It’s very difficult to measure success when aims are loftily vague as “peace” and “development” are.  Days come around where I wonder why I’m here as they always have in every place I’ve ever been.  It’s just here you aren’t the only one wondering, because most people you interact with daily think the same, as well as some of the people you’ve known your whole life.  Village folks have many different ideas of who I am and why I came to Zambia, and sometimes they get around to verifying their notions.  Usually it might take a while for it to sink in, it’s difficult to not only imagine coming from a country where people are so rich, and even harder to imagine why someone would leave it.  Some conjure undeserved heroic notions; notions I both simultaneously maintain and destroy.  It goes something like this as people get to know me and my approval ratings fluctuate but trend upwards.

  • Doesn’t call himself a Christian or go to church -4
  • A white man willing to talk to anyone +2
  • Doesn’t have 8 children let alone one child -2
  • Eats nshima (maize porridge) +1
  • Doesn’t give charity and appears awkwardly stingy -2
  • Speak some Kikaonde (local language) +3

 

 

Generally Carly and I are at the least a novelty in our existence, and more importantly that the country we hail from exists I think gives people hope that there is something better out there.  I’ve found that those the most curious and the most willing to interact even after the reality of who we are becomes clear are the people who we can work with, those we don’t want to let down, and those that keep us in the game.  Also seems that those that care enough to get to know us better and have their illusions of Americans destroyed and remade are the ones that are sincere in wanting to work alongside and not just shimmy their way to front of the charity line.  So let me share with you one of my favoritte persons, one of  those that have yet to let me down in reality.  Even though at every point everyone is accused of wrongdoing at some point by someone and I’ve had a few who as I’ve learned more have crashed from the upper echelon.

Mr. True, it’s not his real name but it’s a good one.  He wrote it on his name tag at our HIV workshop.  All week he didn’t lie, sometimes while blushing I wished he had.  He called himself Mr. True because another active community member referred to himself as Never Give Up during an adult literacy workshop two weeks prior.  Never Give Up drew his inspiration from a caricature of a frog choking a stork while the stork was swallowing the frog whole. (Incontrovertible proof that an animist tradition has deep roots in the modern christian culture of Zambia, either that our a new age wave of “Hallmark” inspirations has arrived)  So in the same vein Mr. True said I’m Mr. True and sometimes we still call him that especially when he weirds us out by keeping appointments and coming on time.  Mr. True is not a Kaonde, he’s a Lunda and one of the few non-Kaonde living in the village that isn’t a government worker or a former refugee.  So he’s different even though he’s been there for eight years, he’s married to a Kaonde and mixes freely but his otherness makes it easier for him to be unconventional.  He went back to school 4 years ago at the village school to complete 9th grade, while his kids were at the same school in the lower grades.  People laughed at him but he made it through, then he went to finish high school in town, leaving his family in the village.  He did that too, which is really saying something considering maybe less than 5% of all kids go on to complete 12th grade.  The whole time keeping his family at least as well as standards dictate in the village.  Now he’s trying to put money aside to go to train as a clinic officer.  It will take some time to save enough money, I expect he would have already received assistance from a faith-based foreigner if he belonged to a more geopolitically minded and funded sect of Christianity.  But his church is kind of an upstart scattered about the country but in dense pockets much like the wildlife.  So he’s resigned himself to working his tail off as a farmer while he waits for an opportunity.  This seems fairly common here where people will spend years in the process of making the next step that seems so automatic in America.  I’m not sure if his time will ever come, but it should, if people like him don’t rise above it doesn’t leave much hope for those that are watching how he’ll fare, for example his kids. 

He actually teaches them and helps with their homework, which is very unique.  He’s quite passionate about education, at least once we’ve tried to cool his berating jets to protect a young child unable to remember 7 times 3.  Parents here aren’t usually involved with their child’s education so we hesitate to admonish his admonishment.  Mr. True is doing something different though and folks myself included are taking notice.  He’s living between two worlds maintaining his bush path cred while poking his nose around in the complex comforts of progress-development-moderntiy-capitalism-inevitability-stuff. 

Mr. True lives two huts down from me where he keeps some free range goats.  Thankfully there is someone else between us who keeps goats also so we avoid most of the unpleasantness attached to goats ebbing into my yard/garden and me chucking clay clods at their forgetful skulls which could disturb our friendship.  One day though my neighbor on the other side of me bought three goats that he was going to take and sell elsewhere.  He tied them up on three different cloth ropes to a mango tree by his fish pond.  Then my neighbor left for a few hours, the goats managed to tangle themselves around the mango tree in a chaotic distress they made worse by ramming each other and bleating bloody murder.

Whenever a goat bleats SOS the women and children owners whoop up their own frenzy of animal like noises and head out with the equivalent of pitchforks.  We had been hearing these goats off and on all day and I had even tried to untie them until they tried to ram me so I stood back and shook my head muttering “Zambia” the way I do when things are ridiculous and I can only watch.  So Carly and I were moving on with our hut lives doing some form of reading our manual labor when the embattled goats let out another loud distress signal.  We thought little of it, and we heard the usual women and children “Hup-Hup-Obe-Hup-Hup” and saw them heading out on the war path away from the house in a loose formation grabbing things that lay close at hand and used to be trees.  The goats cried on and the sounds from the pursuants was coming closer, but no big deal we remained at leisure.  Then the first body runs by us silently from behind our hut, and it’s Mr. True wearing a button down tuxedo vest, gray tattered slacks and rain boots with a hand carved axe.  At the same time he sees the goats aren’t his own but rather other, newer, possibly even stupider goats awaiting purchase he sees us and we might as well have been sipping tea with biscuits and reciting boring poetry on a quilted blanket.  In an instant the blood lust in his eyes vanishes and he greets us with a slight bow and hand across his chest using very proper English.  He looks primal and we seem refined, and we all feel awkward with the misunderstanding of the situation (his instinctiveness and our apparent stodgy indifference) casting us in stereotypes.  We mumble a few things at each other both of us trailing off “I thought my goats were being killed…” and “They’ve been doing it all day…”  He went back to his home along with the rest of the war party.

The good thing is that we still talk , we didn’t let a little awkward moment ruin our relationship.  We’re still getting to know each other but his drive and curiosity has made him a reappearing guest in our schemes as he continues to show potential as an early adopter.

_Anyways we’re going to be visiting America Land soon for Christmas, going to Florida and Kentucky so maybe we’ll see you around Dec14th-Jan5th

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