Contradictions

Back Stage before the show

In Canada I used to look forward to buying a Sunday Star at the General Store and spending the morning reading it and doing the crossword puzzle. This morning, Marilyn and I have been sitting is our porch since 6h00 watching the sun rise and our community come to life. Joseph, our neighbour on the right, emerges from his humble cement block house to begin working on the cars parked in his yard. He is quite busy as a mechanic, mostly serving taxi cab owners. He waves and greets us.

On our left, our neighbours also rise early. They are dressed in their best attire and heading off to church. Around 7h00, the outside speakers from the Anglican Church blast out the sermon which is starting now and will continue well past noon.

Our new neighbours who live behind us are sweeping leaves from their entire yard with a hand-made grass broom no longer than my arm. It is a ritual they follow each morning as they take pride in their small home. Stooping to clean or garden is something we see every day and I have often wondered why they don’t get longer handles.

Africa is a continent of contradictions. Statistically, Zambia is a country with 65% unemployment yet this figure is confusing. The markets and the streets are filled with people selling goods who are not counted as part of the work force. Some, who can afford it, will buy a 50kg bag of mealie meal and repackage it into small bags for sale to those who can only afford the smaller portion. Others sell handicrafts or all manner of goods somehow obtained –new pants, cell phones, bootlegged movies, etc.

Back Row: Marilyn Charity Bob. Front Twaambo and Amos

Even the vegetation defies description. Our banana tree is shedding its huge lower leaves while the mango tree next to it is blooming to produce fruit by November. The popos (papaya) are hanging in large clusters and starting to ripen while other trees which provided privacy in the rainy season have become bare.

The elephants have reappeared on the outskirts of Livingstone after having gone deeper into the wilderness during the rainy season. Now they are returned to be near the river as the many small tributaries dry up. Crocodiles have also abandoned the few remaining ponds and come back to the Zambezi.

A reunion party of past and current staff held last Tuesday

Many of the people we have hired were ‘unemployed’ before starting with us. Despite making more money than they have ever seen, they need an advance on the 15th of each month. When we have dismissed staff, they accept it without any sense that it matters that much. Somehow, they know they will survive. A few days later they will pop in to say hello like long lost friends.

There is no government safety net in Zambia. When students can’t pay school fees they are expelled. Disabled people get no support. The only support comes from family and friends.

Zambians in the audience do a lot of 'rooting'

Most days in Zambia have been full of surprises and today is no exception. As Marilyn and I were talking the phone rang. If it rings early in the morning (especially on a Sunday) we can be pretty sure it is one of our staff. Today it was Twaambo with some tragic news.

Twaambo is a 22 years old and looks after her nephew Sylvester (who is 4 years old). When her grandmother died two months ago, Twaambo became responsible for her six month old nephew as well.  Last night the baby was sleeping at an Aunt’s house and Twaambo got a call around 4h00 to say something was wrong. They rushed the baby to the hospital but he died on the way. Twaambo called Marilyn around 8h00.

The sadness they experience is tempered by the responsibility to make the funeral arrangements. Food must be bought to feed the many relatives who will travel near and far and stay for several days. Will the baby be buried in a blanket or a coffin? The burial must wait until the relative traveling the farthest has arrived.

There will be wailing and singing and laughter and tears. When the burial is finished they will get on with their lives.

We were invited to the Permanent Secretary's home for dinner

Before we moved to Livingstone, we were told an item of clothing left on the clothesline for more than a couple of days will be seen as not needed by the owner and taken without it being a sense of theft. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really explain the truth. Zambians are the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. They are so warm and affectionate, so courageous, so resourceful, so supportive of their extended family members, yet the number who will steal if given the opportunity is unbelievable. Any item left unattended will disappear. They steal from employers, from neighbours and even from friends.

Although I have not yet mentioned it in my blogs, we decided a few weeks ago to close the Arts Cafe. When our landlord sold the building we occupy and terminated our lease, it gave us an opportunity to reflect on our situation. Tourism has been in a steady decline in Zambia since 2009 and although we have done fairly well in 2011, we are still not able to generate the revenue to sustain us through the low season. This fact, combined with our personal needs, led to this very difficult decision.

I will write more about this decision in the coming weeks but for now we are focusing our attention on keeping LiPAF going as a sponsor of cultural dancing and Zambian music and continuing our various projects. We received the Embassy of Finland grant of 20,000 Euros so we have a lot of work to do to spend it wisely promoting and preserving Zambian Culture.

We were invited to dinner at the home of the Southern Province Permanent Secretary and enjoyed a lovely meal with Gladys and her husband and son. The government of Zambia has been building a new cultural centre theatre and wants to develop the grounds to create a place which will celebrate Zambian culture. The theatre is already three years behind schedule but could be finished in the next six months or so. Gladys asked us if we would come back to Zambia to help get it set up and running and we said yes. This is very flattering.

So much music....so much fun

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