Friday, July 12, 2013
Hey, hey, remember me? We’ve been home for almost two weeks now. I’d say it probably took a good week or so for me to get fully back in a normal routine. There were a couple of nights where I was exhausted by dinner time (midnight-ish Zambia time) or wide awake at 2 (8 a.m. Zambia time) but that only lasted for a bit. Unlike some of the girls, I didn’t have to rush right to work or school upon returning to the States, so that helped. Or maybe it was worse not getting right back on a consistent schedule. I don’t know. Either way, I’m feeling pretty normal again.
Somehow or another, my oldest brother, John, got to talking with my travelmate, Jacquie, on my Facebook. John referred to me as the jock of the family. While it might be hard to believe, once upon a time I was indeed the jock of the family. At some point in my life, I played soccer, basketball, and fastpitch softball, softball being the real love of my life. While my competitive days are behind me, I still enjoying playing around. The 7-year-old I babysit every week has decided that playing catch is the best way to spend an evening, and I can’t even tell you how happy that makes me.
Anyway, all that to say, the kids at Libala were dying to do Physical Education with Jacquie and me before we left and I was pretty excited about that. Every day the last week they begged us, “Ask teacher, ask teacher.” At Libala at least, what they call Physical Education is more like what we call recess. It’s not scheduled, and there’s no specific P.E. teacher. The classroom teacher takes the class out whenever he or she wants to. I wrote a little about this before – we ran a lot of races, played a tag game, and played a game pretty much exactly like Red Rover – but here are some photos.
First up, some racing kids. Initially I was thinking I might run with them, but dang, some of these kids could fly. Also, they ran a really long way. So I decided it would be more important to document the event. Heh.
In the picture of the girls, you can kind of get a feel for the distance they were running. They started from behind where I was standing when I took the photo, ran to that wall in the distance, and then ran back. And they did it over and over and over. I got tired just watching them. The ground was pretty level – not a lot of holes – but rocky in places. You can see some big rocks and that little rocky ledge. It’s hard to tell in the photos, but a number of the kids took off their shoes and socks. Once upon a time, I was practically always barefoot, but I doubt my feet would be tough enough for that anymore. It didn’t slow them down at all.
I also mentioned in an earlier post – I think – that soccer is really popular in Zambia. (Yes, they, like everyone in the world except us, call it football. But I’m used to calling it soccer, okay?) While our kids were racing and playing, there were a number of other classes out as well so there were groups of kids doing all kinds of different things. One of those things was, of course, playing soccer. At the end of the day, while Jacquie and I were waiting for our bus, I finally got a good look at what the kids generally use for a ball. I picked it up and as I was studying it, an older boy, standing outside the school, said, “Do you like it?” When I looked up at him, he had a big smile on his face. He had made it and he was so proud of himself. When I asked him what it was made of he said, “Plastics.” It was made almost entirely of plastic bags. There was a center, made of wadded up newspaper. That wad of paper went into a plastic bag. The plastic bag was pulled tightly around the paper and twisted closed. That then went into another plastic bag which was pulled tightly and then twisted closed. That process is basically repeated over and over until the ball is the right size and then the the final bag is knotted and pulled out as flat as possible. Here’s a really neat YouTube video that shows a couple of different ways to do this. In the video, both balls are finished off with rope or string, but the ball I was looking at – pictured under the video – wasn’t tied up in any way which is, I”m guessing, partly why it was fraying. After the kids play with the balls enough that they start to come apart, they toss it out and make another one.
I kicked it around a little bit, and I was really impressed with how well it rolled. It wasn’t as heavy as a regulation soccer ball so if you tried to kick it a long way, I imagine it might fly funny, but the kids seemed to mostly play in smaller spaces – remember they were sharing the field with everyone else – so I don’t know that that really affected them much. My friend offered to make me one and bring it the next day, but since it was our last day at Libala, I had to turn down his offer. It was very sweet though and I was struck by how proud he was that he was capable of making something like that. If you had the right group of kids, you could probably talk kids in America into making one of these and even playing with it for a while, but the first time it fell apart and they had to make another one, most of them would start asking for real balls.
A side note about soccer: I have a lot of friends who are really into soccer and follow the various leagues, but I’ve never really gotten into it. It’s one of those sports where I can recognize and appreciate the incredible level of athleticism and skill, but it just doesn’t hold my attention for very long. Something about it doesn’t come together for me. I discovered while in Zambia, that it helps immensely to watch soccer with soccer fans. There was a little bar in the Commonwealth, where we stayed – just a bar with a few stools, a couple of tables, and a TV. I wandered in one night to grab a bottle of Coca-Cola, and there was a soccer game on the TV. I was so taken by the crowd watching, that I hung out and watched for a while. They were seriously more entertaining than the game, hooting and hollering, gasping and jeering with every single play. And Zambia wasn’t even playing! Even when I finally left them and headed down to sit outside the wifi room, I could still tell what was happening in the game just by listening to the crowd which I could still hear. It was pretty awesome and very endearing.
At the Commonwealth, we met a couple of young, Zambian guys who lived there. The first night we met them, we had a long conversation about many, many things. One of the things that came up was misconceptions that people often have about places they’ve never been. One of the guys, Koontz, specifically mentioned that he hates those commercials with starving African kids with their distended stomachs. You know exactly what I’m talking about because that’s probably one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Africa – and I can say that because it’s true for me too. Koontz said that of course there are kids like that in Africa, plenty of them, but that it’s not the whole continent, and it’s not the good parts. As someone who moved from Alabama to New York, I’ve deal with this on a smaller scale. People in both places have ideas about the other place and while those ideas are applicable in some part of both places, they’re not applicable to my life in either place. For example, my husband grew up in New York and I grew up in Alabama. But he’s the one who grew up in a small town, in a house surrounded by corn fields, and I’m the one who grew up in a suburb that was growing faster than some things, including the school system, could keep up with it. My junior year of high school, we moved into a brand new school and this school had sports facilities out the wazoo. By the time I graduated, every sport that I know of – and there were a lot of them, boys and girls – had its own playing field on campus. Some of them had JV fields and varsity fields. A few even had separate practice facilities. For crying out loud, the varsity football team played on the minor league baseball field. Even my Little League teams played at beautiful parks with 9 or 10 fields, every field with lights and a PA system.
In all those years, it never once crossed my mind that I should be grateful for all of that. In fact, in the 9th grade, before we moved into the new school, the softball team practiced and played on a field at the junior high school. The field was off-kilter and it didn’t have fences and boy, that seemed like the biggest inconvenience in the world. Watching our Libala kids that day was one of the times over the course of the trip that I felt truly embarrassed for how little I had appreciated the things I’d had. All those kids were running around on packed, rocky dirt, the only actual piece of equipment between them a soccer ball made out of plastic bags. I’m probably making them out to be too noble – there are probably times they wish they had more, and I’m sure they have their complaints – but I don’t know, maybe not. Maybe when everyone around you doesn’t have much, not having much seems perfectly normal. And even if they wish they had more, I certainly couldn’t tell. I mean, look at those faces. They seem pretty dang happy, yeah?
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Home again, home again, jig, jig, jig!
Many of you follow me on Facebook or Twitter and got the gist of our journey home there, but let me give you the full story.
Since we weren’t flying out of Lusaka until 9:25 p.m., we all got up bright and early and went to services at Lusaka Central SDA Church with Dr. Shandomo and her sister. It’s a Seventh-Day Adventist church and the services weren’t too different from my Southern Baptist upbringing. There was a lot of singing, a lot of praying, and some preaching. After the service we stayed for Sabbath School which is again, pretty much like good ol’ Southern Baptist Sunday School. Probably my favorite thing about the service was all the hymns we sang, hymns that I’ve been singing since I was old enough to be carried into a church building. One of the things I like least about modern churches is how popular overly simple, repetitive praise and worship songs have gotten and how old, beautiful hymns are becoming less popular. Hymns have such lyrical depth and emotion compared to most praise and worship music, and to me, there’s something really powerful about singing songs that Christians have been singing for generations. I can’t listen to Sufjan Stevens’ version of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” , my favorite hymn, without getting teary-eyed. It was written by 22-year-old Robert Robinson in 1757 and here we are, still singing it hundreds of years later. Amazing! But I digress! Sorry.
The church, like everyone in Zambia for the last three weeks, was extremely welcoming. During the service, we were all introduced by name and asked to stand up. We were also all given a flower and a little piece of cake. So sweet! And also delicious.
The rest of the day was a bit of a whirlwind as we sent a few last emails, tried to figure out how to pack all our souvenirs, said goodbye to friends at the Commonwealth, and then figured out how to get 17 people and their luggage into a couple of vans.
Friday, June 28, 2013
First of all, it’s my little brother Lee’s birthday so happy birthday, bud. Our family has roots in Pittsburgh so we’re both big Pirates fans. He’s been faithfully sending me extremely thorough updates on how the team is doing because he’s awesome like that. And the Pirates are awesome too! WOOOOOOOOOOO! LET’S GO BUCS!
Before too long I’ll be going to sleep in Africa for the last time. I can hardly believe it. At the end of the first week, I was sure I was never going to make it through the whole three weeks and now I wish I could stay longer. If I were younger – or at least less settled – I could definitely do a whole semester here. Zambia has been really good to us. It’s unquestionably beautiful and the people are so friendly and welcoming. They’ve been patient and good-humored with all of us crazy muzungus.
That said, I’m looking forward to being home too. I miss my husband, my dog, my bed, and my pillow. Last night at dinner, everyone was making a list of things they wanted as soon as possible when they get home. Here’s my list:
- A giant bowl of strawberries. Because most sickness is transmitted through water, we were told to avoid tap water which also meant avoiding uncooked veggies and fruit that doesn’t have some kind of skin or peel that can be taken off since they’d likely be rinsed in tap water. I’ve had a couple of bananas and oranges, but I’ve been craving strawberries like crazy.
- A giant bowl of Perry’s Chocolate Peanut Butter ice-cream. Like that needs explanation. Plus it’ll totally be cancelled out by the healthy strawberries, right?
