Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The sun was beginning to set on the horizon. I could see the reddish tinge of the sun set against the powder blue-grey sky. The early dusk chill began to settle into my bones as I walked briskly across the native grasses towards Old Jim.

“Hi, could you tell me how to get to Old Jim”, I asked briskly to a fellow commuter peddling on his bicycle. 

“It’s that way, but you . . . “, he quickly glanced at the slippers casually strapped to my feet. “There’s a stream – you have to cross”. 

I nodded, thanked him, and plodded on.

The stream was actually a small creek, but my anxiousness to get across before the dark descended quietly onto the valley’s undulating landscape made the creek appear more ominous. To my eyes, the river gushed rather than gently rolled downhill, and as I crossed, I was too careful in balancing on the moss covered stones, which formed a trail across the gurgling water. I almost fell into the chilly water.

Once across, it occurred to me suddenly that there might be poisonous, dangerous snakes laying in silence between the tall, native grasses. I prayed quietly, feeling vulnerable in my slippers. I hoped the shuffling of my feet wouldn’t awaken any if they were indeed present. 

The shortcut turned out to be winding, dirt trails that eventually took me back to the main road; the shortcut turned out to be unnecessary, after all, as I got to Mr Banda’s house in more time than if I had used the proper route. Moreover, the roads after the turn off to get to his house all looked alike that I began to worry that I was lost – but then when I arrived at a small intersection, I looked to my left and saw the familiar hump and garden adjacent to his neighbor’s house signifying that I was in exactly the right place. 
When I arrived, he was just coming around his main house. Mr. Banda is building, using his meager monthly income to incrementally buy nails and bagged cement. He used the soil around his house to mold the bricks that would serve as the structure. He and his wife greeted me as a imposed on them. 

“Oh, hello, Camille.”

“Hi Mr. Banda”, I greeted, using the formal way to address a stranger in Zambia. I handed him the plastic bag of vegetables I purchased from the market stalls on Lundazi Road. Tomatoes, kale, the usual items purchased by poor, Zambian households. “I wanted to make sure you got these. Sorry about not buying the cassava – I was sick the last few days and wasn’t able to get back to the Saturday Market”.

The real reason was that my memory wasn’t functioning well; the flu had done me in and I was bedridden for a couple of days. Three days later, my mind was still fuzzy and I had trouble keeping track of my days.
We bade each other farewell, as I did my other colleagues at the Council, and promised to meet up if I ever returned to Zambia. 

The walk back to Chipata Motel didn’t feel as long. I returned to my room just as the last rays of sunlight sank into the red, dry soil of Chipata Valley and resumed packing, in preparation for my departure from Zambia. This day was my last in Chipata.

When I parted from Mr. Banda, I began to feel a little sad about leaving Zambia all together. It had been my home for a year, and even with all the aggravation that periodically migrated into my heart, I had discovered a home in Chipata and settled into the life there, somewhat, having developed friendships and acquaintances. Here I was again; having lived the full experience, I (as usual) recognized the familiar nostalgia that always hits me (to paraphrase an old clichĂ©) like a ton of bricks as the end of the experience comes to a near. 

As a volunteer funded by CUSO International, I cannot really judge my work at the Council by interpersonal relationships, alone. Because the funds supporting my service were partially paid for by Canadian taxes, I have to judge my work also by what I accomplished for the Council based on the targets that the planning department had issued to me.

In reviewing this past year, I would assert that the year was a success. The integrated development plan was written and I fit the format to the specifications of the Regional Urban Planning Act as well as the wants of the planning staff. It had become clear to me that the planners wanted an urban planning guide, so I fashioned the language and the format of the IDP according to the needs of the planners so as to make the planning process as painless and uncomplicated as possible. 

Secondly, I completed the draft sectoral plan for unplanned settlements, which grew out of the local area plan written to upgrade the Magazine Squatter Compound. If everything was on my timeline and in my control, within a year, I would have signed the consent to legalize lands and started allocating land for community gardens, and worked with the social planners to develop a 3-year plan to saturate the houses with vegetable plots. As this was not my reality at the Council, I settled for a completed grant for building the market shelters, GPS coordinates of most features in the Compound to facilitate the mapping of the area, and the beginnings of a health outreach and food security program. It must also be pointed out that the work on the Compound had to bode well with the schedule of the other planners. Admittedly, I was a little selfish as far as pushing to get things done there.

