International Women’s Day

Okay, first of all, I don’t know why I ever said that I would be updating this blog regularly…that literally doesn’t sound like something I would ever do. I had high hopes but here I am in March, writing my first blog post since December. I simply haven’t had the time (or desire, really this is about a lack of effort not time) to write anything but I’m trying now! Well, not THAT hard because this is going to be quick and dirty.

Today (March 8th) is International Women’s Day aka my favourite day of the year – there is NOTHING I love more than celebrating women. I’ve been surrounded by incredible women since birth; my mom is the strongest woman I know, my sister is an absolute fucking force to be reckoned with, and my female friends are a bunch of powerhouses. I would never be who I am today without all of these amazing women.

However, it wasn’t until I came to Zambia that I began to truly understand the power of women. Being a woman in Canada and being a woman in Zambia are two completely different battles – we still have a lot of work left to do in Canada, but the fight is just beginning here. Since coming to Zambia I’ve experienced sexism like never before but it is literally NOTHING compared to what Zambian women experience on a daily basis. Working in the gender sector means that I have seen and heard things that could honestly make you lose all faith in humanity. The shit that women and girls go through in this country, and many others, is absolutely unimaginable. But I’ve also seen the unbreakable strength, resilience, and unity of women. There is nothing more encouraging than watching women stand up for themselves and each other.

I have A LOT more to say about the topic of gender in this country but right now I’m just thankful that I get to celebrate this day surrounded by some of the strongest, smartest, and bravest women I’ve ever met in my life.IMG_0106

Zambian Economics 101

I’ve been hearing about hiking prices, deflating currencies, and load shedding since my arrival in Zambia. While it was clear that these aren’t good things, I wasn’t able to comprehend what all of this meant for people living and working in Zambia. It took quite a few conversations with friends and coworkers to really understand – the most informative being with my favourite person in Zambia, Simon (aka Mr. Chipata). So, because I clearly don’t value my time or sanity, I’ve decided to try and explain it here – hopefully this crash course in Zambian economics makes at least a little bit of sense.

The country is currently experiencing an economic crisis, which is leaving average citizens in a pretty dire financial situation. Zambia has long been recognized as one of the world’s largest producers of copper and the country’s economy is largely dependent on its exportation. This has led to a great deal of foreign investment in mining and some of the biggest employers can be found in this sector. However, over-dependence on a single commodity is never a good thing and the current state of the Zambian economy is definitely a testament to that. As the copper boom has come to an end Zambia has found itself in a really bad position. Their desperation was clearly exhibited when the government declared October 18th a Day of Prayer and Fasting for the nation in hopes of saving the currency through divine intervention (a move that’s garnered very little political respect) . The national currency, the kwacha, has hit a record low after falling over 50% making it the worst performing currency in 2015 – currently sitting at about K13 per $1USD. Unfortunately this has led to a significant increase in the cost of imported goods; the prices of local goods have also risen because of the increasing cost of production. In most cases the price of necessities such as soap, milk, fuel, bread, paper, etc., has doubled. Even the price of mealie meal, the staple used to make nshima, has increased significantly. Women in the market are also raising their prices, although not to the same extent because they are fearful that people will stop buying from them, which means that many of them are working at a loss. I’ve heard other business owners say that they would rather keep their prices reasonable and deal with the losses than hike prices and risk going out of business. It’s also important to note that wages have, at best, remained stagnant or, at worst, decreased. So to recap, as the price of copper has decreased, the price of everything else has risen, with no increase in household incomes. This has obviously had some pretty disastrous effects on business owners as well as consumers. Average Zambians now find that they are working simply to be able to eat.

Making matters worse, Zambia is currently experiencing extreme electricity shortages (also called “load shedding”). It’s obviously incredibly difficult to run a business when the electricity is shut off daily and people have had to improvise in order to keep their businesses alive, often turning to generators. However, generators run on fuel, which has been subject to massive price hikes, making them suuuuuuper expensive. This means that people are spending pretty significant amounts of money simply to keep their businesses open.

In terms of the future, it’s pretty unclear what will happen. I’ve heard a few people claim that prices may stabilize as it gets closer to the 2016 national election. Others claim that things will worsen as fuel prices are subject to further increases.

One of the things that has stood out to me the most is the difference between an economic crisis in the US/Canada versus that of southern Africa. In Canada, we have systems and institutions to lend support in times of crisis and no such structures exist here. The second standout has been the resilience, resourcefulness, and kindness of people in Chipata. People need to be resourceful in order to survive. It’s been absolutely fascinating learning about the different things that people do to make ends meet. And when all else fails people turn to each other for loans and support.

