Saturday, July 7, 2007

Faces...

The night is still and quiet around me as I walk. The only sound is the soft crunch of gravel under my shoes. It is June, the beginning of the cold season in Zambia, so the air is brisk and chill. The moon is just a sliver tonight, which makes the stars seem even more stunning. I stop walking for a moment, just to stare. Like a small child I crane my neck trying to take it all in, briefly entertaining thoughts of counting the endless millions of pinpricks above me. I am getting used to the stars now, but not so much that the sight doesn’t leave me breathless still. I pause a moment longer, than continue my walk.

As I near home a familiar sound rises up to greet me – singing. Warm harmonies mixing, words not yet distinguishable. I smile and quicken my pace. It is my family signing. Supper is likely almost ready, and as they sit and wait, both for supper and for me, they are singing. All of them join in, even little Ruth, although admittedly she needs a few more years of practice before she could perform. They don’t sing every night, so I am anxious to get home and listen. They know how much I enjoy it, even though I don’t actually understand much of the words, and they love it when I try to join in, even just by humming. They are determined that I will learn the words and we’ll perform somewhere. We’ll see about that.


I walk up to the house, and around back where everyone is sitting in the kitchen and am greeted warmly. I say my hellos quickly, and ask them to start singing again. It will be another evening like that, sitting around by lantern light, listening to the family sing. I love these evenings.


Life has become a series of stark contrasts. It is not hard to find beauty everywhere I look. I constantly find myself stopping whatever I’m doing to stare across a field of sorghum ready to be harvested, to watch a fisherman guide his home-made canoe down the river, to observe a group of children playing with a home-made football. Yet I don’t have to look much further than these sights to see a household that gets their drinking water from the river, just downstream of someone bathing, to talk to an old women so stricken by polio that her legs are useless, and she must be carried everywhere, to see small children who are sick so often from unclean water that they have missed too much school to be able to catch up, such that it’s almost not worth going. It is a constant battle between images such as these for my attention.


However even with the harshness of these situations, one can find cause to smile. That father of that household who gets their water from the river is extremely hard working, and has already dug the pit for the latrine we will help him construct, has gathered the required materials, and is just waiting for us to deliver cement. He has already announced that he will help with the nearby well when construction begins. Whatever else he is lacking, hard work isn’t one of them. That woman who has to be carried around is rarely seen without a smile on her face, and she particularly beams whenever I drive up on my motorbike. No matter that I can’t understand her yet, and she can’t understand me, we never fail to have a lengthy conversation every time I’m there. She says what she wants to, I say what I want, neither understands the other, but we both laugh anyway. Whatever ailment is ravaging her body, her heart is not affected. Those small children, despite missing so much school, still love going, and still run with excitement to the school every day they can. In one area, where there are no teachers, the first time I drove up the kids all came running to greet me. This is not anything new, it happens everywhere, but here I am told that they think I’m the new teacher, and are thrilled to see me. I’m almost sad to let them down and tell them why I’m really there. Whatever sickness the unclean water causes, it does nothing to affect their enthusiasm.

I’ve been asked before how I keep from getting discouraged. The natural beauty of this place is certainly one of the things that keeps a smile on my face. Every evening I watch the sunset behind our house. The sight of the sky, seemingly on fire above green tree tops and the thatch roofs of our neighbours’ houses is beyond beautiful. In the mornings, as I run through dirt paths, I watch the sun rise from the opposite direction. My days are often spent riding through the picturesque country-side on my motorbike, passing through green fields, riding next to the Luapula River. One does not have to look hard to find the beauty of God’s creation in Milenge.


However even this natural beauty would not be enough on its own. Sunsets become common place, fields begin to look the same, and there are days when I don’t even glance at the ever present river and the Congo beyond. What really puts a smile on my face is the people I interact with. Whether it’s my family at home, my co-workers, or the people I meet in the villages, I am constantly being inspired and challenged. I still marvel at the enthusiasm I see, the smiles, the hospitality, and the warmth. There are times when I get frustrated over the difficulties I have communicating, frustrated over difficulties associate with work, and frustrated for many other reasons. There are times when I have had to deliver bad news to a community, when I have come without answers to their questions, when I have had to smile sadly and inform people they must wait until next year to be included in our WatSan program. Yet I have never entered a community and not been greeted warmly, with smiles, laughter at my poor attempts at Bemba, and the ever present crowd of kids that can’t believe their good fortune to be interacting with a Muzungu (in this instance “interacting” typically means standing as close as possible, such that the entire group of twenty – thirty kids is somehow touching me, and either staring in awe or giggling madly).