- A drink filled to the brim with ice. We were told to avoid ice in case it was made with tap water, and while this probably wouldn’t bother some people, I’m a big fan of ice. I like to load it up. Sometimes I probably have more ice than drink. The Coke here generally comes in glass bottles and if they’re cold, it’s really good. Something about a glass bottle feels and tastes right. But on the way home from the airport, we’re stopping at McDonald’s so I can get a Coke with extra ice.
- A long, hot shower. We don’t get hot water out of our bathtub, we have a handheld shower nozzle, and the water pressure comes and goes enough that washing our hair has usually involved filling up empty water jugs and dumping them over our heads. It gets the job done – I think we’ve all perfected our own little systems at this point – but what can I say, I’m a spoiled American. I can’t wait to stand under a hard, steady stream of hot water. I definitely have a new appreciation for running water. Hopefully, I never forget what a luxury that is.
We’re flying out of Lusaka around 9:30 p.m. local time and be in the air for almost 7 hours. We’ll arrive in Dubai around 6 a.m. local time and then catch a plane to JFK. That leg will put us in the air for almost 13 hours. After that, the flight from JFK to Buffalo will be a piece of cake and we should all be back in the arms of our much missed loved ones by 6 p.m. Sunday night. Jacquie has already handed off a bottle of Dramamine and believe me, I’ll be using it freely.
We’re getting up early tomorrow to join Dr. Shandomo at her family church and then I think we’re getting a giant lunch before heading to the airport. So I probably won’t put anything up here tomorrow. Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading along here and sharing my journey with me. I’ve read and loved all your comments here and on Facebook and Twitter. Even though the trip is just about over, the blog isn’t. I still have lots of things to say and tons more photos and video to share. I’ll keep letting you know when there’s new stuff here, just like I have been the last few weeks. I hope you’ll keep reading!
I think most people have a little list of places that are special to them, places where they’ve left a little piece of their heart. Some of my heart is in Birmingham, some of it’s in Pittsburgh, some of it’s in Buffalo. And now some of it is in Zambia. There were times I wondered if I was crazy for running off and doing this, but I’m so glad I did. I can’t even tell you. I feel like I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know about the world and so much I didn’t know about myself. This is definitely something I’ll write about more when I’m home and have had some time to think and reflect. For now, I’ll leave you with two quotes about travel that I came across while here. They both really struck me as truth:
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Today was our last day at Libala. I can hardly believe it’s been almost three weeks already. Between the morning and afternoon sessions, all of us got together for a little tea and cookie reception with the principal, the deputy principal, and all the mentoring teachers. It was a really nice time and it was good to get to chat outside of the class a little more than we usually have time for. A few members of the school’s drama club did a few excerpts from their play for us and all of the kids were really talented. I was super impressed. (I initially heard “drama club” as “drummer’s club” so I was a little confused at first. But my brain kicked in eventually.)
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Here are some odds and ends about Zambia and the trip, things that don’t really go together but don’t necessarily merit their own entry.
– The money used here is kwacha. (Kwacha appears to be singular and plural because I’ve never heard anyone say “kwachas.”) The exchange rate is about 5.4 kwacha per American dollar and prices are pretty reasonable. I paid 50 kwacha – or about $10 – for some really nice elephant bookends.
Like in the United States, there are 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 kwacha bills but there’s no 1 kwacha bill. That’s a silver coin instead. The Zambian equivalent to cents is ngwee and there’s 100 ngwee in 1 kwacha. There’s a 50 ngwee coin, a 10 ngwee coin, and a 5 ngwee coin. There’s no 1 ngwee. Purchases and change get rounded off to the nearest five. (For “The West Wing” watchers, that discovery made me think of Sam Seaborn trying to kill the penny.)
The money is all really beautiful, very colorful and detailed. I especially like the 50 ngwee coin which has an elephant on it. The 1 kwacha coin is silver and the rest of the coins are gold. Based on my world travels – you know, Zambia and Canada – U.S. money is pretty boring in appearance. I don’t have many ngwee on me at the moment, but here’s a photo of some bills.
– Soccer – or football as they call it – is really popular here. The Zambian men’s team played while we were in Livingstone and there were men in jerseys all over the place. Mayaba and Douglas, our drivers, were trying hard to keep tabs on the game while shuttling us from place to place. I read a book once that suggested that part of the reason the USA has had a hard time competing with other countries at the national level is because kids in the United States start playing serious organized ball so young which means they’re playing a lot of games and not getting as much practice time. In a game, it’s possible for a player to not get a lot of touches, especially players who aren’t as skilled, so they don’t have as much opportunity to improve as kids who are just playing for fun with their friends. I have no idea if that’s true thought it seems to make some sense, but before and after sessions at Libala and during breaks, you can always find a bunch of kids (boys AND girls) playing football. It’s really fun to watch them just goof around. Some of them are very skilled and really creative. I couldn’t get a good look at what they were playing with – I didn’t want to interrupt them – but it appeared to be garbage bags or some kind of plastic bag wrapped in duct tape in order to give it some weight and shape. If I ever come back to Africa, I’m bringing a suitcase full of books and a suitcase full of soccer balls.
– Before I left, a lot of people asked me about the food. “What are you going to be eating?” Truthfully, the food isn’t that different from the United States. There’s a lot of meat – chicken, beef, steak – and the best fish I’ve ever had in my life. There’s lots of greens and rice and delicious corn. We went to Dr. Shandomo’s sister’s for dinner tonight and here’s the plate of food I had:
That little pile of white that looks like mashed potatoes is the one real local food that we’ve had. It’s called n’shima. (It seems to be pronounced without the “n” but when I googled it, that’s how it came up.) It’s BLAH BLAH BLAH. It’s thicker and firmer than mashed potatoes because you eat it by picking it up, rolling it in a ball, and dipping it in something. It doesn’t really have much of a taste by itself. I dipped mine in the gravy and rice. Dr. Shandomo seems to press hers into her veggies a lot. It’s pretty good, and it’s really filling. According to Dr. Shandomo’s sister, they eat a lot of it in the poorer villages because the ingredients aren’t hard to come by and it’s very heavy and filling. That’s why I only have a little bit of it on my place. Incidentally, the first time I ordered fish and chips and got a fish that still had the eyes, fins, and tail, I was a little freaked out, but holy cow, it is delicious, I think because it’s so fresh – literally out of the river and into a pot.
– The Internet connection here at the Commonwealth is not very good. When we first arrived on Sunday evening, the IT guy wasn’t here to give us usernames and passwords, and it was a little disconcerting waiting until Monday just because none of us had spoken to anyone at home since we left Dubai. For most of the trip, we had to pay for our Internet access – the last week has been free – and I was surprised how quickly I adjusted to sending out a couple of emails and then moving on with my day. It was super easy to give up Twitter and Facebook, and I’m kind of hoping that’s one habit that sticks when I’m back in the U.S. I love the Internet – I’ve met a lot of wonderful people via Twitter and keep in touch with some of my favorite people via Facebook – but I waste SO much time there. I haven’t even bothered to carry my phone around because without Internet or cell reception, it’s basically an expensive alarm clock. It sounds overdramatic, I know, but it’s been kind of freeing to not be so tied to technology all the time.
– The one local word we’ve all learned is “muzungu” which means “white person.” There are very few muzungus in Zambia. Dr. Shandomo said that back when Zambia was under British rule and the races were segregated, there were more white people in the country. However, when Zambia won its independence in 1964 and segregation was done away with, many of the whites fled. It’s been pretty interesting being in the racial minority, always getting double takes and stares. I mean, we’re not just one muzungu, we’re a merry band of muzungus. Most of the time, people who use the term aren’t saying it rudely. It’s more surprise, sometimes even excitement. Like, “Holy crap, that’s a bunch of white people! Hey, what’s up, white people?” When we were first at the schools, we’d hear kids whispering about muzungus and when they realized we knew what it meant, they’d dissolve into giggles. For most Zambians, the response to us is curiosity. The kids will touch our arms and stroke our hair. The grown-ups ask what brings us all to Zambia.
Brian, maybe my favorite of our students, asked me today, “What do you call people like us in Zambia?” I told him that some people call them black but a lot of people call them African-Americans. That one seemed to stump him a little bit, probably because to him, people in North America don’t have anything do with Africa. In Zambia, they evidently still use negro. Anyway, it’s been very interesting being in the racial minority and that the reaction seems to be curious rather than hostile or biased. It would probably make for a really interesting research subject.
– Somewhat related, a lot of people also asked me before I left about languages used here. Pretty much everyone speaks English although it’s a more proper British English. I don’t know if this is how it works everywhere, but at Libala, grade one is taught almost primarily in the language of the local tribes. That’s done to ensure that the students really grasp the basic concepts of math and reading. Trying to learn those concepts while also learning a new language would be difficult. Grade two is taught in a mixture of local language and English. By grade three, all instruction is in English.
Anything else you’re curious about regarding Zambia or the trip so far? If there is, leave me a comment or let me know on Facebook or Twitter, and I’d be happy to write about it.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
I can’t believe we’re in our last week in Africa already. When the first week was up, two weeks to go seemed like such a long time, but boy, that second week really flew by.
Things have been going pretty well at Libala. I think I mentioned before that Jacquie and I were in charge of handling a pen pal project while we we’re here. Last week I did a quick lesson with the kids on how to write a letter, the format, what they might write about, that kind of thing. It went pretty well. At 16:10, the kids have a 15 minute break and I was supposed to teach after break. I wasn’t quite sure if break was over – there’s a siren that goes off but I don’t always hear it – and Mrs. Namuziya hadn’t come back yet so I wasn’t sure whether to start or not. Brian, one of the students, must have seen me wavering because he stood up, walked over to me, and whispered, “If you just tell them to be quiet, they’ll listen to you.” Very sweet. And he was right! I said, “Let’s get started!” and 49 kids immediately sat down and got quiet. That’s definitely never happened in the United States, not quite like that.
The students were so excited about writing their letters. When we did the letter-writing lesson, we told them we’d work on their actual letters this week, but most of them started writing immediately and excitedly showed us what they had done, asking for our opinion. “Is this good? Is this good?” They were very excited to answer the Buffalo kids’ questions about their lives in Zambia and full of questions about life in the United States.
