when is cooked it becomes a puffy white mound of bland starch). Life as we know it is something that is more than difficult to explain for those who live in the humbleness of the simple life. I think I speak for us all when I say we saw the Africa we knew existed and never believed to be true. However, this past week we didn’t just see it, but lived it, and now we all know that it’s true.
This past week four of the seven of us made the venture back to Simaubi for more training in the Village Savings and Loan Association project. For those who may not know what VSLA is all about, in short, it’s essentially like starting a micro-bank owned and operated completely by the association members. The point of this program is to make the people self sufficient through saving Kwacha (the local currency) and taking loans out from each other. I am proud to say that we have successfully started two of these associations this past week. Monday we woke up extra early to make the two hour truck down to the Simaubi village. We all tried to get a little extra sleep as we bumped around in the over loaded and crowded truck. Needless to say, the ride to Simaubi from Choma is more of an obstacle course as Ron tries to dodge as many bumps and pot holes as possible. Monday I believe we were all extra sleepy when we arrived just before nine. However as discussed last week at our sessions, if anyone was late to the meeting on Monday they would have to pay a fine. By the time we got to the church, we had to put money into their fine’s bowl along with many others. This past week Monday and Tuesday were both intense days of training and frustrating at certain points. These two days we were helping the associations to fill out their Constitution, or rules for the group. In the guide book we were using for this project, it’s supposed to take only 2 hours. However for us it took two days. We found that some of the questions in the Constitution took two hours of nothing but discussion in Tonga before a conclusion was decided. Both Monday and Tuesday the trainings went from 9 to 5 with only brakes for tea/ breakfast and lunch. Wednesday Matt and my association had quite a lot to do, while Laura and Larry’s association was almost finished with all of their trainings. Our goal was to try to finish early and get done on Wednesday. Matt and I didn’t think it was going to possible however we succeeded in doing so. Both of our associations made it through the training process and held their first savings meeting. We were all proud of their accomplishment! Laura and Larry’s association saved 2,446,500 Kwacha ($489) with their saving shares and fines combined. Matt and my association saved 871,000 Kwacha ($174) with the saving shares and fines combined. The feeling was bitter sweet as we hugged and shook hands of the 56 members of the associations we trained. They were extremely grateful for our time with them and asked if when we were coming back. It was good for us all to be able to see our project we were working on all year come together and become a success.
We all enjoyed our time together as a team and with our host families. Laura and I had quite some adventures together as we bore through rats, the roof snowing on us at night, a bird squawking somewhere in the roof, sharing a single bed together, and still yet four other ladies trying to squeeze into the tiny crowded mud hut. Our neighbors, Matt and Larry, had their own adventures to deal with. One of these obstacles being the “shower room” which contained straw walls which were too short for our seven foot man, Mateyo. Because our host families were neighbors and relatives, the four of us had many meals together which we all enjoyed each other’s company. Our time in Simaubi was stretching, humbling, and a success. We all got a glimpse into a life full of struggles, and hardships. The faces of the people we worked with will live on through pictures and our memories. We taught them business skills and did what we could to help improve their lives for the future. However we didn’t just educate them on business skills but on the world outside of their village as well. In conclusion, our time in Simaubi was one to remember. When we go back to America and look up at the moon in the night sky, we will think about our conversation with our friend Sebastian when he asked “do you see the moon in America?”

Mary High

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Here, There, and Everywhere

Our guest house in Choma seems like luxury after spending two nights in Simaubi! We woke up at 5:30 AM on Tuesday morning just before the sun rose. Nine of us piled into our van packed full with cornmeal, water, cabbage, sleeping bags, and foam mats. I don’t think any of us really knew just how bumpy the ride would be. After two hours of bouncing up and down in our seats, we made it to Macha Hospital (a quick stop before Simaubi). The hospital was very nice and specialized in malaria prevention. We were given a tour where we actually ran into other Messiah students who are spending May Term there. We were provided lunch which we ate with them, then piled back into the van and drove half an hour more to Simaubi. We arrived around dusk and waited around the fire until final host family decisions were sorted out. We went off in pairs to our respective homestay families (except Christine, who was on her own). Each of us obviously had different experiences, but I think there are some things that we all had in common. For example, toilets were pit latrines, roosters crowed every hour throughout the night, cooking was done on an outdoor fire, and English was minimal. Let us expound upon our bathroom situations: Toilet paper—no way. Light—I don’t think so. Small creatures crawling around—absolutely. The smell of fresh flowers—certainly not. A hole the size of a brick—think smaller. So basically, we are trying to say that using the toilet was kept to a minimum, which clearly creates other problems when all you eat is starch (5 times a day). Speaking of starch, let’s talk about our eating situation: enshima: a tan thick corny paste that tastes like mashed potatoes minus all of the good stuff. This is what we survived on. It was a staple for every meal. The only thing worse than tasting it was having it sit in your stomach for days. To accompany the enshima, we had the vegetable rape (no, that’s what it’s really called). We also were served some sort of meat with our meals, usually goat or chicken.