In addition, I managed to include a few trainings into my otherwise mundane planning work load. The trainings helped to add spice to my professional life at the Council.

If I was unsuccessful in this placement, it was in failing to navigate through the politics of local government of Chipata District, which replicates the politics of governments everywhere. If you want to know what I mean by this, watch CNN or the local news coverage of your governments at all levels. Whatever you learn about in the news coverage also plays/played out in Chipata District. 

The difficulty for me was the balancing of political interests with public ones. I’m not sure it this skill is one that I will ever perfect. I prefer simply planning and letting the more skilled people to politic, while I play the puppet master in the wings, pulling the strings.

Another year, another experience well spent. Thank you, CUSO International, VSO Zambia, and Chipata Municipal Council!

Another fundraising reminder –
I will continue to raise money for CUSO International until my $2,000 goal is met. Hence, I will keep this blog open until I’m told by CUSO that the goal has been reached. Please continue to send in your $10 donations through the link to the right of my blogs or by check/money order. The instructions are written on the fundraising page. 

On that final request, I leave my readers with my favorite images of Chipata. These photos should explain to readers my sudden attachment to Africa. Thank you for staying tuned all year!
Posing with Naomi's children

Another photo with Naomi's children

Fish from the day's catch in Nkhata Bay, Malawi

Residents bathing in Lilongwe River not far from Mabuya Lodge

Musungu fruit - native to the Eastern Province (i think) - sweet and succulent. In a word, delicious.

A view of Lake Malawi from the Big Blue Start Backpackers

The Cewa Village in Katete from one angle

Children residing within the vicinity of Chipata center - eating a vsimbi fruit

One of Marco's students studying at his school in Magazine

Ngonis rehearsing for the Nc'wala Festival, which just passed

A scene of grain vendors taken when road tripping through Malawi
On the last leg of my return trip to Chipata from Nkhata Bay, Malawi

Thursday, February 16, 2012


The dry, Savannah heat pulled me into SPAR during my lunch break on this day to snack on a mini-cadbury chocolate bar. The hot cup of coffee doesn’t solve the heat rash rising in my gut, a common occurrence with me in really hot weather, but the air conditioning in SPAR’s cafĂ© corner, a popular hangout for foreigners, cools the hot, black liquid to make sipping it bearable. This moment is another one of my favorites in Chipata – writing in my journal or blogging, chatting with acquaintances and friends, and taking delicate bites of melting chocolate that contrasted well against the known bitter tang of coffee. I savor the contrast now as both tastes linger on my tongue.

          Last Friday, 3 February, 2012, I embarked on the first of three pilot urban agriculture projects for poor residents. In the mid-morning, I rushed to the one shop in the Down Shoppes, my brisk steps closing the distance, to claim the two, broiler, day old chicks I was promised by one of the merchants. True to his promise, when I arrived, he fetched me two from one of the boxes of 100 and kindly put them in a box, which he put together for me. After, I took a bike cabbie to the street leading to the Magazine Marketplace in the compound where I have been working all year. I patted by citenge bag, feeling the metal brim of the hand held hoe I had bought for this occasion, and felt happy knowing that it was securely stuffed in my sack. I noticed a bag of cornmeal being sold at a stall near the entrance of the street. Concerned about whether or not the chicks would have food at their new owner’s home, I acquiesced to buying a small bag of cornmeal before proceeding onto the house. The price was a mere ZMK400. 

Granddaughter of household beneficiary
          The household nice enough to participate in this food security project was happy to receive the day old chicks. Greeting me with a smile, the granddaughter listened patiently as I explained where I thought she should put the plots. Drawing squares in the air to demonstrate elongation and size and gesturing to the open locations around her yard, she agreed and we set to work. We exchanged hoeing and planting, sharing the work. Within minutes, two other men from the compound arrived, asked us what we were doing and proceeded to help. One of the men, the household’s neighbor, got his larger hoe from his house and helped us plow the soil to make sowing easier on our backs. It was hard work – not exorbitantly – but hard enough to make me light headed. 

The task would only take two people – one to plant and one to sow – but as a group of four, we finished in less than two hours. It turned out to be a community affair and became fun. 