We were planning on handing out the Buffalo letters and starting responses today, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. Our teacher was in a meeting pretty much all day. Libala doesn’t really have a substitute system. When a teacher is absent, his or her class is distributed into other classrooms and those teachers just have extra students for the day. One of the other schools we visited last week did the same thing so I’m not sure if that’s a Zambia-wide thing or not. I need to try to remember to ask Dr. Shandomo. Anyway, evidently the school decided Jacquie and I would be just fine teaching so we were on our own with our class for the day! It was definitely a little overwhelming at first because we had no plans and no books, but in the end, I think we did pretty well for ourselves. We finished off the pen pal project and took photos of all of the kids which we’ll print and attach to their letters before we deliver them in Buffalo. Some of the letters and drawings came out really cute, and it was interesting to read what kind of questions they had for students in the U.S.
Breanna, the girl in Buffalo who started the pen pal project, had included preprinted sheets for our kids to write their responses on. Jacquie and I looked over a rough draft of the letters before giving students their final sheet. This little guy changed his letter up during the writing, however, because I know I didn’t approve it and Jacquie didn’t either. We got a pretty good laugh out of it when we were reading the final versions this evening. I think the fact that it’s clearly so well-intentioned is what makes it so funny. Kids are great sometimes.
After that, we had to wing it. We played hangman for a while, focusing on different countries and places. Most of them had never played before, but they really enjoyed it. When someone solved the puzzle, the whole class would cheer and applaud and hoot and holler. We played Simon Says for a bit, but we had to keep that one short because it got a little crazy with 49 kids in a small space. Eventually we did actually do a little bit of math since we’d seen some of what they were working on. After break – which was MUCH needed today, thank you very much – we read them the beginning of “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” one of my favorite children’s chapter books and one that I just happened to have on my Kindle. A few of them were a little restless but most of them were really into it. As a bookworm, one of my favorite things about teaching is introducing children to stories that I love. I always get a thrill out of glancing up and seeing them leaning forward, hanging on every word I’m reading and a bunch of the kids today were doing that. After they’d been dismissed, a few kids stopped and asked me if Minli, the girl in the story, finds the Neverending Mountain and the Old Man of the Moon. I’m sorry we won’t have time to read the rest of the book with them.
A half hour before the day was over, Mrs. Namuziya finally came back from her meeting, and the kids were dismissed. We had to get onto to the kids a few times over the course of the day for getting too loud, but for the most part, they were cooperative with us. I don’t want to lump all American kids in the same pile, but in most schools at home, that many kids would not be that cooperative for a teacher who they had only spent a small amount of time with. Most classes would have at least a few kids who upset the balance. The day was definitely a great learning experience. As Kelsey, one of the other girls traveling with us said, the two of us taught and controlled 49 kids with a some paper, a book, and a piece of chalk. I think it really gave us a good understanding of what teaching in Zambia is like, especially the lack of resources. At the very least, it’ll make for a great answer during a job interview some day. I’m really thankful I’m working with a partner as dedicated and easy to get along with as Jacquie. She’s the best!
While I’m here, here are a few photos of things I’ve mentioned before. First up, Mrs. Namuziya’s textbooks. These are the books she teaches out of every day. I’ve seen three copies of the English book floating around the room, but that’s it as far as books for the kids. Last week, they read a story out of the book – students stand at the front of the room and read from Mrs. Namuziya’s book – and then they had to match vocabulary words from the story to the proper definitions. (Mrs. N wrote the words and the full definitions on the board and the students then copied them into their notebooks.) Some of the kids didn’t know what some of the words meant, however, and wanted to look back in the story to see again what context the word was used in. Because of the lack of books, five or six kids would be huddled around one book, all trying to look at different words in different places. As someone who comes from schools where every student has a textbook – and some are too lazy to use them – it was frustrating and sad to see. I asked Mrs. Namuziya last week what her biggest challenge as a teacher is and she said, with no hesitation, the lack of books and teaching resources.
On the first day we were at Libala, I noticed a beautifully drawn Ariel (of “The Little Mermaid”) in the back of a student’s notebook. I asked the student if he drew it and when he said yes, told him how talented he was. Later that day, Oswell slipped Jacquie and I his science notebook. We flipped through it and discovered that it was full of really lovely and detailed drawings and diagrams like this:
Since I know the students don’t have textbooks, I asked Oswell during break how exactly they go about doing the diagrams. Get this. If there’s a picture in Mrs. Namuziya’s book that the students need to see and know, Oswell takes her book and draws the picture on the board. The class then copies the picture into their notebooks. Jacquie and I watched a different student copy a picture on to the board during a religion lesson last week, and it was amazing. It was so time-consuming and work-intensive but unfortunately, because of the lack of books, completely necessary. If it wasn’t done, the students wouldn’t be able to learn everything they need to learn. When I flipped through Oswell’s notebook, this crossword puzzle really jumped out at me. Again, he drew the crossword puzzle on the board and then everyone copied it to their notebooks. I just can’t even imagine. Again, I’m generalizing because of course some kids love to write, but I can’t tell you how many times in the States I hear, “I have to write all that?!” and usually in response to having to copy a few sentences.
Ugh. I wrote some stuff about the other schools that we’ve visited but seem to have lost it. It’s bedtime on this side of the equator so I’ll think about re-writing it letter. Internet! *shakes fist*
Monday, June 24, 2013 Continued
A note up front that uploading photos has been taking an almost unbearable amount of time the last day or so so while I’m going to try to get some photos in here, a lot of them will have to wait until I get home because believe me, I took a LOT of photos this weekend.
On Friday afternoon, we arrived at Mukambi Safari Lodge. (True to Zambian time, what we were told would be a 2-3 hour drive took 4.5 hours.) Last weekend we found out that the money we had already paid toward the lodge didn’t cover the actual safaris, and I admit, I was pretty cranky about that, questioning whether I should have even bothered. My questions quickly went away, however, because the accommodations and service were wonderful and the food was even better.
Someone had to room alone this weekend, and since some of the girls were nervous about staying along because of all the warnings about wild animals wandering the grounds at night, I volunteered. Kelsey, my roommate at the Commonwealth has been great and is a good fit for me. Like me, she tends to be a little on the quiet side and she’s super easy to get along with. That said, I kind of enjoyed having my own space for a couple of nights. It’s been a long time since I did the non-husband roommate thing, you know?
The chalets are pretty cute, designed to look like little huts. The room was large and contained all the necessities – a couple of little tables, plenty of shelves for clothes and bags. It also contained a giant bed which I enjoyed stretching out in, a shower head rather than a hand-held nozzle like at the Commonwealth, and hot water. I’ve done okay at the Commonwealth – it’s pretty interesting how quickly a cold shower can seem normal – but I’m not going to lie, it was awfully nice to take long, luxurious hot shower.
Mukambi is inside Kafue (Ka-FYOO-ay, if I remember correctly) National Park and right on the Kafue River. Kafue National Park contains 22,500 square kilometers, roughly the size of Switzerland. It’s one of the largest unspoiled wilderness areas in the world, and trust me, it is beautiful. It’s Africa the way I think most people think of it.
The lodge was gorgeous. It’s all open to the outdoors and has two balconies that overlook the river. The lodge isn’t on any kind of main power line so as the sun goes down, it’s mostly lit by candle light which creates a really lovely and relaxing atmosphere. There are no doors that get all locked up at night and you can walk down little paths, walk to the boat dock, or swim in the pool.
The fun started bright and early Saturday morning. Around 7 a.m. the group separated into three jeeps and set off on a game drive. We saw all kinds of antelopes (or cantaloupes as Kaleigh accidentally called them at one point) and birds. We also saw a lot of hippos floating in the shade, monkeys swinging and flipping through the trees, and warthogs skittering across the road. By far the most exciting thing we saw, however, was a male lion. I spent last weekend petting lions and that was really cool but it was pretty awesome to watch a lion in its own environment. It strolled slowly across the grass, looking calm, confident, and powerful. It definitely looked like the king of the jungle. We just sat in the jeep, muttering in awe, for a while.
Like I said above, I took a ton of photos and I’ll definitely upload more when I get home. For now, I can tell you that one of the coolest things about the drive was just how different the land was over the course of the drive. Sometimes the land was wide open with trees just spotting the horizon, sometimes it was thick with trees. Sometimes the grass was really high and swaying in the breeze and sometimes it was short or not there at all. Most of the drive was dusty with lots of browns and other earth tones, but despite the lack of color, it was still really beautiful. Halfway through the drive, we stopped and had tea and biscuits, and what a moment that was. Tea and biscuits in the wilds of Africa. I certainly never thought I’d be doing that!
Just a couple of notes about some animals that a lot of people asked me about before I left: They don’t really have giraffes in Kafue which was kind of a bummer because I really wanted to see them. They do have zebras, but Akim, our guide, said that most of them head farther north during the dry season, looking for greener grass. While we didn’t see one on the drive, we did see a couple on the drive in to the lodge and while I didn’t get a picture, it was really cool seeing them just hanging out as we drove by. And finally, a note to Haley (hi, Renzonis!), unfortunately, they don’t have any rhinos in the park. Akim said they used to see black rhinos once in a while but that they seem to have died out.
After the game drive, we all kicked back and relaxed, swimming, walking the paths, and just soaking up the sun. Around 4, we reconvened for a boat ride. We were really hoping to see elephants – our guide Lexson said that they often wander down to the water’s edge during the evening – but no dice. I’m really glad I sprung for the elephant ride last weekend because I would have been really disappointed to leave Africa without seeing an elephant. We saw a lot of hippos though and unlike on the game drive, caught a few glimpses of them walking on the shore and slipping into the water. Some of them were REALLY big boys. They’re apparently one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, and they’re pretty intimidating-looking up close and in the wild.
The real highlight of the boat ride, however, was the sunset. This is one of those “You have to see it yourself” things, but I’ve never ever ever seen a sunset more beautiful than the ones I saw at Mukambi this weekend. The sun was a perfect round ball of gold, rays streaming out from it exactly the way little kids draw it. Beautiful wavy clouds formed all around it and the light and colors shimmered across the water. Just absolutely breath-taking. And then for about a half hour after the sun disappeared below the horizon, the sky was full of pinks and purples. Believe me when I say that these photos don’t even begin to capture how truly beautiful it was.
