Sunday, August 31, 2014

YAVs arrived. Curriculum approved. Resources distributed. Kari happy.

It has been an amazing four months. From May-August, I have been able to visit all 13 presbyteries in the Synod of Zambia, traveling all over the country with beloved colleagues to present on our curriculum and HIV/AIDS resources. We have held four curriculum trials, and prepared orientation for the Young Adult Volunteers, who are coming to spend one year teaching in our community schools. We have collected, printed, and selected resources for our HIV/AIDS portable libraries. Together, with dedicated colleagues, we have prepared for this past week.

And now, in the past six days, we have arrived in a beautiful place: The YAVs are here (arrived Tuesday), HIV/AIDS resources were distributed (at Synod meeting on Thursday), the Curriculum was approved (at Synod meeting on Friday), and Kari is happy and Kari is exhausted (as of worship this morning.) But mostly happy...(and getting ready for leading orientation during the month of September.)

Rebecca and Devin meeting with Rev. Muwowo

Hannah meeting with the Stewardship Committee

Reuniting with clergy friends

YAVs resting after a long day!

Preparing for the formal introduction to CCAP, Synod of Zambia

I get the honor of introducing these wonderful young women!

The curriculum approval - and a happy me!

At the market

Three happy YAVs

At worship in Rebecca's home community, Mtendere

Rev. Phiri welcoming Frankie and Johnny

Another welcome for the YAVs

Rev. Phiri with his "daughter" Rebecca, who will be staying with his family

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rural Running

When it takes seventeen hours of driving through the bush to arrive at a village, it is a pretty safe bet that you won’t run into other Americans. In fact, in this particular area, my white skin stood out so much that fingers pointed, adults stared, and children swarmed. One woman asked twice if she could have my skin. I was not sure how to respond either time, except to say that I was pretty sure it would hurt a lot if I tried to take my skin off. And that her skin was quite lovely as it was. She laughed, and so did I. 

Race, privilege, socio-economic status....all these things are stark here, and this woman wanted my privilege. I understood, and despite the laughter, I was once again reminded of the privilege that I never earned, and was simply granted by virtue of my birth. So, I could handle the stares, the swarming, the fingers pointing. It was a reminder of the things I have that I never earned. No, white skin is not better than brown skin. But my white skin told everyone in that village that I had access to things they could never even touch. 

After three days, we moved on to the next town, three hours away. It was a bit bigger; and this rest house had actual toilets, instead of an outdoor squat latrine. It also had electricity, so I was feeling quite excited. But after all the travel, I really wanted to run. In the last village, I had done my exercises in the cramped room within the guest house. But here, I wondered if I could get away with actually running outside.

I asked my colleague, a pastor who had once served in this area. He gave me a weary look. “The children will run after you, and all the adults will be so surprised.” I nodded. It was fine; I could continue to exercise in my room. But Moses, our driver, had a suggestion. “I can drive you outside of the village, and you can run in the bush.” My colleague was concerned, “You will watch her?” Moses nodded and smiled, “I will watch, but I cannot run. I do not have the proper attire.” We all agreed that this was a very kind solution, and I thanked Moses for his generous offer.

A few hours later, after I had changed into running shoes, running clothes, grabbed my iPod, and filled my water bottle, I climbed in the truck. We drove to the edge of town. Moses parked the car. I set my timer and my music and took off, promising to be back in thirty minutes.  

As I ran, the red dirt path wandered over a tropical landscape, banana trees bending in the strong wind. After some time, I passed a very small village, five houses made of mud, covered in thatch. People stared, children waved, and I continued on. 

A little while later, I passed a group of women. They were carrying trees. Not logs - trees. Huge trunks over their shoulders, enough weight to curve their backs as they struggled up the hill. Through the headphones, my music continued to blare, as I greeted the women, bent with their labor. 

When it was about time to turn around, I encountered a work crew. A large group of men, covered in sweat and dirt, carrying picks and shovels. I was far from the truck, Moses couldn’t see me, and I was in the middle of nowhere. I smiled at the workers, they gave me bewildered greetings, and I continued on.

As I ran back towards the truck, I thought about the women carrying tree trunks up and down these hills; the men pounding away at the rocks with heavy picks; children walking miles with buckets of water on their heads. I chose to run and sweat in these hills; they did not choose their backbreaking labor. I listen to music and time my run; they listen to birds sing and hope there is time to get home and do all the chores that await them.

I have the running gear, running clothes, iPod, water bottle, and even a driver who will take me out of town to run on the red dirt. When I return to the rest house, I will eat a granola bar and bathe. Now, it is true that I didn’t have running water for three days. It is true that my only toilet was a shared, outdoor, squat latrine. But it is also true that there was a woman to bring me a bucket of warm water for bathing, and it is also true that in my current guest house, I have electricity most of the time, and running water for a few glorious hours each day. 

Perhaps the most important truth of all this is that I can choose. I can choose to sweat in the hills, or I can choose to rest in my room. I can choose to travel to a remote area of Zambia and deal with squat latrines and bucket bathing, or I can choose to live in luxury and never worry about water, toilets, and electricity. I can choose my career, and I can choose to never carry an entire tree on my back. I can even choose what music I want to listen to, as I run over the red land in my proper attire.

And so, when the woman tells me that she wants my skin, I am reminded that it is not fair. It is ridiculous that my skin, my birth, my origin, gives me so much privilege, so much choice, so much freedom, when her skin, her birth, her origin, limits her options and forces her into a life of illiteracy and poverty.

