I’m out of our village and into modern times. Maybe this whole Peace Corps thing is changing, last night I ate mint chocolate cake and a sandwich with sauces , veggies and beans all healthy and hard to pronounce. I’m writing you from a computer over the internet and it’s changing the world. Outside the internet cafe I can get lattes and see movies and just about everything I never thought I’d see.  Still this is the capital city and its far far away from life in the village where traditions and poverty are resilient.  Things seem to be changing in response to globalization and technology but ever so slowly in the village.  I’m thankful to be around people of a different mindset and a slower pace, but curious when or how anything will ever improve in the quality of their life. Some folks definitely seem to be getting left behind as the world flattens and homogenizes.  It’s not like there aren’t people trying to do something about it though.

The consumer park I am writing you from is proof, as it is well supported by the many foreigners living and working in Lusaka to help out the worse off. If there weren’t so many of them (us) than I don’t think their would be cafes spewing foamed milk and theaters surrounding patrons with sounds. I recently read a time magazine from a few months ago and it talked about malaria, HIV, and had pie charts of African despair with photos of beautiful struggles.  It reminded me of how I felt about Africa before I came to Zambia, concerned and eager to understand for myself.  Well now I’m here living closely with one little place towards the middle of the continent and I’m confused, but hardly breathing the urgency I expected. Things are complicated.  When people don’t realize that and they treat issues or problems simply they only make things more complicated.

I’ve been walking and biking myself ragged all over my village and the surrounding area chasing people to do projects to see who is interested and can do the job. Just before I came to Lusaka I became aware of how ridiculous it was to be so busy in a dusty village where so many people are so loose with time or whatever they call it.  Part of the reason is that while some people are wanting to do better for themselves, they are really busy with living.  Eight children, subsistence farming, drawing water, cooking on a fire, listening to others, following social protocol, worshipping, grieving.  Then you add on to that the aid programs that disseminate from the provincial capital.  Some come from NGO’s others are from the government but funded through donors.  The neighboring mine is also mandated to fund projects in the community.  Basically people are busy being developed.  Some developers give things for free, others don’t but they all require people’s time, planning, and coordination.  A white landcruiser comes out from the provincial capital and heads turn as it motors down to the area where the school and clinic are.  If a group is coming in a cruiser and they are new to the area people are really interested.  The villagers sit through the meetings nodding answers but they don’t really believe anything will come until they see it on the ground.

I think the villagers like me, but still it’s hard for me to compete with groups coming in vehicles that are often bringing gifts.  Still I’m white and I live there and I have a pretty cool Mountain bike, but they’re getting used to me and my schtick.  I can teach, I can plan, but I can’t give you money or things.  I don’t blame them for only giving me so much of their time.  Honestly some do want to learn about things I know about and I just have to figure out how best to teach them. Yet others are aware that I move around and network as part of my role and if we get a project going and the white guy is down then it should be easy to get some money from somewhere for it.  Maybe he can even write the proposal and bring the money himself. This is uncomfortable for me and adds to my confusion. It’s not really what I thought I was signing up for, and it doesn’t have to be. Really I can make this experience into whatever you want it to be.

Still people are poor, I want to help, and I do have a fair amount of influence and power that I can flex if I choose.  I’m not used to the situation and all the different options available but they all end up looking demeaning or paternalistic.  I could spend my time being the reliable middleman for the sacks of money bobbing around, but I don’t want to.  Even though this may be the most efficient use of my time. It don’t feel good, so I ain’t gonna do it.  I’ll keep biking around, looking for people who want to do things the way I believe in until I change my mind or something else happens.  So the world is changing and I wonder how this will affect volunteers in the future now that there are fewer places untouched or unreachable by those looking to give. Soon I’ll return to my village to start learning through my skin and hopefully I can find my niche in what seems like a saturated aid market around my village.

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