 

 

 

 

One Month Down

The first month has absolutely flown by and A LOT has happened already. We’ve spent the majority of our time getting to know Chipata and its people, meaning there has been a lot to process. The good news is that it’s been incredible; I absolutely love it here. The bad news is that I’m not quite sure how to put any of it into words yet. So, these are some of the (more easily processed) things that have stuck out to me thus far:

I have literally been full since I got to this country:
It turns out that food is extremely important here, eating is often a social activity and people are excited and proud to show you Zambian food. A great deal of this revolves around nshima, which is THE staple food in Zambia. It’s made using ground maize flour (called mealie meal) that’s been boiled and ‘paddled’ until it looks like a very thick porridge. It’s actually incredibly difficult to make because it gets super heavy as it thickens. Our coworkers have been trying to teach us how to make it and they think it’s hilarious to watch me struggle.
Zambians are extremely proud of it and they should be. Nshima has allowed people to remain relatively well fed even in the most difficult times. Despite the fact that there is little to no nutritional value, it’s extremely filling, meaning that although people may not always be getting the nutrients they need, they’re still full.
The fact that you get to eat with your hands probably plays a role in my fondness for nshima, but it is actually really good. You roll a small piece of it into a ball, make a dent in it and use it to eat relish (vegetables with meat, fish or beans).
Also it turns out that in Zambia I’m not nearly as committed to vegetarianism as I am in Canada. Having been a vegetarian since I was 16 (apart from a year-long relapse) this change kind of makes me hate myself. But I didn’t just leave my morals in Canada; there were a few things that caused me to cave. Firstly, meat is constantly being offered here and turning down food is incredibly disrespectful. Secondly, the reasons I refrain from eating meat in Canada (mainly environmental) don’t have a great deal of relevance in Zambia. So rather than disrespect or have a conversation about vegetarianism that will never translate, I’ve decided to just eat it when offered.

I’m constantly dirty and everyone else looks incredible:
Zambia is unbelievably dusty and I’m constantly caked in reddish brown earth. I don’t even need to leave my apartment to get dirty; I somehow manage to make it happen inside, too. This wouldn’t be an issue except that EVERYONE else looks immaculate. I don’t understand how but I seem to be the only person in this country that can’t wear white. At this point, going a full workday without getting dirt on my clothes feels like an ACTUAL accomplishment. This also means that I wash my feet about 3 times a day because I’m trying to trick everyone into thinking that I, too, am a clean adult.

There is nothing better than climbing into a bed net at night:
Climbing into a bug net every night (post-foot wash, obviously) is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s shockingly comforting and I seriously think it sends a signal to my brain that it’s time to go to sleep. However, there is nothing more terrifying than laying in your bed net and hearing a mosquito because it turns out its VERY difficult to tell which side of the net it’s on. And honestly if it’s on the inside of the net it’s basically impossible to get it out and I’m probably going to sleep with a mosquito that night. On a similar note, I’ve learned the hard way that I really don’t love moths but thankfully they’re always on the outside of my bug net.

Zambians are the nicest people alive:
Zambians are without a doubt the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. If you mention that you like mangoes, there are mangoes waiting for you at work the next day. Everyone says “hi” when passing each other on the street. Everyone wants to bring you to their church, have you over for dinner, or take you to see something new. The closest I’ve come to experiencing culture shock has been adjusting to how kind everyone is; it’s honestly jarring sometimes.

I went to a Pentecostal church:
Everyone’s second question, after “are you married?”, is “what church do you go to?” People are a looooot more open about religion here than in Canada and the first few times this happened I was so thrown off I think I just made something up. However, I’ve quickly realized that “I don’t really go to church in Canada but I’m excited to go while I’m here” is the best response; thankfully it’s worked well so far. Church is an extremely important part of the social life here and people are quick to invite you to theirs. Our incredible coworker generously invited us to her church this past Sunday and as a pretty diehard atheist I was hesitant. Honestly, I’m not even confident I could hold my own in a Canadian church, so the idea of going to a Pentecostal church in Zambia was intimidating to say the least. Adding to the pressure, President Lungu declared Sunday October 18th a day of prayer and fasting for the nation, seeking divine intervention in the economic crisis that Zambia is currently facing. However, it was incredibly kind of our coworker to open up such a private part of her life with us and I really enjoy hanging out with her, so despite my overwhelming incompetence, we decided to go. And I’m so happy we did because it was a pretty incredible experience. It was really interesting to see – there was sooooo much singing and dancing. There was also quite a lot of talk about politics (which I obviously loved) but I attribute that to the fact that their prayers had a specific goal this Sunday. I’m definitely happy that I decided to go, even if I didn’t necessarily know what anyone was talking about. Never in my life did I think I’d be making plans to go to church but we’ve already been invited back this weekend.

