February 5, 2017
Dear family and friends,
We are back under the thatch in Zambia. It is summer and rains have been abundant this year, filling dams and boreholes and the mighty Zambezi. Water also hangs in the air. The dishes washed yesterday morning were still damp at supper and only dried when popped into a warm oven. It is lovely for the skin and for the gardens! Thank you Lord.
While we adjust our clocks to the local time zone we often lay awake in the small hours listening to the night sounds: the night train sliding past Kalomo 8 km away….the fruit bats hanging just outside the window under the eaves of the thatch… and often thunder rumbling in the distance.
Feb 16: The days have been slipping by rather quickly and this morning I am up early to write before the day becomes cluttered with tasks and knocks at the door. Our first week here we were joined by Ryan Goodwin, a young man from Regina who is an agricultural consultant. He has been supporting the seed and fertilizer program and was able to see some of the maize fields his generosity have made possible. It is always good for us to see Zambia through the fresh eyes of a newcomer and he helped us to see things anew. Unfortunately he was sick for his last few days and was not able to visit the game park in Chobe but was well enough to travel home on his scheduled flights. After saying our goodbyes we waited to pick up friends from the US who were arriving within the hour.
David and Wilbur had spent the previous night at a lodge near the airport in Johannesburg and upon entering the lodge were robbed at gunpoint. They lost wallets, cameras, credit cards, computers, watches and David lost his wedding ring. Wilbur gained several staples to repair the gash in his scalp when pistol whipped. When they in arrived in Livingstone on Sunday Steve got special permission to meet them at immigration to give them some US dollars to pay for their entry visas. They had a harrowing story to tell but emphasized they were okay, and many South Africans, black and white, had come to their rescue and shown them much compassion. David’s hands were still shaking but last night we had them for dinner and they were very much recovered. Thank you Lord.
Here at home the laptop and I have been busy going through the books. It is a matter of unthreading the income and expenses for the previous year into various projects and administration. It is helpful for us to see the financial nuts and bolts along with the actual carrying out of the programs. Shepherd and Ruhtt keep the books in good order from month to month and our eyes provide another layer of guarding the trust, so to speak.
One of the great rewards when we come to Zambia is the opportunity to visit with former students in the sponsorship program. Kingster Folkwe visited us in Kalomo the other day and told us he has been employed at Namwianga Mission as a teacher. He went on to tell his story of entering the sponsorship program in 2007 after completing Grade 9 at Kabanga. Kabanga is a long way from Kalomo…a long way for a young man to travel alone without knowing exactly who to approach for help with his high school fees. He also did not have anyone to stay with, though he knew a student in boarding at Namwianga Secondary. For several days, in desperation, he snuck into boarding to sleep, snuck into the dining hall to eat, and even snuck into classes. The teachers thought something was amiss but they liked Kingster and one day even asked him to ring the school bell! A few days later he finally spotted Ruhtt in town as she was setting off in her vehicle. She looked at his Grade 9 results, was receptive to helping him, and told him to report for school the following day. Kingster instead made a quick return to Kabanga to inform his mother of his blessing, returned to town and entered Grade 10 at Zimba High. We had some laughs as he recounted the details, though at the time it was a serious matter and without help he would not be a teacher today. He is a lovely man – well spoken and grateful and confident. Another former student now employed as a teacher at Namwianga is Timmy Mbambiko. Timmy is also a gentleman with leadership skills and integrity. He has gained a few pounds since his days in high school and no longer visits the gym....his nickname ‘super Timmy’ no longer applies…though he tells us with a chuckle that he intends to start exercising again
Here at the house we are helped each morning by Milimo Muyoba, daughter of Mildred who used to work here. Milimo is smart and lovely like her mother. In November she graduated from Grade 12 within the sponsorship program. Milimo explained yesterday that she intends to apply to the University of Zambia to study nursing and has to purchase an application. Shepherd was here at the time and confirmed this process. Purchasing an application for university? I can relate to a fee for registration, but for application? Apparently so. Systems here are challenging for the poor and vulnerable and we are grateful for the spunk within our young lady. She will get there.