I’ve spent a lot of time admiring the sky during our weeks here in Zambia. I watched a documentary a few months ago about light pollution and how it’s getting harder and harder to really see the sky in the United States because of urban sprawl and how many tall buildings and bright lights there are now. When the sun goes down here, even in Lusaka, which is a larger city, the sky is just full of visible stars, little pinpoints of light everywhere. That kind of boggles my mind. I can wrap my brain around the trees and plants and wildlife being different. We’re in a different part of the world. But we’re looking at the same sky in the United States as they’re looking at here… except that we’re not at all. It’s completely different and again, one of those things you have to see to really appreciate. Here’s a good photo to help you picture it though.
My one photography disappointment so far is that I haven’t been able to capture a really good night sky. I tried at Mukambi but the safest places were still just a little too lit to get a really good image. (Also, I have no idea what I’m doing.) If I could have set up my tripod outside the chalet I would have, but after the sun goes down, you’re escorted from the lodge to your room by a guide and instructed to stay in the room for safety’s sake. We’re in the middle of the wild after all and apparently at night, the animals come out to play.
That reminds me… The one thing we were all really bummed about is that we didn’t get to meet Basil. Basil is a hippo that often wanders into the lodge at night, sleeping in the sitting area or at the bar and then heading back for the water once the sun comes up. It sounds absurd, but here’s a photo to prove that it actually happens. The folks at the lodge said they hadn’t seen Basil in a few nights though and she stayed away during our stay. Bummer.
All in all, another amazing weekend in Africa. After a while, being in the schools starts to feel a little normal. At the heart of it, teaching in a school is teaching in a school and kids are kids. It’s easy to forget where exactly we are, at least for me. But boy, this weekend it was impossible to forget that I was in a different place, far away from the world I know. I’m feeling so blessed to have gotten the opportunity to take this trip.
Monday, June 24, 2013
I’m about to sit down and write what will probably be a pretty long entry about our weekend at Mukambi Safari Lodge, but since it’s been a few days, I’ll hit you with a quick story.
On Saturday, the whole group took an early morning game drive and then most of us also took an evening boat ride. Between those trips, we had a good amount of time to kill. Each chalet had a couple of chairs on the porch so Jacquie and I pulled the chairs off my porch, dragged them into the sun, and kicked back and relaxed. She had been excited to learn earlier in the week that I also like country music – her roommate for the week doesn’t care for it – so she played some tunes on her iPhone and we chatted and soaked up the sun.
We were just talking about nothing much when I suddenly caught sight of something in my peripheral vision. I turned to see what it was and yelled, “Oh, crap!” and jumped out of my chair. Jacquie, not knowing at first what I was yelling about, followed my lead which is how we got to this point:
A warthog! I have no idea where this guy came from. He was just suddenly there, chomping away on my yard. Once we realized we weren’t in mortal danger, we did what any good red-blooded American kids raised on Disney movies would do: We yelled, “PUMBA!” and started serenading him with “Hakuna Matata.” And yes, I have video to prove it though you’ll have to wait until I’m back in the States to see it.
When we told one of the employees at the lodge this story, she said the warthogs can really give you the what for if you’re not careful, but he was pretty peaceable. He chomped away for a while – you could actually hear the grass tearing up out of the ground – and the wandered away. A little bit later, he came back and enjoyed our company for a while longer. We thought it was pretty interesting how he has to go down on his front knees in order to eat. We were guessing that was because his neck is too short to reach otherwise? Which kind of made me wonder why he didn’t just have shorter legs to begin with, but maybe this is more versatile. And probably better for running. The same employee said the attrition rate for warthogs in that area is pretty high because of the lion population. Poor little Pumbas.
So that’s why after dark at Mukambi, a guide walks you from the lodge to your chalet.
Thursday, June 20, 2013 Continued
As soon as we landed at the airport in Lusaka, Dr. Shandomo started saying, “I’m on Zambian time now.” We all laughed, but you guys, Zambian time is a real thing. The first night we were here, we all went out to dinner and it took FOREVER. “Okay,” we thought, “the service here just isn’t that good.” No, it’s just Zambia. Everything moves at a slower pace, and no one’s in a rush. If things take time, they take time. If you have to wait, you have to wait. I think some of the girls have had a hard time adjusting – they’re jumping out of their skin if we don’t have something to do at all times – but I kind of love it. It’s exactly my speed. Even at home, I always have a book or my iPad loaded with books on me, and that’s served me well here at times. When we were driving to Livingstone last week, Mayaba, one of our drivers, said, “It’s 8 o’clock and we haven’t even gotten out of town yet,” while gesturing at a clock that read 8:35. That’s Zambian time in a nutshell.
We go to Libala, our main school, in two shifts. One group leaves here around 10 and gets done at, I think 1:45, somewhere in there. My group leaves around 12 and gets done at 4:30. Today we broke from that schedule and all went to visit a few other schools in the area (which I’ll write about later). We left at 8:30 and got back to the Commonwealth, where we’re staying, around 2 and had nothing else on the schedule for the day. Jacquie, Rebecca, and I walked down to the lake at the front of the UNZA campus and just sat for a while. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we talked about serious things (Rebecca and I discovered that we both lost our dads at young ages) and sometimes we talked about trivial things (Rebecca’s favorite Disney princess is Cinderella, Jacquie likes Jasmine, I favor Belle). It was a gorgeous day, the perfect mix of sun and breeze, and we were sitting in a perfect spot. If we’d been running all over the place, something scheduled at all times, we would have missed out on the afternoon and I think that would have been a shame. I’m embracing my inner Zambian on this one. I think the United States could stand to just chill out once in a while.
We’re here to learn about a different culture and to think about teaching students from different cultures – I’m actually supposed to be writing a paper about that very thing while I’m here – and this difference in attitude toward schedules is something I’ve really been thinking about a lot. The United States as a whole is getting more and more multicultural, and that’s especially true in Buffalo which takes part in a United Nations refugee resettlement program. The class I worked in in Buffalo last semester contained kids whose families are from all over the world. What do kids who have spent the first part of their lives in other countries make of the United States which is such a slave to the clock and go, go, go all the time? Do they ever feel at peace or do they feel like we’re rushing them through life? And what about their parents, who are probably having an even harder time adjusting to a different attitude?
Is it frustrating to wait for a long time for food when you’re starving? Yeah, sometimes. But the first time I get bumrushed through dinner at a restaurant back home, I might be a little sad. I’m going to try to enjoy Zambia time as long as I can. I think they might be on to something here.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Holy cow, I can’t believe it’s the 20th already. I’m going to go write an update now, but for now, enjoy some beautiful Zambian faces.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
(I’ll try to add photos later. The wifi is being terrible tonight. Remind me to NEVER complain about the Internet connection at home again.)
We weren’t really supposed to drive back to Lusaka until Monday morning so the folks at Libala weren’t planning on seeing us that day. Instead, we went and visited Chikumbuso. Dr. Shandomo has been referring to it as Chikumbuso Orphanage all week, but that’s not really what it is, at least not the way I picture an orphanage (which is let’s face it, like in “Annie”). What it is, is a community-based project that offers support to widows and orphans. “Chikumbuso” means “remembrance” and the organization’s motto is “Remember those who have died, where we came from, and to do for others.”
Since it’s possible that some people who are reading this don’t know me personally, let me just give you some quick background. My father died very suddenly at 38, leaving my mom, who didn’t work outside of the home at the time, with three sons, ages 15, 14, and 2, and me, 4. I’d like to think that I was always grateful, but the older I get the more I can look back and see just how much my mother, brothers, and I were helped along by the kindness and generosity of the communities – church, school, sports etc. – we built around us. So organizations that support widows and their children have an extra special place in my heart.
HIV is an epidemic in Africa. I don’t know the stats off-hand but I know it’s pretty dire. I’ll try to get some more concrete numbers at some point and put them up here. At any rate, many African families have been touched in some way by HIV. Many of the women at Chikumbuso lost their husbands to HIV-related illness and then discovered that they, and in some cases their children, were also HIV positive. This still carries a large stigma in a lot of Africa so in addition to suddenly losing their husbands and their income, some of these widows were also cast out by their families, left completely alone in their struggles. In addition to widows, Chikumbuso offers support to grandparents who are raising grandchildren who have lost both parents to HIV.
Chikumbuso does a lot of things to help the women in its care. They provide counseling and health care services, things that are particularly important for those who are HIV positive. They also provide free meals, serving over 500 a day. There’s a primary school on the grounds and women can enroll their children and grandchildren there, ensuring that they receive a free, quality education. We visited a few classrooms and they’re very similar in makeup to American classrooms – globes, posters on the walls, children working in small groups. There’s also a really lovely little library. Chikumbuso is located in what’s called a high-density area – a lot of people living in a very small space – so these are children who might not otherwise get good schooling.
Maybe most importantly, however, Chikumbuso trains women in sewing and weaving, providing them with marketable skills and a source of income. We got to see the sewing rooms where women (and even a few men) are taught and where they then work. There’s a gift shop on the Chikumbuso grounds – which in its former life, housed a bar and brothel, by the way – where the creations of these wonderful women are sold. Each item has a name tag attached to it and when it’s sold, 70% of the price goes directly to that woman with the other 30% going back into the project.
A couple of women shared their stories with us, bringing us all to tears. What really touched me, however, wasn’t the tragedy these women have experienced, but the real sense of joy in their faces as they shared how far they’ve come, how much Chikumbuso has meant to them, and how blessed they are. A lot of us brought donations – clothes, school supplies, toothbrushes, that kind of thing – and Dr. Shandomo had us present them all together and as we carried up bags and suitcases full of things and placed them in the middle of the room, a couple of women began emptying the bags on the floor and all the other women sang and danced, their arms lifted in the air. Occasionally, when something particularly needed or exciting was found in the pile, a woman would lift it up and let out a yi-yi-yi-yi! Most of what they were singing was in local language, but they did briefly sing in English: Come and see, come and see, come and see what the Lord has done. I shot some video of this amazing experience, but I won’t be able to get it up on this wifi connection. I’ll definitely put it up when I get home, however, because it’s quite a sight.
