Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Reality Check

I've called living in Ndola, Zambia as "Africa Lite".  I can buy most things (although my expectations are pretty basic), I feel safe, and we've been warmly welcomed.

Then I get reality checks.  Two of Roger's employees have had children die in the last few weeks and while very sad, it is not usual; over 100 students from the Lions School for the Visually Impaired had to be sent home early for Christmas because there wasn't enough food to feed them; and I feel like I'm living in the polar opposite of the movie, "The Help".  Let me explain.

Picture walking down a street and rarely seeing old people.  That's because the average age of Zambians is 48 years.  On children's clinic cards there is a section where the tally of the number of dead or alive siblings and parents are recorded as matter of factly as writing a phone number down.  I rarely talk to people without hearing of several family members that have passed on at early ages.

Then there is the school that I have become very committed to.  When I met my friend Yvonne at a braii when we first arrived, she told me she helped raise funds for the Ndola Lions School for the Visually Impaired.  I said, "Oh my God, I couldn't do that - I hate asking people for money."  She replied, "When you see the children, it's not hard at all."  And she's right.

The school has so little (try to picture if your child was blind, living far from home, sleeping on the floor, getting 2 eggs per week if they're lucky, eating a limited diet of rice, beans and maize, with little access to Braille equipment) but yet they are working hard to become more self sustainable.  The children not only go to school, they work in the fields where maize, vegetables and bananas are grown (when there is money to buy seeds and the weather cooperates), as well as tending to the chickens and pigs that are used as a source of money when sold.
All the profits will go to feed the students
The school also has a choir who just recorded their first CD called, "Empowerment".  Yvonne and I put up the seed money to get the CDs made since obviously there wasn't enough money to buy food let alone get the CDs produced and we've been thrilled that sales have been brisk through word of mouth.  The choir was all set to sing at a shopping mall a couple of weeks ago, but when Yvonne and I arrived, a bank had set up a promotion blaring loud music right where the kids were to sing.  The woman in charge refused to budge and I found myself raising my voice saying "your actions will be keeping food from these blind children! How can you live with yourself!"  I honestly thought I could hit her.  Fortunately the mall manager arrived and sent the bank people on their way before I really got mad!

I've made a blog for the school in the hopes of informing people of the school and to shamelessly try and raise money.  Please check out www.nlsfvi.blogspot.com and feel free to forward the link to any groups or people that could help.  You can also find out how to buy the CD!  Yvonne's right - it is easy once you know these children.

We've lived in our little townhouse for 3 months now, and while it's quite fabulous having a spotlessly clean house and ironed everything -- having a full time maid has it's drawbacks.  Rabecca is about my age and is loyal, kind and a great worker but she was driving me a little crazy.

"May I pass, Madam?" she would say as she entered a room. "May I use the kitchen, Madam?" she would ask when it was time for her to make her lunch. "May I wash the windows, Madam?" she would ask along with other requests to clean.  If we met in the hall, she would hang back until I went by her and say, "Sorry, Madam", as if occupying the same space is something she should apologize for. If Roger came home, she looked absolutely frightened and would retreat to the ironing room or outside. If a friend came to the house, she would become invisible.
Our maid, Rabecca is on the right.  Violet (on the left)  is the maid next door and the two are good friends.

I finally had to talk to her to see what was really going on.  Turns out she, and other maids have been reprimanded and/or fired for walking into a room without permission (in particular if the husband was there), speaking when not spoken to, using the front door, touching a white woman as they passed in a hall, and cleaning or not cleaning what the Madam wanted.  Poor woman must have been a bundle of nerves.  She said she knows we are different than others, but she didn't want to take the chance.  We got things sorted out and we both feel much more comfortable around each other, although admittedly, I'm happy to have the house to myself when she leaves for the day or on the weekends.

We cringe when we hear people talk rudely to "the help"... heck, I still stumble over calling Rabecca our maid.  Roger's staff are also taken aback by his open door policy and have gradually become more comfortable when talking to him on a 1:1 basis. Small steps.

Africa is such a complex country, and I often wonder, "what year is it anyway?"

"Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught.  I have a two year old son. You know what he hates? Naps.  End of list."         Dennis Leary

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