Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Ah, by now you are used..."

Thank you so much to everyone who has continued to follow my blog over these past two years. Your support and encouragement are indescribably important. I have a few things that I wrote over these two years that I never managed to post, and I am hoping to put them up over the next few weeks, so keep checking. Feel free to give me a shout ( if you want to hear more, or hear about something specific. Also, please visit if you haven't already. I am very close to reaching my goal, you can help for the final push!!

During my last week in Zambia I was wandering through a market in Lusaka, buying some vegetables for dinner that night. As is usual for a market trip, I got into a conversation with the lady I was buying my onions from. She was asking what I was doing in Zambia, and upon hearing that I had been living there for almost two years, she exclaimed (full of expression and in the smooth rhythmic bounce that all Zambians speak with) "Ah, by now you are used!", meaning of course that I must have gotten used to life in Zambia after so long. She asked where in Zambia I had been living, and I told her. She said, "You even know how to speak Bemba?" It was both a statement and a question. "Panono", I reply, meaning "A little". This of course causes the whole section of the market, all of whom were listening to this conversation, to burst into laughter. Muzungus speaking Zambian languages will never get old.

There definitely was some truth to her statement though, by now you are used. I am. Zambia, as I've suggested many times before, has indeed become home. I am comfortable walking the streets, dodging traffic, interacting with people. My ears are accustomed to the sounds of the Bantu (the "root" tribe for most Zambians) languages. The intensity of the sun on my face no longer seems unbearable (though I do still turn red if I'm not careful!). My parent's visit a few weeks ago brought into sharp relief just how much I've become familiar with. Listening to their reaction after walking through the crushing crowd on Cairo Rd. in Lusaka, or seeing the meat counter in City Market, or driving up to Mansa and experiencing the poor condition of the roads reminded me that I too once felt out of place in these settings. Zambia has clearly changed me.

Just how it has changed me is a tougher thing to articulate. There is no question that these past two years have left me a different person than I was when I left, but it's hard to say exactly how. I feel that I am more patient, more interested in people, and more keen to find the beauty in things I may have overlooked before. Yet that is only scratching the surface. I've learned and experienced a vast amount, and trying to sort it all out is a bit of a daunting task.

However the things that immediately come to mind when I think about influential moments, are not just about seeing a new country, a new part of the world, learning a new language, etc. It is the interactions with people. It is connecting with people on a personal level, one which no book, documentary, or even first hand account can accurately describe. I miss Zambia, there is no question about that. I miss the smells, the sights, the sounds, but most of all I miss those interactions.

I miss sitting around in the village darkness with the Lwandos, full from a simple meal of Nshima, listening to them sing.

I miss sitting on my front porch in Milenge after work, while all the "neighbourhood" kids play in front of my house.

I miss being greeted as I drive into a community on my motorbike, being surrounded by a crowd of kids, sitting and laughing with an old woman who I can't understand, discussing the technical details of the community well with the men, being served lunch and eating with everyone.

I miss the market ladies I would buy vegetables from in Mansa, always ready with a smile, always quick to throw a few extra tomatoes in the bag for me.

I miss the way people interact when they talk, with extended handshakes, and hand slapping when you laugh. A conversation with a Zambian seems so much more engaging.

I miss Mommy, my landlord in Mansa, and her eclectic but wonderful family. Her son Bwalya, a huge man who spends his days as a trainer at tiny gym in Mansa, usually so reserved and serious, but get him laughing and he'll shake the house apart. Her daughter, Grace, so warm and friendly right from the first moment I met her, always smiling, sharing an inside joke, teasing me about something. Grace's son, Junior, as wild and crazy as a three year old could be and then some. Shirley-Anne and Maria, Mommy's granddaughter and niece, shy and giggly as any young girls are. I miss them all.

I miss Sunday afternoon lunches at the Lwandos after we both moved to Mansa. Hanging out with the girls while Mrs. Lwando prepared lunch, joking around with the oldest, Chishala, hearing about Chola's week at school, trying to understand her steadily improving English, colouring with Ruth, her insisting on colouring the Canadian flag I drew for her blue, instead of the red that I suggested, playing with little Trevor...or at least until he realized that I look different from everyone else and would cry every time I went near him! Talking with Mr. and Mrs. Lwando over dinner, discussing the latest gossip, politics, my work, theirs, everything you can imagine. I especially miss the Lwandos.