This project follows the model of City Slickers Farms, but includes two day old chicks to help the family start a poultry farm. As the chicks get older, we hope they’ll procreate and produce more chicks. I also used the inter-cropping model commonly used by organic farmers. I tried to explain to my helpers that with clay soil, fertilizer may not be needed because clay tends to retain nutrients. I realized while trying to explain the virtues of organic gardening that this might be another level of discussion, entirely, here because growers tend to rely so heavily on fertilizer – they may even swear by them. I’m not sure if the value of organic farming registered in the brief way I described it, but for the future, it might become a more popular method of gardening for the locals.

Once all the seeds were planted on each plot, we created borders out of string held together with sticks to signify to people that seeds had just been put into the ground. Finally, we were finished. The end of the project soon transgressed into that familiar discussion about needs. The needs of poor people here are pretty basic – a need for me to buy a pair of shoes, so I buy to help them with their business, or a loaf of bread so they can eat for the day – and on it goes. In the case of this day’s discussion, the need is a hose. The cost is a whopping ZMK110,000 because hoses here are all imported (very few goods are manufactured here). In dollar terms, this amount is quite small, but VSO volunteers – as do other volunteers – get paid in kwacha rather than in the currency of their home country. I’m not sure if I’ll have enough for the hose, but I might be able to buy him a steel or plastic watering can.

Inflation in Zambia is quite high; wages are low and volunteers get just enough to live on, but the perception of volunteers among the locals is that we’re all rich, when in fact the opposite is true. Local professionals working here do better in Zambia than some of the volunteers living in their home countries. In Zambia, those earning ZMK2.8 million can buy a house – even have a new one built. In volunteer’s home countries, the equivalent value of the same income may not even purchase a home. Outsider’s perceptions of Zambia – or even Africa – fail to take into account the class inequality that in my opinion is the basis of economic problems for many Africans. It is also often forgotten that the inequality is exacerbated by the social competition and marginalization that are evident between African groups. Discrimination between African groups are not always introduced into studies examining the causes of poverty or inequality. 

          Two days later, I walked with my colleague, Mr. Banda, to his home inside the Old Jim compound to help him plant tree (chico, soursop, date, and lemon) seeds.  I also bought a bag of bean seeds and purchased some vegetables for his family because I knew he, as a casual worker, was paid little. The food would help them with the evening meal on that day. 

While pounding the soil with his old hoe, it broke. Three days later, I bought him a new one to make sure that he can continue to farm his much-needed vegetables for relish as the growing seasons mature into the end of the year.

 The food security project went well. Two and a half weeks later, I returned to the first house to check on the plants. I was pleased to learn that the seeds had already germinated and that some had grown to about 20 centimeters tall. The family there will have okra, beans, and pumpkin to eat and corn to sell. 

Small corn patch

bean, okra, and pumpkin patch

Bean and corn patch

Another corn patch
Another pumpkin, corn, and okra patch


Monday, January 30, 2012


Neighbors and friends - the street vendors
The skin on my finger tips exhibit tight, scrunched up lines, like crinkled potato chips, an outcome of all this rain. Webs are starting to develop in the skin between my fingers and toes. Several days of straight rain, not the soft, London sprinkles, but the hard, jovial – sometimes angry – type that sounds like people are dancing on the metal roof top in black, Mary Jane’s. When this kind arrives at night on the tails of silent lightening rods that approach the valley, like sneaky, field mice at dusk, light up the bluish grey skies, I remain sheltered in my room. I love these moments in Chipata, the noisy clattering of rain drops intermingled with the earthy smell of after-birth, which sets the mood for contemplations or a quiet evening reading. 
One motel guest complained about all the rain, which leaves large brown puddles of mud along the sides of roads. He explained that several days of rain, one day rhythmically ensconcing into another day, is unusual for Chipata, even for rainy season. If my calculations are correct, I believe there have only been three sunny days in the last three weeks.