I would love to share their stories with you. I could easily fill pages and pages, blog entry after blog entry with the stories of the people I meet. However I worry about the accuracy of my retelling, I worry about doing justice to these people. I have started writing down the stories of people I meet and talk to. Throughout the rest of my placement I hope to share these stories with you, but in order to do it properly, I need time. For now, I want to put up some pictures of people I have met during my travels in Zambia and Malawi. You may see a few Muzungus in these pictures. Those are some of my fellow EWB OVs. I’ve included some pictures of them for two reasons: First because sometimes they’re in really good pictures with Zambians/Malawians, and second, because my fellow OVs are also a huge inspiration to me. I just returned from an amazing week long retreat with all of them and was reminded again of the dedication and heart that my friends have, and the passion for their work.

For me, these are the faces of my time so far in Africa. These are the faces that bring a smile to mine. I am smiling again in anticipation of seeing these people again, and of the many more people I will meet in the coming months.







As usual there are a few housekeeping issues. First, just want to give some credit where it is due. Not all of the above pictures were taken by me, a few are from my fellow OVs. Second, I was hoping to included lots more pictures of my family in Milenge, and of some of the sights I described above, but my camera has been acting up lately. Hopefully I’ll have it back up and running next time! Thanks again for everyone who is reading, and for all the comments and emails.

8 comments:

Kyle said...

nice

L said...

Trevor...

Its wonderful to read of your experiences again... I have to admit, I've frequented your page in the past two weeks... sometimes daily just to see if that was the day... write a book, I'll bye one!!

I'm inspired by the value of the relationships you are building... and I have to say its a lesson to me and a reminder that the relationships we all can build, even not those in far off places, but in the everyday... are what holds real value... and to see the expressions of those in your pictures says a lot on their own.

As always, you are in our prayers and thoughts...

Leon and Debb

Jasmine said...

Trevor! You're quite articulate and I love reading your blogs!

Anonymous said...

Hi Trevor:

Bob Perrin here. So good to read your words again. Like you words seem so useless to describe what you are experiencing or what we are feeling here

My prayers are with you

ashleyr said...

oh my gosh! your dreams are coming true! it's not long now before your vision of singing African songs with confidence and pizazz is realised! hahahahahaha

will write soon - for now, echoing Kyle's 'nice' :0)

ash

Chris said...

Trevor,
Hey brother, Great entry. It is great to hear of the little experiences that you have that make such a big impression.

Keep doing what you are doing and keep letting us know how it is going.

Talk to you soon.
Chris

Anonymous said...

Trevor,
Once again I thoroughly enjoyed your posting. It certainly makes us stop & think "What is important in life?" Your writing made me both happy & sad this time. Your mom is certainly correct! She tells me that you are definitely falling in love with Africa. I can also see it and feel it. Once again, thankyou for letting us be a part of your life/experience. I will keep you in my prayers and thank God for people like you.
Dana S.

Anonymous said...

High Trevor. I just spent the last hour catching up on your adventures. I hope you keep a copy of all of your blogs. You could write a book for sure.

I so enjoyed reading about your life in Milengo. What a contrast between Russell Woods. Sounds like the people have incredible challenges to face, and yet they are so happy.

I will be spending a couple of weeks with Alena in Charlotte. Derek and I will drive down. It's nice to have a driver. I won't complain about the time or waits, etc. after hearing about your transportation adventures. Jeff and Melissa will be home this weekend, so I am looking forward to seeing them.

I have you on my prayer list and pray for you pretty well every day. I may not always get on your blog (I have been pretty lame about that.), but I do think of you each day and pray for you.

I thoroughly enjoyed a good hour of blog reading this morning. It makes me feel a little more knowledgeable of what you are doing. We take so much for granted.

Take care, and God bless.

Aunt Shirley