Even being away from all these things, missing all these things, I have not stopped learning from them, however. I continue to be shaped by these people I met, and am sure I will be for years to come.

At the lodge where we stayed during our safari when my parents were visiting, there was a excerpt from an essay on a poster in the common area. It was a play on another book title, "The Trouble with Africa..." which outlines the development troubles Africa has had this century. The title of this excerpt however, finished that sentence a little differently. "The trouble with Africa ... is that it gets in your blood". That couldn't be truer. I would love to be able to express just what Zambia means to me, what the people of Zambia mean to me, but I don't think I can properly do that with this blog. Ask me the next time you see me.

For now though, I'll leave you with this poem that I came across a while ago. When I first read it I had never seen Zambia, never seen Africa, so I thought it was nice, but it wasn't personal. I reread it the other day and had tears in my eyes. I can't think of a better, more beautiful way to express what I feel. The poem is about Africa in general, but for me it rings true for Zambia.

-I am an African-

I am an African
Not because I was born there
But because my heart beats with Africa's
I am an African
Not because my skin is black
But because my mind is engaged by Africa
I am an African
Not because I live on its soil
But because my soul is at home in Africa

When Africa weeps for her children
My cheeks are stained with tears
When African honours her elders
My head is bowed in respect
When Africa mourns her victims
My hands are joined in prayer
When Africa celebrates her triumphs
My feet are alive with dancing

I am an African
For her blue skies take my breath away
And my hope for the future is bright
I am an African
For her people greet me as family
And teach me the meaning of community
I am an African
For her wildness quenches my spirit
And brings me closer to the source of life

When the music of Africa beats in the wind
My blood pulses to its rhythm
And I become the essence of music
When the colours of Africa dazzle in the sun
My senses drink in its rainbow
And I become the palette of nature
When the stories of Africa echo round the fire
My feet walk in its pathways
And I become the footprints of history

I am an African
Because she is the cradle of our birth
And nurtures an ancient wisdom
I am an African
Because she lives in the world's shadow
And bursts with a radiant luminosity
I am an African
Because she is the land of tomorrow
And I recognise her gifts as sacred

- Wayne Visser

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Christmas request...

Well my parents are on their way back home after a great 2.5 week visit in Zambia, that included a visit to Victoria falls (see last post), a great safari (we saw EVERYTHING!!), but even better, my parents seeing my home in Mansa, and meeting my Zambian family, the Lwandos. I was really hoping to put up a few more pictures from their visit, but the internet isn't cooperating. I'll try again later this week, but given the many things I hope to accomplish before I leave Zambia on Saturday, it may have to wait until I get back home.

For the moment though, I have a request. I have committed to raising $2500 for EWB this Christmas season. Many of you supported me two years ago when I was first setting out to Zambia. I ended up raising over $3000 toward my placement. Now, after spending two years living and working here, I am even more convinced that EWB is contributing toward creating a better world, both in Africa, and at home in Canada. I would humbly ask that you check out my personal site, and help me reach my goal. This is a great alternative to the thousands of dollars we spend on each other at this time of year. Help me and help EWB spread the love a little wider this Christmas season. Thank you in advance for your support. It means so much to me, but more importantly, it is creating positive change for thousands of wondeful people who deserve the same chances we get in Canada.

Looking forward to seeing everyone in just a few days!!
Much love from Zambia,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A few pictures...

Here are a few quick pictures of my parents visit so far. I'll put up captions later, but for now, these are pictures of us at the airport a few minutes after their arrival, a bunch of us walking around the falls, including right along the edge (it's dry season so the water level is extremely low right now) and some of my dad and I swimming in the Devil's Pool, a natural pool right on the edge of the falls. Yes, you're seeing that correctly, that is us hanging over the edge of the 110m waterfall!! Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When Worlds Collide - Part II

I apologize in advance if this post is a bit incoherent and rambling. It isn’t well polished, but rather just a dump of my thoughts that I haven’t taken time to articulate well. I’m also rushing to get it posted before the “big event” happens tomorrow morning! (“Big Event” = arrival of my parents to Zambia)