On the bright side, all this water is good for the dams and for the maize, which surely love it, judging from the rate at which they’re growing. One large patch of maize on Lundazi Road grew three-fold over three weeks. Ndelema (mushrooms) have also popped up from out of the ground – miracle mushrooms I call them because of their size. White and tender in texture, like Japanese shiitakes, they fetch a mean price on the market – ZMK10,000 for a bundle. I was told they can be gathered from deep in the forest, where the soils smell dank and where the earthen worms like to feast on plant decay. When I expressed the desire to gather them myself – even commemorating the event by purchasing a shiny, green basket – I was warned about the snakes that lie in waiting for mushroom predators, waiting to strike. Apparently, the snakes like them, as well. Truth or lore?

On the 10th of January, I am happy to report that the HIV/AIDS testing was successfully done at Magazine Squatter Compound. My gratitude is extended to Baby and the Corridors of Hope III people for following through. I hope to make it a regular cycle in the upcoming years by writing to USAID for funding the training of more outreach testers and for the portable HIV/AIDS kits. Diane Sawyer reported that conducting HIV/AIDS testing is cumbersome for many rural areas because blood does not keep for hours and the blood samples have to be ridden in on horseback into the nearest testing site. With these portable tests, they are done on site and are completed in about 20 minutes. 

Unfortunately, the family planning workshop I also scheduled the day before with the Society of Family Health and Family Planning was a no-show without a word of warning. This outcome, unfortunately, has been consistent in my efforts to work with the public. And, often times, there is no written or verbal feedback from the social planners, who normally do this type of outreach work, about scheduling and planning. As such, I had to coordinate these programs myself. I waited at the Hope Campus Basic School, but no one from the SFHFP showed up. After an hour, I gave up and headed back to the office.

There have been other progress this month, albeit slowly, in relation to my placement at the Council. I managed to get a meeting with the Director of Planning to discuss the contents of the Integrated Development Plan, which will surely result in productive revisions to the document. As far as a response from the deputy directors, there have been none as of yet, but I continue to follow up with them. I anticipate this meeting on Wednesday with the Director, however, will be productive and help to move the Council one more step closer to acquiring an IDP for Chipata District.

Sleepy, lazy snail
Chipata has many different wildlife and not all languish at the South Luangwa Park in Mfue. In the Old Civic Center building, where I work, snails come out in droves. The rain seems to coax them out of their hiding places, wherever those nooks and crannies are. They sit on the underside of the leaves of flora plants, sometimes unfurling themselves out of their conch shells to glide from one branch to another. I found a green clump on a plant stalk on this day, when I decided to observe their movements, and realized it was snail dung. After observing one sleepy snail, I realized that they release dung from the middle of their soft undersides, through a tiny hole that’s barely visible to the naked eye. 

On this same day, a small group of Ngoni people made their way to the parking lot to the right of Barclays Bank. A passerby told me they were performing a dance normally performed at the N’cwala Ceremony, which takes place for three days beginning on the 28th of February. I will just miss them again this year, as I did last year. But, on this day, I was treated to their dance. I video taped them on a digital camera; I can’t upload it to this blog, but will eventually post all the videos on my Facebook page as soon as I learn how to do it. In the meantime, readers will have to settle for just the photos. 

Child dancer - N'cwala Dance

Female dancer

Ngoni Warriors
Fundraising reminder – please keep in mind that volunteering anywhere is rewarding, but doing so in the Global South is an experience irreplaceable by any other experience, despite the undulating emotions that are normally attached to living in another country. Please send in your donation to help me meet my goal of US$2,000. I realize that some of you have opted to send your donation by check, so that will not show on the list of contributors on the My Fundraising Page. If you haven’t received your receipt, please contact Tara Henderson, whose contact information is found on the CUSO-VSO site (please see link on this page). You may also contribute with a credit card, which can be done easily and safely through the My Fundraising link. Again, as always, zikomo to those who have already done so.   

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A New Year and a Fresh Start

Welcoming in 2012           
           The morning breeze snaking its way in through the open windows of my room beckoned to me, coaxing me out of sleep. The clock on my cell phone read 8h29, a late start compared to my usual waking routine of 7h00. Today felt different to me, not in the way I unfolded my form from my bed, but in my senses.