After that, we shopped! I bought a gift for my mom, a beautiful bag weaved from recycled plastic bags. Because each creation had a name tag on it, I was able to find the woman who made it, Gertrude. She gave me a big hug and we posed for a picture. Afterwards, I told her that I’d bought her bag as a gift for my mother, who had been a young widow herself, and that I knew she’d appreciate that the money I spent on her was going to support women who were facing some of the same struggles she had. Gertrude then gave me another hug, this one even bigger and tighter, and said, “That’s for your mama. Give her all of our love.” So Mom, lots of love from Africa!
When we were all done, our bus still hadn’t returned, so the singing and dancing continued outside. The ladies formed a circle and went to town. Some of us joined in – an elderly lady took me by the hand and said, “Dance for Jesus!” – and some of us just sat back and took it all in. As I said in a previous post, I was raised in a Christian home. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t always understand why things happen. I’ve done more than my share of complaining that things aren’t fair. But I’ve always been amazed by some people’s capacity to turn even the worst tragedy and pain into the most triumphant joy. My mom did it for many years and still does. These women are all doing it. For me, that’s what faith in a higher being, in something bigger than ourselves in the here and now, can do for a soul. It was impossible for me to spend the day at Chikumbuso without thinking about the people who looked out for me and my family all those years – the church family that made sure my little brother, Lee, and I had lots of presents under the Christmas tree and helped Mom out with bills; the softball families and coaches who let me crash with them in hotels as we traveled from tournament to tournament, making sure I was fed and tended to and turning away any money I offered; the neighbors who let Lee and I spend hours upon hours at their house while Mom was at work; the men who always made sure to stop and fuss over me and took time away from their own families to come watch me play ball. When I take the time to stop and think about it, I’m almost overwhelmed with gratitude. I am so blessed. It’s nice to have places like Chikumbuso in the world to remind me of that.
If you’re interested in reading more about Chikumbuso, you can check it out here: www.chikumbuso.com
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Okay, let me see if I can finish off the weekend.
Last fall, Dr. Shandomo came around to various classes to make a short presentation about last year’s trip to Zambia, trying to drum up interest in this year’s trip. I was pretty intrigued from the beginning, especially after she said that it was only a 3-week trip, but when her slide show came up on a photo of a student on an elephant, that’s when I thought, “I could totally go to Africa.” I love elephants. I’m not entirely sure why, I just think they’re beautiful, interesting animals. Before I left, I told Esther, the little girl I babysit, “Last year they got to ride elephants and I really hope I get to, too,” and she nodded and said, “Because elephants are your favorite.”
Because the trip to Mukini Big 5 Safaris was an additional cost (and started at 7 a.m.), just a small group of us headed out Sunday morning. It was a pretty excited group, however. Rebecca, Jessica, Jacquie, and I decided to go for the full combo which included a lion walk, a cheetah walk, and the elephant back safari. I was the most interested in the elephants, obviously, but the price for all three wasn’t that much more expensive and after seeing the animals up close, it was hard to say no to any of them.
First up was the lion walk. The four of us were in a group with a lovely older couple from Germany. We started by just meeting the lions. We were allowed to take photos while the guides told us a little bit about them. It was sometimes hard to follow what they were saying – I was a little distracted by the lions in front of us – but I’m pretty sure they said that while these lions were raised in captivity and used for educational purposes, eventually they’ll breed them, let the mothers raise the cubs naturally with no human interference, and release the cubs into the wild to boost the local lion population. If I remember, I’ll link the website so you can check it out if you’re more interested in that kind of information.
I’ve never necessarily been a lion fan, but they are gorgeous creatures in real life. Nelly, just over 3-years-old, was such a rich golden color. Luba, the other lion in these photos is around 2.5 years old. They also had very expressive faces and big round eyes. It was fun to just watch them for a few minutes as they stretched and yawned and even sharpened their claws on a nearby tree. (Not that it wasn’t a little nerve-wracking when the very first thing Nelly did as we approached was sharpen her claws.) After we observed for a few minutes and let the girls get used to our presence, we posed for a few photos like the ones I posted a couple of days ago. (Scroll down if you missed them because they’re good ones!) They were softer than I expected and pretty compact, not a lot of fat on them. A little weird at first but once Jacquie went without getting eaten, it seemed pretty safe and after a while, it actually wasn’t too scary at all.
After we got some photos, we took the lions for a walk. We walked along a little path and they walked with us. At one point, the guides told us to pick up their tails and walk with them like that. That seemed a little crazy, but Martin, our head guide, said that when lions walk with each other, they play with each other’s tails so it feels totally normal to them. And sure enough, neither lion even batted an eye when we picked up their tails. We all took turns walking them and stopped in a few spots for more photos. (The guys at Mukini were fabulous in that regard. They seemed to know how to work every kind of camera the group had and took tons and tons of photos for us.)
After the lions, was the cheetah walk. It worked very much the same way – first we met them, heard a little bit about them, and took some photos, and then we started on a little walk. Unlike the lions, the cheetahs had to be walked on leashes. When I asked Martin why, he said that cheetahs are, by nature, very skittish. Their response to any sound that they’re not familiar with or that surprises them is to take off running – and of course, once a cheetah starts running, you’re probably not catching it.. He said that sometimes when they sneeze, they startle themselves enough that they take off which is a pretty hilarious mental image. The harness and leash apparently make them feel more secure.
The cheetahs were pretty funny. They were a little softer than the lions and when we sat and petted them, they were purring just like overgrown housecats. Their coats are beautiful up close, and the most interesting thing I remember Martin saying about them is that the black markings around their eyes help with sun glare, kind of the wildlife version of sunglasses. They were as stunning as the lions up close, but in a different way. Their bodies were very long and lean, fitting for a creature that runs so quickly, I guess. On the walk, the cheetahs were a little more stubborn, occasionally wanting to go their own way. They followed directions very well, though, and quite frankly, were better behaved in a harness and leash than my dog, Marlowe, is sometimes.
After the walk, we got to see the cheetahs run which they do at Mukini once a day. Inside the (huge) pen where the cheetahs are kept, there’s a wire that runs along the ground in a long, thin, half oval and they can shoot a fuzzy thing along which the cheetahs then chase, kind of like a dog track, I guess? When the cats catch it at the end, they get some chicken. I put my camera on high continuous mode shooting and still only got a few photos of them as they darted through the frame. When the last cat (I think it was Susan) ran, I just sat back and watched and wow, what an amazing sight to see them going at full speed. At one point in their run, they’re practically one long, straight line in the air.
Last but not least were the elephants. Eeeeeeeee! Douglas and Ariel joined us for the elephant ride along with Colisha, who had only come along to watch but managed to get talked into giving it a whirl, too. This was a pretty big deal for Colisha, who is scared of animals.
We spent a few minutes talking to them and petting them and then climbed aboard. Some of us had to pair off but I got an elephant to myself – the biggest one available. In order to get on the elephant, we climbed a set of stairs and they pulled the elephant up alongside us and I had to go to a higher level than anyone else. When Boneface, my ride, pulled up I was a little freaked out at first because it seemed so high, but I just reminded myself that this was why I came to Africa and climbed aboard. There was a little cushion saddle with stirrups for our feet and a belt we could hang on to though most of us started out hanging on to the guide sitting in front of us.
We took a 45-minute walk through the bush, and it was, like Victoria Falls, one of those experiences that you just can’t put into words because in retrospect, it seems so surreal. Throughout the day, we would turn to each other and say, “We’re petting lions right now” or “We’re going to ride elephants,” as if we just couldn’t believe what we were doing. At first, it was pretty scary. I couldn’t make myself let go even to take pictures. After a few minutes, I started letting go with one hand but I took the photo as was because I wasn’t about to let go with other hand even to zoom in or out. But about halfway through the ride, I finally felt comfortable enough to let go with both hands and at that point, really relaxed and enjoyed the ride. After some time, my body got used to the slow rocking rhythm of the elephant and I think that really helped.
Throughout the walk, each tour guide talked to us about the elephants, and while I missed some of what my guide said – he was facing away from me and he spoke a more accented English – I did pick up some interesting things. Here are a few facts that come to mind: Elephants are born with 6 sets of teeth which they gradually lose over the course of their lifetime. Senior elephants who are down to their last set have a harder time eating certain things like branches and will go for more easily chewed foods like greens. There’s some truth to the old saying that elephants never forget. Once an elephant learns a command, it’ll remember it for up to fifteen years. (This saying obviously has deep roots in Africa because Mayaba and Douglas both told me at different times that it’s said that an elephant will remember if you’re cruel or kind to it even 40 years later.) Boneface, my big guy, was 27-years-old, but African elephants can live well into their 60’s with the occasional elephant in captivity even living into its 90’s. At the time I was riding him, Boneface was 2 meters but could grow to be up to 5 meters yet.
At the end of the walk, we got to spend a few more minutes with the elephants and we learned a couple of commands for feeding them. One of them resulted in the elephants lifting their trunks so that we could place food in their mouths while the other command resulted in them lowering their trunks to be fed that way. I hate to keep using the word “amazing” but it was amazing to see how their trunks were truly like an arm and hand, reaching and stretching and searching and grabbing. Considering how big some of the branches Boneface snapped off and snacked on during our walk were, it’s safe to say those guys are pretty strong. It was also pretty adorable to actually hear them sucking things up with their trunk like a vacuum. Voooosh! Finally, we had to say goodbye and the elephants saluted us as we parted, lifting their front left legs and their trunks in unison.
Our adventures complete, we met back up with the rest of the group and headed back to Lusaka. The drive back didn’t see quite so bad, thank goodness, but maybe that’s because I still had elephants on the brain. It was a really great day in Africa.
Monday, June 17, 2013 continued
Friday morning we headed out bright and early for Livingstone. It was mostly a travel day, and I’ll be blunt, the trip was pretty miserable. We’d been told it was a 6-8 hour trip, but a bunch of stops turned it into more like 9 hours. We were crammed into a couple of vans like sardines, luggage very carefully filling every possible crevice. I actually probably had one of the best spots, up front with one of our drivers, Mayaba. I had more leg room than pretty much everyone and a window so I could get plenty of fresh air. It was really interesting traveling that far across Africa, taking in scenery unlike anything we have in the States, but we were all pretty relieved when we finally arrived, got some food in our bellies, and got some sleep.