The rains have continued almost daily. The short cut from Namwianga to Seven Fountains has been washed out in several places and we’ve resorted to driving all the way around via town. One day the little bridge at Namwianga was covered by about 18” of water and only a few brave souls, Ruhtt among them, dared cross. This small bridge, like many others here, has no sides to keep a driver from dropping into the creek below. Ruhtt was confident she knew where it was and drove across but we decided to remain home until late in the afternoon when the water had receded and the bridge was visible again! Tomorrow some students from Kalomo High will help with road repairs and maybe, just maybe, the short cut will be drivable again!
Several days ago we were at Siabalumbi for a PTA meeting. Siabalumbi sits on a plateau and the view over the escarpment is breathtakingly beautiful. In the distance we could see a storm and as the meeting progressed we watched it creeping towards us. By 5:30 the first drops of rain were pattering on the metal roof and by 5:35 we were running to the truck. The rain was accompanied by wind, thunder and lightning and the rain fell so hard one could have easily showered, shampooed and shaved outdoors. Ruhtt was at the wheel and kept us on the road, though at times it was hard to see exactly where it lay. She dodged fallen tree limbs and kept to the middle of the gravel as streams grew on both sides. We had never seen a storm quite like this one! The journey home took over an hour and when we reached Kalomo we found it dry – the rains had stopped just north of town
We are eating well though fresh fruit and vegetables are limited to what grows locally. Except for apples! These are imported from South Africa and are a treat. Electricity has been on most of the time. With electricity comes water. By choice we don’t have television or radio at the house, preferring to be unplugged…. There is enough for us here to ponder without the troubles of the broader world, and events of great note will be there to discover when we leave.
I am reading Ann Voskamp’s book ‘The Broken Way’ and will share a nugget: “….compassion will always hurt. Compassion is a crawling in under the skin of someone else and connecting to their heart like it’s yours. Your heart breaks into theirs and your way is bound to theirs and don’t tell me that’s not profoundly terrifying. But it’s profoundly purifying and sanctifying and God-glorifying and soul-unifying – and ultimately, life-satisfying.”
Each day we pray for wisdom. Helping without harming is a challenge, especially outside of one’s own culture. We try to find that delicate balance between helping enough and helping too little. We haven’t always pegged it right and without doubt still have much to learn.
We are grateful for the visits with Kingster, Timmy and Milimo – and others, which encourage us!
And we are grateful for your prayers!
Joan (and Steve!)
Dear family and friends,
Some very sad news from home came early last week. Dear friends lost a son unexpectedly and our hearts ache for their loss. They have many friends here in Zambia and together we gathered Monday morning and shared tears and prayers. The son was a gentle soul and he was loved. Sometimes prayer is not answered as we hope it will be. Sometimes healing comes on the other side. For now our questions are unanswered but someday ‘we will no longer see dimly, but we will see face to face.’
Last weekend we attended a THRASS workshop for teachers at our schools. THRASS is an acronym for “Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills” and is a methodology out of the UK designed to teach English to students whose first language is not English. We learned about Phonemes (a speech sound) and digraphs (2 letters making one sound) and many other interesting aspects of language. English is a tough language to master and even more so when one’s mother tongue does not include some of the sounds used in English. Zambians have difficulty with “L” and “R” and typically say “ello” when saying the letter “L” and “are-a” for “R”. “H” becomes ‘aach-ee’ and “N” becomes ‘N-ee”. Twenty becomes “Twent” and Ten becomes “Ten-ee”. Interesting! How does a child learn English in school when his teacher cannot pronounce words himself? THRASS starts right at the beginning with pronouncing individual letters properly and moves on to correctly pronounce letter combinations. The presentation was interactive and fun and we pray that the teachers will commit to implementing the new strategies.
More rain has fallen and roads continue to dissolve. As we returned from town today a dog trotted along the road ahead of us. At times we barely kept up with him. Passing Wasa Wange we stopped to say hi to a Zambian friend. He summed it up quite well: “The roads are terrible to walk on. They are terrible to cycle on. They are terrible for a motorbike. And they are terrible for driving.” Well, as our kids say - ‘first world problem’…
Steve‘s hearing isn’t the greatest these days, even with hearing aids. Add to this a Zambian accent and you have a recipe for misunderstanding. The other night we were at Mbumwaes for Bible study and Shepherd was leading the discussion. The theme was ‘wisdom’ and one of the scriptures referred to was the parable of the Ten Virgins. The students understood and I understood and we all grasped the relevance. No problem. What Steve heard was the ‘parable of the Ten Veggies’ and for a brief moment wondered how he could have missed this passage after years of studying the Bible Maybe he should check his batteries!