            Breakfast was the same - English – consisting of two fried eggs, a sausage link, and canned, baked beans. I brought with me the dark, Frisco coffee because the brand the motel serves isn’t quite strong enough to suit my palate. I lingered over breakfast, reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, a novel about life in Afghanistan, written by Khaled Hosseini, the same author who penned The Kite Runner. Over Christmas weekend, I had borrowed other books from Alan’s and Frances’s collection, from whom many volunteers in and around Chipata also borrow. Reading gives us something to do on many slow days. I have to return the others that I have already completed.

            When Judith, the cleaning lady, greeted me with a jovial, “happy new year”, I realized that today was the birth of 2012, a future I had been anticipating since the beginning of December. I greeted her back before discussing the minor detail of cleaning my bathroom. I like to help her with the cleaning because it gives me something to do and pleasantly passes the hours away. Sweeping, wiping my work desk, washing my dishes, and doing the laundry . . . weekends are usually uneventful, lazy days, perfect for tending to my chores. I usually hand wash my clothing every other weekend. I’ve devised a way to soak them overnight in my water tub and then rub them clean after breakfast the following morning. I do this to protect my fingers from being rubbed raw and so I don’t have to work my arm muscles so hard. The best part is dumping out the brown water, knowing that the red sandy dust and grime have loosened from the fiber of my clothing. Seeing the brown water go down the drain makes me feel like I’ve cleaned out the clutter from my life and victorious, knowing that I’ve tackled and won the battle with the dirt embedded in my clothes.

            Since the start of the rainy season, laundry has become something of a guessing game. I’ve had to start reading the skies for signs of rain showers. Today, dark stains marked the bottom of the clouds, which signify that rain is hovering, ominously, waiting expectantly for the brush with the right temperatures to dissolve the mingling of hydrogen and oxygen gases, which patiently keep the rains at bay. The handy man said that it will start at 12h00 today, so I keep my watchful eye on the sky, ready to bolt out the door to retrieve my drying laundry at the first drop of rain. 

           In comparison to this season, summer was great for hanging clothes. The savannah heat meant that I could work outside in temperatures that would dry my clothes in a mere hour, and on most days, on the hottest of days, in even less time. Dragon flies and grasshoppers keep me company as I bent and hung each item on the line. I loved the predictability of it.

            Nowadays, the unpredictability of rainy season puts me a little on edge as I never know when the sky will open. Sometimes, the cool breeze preceding the rainfall is the only clue. Today, the humidity that keeps licking at my face, my forearms, and neck mislead me into believing that my laundry will be safe. I still don’t know.

            Christmas came and went for me this year. There wasn’t the usual anticipation of a hearty meal that I had the last two years as Christmas approached, although I did have the option of joining other volunteers to celebrate the holidays with a Christmas lunch. One of the volunteers from Katete, Lynie, who is temporarily staying at Michelle’s house, cooked up a huge meal. I learned later that she made various Filipino dishes; their celebration was attended by other volunteers in town and the vicinity. I ate cream lasagna at Protea Hotel, instead. That’s my plan again today – to treat myself to an expensive lunch with, of course, sweet red wine, and then come home and allow my body to absorb the delectable fatty cheese and cream.

            Two Friday’s ago, I finally finished the rough draft of the integrated development plan. This past week I spent hours polishing it, going home early on some days to circumvent the distraction at the office, and stay on schedule. Today will be the day of completion before submitting it on Tuesday to the powers that be. I am thinking about trying to do the comprehensive planning training in January. My effort to conduct it last month was politely deflected purely by the Council’s ignoring my requests for a lunch budget. I think that once the planners go through the training, they’ll start to piece together the different elements of urban life and see the value of integrating tasks, such as business development trainings, to those wanting to start a business here and planning for economic clusters and corridors. In the training manual, I’ve also included guidelines for planning ecologically, which I have observed isn’t really done carefully in Chipata. One planner explained that urban forestry isn’t incorporated into the normative process of parceling land, selling, and developing. There seems to be reluctance, too, from the planning leadership to shift the planning guidelines towards an integrated plan. In fact, this IDP is one of the reasons, if not the reason, planners were brought here in the first place. Although everything happens more slowly in Chipata, I’m starting to think that there is the conventional manner of avoidance accepted and tolerated by locals and I wonder how much of it has to do with other social complexities that Zambians are privy to, but I’m not. I plan to do a departure presentation and leave the next volunteer with a description of goals accomplished and areas where planning may continue to progress in Chipata. The presentation, I hope, will allow the Council planners to see the value of building on work that has already been done and the value of seeing how important concepts, such as inclusiveness and integration, are to improving planning in Chipata District.  