Saturday morning we headed into town. We stopped briefly at the Livingstone Museum which offered a little history of both the local area and Africa as a whole. There were some neat things there, my favorite being racks and racks of original letters that David Livingstone wrote during his travels through Africa. I love, love, love looking at old handwritten letters and journals, and if we’d had more time, I would have been right there reading them for a while. I bought my first Africa souvenir, lovely elephant bookends.
After a quick run through the museum, we headed to Victoria Falls. Last year’s group had told us a lot about the baboons in the area and sure enough, as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we saw them. They were just hanging out, and they weren’t the least bit people shy. Someone said that they’re kind of sort of like squirrels – still wild animals that you wouldn’t walk up and pet but used to having people in their space. It was pretty funny to a bunch of muzangos.
The first thing we did was head to what’s called the Boiling Pot. The Boiling Pot is a point at the bottom of the falls where water swirls due to resistance of rock to the erosive power of water, thereby producing a back flow and upsurge of water as is the case with boiling water in a hot pot. The spot is also believed to be home to the river god, the Nyaminyami. (I copied that right off a sign so don’t ask me too many questions about what exactly that means.)
The path down to the Boiling Pot was beautiful. Imagine lush, green foliage with sunlight pouring through branches, the view getting better and better the closer you got to the bottom. The baboons were out in full force in this area and in fact, there’s a sign at that the top of the path that says, “Beware of baboons. Do not feed baboons.” We were told to keep food and drink tucked away somewhere and to keep any bags in front of us because the baboons will sneak up and grab things. Sounds crazy but sure enough, Jessica had to fight off a baboon who snuck up on her while she was taking a picture and grabbed her bag. That was a real “We’re not in Buffalo anymore” moment. At one point, where the trees were particularly thick, you could hear them skittering through the trees around you and hooting, enough that I started trying to remember how it all began in “Planet of the Apes.”
The closer we got to the water, the slippier the rocks got, and I was a little nervous in spots – ever since I broke my ankle a few years back, I’ve been hesitant about areas where the footing is unsure – but the view at the bottom was pretty beautiful. You couldn’t really see the falls from there, but the sight and sound of all that water churning was spectacular and we had a full view of the Victoria Falls Bridge which will show up again in this story later.
Now about halfway down this path, much of which was fairly steep, I kind of wondered how difficult it was going to be to get back up, but I continued on down anyway. At that point I felt like I had gone far enough that it would be a waste to not get to the bottom. Turns out the answer to, “How difficult is it going to be to get back up?” was “Very difficult.” About halfway up, I kind of lost it and started feeling a little light-headed and wobbly. We’ve all been fighting to stay hydrated, and I think that was part of it. Despite finally joining a gym a few months ago, I’m not exactly in fighting shape either. Fortunately for me, Douglas, one of our faithful drivers and guides, noticed I had lagged behind and he came back down to check on me. He patted me down with cold water, gave me a lot of encouragement, and literally held my hand the rest of the way up. The people of Zambia have been so wonderful to us, and Douglas is a great example of that.
Unfortunately, I was feeling badly enough after that that I felt like I needed to rest up a bit while the group did the next activity so I didn’t go to the spot near the falls where you can really get soaked. I was a little bummed about that, but I just wasn’t feeling it. By the time they got back, I was feeling a bit better, and we all headed off to a little village market where we picked up some souvenirs. You could haggle for lower prices and while Mayaba, Douglas, and Dr. Shandomo gave us some good tips, it was still a pretty overwhelming experience. Boy, those guys can really give a hard sell, and I ended up with more giraffes than one person really needs. I got a couple of good deals, I think, but it’s safe to say that negotiating does not come naturally to me.
Some of the girls in the group had spent the weekend up to this point debating whether or not to bungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge, which I’m pretty sure I read somewhere is the highest bridge jump in the world. I heard, “If I don’t do it, I’m afraid I’ll regret it,” a few times. Me, I could happily live the rest of my life knowing that I passed on the chance to willingly throw myself off the Victoria Falls Bridge, but I have a ton of admiration for those who were willing to do it. It was a real Amazing Race moment. (In case you can’t tell yet, I’d be pretty awful at the Amazing Race despite loving it.) A few girls decided to take the plunge (literally – ha!), a few did the zipline, and a few did a swing. Crazy.
While they were indulging in all their adventure, I walked over to one end of the bridge and took a few final photos of the falls. On the drive down, I asked Mayaba if he’d ever seen the falls before and he said yes. When I asked him how it was, he just smiled and said, “You have to see for yourself” and that’s kind of how I feel. No matter what words I use and what photos I show you, you have to see for yourself to really understand. And that’s knowing that I didn’t even really see the falls in their full glory because they’re so long that the best few is from up above. Niagara Falls is beautiful, of course, but Victoria Falls feels more pristine. It’s a huge tourist attraction, but the area around it is still very natural. No matter where you are, all you can see is nature, the world almost exactly as God made it. Pretty good stuff.
Monday, June, 17, 2013
Okay, first of all, let’s backtrack to Friday. Here’s what I wrote in my notes while I was observing the classroom:
Today we spent our first whole day in the classroom at Libala. While we did get to interact with the students some at the end of the day, we mostly sat back and observed, just to get a feel for how the classroom runs, how material is presented, that kind of thing. Even just in these few hours, we came away with a lot to think about.
Jacquie and I are working together in a 6th grade classroom that meets in a session that runs from 12:30 to 17:00. The classroom itself is very simple. It’s a pretty good size although almost entirely filled by student seating. There are five rows of six tables with one or two students at each table. There are 49 students in the class right now, but there’s room for even more because the last couple of rows were mostly empty. The teacher has a large table in the front corner of the room – no drawers or shelves or storage space of any kind. At the front of the room is a chalkboard and at the back of them room is a bulletin board. The walls are a pale yellow (or maybe off-white – I’m not a good color person) and there’s nothing hanging on them although one of the other girls said her teacher said the rooms were recently painted so that might be why. It’s a little dark although the windows around the room let in a lot of natural light. For me, the best part of the room is how airy it is, with a really nice breeze coming in. I’m not sure how much the kids appreciate that though since here it’s really winter and we’ve been asked a lot by locals if we think it’s too cold. (It’s perfect and it’s especially perfect if you’re used to winters in Buffalo.) I do wonder how hot it gets in the room during other parts of the year, though.
The classroom doesn’t include much in the way of supplies. The students each have at least three or four notebooks and a pen or pencil. (I didn’t notice how any of my students were sharpening pencils yet, but one of the other girls said she had students using razor blades.) Today at least, they didn’t use any textbooks and I suspect they don’t really have them. There aren’t any around the room at least. The teacher, Mrs. Namuziya, had a stack of very old, battered textbooks that she taught out of along with a shoebox full of chalk. That seemed to be about it.
Because of the lack of textbooks, everything is written on the chalkboard. During math, Mrs. Namuziya did a few examples on the board with the students and then had to write all their independent work on the board as well. No “Open your textbooks to page 35 and do 1-15.” Anything that the students need to be able to read – notes, problems, stories, sentences – have to be written on the board by the teacher and it has to be written at the time it’s needed. It’s not possible for Mrs. Namuziya to write everything ahead of time, partly because she just wouldn’t have the space to do so since she needs the board for every subject and partly because another grade meets in her classroom during the morning session and they use the board as well. Someone please remind me of this the next time I’m annoyed that the SMARTboard needs to be recalibrated yet again. Technology in the United States has, thankfully, made my chicken scratch handwriting obsolete. I can type just about anything I need and even if I do need to write on the board, a SMARTboard – which even the lower income Buffalo/Niagara Falls schools I’ve been in so far have – can automatically transform my handwriting to perfect type as I write. Mrs. Namuziya’s handwriting was perfect – legible, even, and straight. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t teach in Zambia just because of that.
Anyway, because of all the writing the teacher has to do, the students have to spend what feels like a lot of time sitting and waiting and they really handled it pretty well – a lot better than the average American classroom would, I can tell you that. In my placement in Buffalo this past semester, my mentoring teacher said that one of the toughest things about teaching now is that the average student is getting worse and worse at free time. They need to be entertained at all times or they complain that they’re bored and get themselves into trouble. Some of these students drew, a lot of them read or looked at a book, and some of them sat and talked quietly. Mrs. Namuziya shushed them a few times but to my ears, they were never particularly loud.
It was pretty easy to come away with the feeling that we’re very spoiled in the United States – students and teachers. After the students did their independent math, they handed it in and Mrs. Namuziya immediately started correcting the work and then handing it back. It seemed a little bit like a waste of class time since they finished before she did, but she doesn’t really have much choice. There are no shelves to let things pile up on and she can’t leave things on the desk at the end of the day because the classroom isn’t hers alone. When you have 49 students, corrections pile up too fast to carry much home at night. She also showed us her plan book which contains a lot of the things ours do – class list, plans for the week, objectives and goals, all that good stuff – but everything is handwritten. If there was a sheet with a chart of some sort on it, she drew the chart herself. I complain because education students end up printing a lot of things at home with their own paper and ink but that seems like a luxury in comparison.
And the students… In my most recent placement in Buffalo, the teacher was always telling kids who were done early and complaining that they were bored to look at a book, and the kids were always responding with, “There’s nothing to read,” despite being in a classroom filled to the brim with beautiful and engaging books. Mrs. Namuziya’s students seemed to each have a book of some sort that they pulled out of their backpacks, and let me tell you, as a bookworm through and through, it broke my heart to see the condition of some of these books. They were old and tattered, some of them literally coming apart in the kids’ hands as they flipped through the pages. But they were very protective of them – if another kid took it, they’d say, “Be careful with my book!” – and they were obviously treasured. It made me so sad that I hadn’t packed up a suitcase full of books for them. And as Jacquie and I kept reminding ourselves, according to the people at the university, Libala is one of the more affluent schools in the area. I guess it’s not really a surprise that we take a lot for granted in the United States but… we take a lot for granted in the United States.
At the end of the day, we got to talk to the kids a bit. Jacquie asked a couple of them one question and suddenly they were all swarming around, bright-eyed and curious, leaning on each other in piles so that they could all see and hear us. We asked them a bit about what they think of school and what they do for fun, and they asked us a lot of questions about college, the United States, and how we liked Africa so far. They also wanted to know when we would be back and when we told them we wouldn’t be back until the following week because of a weekend trip to Victoria Falls, they ooohed and aaaahed. One little guy very seriously wished me, “Safe journeys.” In that few minutes, it was clear that in some ways, kids are kids no matter where they live. They were laughing and smiling and teasing each other, just like kids at home. As Jacquie said, “The sound of kids laughing is the same everywhere.”
