Saturday, July 17, 2010

First weekend

It’s amazing to me how different this feels…already. I am sitting on a plane to Johannesburg, completely by myself, and somehow everything still doesn’t feel real. I said my goodbyes, but everything was just so quick. The baggage assistance rushed me along even though I wasn’t done saying goodbye for 11 months to my family. I checked in, alone, went through security, and sat by my gate, and thought a lot about how different I was the last time I was waiting to get onto a flight to South Africa. I’ve been thinking a lot about what this fellowship is supposed to mean, what I really think it means, what my expectations are for this year, and just now naïve I really am. I suppose one has to be a little naïve to jump on a plane alone to a country that I’ve spent a total of three days in, with nothing but a small network of contacts, two small bags, and a whole lot of uncertainty. The truth is, I am excited beyond belief to be going back to Southern Africa, to keep an open mind, to learn as much as I can about the city, it’s residents, Zambian culture, to be in a new place armed with a sense of independence and adventure. But I am also terrified, and I still haven’t had the chance to confront that inevitable feeling. Obviously, it is difficult to leave everything I know and love behind…Bowdoin, my friends, my family. In many ways I feel like I’m denying myself of the things that make me feel at home, the comforts, the warmth of support and familiarity. But then I take a step back a bit, and think seriously about how incredible this opportunity is. I know that there will be times when I am frustrated, when I question my intentions, my qualifications, my ability to connect with these students and fully understand their lives and where they have come from. There will be times when I miss home, when I want desperately to come back, when I feel like life is going on without me back in the States. But I know in my heart that this is right for me, and that despite the challenges that will certainly come, I am ready to face them. I am ready to have the chance to grow, to be independent, and to learn to be alright on my own. However, more importantly, I am eager to explore the Kucetekela Foundation and the successes it has had, to see firsthand how providing an education to those who wouldn’t necessarily have access to it can impact individuals, families, and communities. I am, I have to admit, a little uncertain, anxious, and perhaps profoundly naïve. But I think the first step is to accept these things, keep them in mind, and learn from them.

My first noteworthy experience: I sat next to an international businesswoman on the plane from Wisconsin who is visiting her photojournalist son that is teaching at a school in Uganda. Apparently the school allows students to express themselves through art and writing, and is attempting to heal the wounds of the recent civil war. We talked about everything from family and relationships to sustainable development, Bowdoin, and religion (she is a recently converted born-again Christian). It was a fascinating conversation, made better by the fact that she has the same last name as me! What are the odds? Another Nadeau on the way to South Africa! Arriving in Joburg was even stranger…the last time I was here, I was with an enormous group of Americans and we were freaking out as porters attacked us to carry our bags. This time, despite the noticeable buzz of the world cup and the decorations and vuvzelas, the airport was strangely quiet. I bought a vuvzela at a tourist shop (why not?), and hopped right on the shuttle to get on the plane to Lusaka. I sat next to another awesome person…a professor from Australia who was flying to Zambia to teach for a week before moving on to Kenya. We talked during most of the two hour flight, so I didn’t get to check out the landscape, but once we touched down in Lusaka, I immediately felt a change. The welcome to Zambia signs were enough to make me realize that I was going to be in this country for a year of my life, and suddenly I felt exhilarated and terrified. The airport was tiny, the air was cool, and the landscape was dry and barren. I showed my visa to the immigration workers, walked through the gate, and immediately saw Libby, the Princeton in Africa Fellow I am taking over for. I gave her a hug and we left the now crowded airport to walk out to her car (my future car). It’s a huge Toyota Surf, four wheel drive, maroon, 1994, which enormous wheels. I would soon figure out why Libby decided to buy a car like this…

The airport is a little ways outside the city, and once we entered the central area of Lusaka, I quickly understood how vastly different this experience would be that the one I had in Cape Town. Lusaka is crowded, with people walking in bunches down the windy, car-packed streets. There are areas where you can easily forget you are in Africa—malls, restaurants, bars, nice houses with gates and beautiful gardens, nicely paved roads—and then there are packed markets with people everywhere and trash all over the ground, people selling handmade wooden furniture on the side of the road, compounds where the poorest live with enormous potholes poorly made dirt roads, little kids running and staring at you as you pass, enormous holes in the sides of the road for drainage that are also filled with water and muck. The city smells like a combination of smoke and soil. That was actually the first thing I noticed as we were driving around. Libby began telling me about her time in Zambia, both the positives and the challenges she has faced and I will likely face. I could tell right away that Lusaka had changed her, made her flexible and tough.

Libby drove me to my host family’s house, an upper-class residence in Kabulanga. I met Makasa, my host Mom’s 25 year old daughter and Daniel, her 20 year old son. However, despite the fact that the Mwenya’s house would be considered beautiful in any neighborhood in the States, the street it is on is not well maintained. It is another dirt road, bumpy, with big potholes and rocks sticking out of it. By this time I understood why Libby chose the car she did. The rest of the day Libby showed me around the city, pointing out the places to get groceries, showing me the different neighborhoods. She took me to the museum, which had a beautiful art display on the ground floor despite the fact that most of historical displays had shabby hand-written labels. I went over to the Grassroots Soccer house for dinner, the house where Libby currently lives and my friend Maxime will be living when she arrives in Zambia. The grassroots volunteers that I met are amazing…they know so much about Zambia and the problems it faces, and to be honest I felt a little embarrassed about how little I really knew about this area. Luckily, jet lag never really affected me because I planned my sleeping schedule out well on the plane, but either way I was exhausted and passed out by 10 that nignt.