They make me uncomfortable, these realities. But running makes me uncomfortable, too. And I think they are both healthy things. Struggling with the reality of our privilege is a healthy thing. And while my rural run made me uncomfortable in many ways, I am grateful for the discomfort that it brought. Because we have a choice, with the privilege we have, to work for justice. We have a choice, with the privilege we have, to do something. So let’s all get uncomfortable and do something healthy with our lives - to seek justice, to love mercy, to run humbly with our God.

If you are feeling uncomfortable, check out these links:
Donate to empower women through our organization:
Donate to address global poverty through our organization:
Donate to address global health through Partners in Health: 
Advocate for food aid through Bread for the World:

 *As a post script, Moses decided to run with me the next day. He lapped me, while wearing loose sandals, brown work pants, and an enormous smile.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Um. My Mistake(s).

She unrolled the window, about to throw the used water bottle onto the ground. “Oh, I’ll take that,” I quickly said, hoping to nonchalantly save the world from one more piece of litter. She turned to me with a quizzical look. “Why? Do you need it?” I was now distinctly uncomfortable. “No. It’s just that I have a bag for trash here. I’ll put it in and throw it away later.” She shook her head, “No, that’s fine. I can toss it here.” I was still undeterred. “But isn’t that littering?” I asked. Usually, I would have have held my tongue, but Emelia was a good friend, and I was surprised by the conversation. 

She smiled at me, finally understanding. “No. Watch what happens. One of those boys over there will take the bottle in less than a minute. They use them. It is a waste to throw them away.” With that, she tossed the bottle out of the window of our parked truck. Within two minutes, a small boy had darted over, grabbed the prize, and run back to his friends. I was embarrassed. “Wow. I really didn’t know that.” I had been so high and mighty about the litter, with my garbage bag in the back seat, full of empty water bottles. But Emelia, my Zambian friend, knew that sometimes, the best thing to do is toss an empty bottle from the truck window.

It took seventeen hours of driving to reach Muyombe. The last seven were driven over two track dirt paths, and I was frequently thrown to the roof of the cab as we hit enormous pits. We passed two broken down trucks on that path, and only one other moving vehicle. Along the way, we faced traffic jams from herds of cattle blocking the path, and an occasional ox-drawn cart. The car was swarmed by tsetse flies, which carry the dreaded sleeping sickness, so we drove with our windows up, despite scorching heat and broken AC. Covered in sweat, constantly jostled, like a roller coaster that would not end, and very hungry, the four of us finally arrived in Muyombe, and settled into a very, very basic rest house.

Over the next few days, as we paid for food and lodging, I asked for receipts. Our treasurer in Lusaka needed them in order to reconcile the trip budget, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. But over and over again, the workers refused. I was frustrated, but finally realized that they probably did not have pen and paper. I handed over a blank sheet and writing utensil to my friend. “Could you please ask them to write what we have purchased, the cost, and then sign it?” I figured she might have better luck. Emelia took off to go and find the workers.

A few hours later, when I asked about the receipt, she shook her head. “None of them can read or write. They looked all over, but not one of the workers knows how to write. Only the owner, and he is gone.” Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. She handed me back the paper, covered in words and numbers. “I just wrote it out. I hope that will be good enough.” I nodded, embarrassed again. Yet another time I had simply not understood. I was frustrated that it was so hard to get a receipt, not thinking for a minute about the frustration of those who could not write or read a receipt.

My lack of awareness, after two years of living in Zambia, and many, many travels in rural areas, reminds me of a game that we played after just a few months of living here. Frankie and Johnny like Checkers, and we did not have a Checker board. So, they spent days collecting bottle caps - Fanta and Coke - to serve as checkers, and they colored a piece of paper to make a board. 

Other children gathered around them when the game was finally ready. All the kids took turns playing, but after a little while, Frankie came over to me with a look of frustration on his face. He whispered to me that the other kids were cheating. He was bitterly disappointed, as he had so looked forward to these Checker games. Joel watched a bit and then nodded towards me. It was true, he confirmed. The other kids were cheating. My boys were sad and stopped playing after awhile. Their Zambian friends were confused, but kept on playing among themselves.

Months later, we saw some adult friends playing Checkers. We asked them about the game, and discovered that it was not Checkers at all. It was a game called Draft that looks just like Checkers. The pieces and the board look very much the same, but there are different rules. We realized that the other children had not been cheating; they had simply been playing a different game with different rules. While our kids were playing Checkers, they were playing Draft.

I wonder how often this happens in life, and we don’t realize it. I saw a friend throw a bottle out the window and immediately assumed she was littering. A woman refused to give me a receipt, and I became frustrated that she wouldn’t do such a simple thing. Some boys played a game with my children, and we were sure they were cheating. But they were not cheating, they were simply playing with different rules. And Emelia was not littering, she was providing some children with a useful bottle. And the woman at the guest house was not being difficult, she was offering all that she could. It is so easy to assume that we are all playing the same game, and to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental when we think someone else is breaking the rules.

I hope that next time I am ready to judge, I stop and consider that the other person may be playing a different game. Whether they are from a different culture, different socio-economic situation, different country, different religion, or even if they look like me and seem to be similar to me, perhaps there is a different game going on, and perhaps that is worth exploring.

Sometimes, I like being wrong. And that is fortunate, because I am wrong so often, as the above stories illustrate! But being wrong gives us a chance to learn new games, to learn new rules, to open our eyes to different cultures, different ideas, different ways of living in this world. And I am honored to have people around me who love me even when I am wrong, even when I am embarrassed. They simply invite me in, to play along with them. And, wow! I really do like that game.