At the beginning of this year I wrote a similarly titled post regarding my brief visit back home to Canada, and the difficulty I had reconciling that reality with the one I’ve come to know and love here in Zambia. As I sit in the hot, stuffy room in the EWB house in Lusaka, listening to the rain beat down on the roof, I can’t help but think I’ll need to go through the same process again in just a few short weeks. Except this time it won’t be a brief visit home, it will be a transition back into Canadian life. Yet even before that happens, another collision of realities will happen, one which I will both be a part of, and an observer. As I type this my parents, Gerry and Deb, are somewhere over the Atlantic, on their way to London, then down to Lusaka, to visit me here in Zambia. It seems almost surreal that their arrival is only a day away. We first started discussing this trip last year when I was home at Christmas. Over the next few months plans were made, accommodations arranged, (including three nights at the luxurious Chez Freeman … which is my tiny house in Mansa!), and flights were booked. Now here we are, mere hours away from the first (that I’m aware of) Freeman reunion on African soil. To say I’m excited would be a grave understatement. I think I can say the same of my parents.

Yet excitement does not rule out nervousness. In the last few months I’ve often sensed a bit of trepidation from my parents (especially my mother) as they prepare for this trip. This, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is quite understandable. I too was nervous (at times bordering on terrified) in the weeks and days leading up to my departure from Canada two years ago. It is mainly a fear of the unknown (and possibly a bit of fear of the known … things like malaria are very real here, and not extremely fun…trust me!!), but no amount of reassuring from me can assuage that fear. It will take seeing things with their own eyes, experiencing things for themselves, to understand and accept (and grow to love?) the things which they now might fear.

It isn’t just my parents who are nervous however. I am too. After all, this is the first time my world from Canada is coming into contact with my world here. It will be a test of my communication skills over the last two years. How accurately have I portrayed things here, the work I’ve been doing, the people I love? Have I glossed over the not so pleasant details, left things out in my blog posts and emails home? This will also be a check on my own personal experiences, a chance to see my world through others’ eyes. Am I naïve in the things I love here, the things that bother me? Do I actually understand my reality, or are the biases I carry with me too overpowering? What will my parents think of my friends, my family, my house, how I live, the things I like to do, the “risks” I take (I do realize that the definition of that word “risk” may differ between my view and my parents view, hence the quotation marks).

All of these issues aside however, I am extremely excited for my parents visit, and proud of them for pushing themselves to take this trip. I can’t wait for them to meet the Lwandos, to see the beauty of Luapula province, to experience the chaos of the Lusaka markets, to smell Zambian air. I have no doubt that it will all be overwhelming for them, an assault on the senses, but a wonderful one which will leave them (I hope!) and me with cherished memories for years to come.

This trip will not only impact my parents and me. The Lwandos (my Zambian family) have been waiting for this moment for a long time as well. Since the first time I told them a few months ago that my parents were coming to visit, hardly a week goes by without them double checking the date with me, asking about what my parents will want to eat, double checking that the trip is still on. I actually just got off the phone with Ba Na Lwando (“Ba Na” is the Bemba equivalent of “Mrs.”, and basically means “Mother of”, though that isn’t a literal translation), wanting to know if they have arrived yet. I had to tell her “Not yet, one more day, I’ll call you when they land!”). They too are excited to finally bring my Canadian and Zambian families together. It will indeed be a special moment.

So I wait, counting down the hours until their plane lands. My list of task to accomplish today, which once seemed extremely important, now just seems like time filler, things to do to make the day go by. I liken it to the day before a big trip, or your birthday, or Christmas. Part of me feels like I’m missing some important step in preparing for tomorrow morning, but logically I know that there is nothing left to do. Well…maybe I’ll go buy a few bottles of water for my parents for after they get off the plane. I’ll wait a day or two before trying to get them to drink the tap water here… ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Soaking it all up

As I was walking through the EXTREMELY crowded streets of Lusaka the other day, it hit me. Two things hit me actually. The first was a makeshift wheelbarrow that someone was using to transport a gigantic load of…something, across town. This is a pretty common method of transportation of goods here in Zambia. If you’ve got to move something from one end of town to another, be it a gigantic bag of “tropicals”, as flip-flop sandals are called here, or 100kgs worth of sugar, you hire a delivery boy. He will strap an impossibly large amount of goods to his impossibly large wheelbarrow (modified with welded re-bar, pieces of wood, and other random materials), and walk, sometimes 4 or 5km. Anyway, this morning I happened to step in front of one of these delivery boys when he was going downhill. He saw me at the last second, and dropped his load down, but it kept skidding into me. Even though it was obviously my fault, the delivery boy was fairly pleasant, though obviously not extremely impressed that I interrupted his momentum. We chatted briefly, and then both continued in our separate directions.

