Thursday, December 9, 2010

Circuit Breakers

Power and internet are 2 hot commodities in Zambia. The office eats away at our internet bandwidth, our house looses power, and the hot water heater seems to switch our stove’s capacity on and off every time we try to take a shower. The electronics of our house are mediocre and a maze that I cannot decipher nor wish to decipher. Our electrician, Joe, is a regular in our house and all in all I have suddenly become thankful that a fully equipped kitchen exists in our office that is 10 steps behind the house.

I don’t mind living without power. But thanksgiving without power just doesn’t exist. As a house we had to celebrate Thanksgiving a little bit delayed- so many of us were out of town that we invented a new holiday: Thankshanukaismas, and I must say that its inaugural run was stunning. The photos below demonstrate the culinary expertise that was only made possible by the GRS office across the way.

On December 5th, 2010 at around 3:00pm I began roasting my first 3 chickens ever. With a spirit inspired by Julia Childs I buttered my hands and smeared the chicken with herb butter. If there is anything that I have learned from watching my mom and grandparents cook it is that there is never enough butter! So into the oven my rosemary and lemon chicken went. Out it popped 3 hours later and it was EDIBLE!

At 8:30 pm we delved into our meal. The delectable menu included: Sausage stuffing, rosemary and lemon chicken, chicken mac and cheese, cheesy potatoes, green bean salad,cranberry sauce, pecan pie, pumpkin pie (took a little bit of a spill but thanks to some expert salvaging skills by max and alice), and a jewish noodle dish. It was wonderful, peaceful, delicious, and the perfect holiday. Just us, the zamfam, and a whole lot of food. Life here sure is sweet.

What I did not mention is that the entirety of this meal was cooked from the GRS office. Our stove burnt out mid day, accompanied with a few sparks from the circuit breaker. Our power has been spotty since then, getting fixed a little bit each day…pieces to the electrical puzzle are difficult to find and require a city wide scavenger hunt. But we are getting there and in the mean time we light the Hanukah candles each night and I almost have the prayer down. Our make shift menorah has caught on fire twice. Last night was most eventful- we decided we might need to invest in a fire extinguisher, although there is enough rain to keep our house damp for at least 3 months.

Happy Holidays to all those reading. I hope they are most restful and fire free.

Making debuts and exits: scams and the last VCT of the year

Rainy season, season of rain. I never really understood the meaning of having it rain all day. I am used to the cloud bursts in the desert that is New Mexico and the constant cold and sleet of Ohio. The closest thing to rain all day is a cloudy day all day. But here in Zambia there is not just a rainy day, but a whole season designated to the rains. Rains that pour, drizzle, blow sideways, sting, flood, and are in every way dynamic and life giving. Colors pop against the grey sky and the trajectory of the day gets lost in the hue. I arrive at work and leave work against the same background. For 2 days now the rains have not subsided. A constant clank on the tin roof is a constant ensemble that accompanies us as we are emailing final reports, coordinating our holiday trips, and finalizing plans for the upcoming GRS year.

This past week has been an eclectic accumulation of holiday celebrations and final events, creating closure, reflection, and new beginnings. Last Wednesday, December 1st, marked the beginning on Hanukah. Lovely latkahs and vino were shared in good company. Saturday was a day to remember with the final UNHCR VCT Challenge Day occurring in Kanyama, one of the more destitute and dodgy compounds around Lusaka. The day was typical. Kids crowded the ground and an traditional Christmas football tournament was occurring at the grounds. What wasn’t typical was the thunderstorm that disturbed the end of the event leaving us paralyzed for about an hour and a half. One of the scarier storms that I have ever been caught in, the rain blew sideways and broke the tent that we were under. Memories of playing in the rain came flooding back to me and I, along with many others, made a mad and hilarious dash for the classrooms, arriving a tint of brown mud. I just looked like a wet dog. Note to self, don’t mess with the rainy season in Zambia.

Post event, it was time to prep for Thanksgiving. Off to Shoprite, one of the supermarkets, at Manda Hill (the mzungu mecca of Lusaka, a mall) to purchase a turkey. No luck on the turkey but one very important event did occur. Max, Lena, and myself all went together and as we were backing out of our parking spot, post shopping, a gentleman slammed into the back of the car. He actually was a complete idiot and a terrible con artist. I wasn’t driving but was in the back seat turned around as we were backing out. I witnessed this man slam his hands against the back of the car and kneel to the ground with a painful look in his eye saying, “owwww, you ran over my foot.” First off your whole body including your hands wouldn’t hit the car if we ran over your foot. Second, you would not have been behind the car but rather to the side of the car where the wheel is. Next a random gentleman ran up to the passenger’s window of our vehicle saying that we needed to go to the police and then the hospital. Max got out of the car to discuss the happenings with the victim. And the man at the window suddenly changed his story from needing to go to the police and the hospital to needing to go to their “family clinic/doctor.” Do I smell a scam? At the end of it all we left. The man with the run over toe refused to show us his foot, and we refused to entertain any more notions that we ran over the wannabe con artists foot.