As you know, our purpose for spending time in “the bush” was to develop two Village Savings and Loan Associations. The first day (Wednesday), we were scheduled to begin at 9 AM. However, in typical Zambian fashion, people didn’t show up until 10 and the full group wasn’t there until nearly noon. It was exciting to see nearly fifty people so eager to be involved in these Associations. Mary and Matt (or Matayo, as he is called in Zambia) trained one Association with the help of Pastor Nambala, who can speak both English and Tonga. Laura and Larry taught the other Association through Ndala (let us tell you a side note about this very intriguing Zambian: He is a young man who works with Ron Herr, our BICC-Z contact. Ndala has been really helpful throughout this whole trip. He also happens to be our chosen export upon our departure. To say the least, we really enjoy his comical addition to our team.). We trained for about 3 hours on Wednesday and 5 hours on Thursday.

Jess, Ali, and Christine helped to prepare lunch for about 60 people on both days. Some of their experiences included: learning to carry water on their heads, filleting a goat, stirring 25 pounds of enshima, and Ali cutting off the head of a live rooster (I guess she didn’t like the fact that they kept us up all night). When we actually ate our meals, there were no utensils involved. We used the hands that God gave us, which we cleaned the best that we could with the small bottles of Messiah-provided Purel to prevent swine flu (thank you, DT). It’s funny because Zambians don’t drink with their meals (actually, they don’t drink ever). Needless to say, our experience was one of humility, learning, and dirt—lots of dirt. Mom, Dad: we miss you. We will never complain about your cooking again. Love you all

-Laura and Ali

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Choma!

Mwabuka buti.
Good Morning. Here we are, day 7 into our trip. It is hard to believe that we have almost been here an entire week. So far, we have been having a lot of fun, and it has been a blast. We certainly all feel blessed to be here, and are enjoying every aspect of our adventure. Many of us have learned a lot about Africa quickly. For one, Africa is not always hot. In the day, we have had this gorgeous spring weather which consists of an 80 degree day with a great breeze, though it is winter time here. Not a cloud in the sky. At night however, it can get rather chilly. Once the hot sun goes down and the multitude of stars poke through the dark sky it can be in the 40 or 50’s. Regardless, the weather is wonderful and the sun is hot.
Saturday we took the 4 hour journey from Lusaka to Choma. It is always an adventure loading up in the “Hiace” van to travel with nine of us. For some of us, the journey went a lot faster than others. It was neat to see the scenery which passed us by. In the middle of what is called the bush, we would find pockets of villagers and small market stands. At moments there was just one person sitting next to a basket of tomatoes or a bunch of bananas with hopes to sell something. The girls had a blast messing around with Ndala who is the field officer for the BIC Mission in Choma. He is from Lusaka but moved and works with Ron Herr who is a missionary working on economic development in the Choma region. Ali believes it was the best journey of her life. The main road was much better than expected. It was a wide paved road with nothing around, so it gave constant opportunity to “commander” (pass) other cars. The ride gave us an appreciation to see the Africa that we perceived to be from pictures and stories we believed to exist. Ron made a quick stop at a banana stand which was quite the experience. Within seconds 15 marketers surrounded the van with bananas and five arms stuffed through the windows with bananas.
Saturday afternoon we finally arrived in Choma and before we could put our bags down, we were on our way to take a walk into downtown Choma. The BIC guesthouse sits down a small dirt road after the bishop’s house, Ron and Erma’s house and past Marian’s house who is a missionary in Zambia. The house is a cute little rancher that houses all of us. The walk to downtown Choma is pretty incredible. We walk through the bush and dry African dust to reach a small primitive area where bright colored paint is used to patch buildings together. Our first walk down showed us a majority of men with our team being the only white folks on the streets. We didn’t have much time, so we picked up a coke and head back to the house. Needless to say we had many heads turning to catch a glimpse. Dinner was at Ron and Erma’s house and it was an incredible meal to say the least.
Sunday we had an opportunity to attend Nahumba BIC church for service. The worship was a beautiful medley of voices, claps and drums. Attending church in Zambia is always an experience of men and women on opposite sides. After service everyone lines up shake everyone’s hand as they leave the church in a continuous line.