          One of the jobs I'm quite proud of is the completion of the monitoring of the water kiosks in Magazine squatter compound, where I have been planning and attempting to map with GPS coordinates for the last few weeks. Hopefully, the town clerk and I can agree to do land valuing there and give legal title to the residents.

16h00 Same Day
          I just returned from a two hour hike up the same mountain on which I usually trek on days I need to think. The air was nice today - after bouts with grey clouds, the day gave way to a beautiful sunny later afternoon. Next time, I'll upload photographs of the view from the top. In the meantime, I thought I would add some of the views and faces of Chipata.
Children of Magazine Squatter Compound
Kalongwezi Neighborhood facing the gorgeous Chipata mountains

Itinerant food trader
Another view of Chipata Mountains in Kalongwezi extension
My colleague, Namakau Maambo, one of the social planners, extraordinaire!
Another fundraising appeal
        Just a reminder to you reading my blog pages - I am still fundraising for my placement. I believe I am closer to my goal of US$2,000, so if you haven’t done so yet, please contribute today with US$10.00 or more either through the mail or through the “My Fundraising” page link to the right of my blog. Your contribution allows CUSO International to keep sending volunteers overseas to support capacities in needy countries.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I read in Jeremy Gould's Left Behind: Rural Zambia in the Third Republic that dry season is the period of scarcity. It sure is the case with ground nuts. I've been craving them, but haven't found any sellers on the streets. And, although this is the time green masukus are harvested, they all seem to have been sold out. Apparently, others enjoy them as much as I do, as succulent and sweet as they are.

I’m spending another Saturday morning and afternoon at SPAR, where I am tending to my private life, preparing for life after CUSO-VSO. I came back just yesterday from Lilongwe, where I bought tiny and hopefully meaningful presents for the children I know back home.
I’ve been neglectful of my blog to date due to my busy schedule. At least, I can say that the month has been a productive one for me. I finally finished the sectoral local plan for the Magazine squatter compound; it covers the many needs of the unplanned settlement and would serve as a model for legalizing and upgrading the other five unplanned settlements in Chipata District. The monitoring of the local area plan for the same compound has also taken up a lot of my time. In Chipata, if one wants to get something done, every request and every plan has to be written on paper, otherwise they are forgotten. More importantly, without the formal written request, it is difficult to be open about proposals and intentions to the public and even more difficult for relevant personnel to keep track of the numerous projects occurring around the district. 

Likewise, October was a busy month for Chipata Municipal Council. Even though the federal elections are over, Chipata District had to conduct local elections, which took place during the first week of October and then the Council body had to orient the new Councilors to the responsibilities of their job. I attended the second half of the orientation, which was held in the second week, but couldn’t handle the heat in the conference room at Chipata Motel. It was truly stultifying; I could hardly breathe in there. Needless to say, I left early.

The overture of the orientation session was very British in conduct and appearance. The Town Clerk wore a whig, which was very commemorative of Zambia’s colonial link with England. I had never attended a British-style political event, so I found it to be very interesting.

November is turning out to be as frantically busy as October, as we in the district and the government all wind our way down to the end of the year and prepare for the Christmas holidays. During this month, I made the decision to complete the first draft of the integrated development plan for Chipata District on 31 December, 2011, so I have been taking pertinent images of the district to help readers of the IDP visualize the urban problems and the reasons for including the inserted elements as being integral and central to improving the appearance of Chipata District and its simultaneous elements. 

In addition to writing the rather large IDP document, I added mapping to my list of to do’s this month. The features and housing settlements are not included in any of the boundary maps of the squatter compounds. Because it’s necessary to demonstrate that these areas have indeed become residential areas and to further illustrate the value of upgrading the Compound in terms of the health and sanitation conditions, and the overall appearance for future funders, mapping features and boundaries are important. So, over the last three days, I have been at Magazine recording GPS coordinates. Enoc, my colleague, very kindly explained to me how to use the device. Luckily, the visuals on the device are better now and more readable compared to before. 

