Monday, May 26, 2008

New Location - New Perspective

I step to the side of the bumpy, uneven dirt road to let a car go by, and wait a minute for the dust to settle before continuing. The rains have been over for a few weeks now, and things are beginning to get dry and dusty, including the roads in my new neighbourhood. As I wait, I hear giggling behind me, coming from the other side of a grass fence. I peak my head over top to find 3 small girls crouched down, peering through a hole in the fence at the muzungu. They see me looking at them and burst into laughter. This attracts their friends, and they all practice saying “How are you?”, which they learn in school. I respond to each one individually, having already learned my lesson. If you only answer one child, or try to answer the whole group together, they will chase you down the road, still chanting “How are you? How are you?” until you answer!

After I greet them, and they have run off screaming and laughing, I continue on my way. I pass through the market near my house to pick up some vegetables for supper; tonight it will be Catapa, cassava leaves. As I near my home, I reflect at how my walk home from work is much different than last year, yet not without similarities. This year I spend part of my walk on paved roads, and must watch for cars, which is definitely different from my walk in Milenge. However I still am greeted by people all along my walk. It didn’t happen at first, as people usually just stared in wonder at the Muzungu who was walking through neighbourhoods where Muzungu’s don’t generally live, but people are getting used to me now. I pass a group of kids flying kites, home-made from shopping bags and sticks, and round the corner to my street. As usual, there is a group of about 10 children playing in front of my gate. I smile at them and they all greet me with “Ba Clever, Muli Shani?” (How are you?) “Bwino!” I tell them (Fine), laughing at how they still can’t say my name properly, and head inside. This place feels like home now, though I haven’t been here long. I have developed a routine, usually involving collecting water from the well, maybe doing a bit of laundry, or washing any dishes left over from breakfast or the previous day, and then starting to prepare supper.

It has been a while since I’ve given you an update, so there is a lot to cover. First, as you might know, I have moved to town. Last year you’ll remember that I was living in Milenge, a very rural district in Luapula province. After returning from Christmas, I moved up to Mansa, the capital city (more like a small town) of Luapula. I am now working out of the WaterAid provincial office, from which our three Luapula project areas are managed. It has definitely been a big adjustment, and though I miss Milenge, and my friends and family there, I am happy to be in town now. My job has changed significantly. Whereas last year I was working directly in the field on the actual implementation of the project, I am now mostly in the office, in more of a supporting role to the project. I still make trips out to the field, but spend most of my time in the office. This in itself has been an adjustment. I enjoy the work that I am doing, but I definitely miss driving my motorbike around the paths of Milenge!!

With my new location comes a new perspective. No longer do I spend every day in the rural areas, talking with the direct stakeholders of our project. Now that I spend most of my day on my computer, or reading reports, or simply discussing “the beneficiaries” in meetings, I have to constantly remind myself that those who we are ultimately working for are more than just numbers and targets in our project plans. They are individual mothers, school children, farmers, and fisherman. All too often development projects forget this, and simply look at development as a “problem to solve”, something that just needs a more innovative piece of technology, a more durable pump, a better irrigation system, or a more hygienic latrine. I relish my infrequent trips to the field, where I can remind myself of the personal side to our work.

Outside of work, I have moved into my own place. It took me a while to find, and I spent my first month and a half back living in a guesthouse, but the waiting paid off and I have found a great place. It is a servant’s quarters, which means it is just a small tiny house behind a main house. Our compound is walled, as are most in the area, and has a gate at the front. The family that lives in the main house is great. Like most Zambian households, there a number of people living there, from a number of different families, and there are also always people coming and going. The head of the household is a woman named Winifred Mulubwa, but I just call her “Mommy”, which is a respectful term for a woman older than you. She’s probably in her mid-late 50’s, and is a bubbly woman, always laughing and talking loud. Two of her grown children live with her, her son Bwalya, and her daughter, Grace. They are both in their early thirties, and very friendly. Bwalya is a dealer of precious stones, and Grace is an electrician, though she is looking for work at the moment. The number of children living in the house generally fluctuates from week to week, but the two constants are Grace’s niece, Shirley-Anne, who is either 8, 9, or 10 (I’ve gotten all three answers, even from her aunt and Grandmother), and Grace’s son, Junior, who is 3 or 4. Shirley-Anne is very quite and reserved around me. Junior is nothing of the sort. He is often playing in the street in front of the house when I come home from work, and will yell out my name at the top of his lungs when I round the corner. At any given point of the day, he is likely to be found running around the house, laughing maniacally at whatever prank he has just played on Shirley-Anne, while she chases him trying to get even. Jonathan and Maria are both in their late teens, and also stay at the house. I don’t think they’re related, but can’t be completely sure. Jonathan goes to school during the day, while Maria is the house-girl, helping with cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids. Jonathan’s English is decent, though he is quiet. Maria’s English is limited to basic greetings and phrases, and I’m usually just greeted with a small, shy smile whenever I try to talk to her. Though she is usually very quiet around me, I get the feeling that she is a very kind person, always taking time to play with the young ones, never hesitating to stop and help me out with carrying water from the well or some other task that I’m probably not doing properly!