The team meet the co-op for the first time today and introduced themselves. Jess and Ali will be working with the co-op and helped to communicate ideas about inventories and how to keep account of their products. We then washed and prepared fabric to dye 22 products. While we are in Simaubi this week the co-op will dye the fabric. The rest of the team (Larry, Matt, Mary and Laura) met with Ron and Ndala to go over some details for our stay in the village for the VSLA training.
Here we are at 14:00 hours off to Choma to buy some last minute supplies for Simaubi. Overall, I think everyone is excited to spend some time leaving in community with the villagers. Having a hut as a roof and a floor as a bed should be growing for us all. Maybe the nshima (cornmeal) and chibwantu (fermented root and cornmeal drink) will top it off.

Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we embark on a “native” (As Larry would say) adventure into Simaubi. So far we are all in good health, and hope to continue to work faithfully and in a strong and healthy manner in the Lord’s name.

-Zambia Team

(AKA Matt & Larry)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Our Journey Begins

Hello Everyone! Today is our second day here in Zambia. On Wednesday, we spent nearly the entire day in London. From Buckingham Palace (where we actually saw the Queen herself) to Big Ben, we sure got the whirlwind tour of London, England. It was exciting for us to run around the city on less than two hours of sleep and still manage to catch our 7:05pm flight to Lusaka, Zambia. On Thursday, Christine, Ron, and Ndalah greeted us at the airport bright and early. Excitement filled each of us as we were about to begin our journey in Zambia. We drove 15 minutes til we reached the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) House where we would be staying for the next two days. The house is very nice--one house is for the guys, and there is another small building that the four girls are staying in. It takes us about 5hrs to open the door everytime because there are so many locks! I have made it a challenge for myself to try to open the doors in less than two minutes. A night guard named Chris watches the house at night, as well as our cute german-shephard Max. Ron and Larry took a walk and purchased some sugar cane, which they shared with us later that evening during dinner. Christine prepared pasta and salad for us--quite delicious. We actually ended up eating over candle light (soooo romantic) because the power went out. After an exhausting day we all took a nice shower and fell asleep quite quickly.
Today (Friday), we went to MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Assosiation). They took us into a small village where we helped do some farming work. We split the group into two teams of four each, including Ron. Each team helped a farmer make new garden beds, which required much hoeing and digging. The Zambian children seemed very intrigued by us, and looked at us sheepishly. We would wave to them, and they usually giggled and waved back. I think it was really great for all of us to have this experience. These people clearly do not have the resources that we have back home. Larry. Laura, Matt and Christi spent their time with the district leader of the agricultural Cooperative and local pastor. He was a very interesting man, and had a lot to tell us about life. Somehow Matt found his way trying to search for cobras, while Larry gave out his Starburts and attempted to play volleyball with a shopping bag (very strange kid that Larry is...) (He's standing right next to me, so I can't say anything too bad...that will have to wait until next time). Overall, I'd say this has an excellent beginning to our trip. I look forward to the service that this team will do while we are here, but more importantly I look forward to what we will learn and how God will grow us.

We miss you guys!!!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Preparing for Zambia - 2009!!

I am amazed that after so much thought, prayer, planning, and effort on the part of so many people, we are now finally ready to embark on our three-week journey to Zambia!
Our team is composed of a unique and diverse group of people. There are 5 Messiah college students of varying ages and majors, along with myself (Matt) and a Messiah professor, Christine Forsythe. We are so excited to have the opportunity to go serve in Zambia together! This is the second year in a row that we've sent a team of this size to Zambia, and we're looking forward to seeing our friends again and continuing to build relationships with them. We are working with the Tonga people group who have a warm, beautiful culture which we have come to love and appreciate.

For lack of a better term, there are two different "projects" our team will be working on (keeping in mind that the true value of our work is in relationships, not "projects"). The first is in Choma, where we will be helping a small group of people living with HIV/AIDS to improve their craftsmanship in making hand-made paper and tie-die products. We will also be doing some training with them to increase their business acumen so that they can generate income for themselves and their families through this project.

The second project is in a rural village called Simaubi about 70 miles north of Choma. We will be working with two (possibly three) self-formed groups of 15-25 people. We will be training them to operate and independently manage their groups, which will become a type of savings a credit association. They will agree on an amount of money to save on a regular basis, keep it all in a lockbox, and then make it available to group members for loans as needed. The goals of these associations are to increase household security through mobilizing savings, provide the opportunity to access loans for business investment and other needs, and create a "social fund" as a form of insurance that will provide small grants to people in cases of desperate need.

As I write about these goals of these two projects, it strikes me that they are very objective and maybe even "Western" in nature. Perhaps some other goals which might better align with the Zambian culture would be to create solidarity through relationships, increase the social power of the marginalized, and become a stronger and more whole community.

Some of the main prayer requests that we have are as follows:

-Sensitivity to the culture that we're working in.
-That we would have servants hearts and the attitude of learners.
-That meaningful relationships will be formed and that lasting fruit will result from our work.
-That God will be glorified in our lives and the lives of the Zambian people we relate with!

Thanks to you all for your prayers, support and encouragement!