I must say, though, the heat has almost deterred me from heading out to the compound. Every day since the start of this GPS project I had to fight the urge to stay in the office and not brave the scorching sun. Every day after the day’s mapping session, I go home to my motel room to finish the day’s work because the temperature in my room is cooler than that in the office in the middle of the afternoon. However, my room is also where I can be shut away from the buzz of activity in the old civic center building. Working in the quiet solitude of my room, I am certain to meet my year targets and can advance the planning pilot into the next volunteer year without any distractions.

At the motel, after unlocking the door, I stumble into the foyer, eager to escape the reach of the sun’s rays and lay spread eagle on my bed, feeling like a beached whale. Fortunately, I don’t look like a beached whale, as the high temperatures occlude me from consuming huge mouthfuls of the comfort food, nshima. I suppose you could say that the heat is a blessing to my waist line.

As I’ve mentioned my dramatic reactions to the heat several times in this blog, you might have already guessed that we have entered the driest season in Zambia. Even with the occasional –very occasional during the dry season – rainy day, the heat is hard to put up with. I take cool baths now; the soothing cold water is welcomed by the heat rashes on my skin. On the hottest days, I want to scream out, "I'm dying here!!!!". But, then the rains come,which bring cooler temperatures, and make me long for the Indian summers of New England. But, with rainy season being just around the corner, I won’t be craving for long.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Beginnings: New President

The votes have all been tallied and last Friday (23 September), the Electoral Commission of Zambia officially announced the victor, Michael Sata, the lead presidential candidate against incumbent, Rupiah Banda. The inauguration was televised Friday during the day, and Michael Sata, representing the PF (Patriotic Front) party was expected to immediately assume office the following week. Sata’s ascendency also signifies the end of more than ten years of the reign of the MMD party. 

While Rupiah Banda’s political platform focused on his development accomplishments during his presidency, he refused to acknowledge the patron-client relations that have tethered Zambian politics to institutionalized corruption. In comparison, Sata was highly critical of high-powered MMD corruption, which he alleged had gripped Zambia’s political and economic system for over ten years. If elected, he told the voters to expect him to combat political alliances unhealthy to the prosperity of Zambia. He also endeavored to bring justice and equity to Zambia’s poor. Sata’s campaign evidently struck a chord with the voters, especially those who live in the southern provinces because he won many of the southern constituencies by a landslide. I also suspect that the reason many of the rural residents favored him was because they were deficient in basic services, specifically water, and the MMD failed to bring this basic need to their communities timely, despite promises to do so. 

Apart from some news of bursts of anger primarily in the southern provinces, the elections were relatively calm. The celebrations were plentiful in Chipata, with Sata supporters hooting and beeping their horns on the streets, expressing their ecstasy over his victory. What Sata’s ascendency means for urban planning in Zambia and here in Chipata remains to be seen. I am hopeful, anyway, that Sata will maintain the progress made in urban planning over the last four years and will continue to make progress towards an integrated way of doing planning.

During the week of the elections, I stayed mainly in my motel room, trying to finish up the schedule for the comprehensive planning training. Admittedly, it was hard to concentrate on what I was writing because I was eager to see how both lead presidential candidates were making out in the polls. I have developed most of the training schedule and anticipate finishing it this week. The training will take place over three days in the mornings; I have strong expectations about the outcome. I think comprehensive planning will become clearer to the planning staff and its value more urgent as they proceed with the training.

Now that the elections have finished, life - and the pace of life - are back to normal. I am under less stress now, as well, which is good considering last week I was feeling antsy about all the coordination and other work that I had to complete. I was able to pinpoint a schedule for the cost-benefit presentation for waste management and secure the projector. The permissions were formally requested and I don’t anticipate any problems with doing the presentation next week. 

I’ve also noticed changes in the climate. Chipata Valley got hit with a heat wave last week, which lasted into Sunday. The heat seemed to have crept into my duvet, as I had trouble sleeping and took cool baths for a change. But then, this morning, it seemed a big gust of cool, savannah wind, had swept into the mountains to make me want to bring my black, winter sweater to work. It’s a good thing I didn’t because the heat wave came back this afternoon around lunch time (that’s 1:00pm here in Zambia). I went for my daily post-lunch walk on the roads of the neighborhoods encircling the center of town and could feel the heat scratching the inside of my blue, cotton blouse, causing me some discomfort.