That’s when the second thing hit me: “That didn’t seem weird at all!”. I realized that after close to 20 months living in Zambia, the things that seemed strange during my first few weeks and months here are now common place. I don’t fumble for my camera when I see a woman carrying a 20L container of water on her head, with a baby tied to her back with only a piece of cloth. A man wheeling a cage made out of sticks, and full of chickens through the city streets hardly warrants a second glance. I don’t even turn my head anymore when I see children playing with toys made out of pieces of string and old dirty plastic containers. These things are simply part of life, part of the everyday surroundings.

As much as this seems like a natural and desired step, and indeed this transition into feeling comfortable here has helped me immensely, it is something that I’ve begun fighting against recently. It is slowly dawning on me how close I am to leaving this country that has been my home for the past two years. I find myself trying to get back that sense of awe and wonder, trying to soak up every sight I see, every sound I hear, and every smell that javascript:void(0)reaches me. More than this though, I am trying to understand and articulate the emotions that accompany these sights, sounds, and smells. Every time I walk down the street now I worry that I will forget what it’s like to have a group of kids burst into excited laughter as I pass, while one of them works up the courage to yell out “Muzungu!!! How are you??”, to strike up a conversation in Bemba with the ladies selling fruits and vegetables on the side of the road, sending them into fits of laughter when I greet them with “Muli Shani” rather than “How are you?” I don’t want to forget the feel of a mud-brick wall beneath my fingers, the sound of kids playing in a village, while goats and chickens join in the melee, or the smell of maize roasting over charcoal, or the sickly sweet smell of the garbage pit burning. I don’t want to have to rely on my digital pictures of the sun setting over the fields of Milenge, of the village ladies walking in their simple, yet beautiful chitenges, of the splash of brilliant colour that results from a village meeting under a tall mango tree. I want those images to be imprinted in my brain so I can recall them at will.

Most of all it’s the faces that I’m trying to file away. There are those of friends and family here, people I know and love dearly. I want the images of them laughing, of them serious, of them asking me questions, telling me a sad story, singing, playing, crying. There are those of people I don’t know. The random people I see on the street whose faces fill me with wonder. Stoic looks, intense looks, happy looks, confused looks. Never before have I paid such close attention to people’s faces that I don’t know, and it’s something I’ve pledged to continue upon returning to Canada.

I now use each walk through town, each conversation, each moment as an opportunity to gather more of these sights, sounds, and smells and file them away. They will make the stories I tell when I go back home more rich, more real. They will help me truly represent my friends here, and their country, their reality. They will help me remember, not in a sense of bringing up the past, but of living again in the present.

I’m off now, into town. I’ll be gathering as I go. For my sake, for Zambians' sake, and for yours.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Stay tuned....

A new post coming soon...I promise! Check back in a few days.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

True Patriot Love

For the second year in a row, I celebrated Canada day a little different than most other years of my life. Last year it actually passed quite quietly. I was surrounded by my fellow EWB volunteers, on the shores of Lake Kariba in Southern Zambia. We wished each other “Happy Canada Day”, and our British friend who ran the lodge we were staying at shared a drink with us, but not much else. Those of you who know me will know that this is a little bit off character for me, as I am a bit of a patriot. At the time however, we were in the middle of a retreat, full of some pretty intense sessions on organisational development, influencing behaviour change, and pushing our own personal development. Sometimes during these retreats the world outside can pass by in a blur.

This year however, I was not at an EWB retreat, but on the way to one. Most of the other EWB volunteers had already arrived a few days previous at Lake Malawi, and were waiting for myself and two other volunteers, my good friends Nina and Thulasy. It was a multi day journey, and the morning of July 1st found us in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, a few hours drive from the lake. The previous day we had made the almost 700km trek from Lusaka, and were pretty tired. As the other OVs were doing some training that we didn’t need to be a part of (the rest of the group had just arrived in Zambia and Malawi in February, so were doing a few extra things that those of us who have been around longer didn’t need to attend) we weren’t due at the lake until the evening, so we took our time waking up, and wandering Lilongwe before catching a bus.

