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  • Writer's pictureCassie Stockamp

Memory, Patience and Rice

Updated: Sep 9, 2019

I was surrounded by a gaggle of little bodies pressing in to see small pictures of America on my phone. I was visiting Natemwa School, a village school in the bush outside of Lusaka, Zambia, and only a handful of these children had ever been out of the village or experienced running water from a sink. Their giggles and wide eyes made me wonder if these tiny images sparked a longing in them to see and experience more? These little ones were given names of Gift, Marvelous, Memory, Patience, Pretty, Rice and Ferocious - maybe belying the hopes of their parents?

At Kachele Village, the windmill sits on top of a 5 meter tall termite hill which pumps water from a bore/well; a bank of solar panels generates power to operate another bore and are monitored to ensure that they have not been vandalized.

The school kids asked me what the “main” food in America is. I deflected the answer by opening google maps and showed them the blue dot noting where we were in the village, and then expanded the map so we could find Indianapolis. I tried to explain the size of America and that food preferences were state specific. Elijah reminded me that I had eaten the main food of Zambia with them at lunch. N’shema is ground maize that’s mixed with salt, water and boiled to a thick consistency that is then used as a utensil to scoop up food. You grab a handful and work it into a blob a bit bigger than a golf ball. It’s eaten 2x a day.

I told the little ones that kids in America liked to do the same stuff they liked to do - to play football (soccer), sing songs, ride bicycles and play with their friends. They broke out in big smiles when they learned that American kids were more like them than they had imagined...

And the walls. Every street in Lusaka is lined with gray block walls strung with barbed wire or lined with shards of broken glass. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. You drive down a street and get an occasional glimpse through an open gate to either the luxury or poverty on the inside. It creates a feeling of separation and unstated fear. Much of India and some cities in South America are also built behind walls, and I wonder how and why it all began? Was it really as dangerous as the walls shouted?

And then I went to a leper colony. I vaguely remembered the Bible story where Jesus went to a leper colony and healed the lepers. Back in biblical times they were outcasts as it was a an incurable disease; today, here in Zambia, they still are a forgotten lot even though it is now curable. 83 year old Kathy has been making a weekly trek for over 20 years to a generous business to collect donations of milk, yogurt and meat which is loaded into her gray Toyota truck. She slowly drives down the dusty, broken road, downshifting to navigate around washouts that felt like they could have swallowed the whole vehicle. After unloading the food and medicine, we made our way ’round the circle to greet everyone. Each person either stuck out a hand that oft was missing a finger or two or three, or held out a mere stump of an arm; the blind turned their faces to our voices...

My throat thickened and my eyes filled with tears. Why were they given this lot in life? Kathy told me they never complained...

And then there was the home visits of the school children... Misisi Compound is in the catchment area for Sushimi Schools and is one of the many slums of Lusaka - true squalor. Bore pits which are used for drinking water are mere meters away from public ablution blocks/latrines. There are rows and rows and rows of two room block buildings that are home to 7 or 8 children who are being looked after by the grandmother, the result of parents that have died of AIDS. And yet, each woman I met greeted my guide and me with large open smiles and meaningful hugs, and happily invited us into their homes.... I wasn’t sure what to think when I saw that each home had a poster of a white Jesus taped onto the otherwise bare, block walls.

As we made our way through the dirt maze between the block homes, I could hear the laughter of children. As we rounded the corner it opened to a dusty, grassless brown field which was the makeshift playground for the compound children. They were playing a fierce game of football and kicking a ball made of tied rags....

Near the end of my visit we found the “Women Empowerment Office” where we discussed one of the unstated problems of the systemic poverty found in Zambia - the lack of enforcement of men to financially support the children they sire. I have been here just long enough to see the patterns of the unending cycle of poverty. My new dear 83 year old friend Kathy has been doing amazing work for over 30 years in Zambia. Her organization and its supporters are relieving suffering and providing educational opportunities for many kids that would never have received an education in the bush.

However, I contend that until policy changes to hold the man financially responsible who impregnates the 7th grader, the cycle of poverty will never be broken.......... The Executive Director agreed and said that this issue was not being discussed openly as it is such a patriarchal society. Her organization was exerting influence by educating young girls on the power they have over their own bodies, but she agreed that the core issue could not be addressed until policy changes.... I was given the contact info for two additional organizations that deal with advocacy and legal matters. We’ll see how many seeds I can sow before I go...

“You go to the margins not so that you can make a difference, but so that they can make you different.” Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries
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