So it was a really interesting first day, and I think it’s going to be pretty fun hanging out there for the next couple of weeks. Next week we’ll start working with them more during class time. One of the students who went on the trip with Buffalo State last summer had students she worked with in Buffalo this past year write letters to the kids in Zambia, and Jacquie and I will be handling this end of the project with our class. Our class is going to write back and they seem pretty excited about it. Should be fun!
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Hi, everyone! Sorry for the silence the last few days. We left early Friday morning for Livingstone to see Victoria Falls and do some other fun stuff, and there was no wifi available where we were staying. It’s bedtime here, but I should have some time tomorrow to write a bit about our first full day at Libala as well as this weekend. For now, here’s a sneak peek at what I’ve been up to:
Thursday, June 13, 2013
We’ll be heading out for Libala shortly where we’ll spending out first full day in the classroom, but I thought I’d try to throw up some photos before we leave. I have to put the small versions in because anything bigger takes FOREVER to load, but you can at least get a feel for what kind of beauty we’re dealing with. And these are all just from the University of Zambia (or UNZA, as they call it) grounds.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Yesterday we finally met kids! Yay! In the morning we piled into our minibus and headed for Libala Basic. We’ll be ducking into other schools here and there but Libala is our partner school and it’s where we’ll be spending most of our time while working in Zambia.
Today was really just a day of introductions. We met the principal and assistant principal of the school and got together with the teachers, just to talk over why we were there and what we would be doing. We also discussed scheduling. Libala, like all schools in Zambia, works in sessions. I don’t remember off-hand how the sessions run but it’s something like 6:30 – 10, 10:30 – 2:00, 1:30 – 5. (They use military time in Zambia so part of the reason I can’t remember is because I was trying to subtract in my head while listening which is apparently too much for me.) Different teachers work different sessions and different students attend different sessions. They have to do this because they don’t have enough school buildings in the country to accommodate all the children who want to attend school. At Libala, most teachers work two sessions, but that varies from school to school depending on how many teachers are employed there. Anyway, we had to figure out which of us were going to be working with which teachers at what times.
We also took a little tour of the school The administration building is in the middle of the grounds. There are squat buildings around it with each building housing one or two classrooms. The school runs from first grade to ninth grade. Eventually I’ll post a few photos of the grounds, but my wifi connection is really struggling right now so that’ll have to come later. We ducked into a few different classrooms – large rooms, jam packed with students. When we filed in, every student stood up and they said, all together, “Good morning, teacher.” Dr. Shandomo said hello and talked a little bit about while we were there.
From what little we saw today, the classrooms are well-maintained but very basic. There was a chalkboard at the front of each room with notes on whatever subject was being discussed written on it. Most of the students had notebooks of some sort (they call them exercise books) but no textbooks. I’m definitely planning on keeping an eye on what kind of resources they have and use regularly. When were at the university on Monday, the Dean of the Math and Science Department seemed a little disappointed that we were going to Libala, calling it an affluent school. It should be interesting to compare an affluent Zambian school to a less affluent Zambian school, and of course, an affluent Zambian school to schools that we consider less affluent in the states.
Sessions were changing while we were there so there were children all over the place, and we were able to interact with them a little bit. Some of them were a bit shy at first, but most of them seemed very curious and interested in what we were doing, and they warmed up quickly. They were especially interested in our cameras and loved posing for photos and then seeing themselves on the camera display screen. After Jessica took a photo, one little boy said to his friend, “I’m on the camera! I’m going to be famous!” I think spending even that little bit of time at the school really excited all of us about what we’re going to be doing for the next couple of weeks.
Monday June 9, 2013
I have a couple days of catching up to do. Those of us leaving from Buffalo set off Friday with no problems. Everyone was reasonably awake considering the early hour. While I was excited, it really hadn’t sunk in at that point that I was on my way to Africa. So far it seemed like I was just off to visit my family in Birmingham.
Things started to go a little awry when we arrived in New York City. JFK is HUGE. I know, everyone who’s been there is rolling their eyes at me, but I’m spoiled because the airports I spend the most time in are Buffalo and Birmingham – Buffalo is small, Birmingham is even smaller. By the time we made it from the JetBlue terminal to the Emirates gate (lots of walking, a train ride, and even more walking), I have to admit, I was pretty exhausted. We hadn’t even left the state yet. I probably should have realized then that we were headed for some trouble.
Our plane from JFK was delayed a half hour, but eventually we boarded. It was a big honker of plane – a double decker with first class and business on one level and economy on a different level. There was a row of three seats on each side of the plane and a row of four seats in the middle. The seats were reasonably comfortable (for a while at least), and Emirates has a pretty cool video on demand system. There were tons and tons of good movies and TV shows available, all for free. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy them much because about an hour into the flight, I started feeling sick to my stomach. Thankfully, I was on an aisle seat because let’s just say, I was getting up and down a lot. I’ve had times where I felt a little off after a flight, but I’ve always chalked it up to being tired. I’d never really had serious motion sickness, but this was a full-blown case. I turned on one of my favorite comfort movies – Mary Poppins – and managed to drift off to sleep for a couple of hours in the middle of the flight, but because it was a 12-hour flight, when I woke up, I was still looking down the barrel of 6 more hours in the air. Not pretty at all. Jacquie came through with some Dramamine, but by that point, I think I was just too far gone. I had held up pretty okay considering, but by the time we got to the last couple of hours of the flight, I was nearing breakdown status, mostly because as soon as we touched down in Dubai, we’d jump on another plane for a 7 hour flight. Barely out of the country and I was already beginning to feel like I’d made a huge mistake. What was I thinking? I’m not an adventurer! I just wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. I definitely didn’t anticipate being that homesick that soon.
Divine intervention took place in Dubai, however. Because of our delay in JFK, we ended up missing our connection in Dubai. Since the next flight to Lusaka didn’t leave until Sunday morning, Emirates put us up in a hotel for the night which mean I got a long, wonderful nap in a super comfy bed. I flopped down on top of the bed, not even bothering to pull down the covers, and slept the sleep of the dead for almost five hours. I’ve never been so happy to miss a flight in my life.
The delay worked out okay for the whole group in the end. A number of us had commented that we wished we’d had some time to really see Dubai, and hey, I guess the universe was listening. After everyone rested up – I definitely wasn’t the only napper in the group – we took a bus tour around Dubai. I didn’t really know much about the area beforehand, but just from what little we saw, it was a pretty interesting city. It was very much a mix of modern and traditional, both in architecture and dress. In the heart of the city, the buildings are very new, huge, and shiny. Lots of glass and reflective surfaces and some really unusual and interesting shapes and designs. It was like NYC on overdrive. Even if we’d never set foot outside of the airport, we still would have been bowled over because it’s pretty breath-taking. Again, lots of glass, mirrors, super high ceilings, waterfalls. The bus tour stopped in a few places so we could take some photos which I’ll share when I get a chance. We stopped at, what I believe the tour guide called the Blue Mosque which was really beautiful. We also stopped at Burj Al Arab, the tallest hotel in the world (321 meters – approximately 965 feet, somewhere in there) which is actually out on a little man-made island, just off the shore. It’s listed as a 5 star deluxe hotel, but is apparently often referred to as a 7 star hotel. While there, I dipped my toes in the Persian Gulf, something I never thought I’d say! (Okay, technically, on the Dubai side it’s the Arabian Gulf. But it’s all the same water!) We also drove by some of the palaces and vacation villas of members of the royal family although we weren’t allowed to take any pictures of them.
Our final stop was at a gold and spice market. A few of the girls bartered for some goodies, but most of us ended up with Dubai t-shirts of some kind. The one real negative about the layover was that we couldn’t take our luggage so we only had whatever was in our carry-on bags. I had some stuff to freshen up with – deodorant, toothbrush, that kind of thing (and a big thank you to my niece, Addie, for suggesting that or I might not have thought of it) – but no clothes. It was pretty amazing how much difference a clean t-shirt made after wearing the same clothes for 24 hours – a big chunk of it huddled in an airplane bathroom, remember. The clean pair of socks I found buried in the bottom of my backpack sent me over the edge of joy. I have no idea why they were there, but for once, my habit of shoving things in the nearest place whether they belong or not and then promptly forgetting about them paid off. First lesson of the trip: If you have a layover, pack a change of clothes just in case.
I think my favorite thing about Dubai was hearing the call to prayer which was piped in over speakers throughout the market. Dubai is an Islamic state, and while I was raised in a Christian home, prayers in any language seem to connect to something inside me. The family I babysit for is Jewish, and during my time with them, I’ve noticed the same thing. I love being at their house during Hebrew prayers. There’s just something about the rhythm and intonation of prayer that seems to cross religions and languages. I think it’s pretty neat that even though I don’t understand the words, I understand the emotions and think of my own upbringing and beliefs.
And today we finally arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. It feels like we’ve traveling forever and we’ve really just begun. We didn’t too much today. We just got settled in our room at the Youth Commonwealth Centre at the University of Zambia, exchanged some money, did a little grocery shopping – we have small fridges in our rooms and needed to stock up on bottled water since we were all instructed to not drink the local tap water, and went to have dinner. Tomorrow we’ll venture out a little and get a better feel for the area.
I’ll post more pictures at some point. I don’t want to overload the poor Internet connection. But here’s one more for my Buffalo peeps.
Monday June 10, 2013
Today we visited the School of Education at the University of Zambia and visited with the Dean of the school and the head of the Math and Science department, who was our point person on the Zambia end while planning the trip. Since the place we’re staying at is on the grounds of the campus, a few of us opted to walk. The campus is beautiful. The trees and plants are unlike anything in the United States and some of them really make you feel like you’re in Africa. There is a number of what we’ve been calling “the Lion King trees” on campus. I’d make fun of the fact that “The Lion King” is one of our best points of reference when it comes to Africa, but I watched a documentary on the making of the movie and I know those animators do some serious research. Besides, I’ll bet when I said “The Lion King,” a lot of you knew exactly the kind of tree I’m talking about – the branches go out almost sideways and then almost straight up and stop pretty close to even so that the top of the tree almost looks flat. (Earlier in the day, we drove past a rock formation and at least four people in the van pointed and yelled, “Pride Rock!” so clearly “The Lion King” is strong with us.) The campus also has a little lake on it, and any time you walk or drive past it, there are students sitting under trees with books open. It looks like a really lovely spot to read. I think I’m going to have to test it out at some point in the next 19 days.
