Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Last weekend KF tested 31 students (English, math, science, and verbal reasoning) who are applying to the program. It was incredible to see this enormous group of kids, some nervous, some enthusiastic, but all very proud to have been selected to this round of the application process. It’s funny to think that all of our current students started out here…they all seemed so young! When I walked into Leopards Hill School, two of our grade 11 students, Gaella and Abram, were standing in front of a class of students asking them questions, giving them advice, and trying to inspire them to work hard. “If you work hard, you can be here with me, with all of us,” she said. The students were also blown away by the cleanliness of the school, the athletic fields out back, and the free chicken and chips (French fries) lunch that we gave them. It is true that we can’t pick every one of these students, but it seems as if just getting this opportunity was very meaningful for a lot of them.

The director and I were sitting around with a group of teachers from our partner basic schools while the students were testing, discussing ways to make the application process smoother. One of the teachers brought up the fact that some of the other teachers in the school were complaining about not getting paid for helping with the application process. Then our director began talking about how important a service this is for KF, for these students, how sometimes people have be willing to sacrifice on behalf of others without anything concrete in return, and most importantly, how deeply we as an organization appreciate and value their help and input. One of the other teachers began speaking about how this was just not something that Zambians often think about and how discussing it is important. She acknowledged that, in her opinion, most of the people she knows are self-centered, and only focused on their own concerns and those of their families. The idea of a social consciousness, she was saying, was not something that people accept or subscribe too. We all began discussing ways to get the schools more involved in the program, and more importantly, ways for us to acknowledge and show our appreciation for their work. These teachers were not doing this for anyone other than the students sitting in the next classroom. They refused to let their own children apply to the program, and they showed immense appreciation for what the Foundation has done for their pupils. I hope they can inspire others to view KF in the same way.

The other day I went out for a couple drinks with one of my Zambian friends, a girl who studied in the UK and came back to Lusaka to work for a local publisher. I’m not sure how it came up, but we got into a huge debate about climate change (I was adamant that there is concrete evidence to prove it exists, and she was firmly of the opinion that it was completely over exaggerated or possibly not real at all). Then, some other people in the bar joined into the conversation…some people on my side, some on my friend’s. I found myself getting utterly frustrated to the point of exasperation, and kept my mouth shut when they all started talking about evolution (nobody at the bar believed in it, which is not surprising considering the fact Zambia is an ultra-Christian nation). At first I sort of brushed it off as a cultural difference, but then I sat back and realized that these same debates occur all over the States and the West. But It was so interesting to hear people discussing these issues in a super Christian environment, in a region that arguably would be one of the most affected, environmentally and socially, by climate change.

Later in the week I had lunch with a young man who had returned to Zambia after spending most of his life studying abroad (South Africa, India, the UK). He was a pharmacology major and did his masters researching the link between cancer medications and the treatment of malaria. I have been trying to set him up with some local contacts in public health (there are a TON of them here), because Kay is committed to putting his degree to work in an area that needs it most, his home country. I was asking him what it was that made him come back after so many years away, especially when he could probably be making a lot more money in the West. “People here believe that A=A,” he said. “They never question things, they never push things further. They accept the conditions here for what they are.” He went on to talk about disease and death. “There is so much death here. People choose to live with it instead of making small changes to their lives that could counteract it.” He is committed to changing that in every way that he can. And I have am confident that people like him will be the ones to actually implement change here. NGOs can only go so far. At a certain point, it is the local populations, the younger, well-education generations that will have to take control of the politics and social problems in this country if poverty and disease are to be effectively combated.

This weekend I returned to Victoria Falls (I had been there on a trip a couple years back when I was studying abroad in Cape Town). It was a short five hour drive through the bush from Lusaka to Livingstone, and the four of us took turns driving. I have to admit that I never expected to be back in Livingstone, and it was so bizarre to drive down the same roads I had been on before, this time with a completely different mindset. Everything looked so much smaller than I remember, I guess because my previous trip to Livingstone was such a blur (bungee jumping and getting attacked by a baboon were the highlights of the trip). We stayed at a cheap backpacker, and after dropping off our stuff we drove down the lone road to the entrance of the national park. On the way we spotted a big herd of elephants on the side of the road (which could have been more terrifying if we had known at the time that a Congolese woman was trampled to death by an angry elephant on that very same road). Ahhhhhh! Since we had Zambian work permits, we got to pay the local rate ($1 as opposed to $20 for foreign tourists). Seeing the falls this time was vastly different. It is the dry season now, so while you don’t have the roaring, rushing streams of water and mist blocking your view and soaking you, you do have the chance to actually see the canyon that the river has carved out. It was spectacular in a different way, and just as awe-inspiring as last time. We spend the afternoon viewing the falls…the only semi frightening moment came on this narrow bridge which crosses over the canyon. There was an enormous baboon sitting in the ledge cross-legged staring at everyone that walked by. We asked a Zambian guy what his name was, and he said “Josepher” (I guess a combination of Joseph and Christopher?). Why not? Somehow we made it by him without forcing us to answer an impossible riddle or straight up attacking us.

Afterwards we drove out to the Royal Livingstone Hotel (and absurdly and unnecessarily excessive hotel on the river) for some drinks on the veranda (a rare, one-time treat), listened to some flute playing, and watched the sunset over the river with hippos snorting in the distance. We had met a British girl named Jess at the falls, and she and her friend Nathaniel joined us at the hotel. Nathaniel was a fascinating guy—he was spending a year traveling around Africa doing research for his PhD from Yale, which is centered on the reasons why African leaders choose to and not to stay in power. He had met the presidents of Mali, Ghana, and Guinea Bissau, and seemed to be traveling only with a cowboy hat and white t-shirt. He was also sporting an impressive moustache. After that we met up with Mary Reid at a braii (awesome to see her again!) and then hung out at the backpacker with a huge group of Norwegian nursing/physical therapy students. How ridiculous the backpacker life is…

The next day we went back to the falls and hiked down to the boiling pot, the rocky area down at the bottom of the canyon at the edge of the river. The hike down was unbelievable…lush, tropical vegetation, crystal clear streams, and baboons screaming and running around us (luckily no attacks this time, haha). We spent the morning taking dips in the small area of the river that wasn’t dangerous (the Zambezi river has some pretty terrifying rapids) and basking in the sun at the bottom of the canyon underneath the bridge I had leapt from a year and a half ago. Then we hiked back up to the top of the canyon and walked across the relatively dry riverbed, through steams and over slippery rocks, to Devil’s Pool, a pool of standing water right at the edge of the falls. We spent the afternoon jumping from the rocks into the cool blue water and sitting at the edge of the pool looking down into the canyon. After that Jess joined us for a ride back to Lusaka, and we got back late Sunday night with no problems at all. A cheap, awesome trip!

Now we are all preparing for a visit from the president of KF. It’s going to be a busy weekend, but I am really looking forward to having the entire staff together to talk about the Foundation and make plans for the future. Almost three months in. I’m a quarter of the way through my fellowship, which is just unbelievable to me. The time is flying by here, and there is so much more to do.

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