During my walk, I noticed that many of the buds of the mango trees have started to sprout into fruits. I’ve noted several trees on the streets where I take my daily walks that will be within reach of my short stature, which means I will be able to bring home arm loads of the fruit when they are ripe enough to pick.

I have also taken photographs of the many artisans lining the road leading into Kapata Ward to illustrate to blog readers the talent of Zambians. The furniture makers and basket weavers like to display their wares on the road in easy view of passers-by, who might be interested in buying something. The three piece Morris chairs are my favorite. The craftsmanship is similar to that in Malawi and the quality is the same. The cushions are made out of soft, velvet-like fabric and the frame of the chairs from timber collected or bought from someplace unknown to me. For all of my partiality towards protecting rainforests and jungles, I admittedly find handcrafted furniture made out of quality wood difficult to pass up. I guess living at the Chipata Motel has its advantages: I am not tempted to buy this exquisite furniture, as my room is fully furnished.   
Furniture maker

Morris Chairs
More furniture making

As I move out of my seventh month and into my eighth (October), I wish to remind my blog readers to please contribute to this placement with $10 or more. Your contribution helps CUSO-VSO continue doing their work of sending volunteers overseas to do the needed work that brings skills and resources aid to communities, such as urban planning to Chipata. You can donate easily through the “My Fundraising Page” button to the right of this blog. Or, you can send in your contribution with a check. The address of CUSO-VSO can be found on the website, which can also be accessed through the “CUSO-VSO” button visible to the right of this blog. Checks should be made out to CUSO-VSO and the addressee should read: c/o Tara Henderson.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A View across the Valley

Sata supporters
Election fever has descended upon Chipata Central, giving an air of both tension and excitement to the community. The tail end of August has been consumed with elections; in the third week there were bands of people on Umodzi Highway, cheering and playing music loudly in the effort to bring attention to their favorite candidates. Government personnel and casual civil servants are spending days training in preparation for work at the polls and to look out for scoundrels eager to start a riot. The government has issued a national warning about riot threats and VSO has sent out information explaining evacuation procedures in case the violence gets out of hand. I thought about heading to Malawi two days before, but they have their own issues there with a president that won’t leave office. 
Excited campaigners
Almost there

Accordingly, many of our Council members have been participating in public service messages, urging people not to riot, accept the election outcome, and commit to a peaceful election. As a result, the corridors of the Old City Council Building have been quiet; on most days during this period, I have been the only person in Room 3.
Zambians are a very political people, registering to vote, and wanting to talk politics with people. 

The media seems to favor sitting president Rupiah Banda, even going so far as to claim that recent polls have already designated him the winner. Sata is the most serious contender to Banda, but he doesn’t really seem to provide an alternative to the ways things are done here. Some people seem fed up with the system, while others are very optimistic about what the elections will hold for the country.
The day of reckoning will be on September 20th. On this day, the entire country will
know whether Zambia gets a new president
or another Banda term.   
Woman campaigni
Admittedly, the gap in work intensity has provided Council workers also with the opportunity to catch up on work or to prepare for the upcoming months. I, myself, have been busy finishing up the comprehensive planning training manual and working with Corridors of Hope to partner in our health outreach program. The election has given me ample opportunity to write and submit my quarterly report to VSO in Lusaka and to meet with my program manager regarding my 6-month preliminary review. 

August was also the month of the Kalumba Festival, a celebration of the Chewa people’s settlement in the Eastern Province from their places of origin in Mozambique and Malwi after breaking away from Ngoni brothers following an argument over power. According to Reuben, they are scattered around the 
Eastern Province, but primarily in Chadiza, Katete, and Vubi.  

Chewa Village in Katete, Dsitrict, Zambia
The Chewa people are mystical, which is evident in the masked dances. I thought the one of the men in the appropriate mask and the jerky, warrior-type movements to be very dynamic and fun to watch. The Kalumba Festival is held yearly over a period of three days from August 26th to August 28th

I want to make another fundraising appeal to those reading my blog. I ask only $10 per person to help me reach my goal of 
$2000 for this placement. Please use the link to the right of each blog and contribute by credit card or send in your contribution. 

Mask Dancers
Thank you to all who have already contributed.