I spend some time with my host family on Saturday morning, and I knew right away that I was going to love living with them. I am the first person they have hosted, so they were extra excited to have me here. Makasa is a student in Joburg and is studying international relations. She is an amazing woman…the kind of person who you immediately feel you can open up to. Though she is now back at school, I am really excited to see her again when she visits home in September. Mrs. Mwenya runs a sports store at Manda Hill, a local mall, and she has also been so warm and welcoming. She told me to call her Auntie Margaret, and has been really interested in learning about the foundation I’ll be working for. Her favorite thing in the world is relaxing and watching TV in her bedroom, and for some reason that makes me feel right at home. The Mwenyas have two relatives who come and do housework for them—Paulina, who only speaks Nyanja, one of the most commonly spoken local languages in Lusaka, and Frida, who cooks delicious food and has been teaching me a phrase in Nyanja every day. They also have a little niece Shekinah who is five years old and literally has not stopped asking me questions since I’ve been here (she was most interested in my computer and banagrams game). The Mwenyas have fed me all sorts of Zambian meals—nshima, a pounded cornmeal staple food, all kinds of relishes, fresh village chicken, whole fishes, and more. I actually love Zambian food so far, and it’s pretty easy to get a quick fix of American food at any of the malls or restaurants. A lot of the chain foods are actually from South Africa (so bizarre for me), and there’s even an Nando’s here!

Libby had been talking about this running event called the hash, and she and her friend Emily took me to it during the day. Apparently there is a running club that takes place in a bunch of cities across the world where people meet, usually in places outside the city, and either run or walk a set route. At the end of the run, everyone stands in a circle and drinks beer and basically makes fun of each other. There are all these set traditions—I, being a newcomer, had to stand on a torn red carper in front of everyone and introduce myself to the group. The hash was bizarrely amazing, and it seems like a great place to see different parts of the area, to get outside of the city, and meet people who are coming from similar places. I also met my future roommate, Jenny, there! I can’t wait to go again.

Anyway, Daniel, the Mwenays’ 20 year old son, who was very shy at first by eventually opened up to me, invited me out with his friends on Saturday night. We went to a bar named Smuggler’s, drank some Mosis (Zambian beer), and watched the World Cup Consolation game. All of Daniel’s friends were welcoming and down-to-earth, and some of them peppered me with questions about what I was doing in Lusaka. Raizor, from Botswana, asked me “Why are you here?”, and when I stumbled over an answer, he began talking about all of the different aid agencies in Lusaka and how and why many of them were failing. I wasn’t expecting to have my intentions questioned right away, but it’s probably good to start thinking more seriously about these questions. After Smugglers we went to a club called Hollywood and didn’t get back until 6 am.

On Sunday I went to see my possible future apartment with Oliver (a recent Georgetown grad) and Jenny (working for the International Olympic Commission). It’s in a neighborhood called Roma, which is a bit far away from the schools I will be working with. The house, though, is amazing, and I’ll be excited to move in in a month and get settled. Us future roommates went and got lunch together, and then I met Harrsion Lubama, Kucetekela’s program officer. Harrison is the president of a local Mormon church (Mormonism and other forms of Christianity, are very popular here). He is a calm, confident man, and he brought me to his house in Kalingalinga where I met his wife, brother, and two daughters. After that, we began driving around the city to different houses. KF is doing a series of interviews of the families of KF students to evaluate how KF has impacted them. It was a great introduction to the program…seeing some of the neighborhoods where these students come from. The first house we went to was Vivian’s, a new KF student. She was there with her Mom, and Harrison left the interview to me. It was difficult at first…this was my second full day in the city and I was already interviewing families about their incomes, their hopes and dreams. But it was definitely a good learning experience…I could already tell that these parents were working so hard to provide for their families and that KF was giving their children a chance to have access to an education that would be impossible without its support. After that we drove Vivian to Leopards Hill, one of our partner schools, and Vivian gave me a little tour of the school and its grounds. It is a small, peaceful school, but it also stands in stark contrast to the areas where many of these students are from. After that we drove to a crowded market to interview Mrs. Chonza, the aunt of a student Joseph who has been working to support her nephew and his family who still remain in a poor village far from Lusaka. It was amazing to me to see how much people cared for their families, how they would do anything to ensure that they were provided for. I also began to notice the stares as I rode around with Harrison…everywhere we went, people were staring at me. Kids would ask “how are you!” Harrison told me that white people don’t go into these areas very often, so it is always a surprise for people to see one. When we were leaving the market a young man started harassing us for money, claiming that we had parked in a no parking zone (there was no sign at all warning us of this). Harrison told me that he expected us to give him money because I was a Muzungu, a white person, which almost always equals wealth to people in a lot of these areas. I got back to my house, had dinner, and was too exhausted to go out for the World Cup Final, so Daniel and I watched it on the couch and passed out early.

More to come…


  1. Sounds like you are off to a great start! Tell Harrison I say "Hello!"

  2. Hi Jamie--
    I enjoyed reading about the start of your adventure. I am going to tell Tim to visit your blog and see if maybe he'd like to work in Zambia. What do YOU think his response will be?
    Rosalind Flynn

  3. Jamie--

    I enjoyed reading this and I also think that this was the best possible decision you could have made for not only yourself, but for the world. You will learn so much that when it is time for you to lead, you will be well equipped to do so. congrats on a successful first week.


  4. Thank you, Nids. That means a lot to me. And Rosalind, tell Tim I'm expecting a visit!!

  5. I know for sure my kids couldn't go to Africa by their self..You have done this twice...Uncle David has been gone allot like you..But, he is older then you..This must be very hard for your family...I know that they are very proud of you,your family in Virginia is too.
    Love you and miss you..Stay safe..
    Auntie Debbie and family.