Water:
I actually considered myself to be pretty conscious of the way I use water in Canada. But I have never been more aware of my water use and consumption than right now. Since the water coming out of the taps will upset our stomachs we buy drinking water at the supermarket in 5-10L jugs. The water for everything else (bathing, washing dishes, flushing the toilet, washing clothes, cleaning the house, etc.) comes out of the taps…at certain times throughout the day. Is there a schedule? Absolutely. Will I ever understand it? Not a chance. As soon as I think I’ve finallllly grasped the schedule, the water goes off at 6:00am and I’m totally lost all over again. The solution to this is buckets…so so so many buckets. It seems important to note that most people in Zambia also drink the tap water, meaning they have to draw enough water for drinking. So far, this has actually been a surprisingly easy adjustment to make (because we have the resources to make it easier) but it is a massive reality check. I have never once turned on a tap in my house in Canada and not had water come spilling out of it; by comparison most of the time when I turn on the tap here it’s dry.

This Sunday marks the end of my first month in Zambia and I can’t believe how quickly time is moving. I’ve already met some of the most interesting and people and learned more than I could have ever imagined. And maaaaybbbeeee I’ll be able to make nshima successfully by the end of next month (big maybe).

Welcome to Zambia

As I write this I’m sitting in my new living room, freshly bucket-showered, watching a moth frantically circle the light bulb…and I could not be more content. My introduction into Zambia was a chaotic one – two full days of flying ended in the loss of my bag and a lot of sleep-deprived sweating. However, driving into Lusaka was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of my adult life.

Okay but whhhhhhy am I in Zambia? Despite what everyone seems to think, I’m not peace corp or a missionary. I’m here on behalf of VIDEA, an incredible Victoria, BC based International Development organization. After reading the initial offer about 300 times, I realized that I was fortunate enough to be accepted into VIDEA’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP), which is funded by the Department of Foreign Aid, Trade, and Development. This meant that in a few short (very short) months, I was headed to Chipata, Zambia where I would be the Youth Program Officer at the YWCA.

The time between the offer and orientation absolutely flew by as I tried to prepare (but honestly HOW do you prepare for something like this) and before I knew it I was in Victoria, BC meeting my fellow interns; 6 going to Tanzania, myself and one other headed to Zambia. On September 24, after finishing our two-week orientation, we were off to our new home for the next 6 months.

The first 5 days were spent in Lusaka with some of the other VIDEA interns, from the International Aboriginal Youth Internship Program, and their amazing coordinator. Lusaka is slightly overwhelming, and I’m not sure how we would have fared without their warm welcome – especially considering my MIA luggage. On September 30th we made the long (read: dusty, sweaty, bumpy) trek to Chipata in Eastern province, Zambia. It was undoubtedly the most beautiful drive of my entire life – complete with mountains and a sunset.

Chipata is a small, beautiful, and surprisingly busy town that shares a border with Malawi. Despite it’s size Chipata has everything you could possibly need and almost everything seems to be within walking distance of my new abode. Our apartment has two bedrooms, which was a welcome surprise considering Teagan and I were prepared to share one for the next 6 months. We are also lucky enough (seriously really very fortunate) to be on the same power grid as both the hospital and the minister meaning we haven’t been effected by the load shedding as severely as the rest of Chipata. Load shedding, which has been effecting most of Zambia, is a way to regulate low levels of electricity. The power is turned off for long periods daily in order to prevent a total blackout. With a lack of electricity comes a lack of water – this we have been subject to. It seems important to note that for us this is a veeeery minor inconvenience with a 6-month time stamp but for the rest of Zambia it’s an ongoing reality. Although there was a bit of a learning curve we’ve figured out how to collect and ration water (the key is having A LOT of buckets) and bucket showers have quickly become my best friend.

Getting to be a part of two organizations, VIDEA and the YWCA, which take a human rights based approach to development is an absolute dream come true. For someone who has always been interested in human rights, and the gender-based obstacles to achieving these rights, I could not be more thankful for this internship. And I get to live in Zambia for 6 months! My initial impression of Zambia is that it is absolutely beautiful and home to THE kindest people in the entire world. Everyone we meet wants to have us over for dinner, take us to church, show us around, or teach us how to speak Nyanja and make nshima.

I honestly still can’t believe I’m here, sometimes I walk down the street and have a “oh wow I’m in Zambia” moment…maybe it’ll hit me by January.