We had a really interesting talk with the Dean and some professors about the Zambian education system. Schooling in Zambia isn’t compulsory, mostly because they don’t have the space for all the children in the country. One of the professors was telling us about the process their education students go through and he mentioned that when they do their practice teaching – very similar to our student teaching – they have to be prepared to teach a classroom of 60-100 kids! I can’t even imagine that. Before I returned to college, I worked in a program that consisted of 6:1:1 and 8:1:1 rooms (for the non-education people out there, that’s 6/8 students, one teacher, and one aide) so for me, the 25-30 kids I’ve been working with in Buffalo and Niagara Falls during my junior participant work has been a huge shift in skills and mentality. I can’t even imagine 60-100. This same professor said that the large numbers don’t produce a lot of discipline problems which would be my immediate concern. He said that most Zambian students are very obliging and cooperative with their teacher. They have to take exams at the end of the school year and if they don’t pass that exam, they lose their spot in the school and don’t get to advance. Students know that, again because there isn’t space for every child in the government schools, if they play around or cause problems, they’ll lose their spot to another student. Dr. Shandomo, one of the professors accompanying us, grew up in Zambia and she chimed in to say that she grew up with the understanding that education was very important and very serious. She did her classwork and homework without fail and never questioned or disrespected the authority of the teacher. That’s definitely a difference in cultures that I’m going to be looking out for when we start working in the schools. The professors did mention that while discipline isn’t generally a problem, teachers in Zambia have other issues to worry about. The two he specifically mentioned were making sure that every child in such a large group is learning and dealing with a lack of resources. Most classrooms are equipped only with chalkboards and often don’t have enough exercise books and writing utensils for all the students. It was definitely a really interesting conversation and gave us some good background for when we get into the schools.
After our meeting I was walking around the campus taking some pictures and a student asked what I was taking pictures of. When I told him I was taking pictures of some of the trees, he started asking me all kinds of questions about who I was and where I was from. He was very curious about what we were doing, and when I told him it was my first time out of the United States, he was really excited, telling me I would not regret visiting Zambia. So far I’ve loved how open and friendly the people we’ve met here have been. Everyone talks in a way that makes it seem like they’re genuinely interested in you and they answer all of our questions about themselves and their country with no hesitation. They seem sincerely invested in whether we’re enjoying ourselves or not. I wonder if people who visit the United States for the first time feel as welcome as we have the last couple of days?
Thursday, June 5, 2013
Well, here we are. I can officially say that tomorrow, I’ll be on my way to Africa. (The fact that I can’t say, “I’ll be in Africa” until Saturday tells you how long the trip is.) We’re meeting at the airport at 6 a.m., picking up some of our group in New York City, and then off to Dubai and finally Lusaka. It’s going to be a loooooooooong day – over 24 hours of travel when all is said and done – but I’m pretty excited and I think I’m ready for it.
My intention is to write something here every night, but because of the unreliable Internet, we’ll just have to see what happens. Even if I can’t get online, I’m going to be writing every night, and I’ll post everything when I can. Along those same lines, I’m planning on take tons of pictures and creating a Flickr album so everyone can see what’s going on, but f I can’t stay online long enough to upload a lot of photos, I’ll post them when I can and include a link here when the album is updated.
For now, here’s a glimpse at what the house looked like earlier today. This is just a tiny bit of the mess I made.
I’M GOING TO AFRICA
Wednesday, June 4, 2013
SOMEONE (hi, Mom) has been complaining that I haven’t blogged at all this week but the truth is, I’ve been too busy! Turns out that checking out of your regular life for three weeks involves a little prep.
The most popular question right now seems to be, “Are you packed?” The answer to that is, “Ummm. Hmm.” I have two suitcases laid out on the floor and a giant pile of clothes and school supplies (donations for the schools we’ll be partnering with) beside them. That counts, right? I’m the world’s worst procrastinator when it comes to packing so this is actually way ahead of the game for me. Usually I just toss a bunch of stuff in a bag the night before I leave and whatever happens, happens. Every night this week I’ve told myself, “Tonight’s the night I really start looking at what’s in that pile of clothes and then put the clothes inside the suitcase.” But hey, maybe tonight’s the night I really start looking at what’s in that pile of clothes and then put the clothes inside the suitcase.
I have spent lots of time making sure my iPad is loaded up with goodies. When I bought it about a year ago, I felt a little guilty doing it because it seemed like such an extravagance, but boy, tablets were made for long flights. I’m a bit of a bookworm. When I go to my mom’s house in Birmingham for a week, I take 10 or 11 books with me. My carry-on is pretty much all books. I never read all of them – though I do usually make it through a good amount – but I just need to have them nearby, just in case. If I run out of clothes, I’ll happily wear the same pants for a week. If I run out of reading material…. *shudder* I’ve spent the last week or so just adding books and adding books. I finally stopped this morning to see if I’m good, and I have let’s see… 25 books. So maybe I’m good? In addition to the books, I have tons of articles downloaded from Longform.org, tons of comic books, a bunch of TED talks to watch, days of music, a handful of games, and a stockpile of my favorite podcasts. All on a device small enough to fit in the seat pocket in front of me. Amazing! Boredom, at least, should not be a problem on the long trips there and back.
The other question I’ve been asked a lot is, “Wow, how hot is it going to be?” The answer is “Not very” because it’s Africa’s cold season. The 10-day forecast consists of lows in the low 50’s and highs of 75. Dr. Shandomo, one of the professors going on the trip, is from Zambia and she’s warned us that the nights will be chilly and possibly breezy, but that weather sounds just about perfect to me.
Okay, Mom. I have to go mow the lawn one last time before I leave.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Since it’s possible that some people who don’t really know me will wander this way, let me give you a very quick introduction. My name is Heather. At 35, I’m what’s called a non-traditional (i.e. old) college student. I went to college back when I first graduated from high school in Birmingham, Alabama, but for reasons I won’t go into here, I didn’t finish. I intended to go back eventually but, as it often does, life happened. I got married, moved to Buffalo, took whatever job I could find so that we were making a little money, and “eventually” turned into many years. In 2002, I started working at Baker Victory Services Day Treatment Program as a classroom aide. DTX is a day school for kids with emotional and behavioral disorders and while it certainly had its challenging days – many, many challenging days – I loved it. It was easily the most wonderful and fulfilling thing I’d ever done. In 2009 I finally went back to school part-time while continuing to work at BVS full-time and working a part-time babysitting job. After doing that for a year, I realized it was kind of crazy and with blessings from my extremely sweet husband, Mark, put in notice at BVS, kept the part-time gig, and enrolled full-time at Buffalo State where I’m currently an Exceptional Education major, concentrating in English and minoring in Social Welfare.
I didn’t really enjoy college much the first time around so I haven’t felt very many nostalgic pains or regrets. This time around, the focus has definitely been on getting through as quickly as possible so I can get back to some kind of full-time work and a more normal schedule. Last spring, however, I took an Intro to Speech class (ugh – required) and when it came time to do a persuasive speech, one of my classmates did “Why You Should Study Abroad.” That was the first and only time I felt any kind of school-related regret. When I was 19 or 20, I never would have had the courage to travel abroad – I loved reading about other parts of the world but was happy to leave those experiences on the page – but now as an adult, when I’d really treasure the travel, I’d never have the time to go away for a semester. Figures.
When Dr. Shandomo came to speak to my Teaching Reading and ELA class about the opportunity to study in Zambia, I slumped into my seat, ready to look at beautiful pictures and hear amazing stories, none of which I would get to experience in person, when she suddenly said the magic words: 3 weeks. Three weeks?! I could do 3 weeks, maybe! If I gave the family I babysit enough warning, they could work around my absence for 3 weeks. We had enough of a little nest egg that we could survive without my babysitting money for 3 weeks and even chip in for some of the trip itself if scholarships and loans didn’t cover everything. And 3 weeks seemed just long enough for my husband to really miss me without doing any permanent damage. (Who am I kidding? Anyone who knows us will know that things will be in much better shape with him in charge than they would be if he went away for 3 weeks and left me in charge.)
There are a lot of practical reasons for studying in Zambia – it’ll look good on a resume, Buffalo’s public schools are increasingly multicultural, traveling has been proven to boost creativity – but mostly I’m just doing it for the adventure. I promise I won’t mention my age in every entry I write, but at 35, I know I have a different perspective on opportunities like this than the other students involved in the trip. At 20, you feel like the whole world is in front of you and while I don’t want to give the impression that life is actually terrible – despite taking the long way around on a few things, I love where I am – but I’ve done the grown-up thing and boy, is it a time and money suck. Adulthood comes with responsibilities that you can’t even imagine until you’re there. If you’re like me and you move away from your family or you marry someone who is away from his or her family, a lot of the limited time and money you do have goes to visiting with them and keeping those relationships as tight as you can. And while I adore my family, and I’m thrilled to see them every time that I can, Alabama doesn’t make for the most exotic travel destination, especially after you’ve already spent 22 years of your life there.
So when this opportunity came along and I realized it was doable, well, I felt like I had to jump on it. I had to! The only place I’ve ever traveled to outside of the United States is Canada, and for my non-Buffalo friends and family, let me stress that Canada is maybe a 20 minute drive from my house. I can stand in Buffalo and see Canada. Sometimes my phone sends me a message telling me that I’m now on international minutes because that’s how close Canada is. I’ve spent the last few months wandering around, saying, “I’m going to Africa!” to pretty much anyone who was listening and probably more than a few people who weren’t. I mean, I’m going to Africa!
Now that we’re so close to leaving – 10 days! – it’s amazing how long 3 weeks sounds and feels. I’m starting to worry a little bit about being gone that long. I’m also freaking out a little bit about the 20 hours on planes each way, something I’ve never even come close to doing. But I’m going to Africa! I still can’t believe it. I’m going to Africa!