Those 7 are the main occupants of the house, though other people are always coming and going, including a few more of Mommy’s grown children, Grace’s husband, and numerous other small kids who I assume are cousins or siblings of Shirley-Anne and Junior. Everyone is extremely nice and though I have my own house and kitchen facilities and can cook my own meals, I often will sit and eat with the family in the evenings.

There are two servant’s quarters at the back of the property, mine and another one, which is being rented by Mrs. Banda. She is probably in her early 40’s, and works at a family health NGO in Mansa, specifically working on TB care and prevention. She is also very nice, and we usually chat in the evenings after work. She is originally from Lusaka, and so Bemba is not her first language. Her native tongue is Nyanja, and she is working hard to teach Shirley-Anne and Junior how to speak it. I usually get a laugh out of her when I dig into my memory for the Nyanja greetings that I learned back when I first arrived in Zambia last year.

My little house is two main rooms, with a tiny bathroom attached, but accessible only from outside. One room is my bedroom, and the other serves as my kitchen/sitting room. It is small, but more than enough for me, and the rotating list of other EWB volunteers who have been living with me off and on. There is electricity, which is a big change from last year, but no running water, so I still have to gather water from the well at the front of the property.
The other great thing about living in town is that I get to see the Lwando’s all the time. You’ll remember that the Lwando’s were the family I lived with for the first 4 months of my time in Milenge. In September of last year they moved from Milenge up to Mansa, as Mr. Lwando got a new job in town. I was extremely sad to see them go, and they were equally sad to leave me behind in Milenge. Now that I am living in town I am able to spend lots of time with them. I usually go over to their house for lunch/dinner at least once a week, plus I run into Mr. Lwando in town all the time.

The Lwandos are doing well, and much has changed with them in the past few months also. The girls are all getting bigger, and Chola (the middle one, 6 years old) is getting much better at English. She is now able to tell me what she is learning at school, though her narrative is usually interspersed with some intense giggling. The biggest change for the Lwandos though, has without a doubt been the arrival of the newest and littlest Lwando. Mrs. Lwando was pregnant last year, due in late January, so the whole time I was home I was waiting for news, hoping that the baby wouldn’t come until I arrived back in Zambia. About a week before I flew back to Zambia however, my cell phone rang (I had commandeered my Canadian cell phone from my dad, who has been using it while I’ve overseas). Much to my surprise, it was Mrs. Lwando. She had just come home from the hospital after giving birth to a baby boy. Here’s the best part…his name….Trevor Lwando

Needless to say I’m pretty fond of the little guy, and I like to think he’s fond of me too. The Lwandos insist that he takes after me, because he sleeps during the day and cries at night (they explain that he must be on Canadian time), and he babbles all the time and makes lots of noise, though of course no words that they can understand (he is speaking French, like a Canadian, according to the Lwandos).

As with last year, the days, weeks, and months are flying by. A new group of EWB’s Junior Fellows, the four month volunteers, have arrived, and are all heading off to various parts of Zambia for their placements. I am coaching one, who will actually be living in Milenge and working with Eddy, my co-worker from last year. Olivia is from the University of Waterloo. She’ll be keeping a blog about her time in Milenge, which you can check out here. For the mean time, until she heads off to Milenge, she’s staying at my place, which now makes four of us in my tiny little house. Ashley, my friend from Windsor who is also an LTOV, has been staying with me off and on while she waits until her project starts and she can settle in one place, and Madavine is another Junior Fellow who is on her way to her project. Olivia is the one in the orange shirt, and Madavine is in purple. Ashley is in the picture with me.

So, as I walk down the dirt roads of my neighbourhood, greeting the people who have quickly become accustomed to their muzungu neighbour, I reflect on one of the things I love the most about Zambia; how quickly one can form a community, and be welcomed by people. Of course, that also makes it much hard to pack up and leave when the time comes. As usual, during these times of reflection, another though pops into my head; “What do my Zambian friends think about me dropping into their lives, becoming part of this community for such a short time, and then abruptly leaving?” And as with every other time, I still have no answer.


Anonymous said...

Hi Trevor: Bobbo here. Another great post. Another Trevor running around. If he takes after you, he will be a great human being. Youa re making your familly proud and your Eastwood familly proud to

Miss you


Chris said...

Hey brother. Good post as usual. Glad to see some pics of the new place and the people around home. Nice paint-job by the way. Also, cool shirt, you almost look like you fit in...except for that part about being a muzungu - too pale, you need to work on your tan.

Keep writing and letting us know whats going on. I'll be interested to hear what Olivia thinks of Milenge.

Have a good one, talk to you soon.

Take care of yourself.

Baker Family said...

Just found your blog, I love it and the work you are doing. I've had my own experience, you're welcome to take a peek.
good luck!