In conclusion, the rainy season is here and I survived my first Zambian scam.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 1, 2010: World AIDS Day ( A W.A.D. Hiaku) and Jewish Holidays

Red Ribbons Flapping.

Testing Today for Status.

Positive Freedom.

Can you guess what all these artists have in common?

Neil Diamond

Billy Joel

Simon and Garfunkel

Barbara Streisand


Beasite Boys


You know that your internet is out when you begin calling Canada to figure out what musical artists are Jewish so that you can have an appropriate playlist to the first night of Chaunuka (one of the 5 ways to spell the holiday).

In celebration of our abundance of oil and potatoes, Max created a make shift menorah (which we have now coined the submarine), and we made latkahs to celebrate. With a few friends, some boxed wine, and a killer soundtrack we ate, we drank, we lit the menorah, and celebrated the first night of Chanukah.

Lightning Strikes.

This past week I completed my final trip to Meheba. The settlement camp that has been more of a home to me in the month of November than Lusaka; competing a series of three weeks away from Lusaka we darted outta here early on Wednesday morning in my second home, the bus.

The ride was smooth. Pretty typical, began with a toast at 7:00am to our final trip for 2010, and potentially forever since the politics of the Zambian government and UNHCR still have us on the “No fund” list for next year. “Wasu” (emphasis on the ‘s’) is what we toasted to, as it has undoubtedly become the anthem that reverberates throughout and after ever action done at the camps. “Wasu,” which I am sure I am spelling incorrectly, doesn’t translate well into English. It is something along the lines of “ours” but it is more than just meaning “ours” it means that it is part of something bigger, part of us, part of some un-tangible sentiment, it’s “ours,” whatever we want that to be.

Mike and Marissa (2 other interns) came along on this trip and it was nice to share the experience with a few other folks coming from a similar upbringing, although this was by far the most luxurious trip to the camps that I have had. We lodged in the UNHCR guest house that not only had a TV with cable, but running water, a toilet, and a Congolese cook named Clementine. Clementine spent the week speaking to me in French and teaching me words I didn’t know. She even taught me how to stir the pot of nshima, a feat which I do not take lightly. For whatever reason her and I had a bond, a bond of understanding that surpassed the little bit of language that we shared. She was/is a crusader and I guess I admire that spark in her.

Speaking of sparks…Meheba is about 2 hours from the Angolan boarder and perhaps about 3 and a half hours from the Congo’s boarder, meaning that all of the moisture from the low lying rainforests that they have gathers into extreme cloud formations saturated with a down pour. Each day, except for Saturday, we would look up and see ominous black clouds rolling in and rush for cover. The first day Marissa and I ambitiously took a jog, and somehow timed it perfectly to set foot on our porch just as the rains came down. Water flooded everything in sight and afterwards, drifted off somewhere. The second day, Friday, after hours of reading and signing graduation certificates, another down pour; more monstrous than the first thunder rang throughout the grey sky. Again, sitting on the porch stirring nshima, lightning hit a tree not 20 feet from where we were sitting. I jumped about 5 feet up in the air, darted into the house, all of my hair standing on end, and once I realized what I had done I dashed back outside to see the tree- pine needles were falling from the branch that it struck and you could see a mark where the lightning has hit. Poor tree.

Thanksgiving was rather uneventful. Kapenta, cabbage, and nshima were our feast but the strangest thing occurred on that evening. Mike, Marissa, and I managed to find the Patriots-Lions game. Funny how in a refugee camp with no resources (literally until Saturday when Laz went to Solwezi, an hour away, we couldn’t find a chicken to buy) you can find a television hooked up to such sophisticated cable that you can get American Football. Food for thought. It was an evening that teleported us to the States for a few hours.

Saturday we had an awards ceremony paired with the graduation of all of the GRS youth. It was chaotic and touching. Giving kids trophies and medals is something that will never get old to me. We had a final evaluation meeting that was eye-opening and hard to sit through, simply because I knew at the end that we had to tell them that we weren’t coming back. I am still struggling with saying good-bye and just the entire situation.