The three of us exchanged "Happy Canada Day" wishes with each other as we awoke, and even set off a small firework (tiny really, I swear) at the guesthouse we were staying at, but it was a conversation that Thulasy and I had over breakfast, and that extended onto our bus ride, and then again into a bumpy ride in the back of a rundown pickup truck that was my true “Canada Day” moment for this year. I would love to say that our conversation was about maple leaves, multi-coloured forests in the fall, lakes as smooth as glass, the Rocky Mountains, hockey, or mounds of crisp, fresh snow, but it was of a slightly different flavour. Let me explain, but a word of warning first; this may not make your heart burst with pride, and it may just make you think…or at least I hope it does...

Thulasy and I had just finished breakfast at Summer Park, a nice outdoor café style restaurant in Lilongwe, and were relaxing in the shade of a big tree enjoying our tea. The tall green trees and cool breeze (we’re at the tail end of the cold season in Southern Africa right now) made me a little bit nostalgic for the Canadian spring that I have now missed two years in a row, and I remarked how I was a little bit bummed to not be in Canada on Canada Day. I explained to Thulasy my slightly higher than average level of patriotic pride, and she asked me what it was about Canada that I loved so much (not because she disagreed with me, but rather out of curiosity). Without pause I answered “Well I love…”.

I sat with mouth gaping for a moment. It’s not that I didn’t have an answer. On the contrary, I’ve actually thought about this many times in my life. However as my answer was on the verge of leaving my mouth it occurred to me that since coming to Zambia, since seeing beyond my own country, my own culture, beyond the fraction of the world’s population that I belong to which is nowhere near representative of the rest of the planet, I haven’t really re-examined these reasons. Why do I love Canada? Why do I beam with pride when I hear our anthem, or see our flag? Those few seconds of silence started Thulasy and I on a fairly deep conversation about our country, its values, and how they matched up with our own.

While I can’t possibly capture everything we talked about in this post, I’ll try to summarize our discussion in the big questions we asked each other:

  1. What do you personally love about Canada?

  2. Do Canadians as a whole love their country? If so, why?

  3. Do we as Canadians really understand what being “Canadian” means, both to us and the rest of the world?

  4. Are the images of “Canada” and “being Canadian” that we love real, or are they images that haven’t existed other than in our minds for many years now, if they ever did?

  5. Is Canada everything you want it to be, and if not, what does your ideal Canada look like? What will it take to get there?

A little intense for a breakfast conversation under a tree, I know, but nonetheless my mind keeps wandering back to these questions whenever I find myself with time to just sit and think. I made the decision that morning to carefully re-examine my image of Canada, and what being Canadian really means. You’ll be happy to know that I’m still intensely patriotic. My heart still pounds at the sight of our flag, and those first few notes of our anthem will always make me stop what I am doing and listen with pride, but that question still remains on my mind; “What do I, and all Canadians, want Canada to be, and what can I do to help get us there?”

As I said, our conversation continued on the bus, and in the back of a beat-up old pickup, and before long we found ourselves on the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi. I had a great week, surrounded by my great Canadian friends, and some wonderful Malawians, and I realized one thing; I love people, and I want to live in a country that loves and values people, with no exception. I feel that this is the first of many articulated thoughts on what I want Canada to be, but you’ll have to be patient, I think this process will take time.

I’d challenge you as well to think about those questions above, especially number one and number five. I’d love to hear your responses. Post them as a comment on here if you like. If you’d rather not, feel free to email me ( Even if you don’t really want to do that, at least think about them for yourselves. If you’re not Canadian, think about these questions for your own country.

While July 1st 2008 may have been different than most of the other July 1sts that I’ve experienced, I feel as though it may turn out to be one of the most important for me, in terms of my Canadian identity and pride.

I hope everyone back home celebrated in style, and enjoyed your day. I definitely enjoyed mine. From all of us here in Zambia and Malawi, Happy Canada Day!!!