Every day with Ruhtt is an adventure. We start off thinking we know the tasks to be done and roughly what time we will return home, but rarely does a trip end up as we initially plan. A few days back we went to town to visit the Kalomo Immigration office to have our visitor visa extended by 3 days. The Immigration officer was agreeable but he didn’t have a pen. ‘Could I borrow one?’ I fished about my purse, found a pen (good thing to always keep a pen handy), passports were stamped, visa extended, and my pen was gifted to the kind officer. This task was planned. Then, Ruhtt’s phone rang with a possible renter for their new duplex in Magrimonde. Could she quickly show this fellow the house? It wasn’t far. Off we set for Magrimonde – a distance of 2 km at best. A hundred meters down the pavement and then a left turn onto the dirt road. Well, the dirt was the good part. It was dirt + mud + ponds. The poor truck bobbed up and down through highs and lows with most of the lows under water. Each time a vehicle passed from the opposite direction we were reassured: ‘okay – he passed through that pond so this means we can too’. Eventually we could see the roof of the duplex ‘just there’ and parked the truck. Still two blocks away, but we had driven as far as we could. We ‘footed’ the rest of the way, opened the gate to the house and found a truly lovely residence! The potential renter was impressed! And not particularly fazed by the roads leading to and from. As the saying goes here: ‘we are used’
Anne Sampa visited for a weekend and on Saturday she told her story to the sponsored students at Kalomo Secondary. She would have been considered ‘vulnerable’ as she grew up: no father, no shoes, little money for school, and little money for food. She remembers her bare feet cracking and bleeding. Even so, Anne worked hard at school and her marks were above average. Her older sister, Rose, helped with school fees when she could. Bit by bit, year by year, she climbed the academic ropes and today she is a lawyer in Lusaka. Anne encourages the pupils that they, too, can fulfill their dreams if they stay focused and apply themselves. And most importantly, she keeps God as the mainstay of her life.
Yesterday took us to Butale, a community roughly 18 km west of Kalomo. The trip took 50 minutes and the gentle speed gave us time to appreciate the beauty of the land. Fields of maize, pastures, tobacco, trees… Once at Butale we were greeted by school children and teachers. Despite its peacefulness and beauty, the people are poor and many are employed at local tobacco farms. Their hands and faces and feet tell of hard work. We are told some of the children are hungry, and we are told some of the reasons the children are hungry. Some parents plan well and their children are fed. Other parents don’t plan so well. And how do we, who have such access to wealth, respond? We are still processing this question. Children need to be fed, and parents should be the ones to feed them, and with planning and encouragement it will happen. But maybe, while this is sorted out, help with lunch is appropriate.
Speaking of lunch…today we dined with 4 “ATMs”. Let me explain. On the highway between Kalomo and Choma there are speed traps, particularly in a spot that is poorly marked as regards the speed limit. It seems someone has removed the sign allowing one to increase speed from “60” to “80”, and what remains is a lengthy stretch between the “60” and the “100”. Most people (reasonable people, that is) will increase to “80” soon after the need to slow down. But alas, the sign giving permission is gone, and police hide in the bush ready to aim their laser gun at motorists, fine them for speeding and ruin their day. As we drove to Choma this morning with Wilson he told us that the newspaper describes these traffic police as “ATMs”. When we stopped for lunch near the museum our table was next to one with four men whose shirts clearly identified them as “Zambia Traffic Police”. We thought of the poor souls who were ticketed this morning and wondered if they funded the lunch!
You know you are not in Canada when little children run about unsupervised. Often I have passed tots as young as two walking along the lanes here at Namwianga. They are quite free! Today at the Siabalumbi gate we met up with seven little ones heading home from school at Seven Fountains. Most had their baby teeth. The distance they walk is about 2 km along a dirt road that is often shared with cattle, the odd vehicle and (shudder) a snake now and then. They were quite unafraid!
Time to close this letter and send it on its way. Our hearts are still heavy for Wes and Doreen. Clouds have hung over us within and without. We were comforted by words from a hymn thi past week:
“Holy words, long preserved…For our walk, in this world. They resound with God’s own heart. O let the ancient words impart. Words of life, words of hope, Give us strength, help us cope. In this world, where’er we roam, Ancient words will take us home.”