Post meeting we fed about 900+ people out of a sauna of a room with women who stirred pots of nshima that were bigger than our kitchen stove. I tried to stir the pot and could only last about 2 strokes. Feeding people here in Zambia is always something that tries my nerves. Lines never exist and no matter how many times you tell people that there is enough to feed everyone, they insist that they should be first. It is a raw occurrence of humanity struggling for something. It is one of the few times that I find myself frustrated and a hint of pure anger begins to surface. Language barrier never helps. But we fed everyone and got everyone, including ourselves, home on a positive note.

I will miss the open spaces, mud huts, bathing out of a bucket, being followed as I run, and the waves of all our coaches- the one pure sign of commrodery.

Running in packs.

For the past three months I have been traveling to and from Meheba…but this past week I got to go to the other refugee camp that we work in Mayukwayukaw (please say that 10 times fast). Mayukwayukwa is beautiful. Green with a river running through it. Mayukwayukwa is located in the western province- about 7 hours away from Lusaka. The most exciting part of the drive is a 2 hour stint through Kafwe National Park, on the way there we briefly saw an impala basking in the shade of a tree, and on the way home we saw two mangy foxes. More grey than red they looked like miniature coyotes, sleek and sly. It was so nice to see nature, trees that spiral, and the bush for miles or I guess I should say kilometers. A feeling of isolation yet complete calm overwhelmed me.

I tagged along on the trip to Mayukwayukwa. It is officially the last trip in this project to be made to the camps and a hushed sorrow hovered over the trip. When you know you are leaving, perspective colors events in a sentimental manner. Almost like a movie in slow motion. I felt like a soundtrack was playing all week long, with meaningful tracks that were touching and celebratory all at the same time. On Friday we graduated youth from all over the camp (significantly smaller than Meheba). Two coaches, Dominic and Beauty, graduated about 30 kids from a Basic School in a formal ceremony underneath an immense, central tree in the school yard. Songs were sung and poems recited. “Don’t forget about your youth.” “Prevention is better than a cure.” Voices ringing out. Powerful voices of youth. And a touching speech from the Head Teacher requesting GRS’ continued presence. How do you accept that request with grace and at the same time feel a deep sense of shame for knowing that you are abandoning the community?

In reality the termination of this project is purely political. The Zambian government is poor and caught up in the politics of an election year. They cannot afford to sustain the refugees that have arrived from Angola, Congo, a few from Rwanda and Burundi. But they cannot force them to leave. Stuck in a stalemate. It is an impossible situation…

On the last day there we had an awards ceremony for the Football and Netball Leagues. Handing out trophies and receiving medals is not something unfamiliar in my life. But to these kids the table adored with footballs, boots, sneakers, and netballs was epic and unparalleled. All teeth, faces proudly accepted medals from the Refugee Officer and the entire Lusaka based staff in a rapid ceremony that barely outran the rain.

The trip ended with a bittersweet evaluation meeting and a feast. Max and I took a run in the evening- a run that turned into a pack of 8 to 10 year old children awkwardly ran behind us for about 10 minutes. Some panting heavily, some trying to make of the way we spoke English, and others simply along for the ride. Who knows what they expected us to do, unfortunately I do not think that we were as entertaining as they anticipated, but they ran along with us. The pack.

What I failed to mention is that Lazarous, our Programme Coordinator, brought along his family. His wife Daisy is sweet and a strong mother. Dalisol, a four year old, who is shy but very observant. And baby Lazi, 6 months old, with a smile that will make you melt and wish you were as happy as him all the time.

It seems the refugees are abstaining or probably using condoms.

Location: Meheba Refugee Settlement, Zambia

Event: 3rd VCT Skillz Tournament

Date: November 13th, 2010 from 0700 till 1500

A VCT Tournament, but not just any VCT Tournament, the 3rd in a long line of success stories of chaos turned solace turned unparalleled testing numbers. My first VCT Tournament!!! An event that pairs a football, and in this case netball, tournament with a full day of testing, how sweet two of my favorite things in the world…prevention and football.

Eight netball and eight football teams qualified to participate in the tournament based on the current league standings as of the first week in November. They arrived late on Friday evening to eat their starches (nshima) and to prepare for a the competitive day ahead of them. All of the participants lodged in the Meheba F Basic School for the evening. Some of them arrived very late, midnight in fact, long after I had put myself to bed in anticipation of my 5 a.m. wake up call. This is simply testament to the nightmare that is transport in Meheba. The camp is split up into 8 zones, ranging from letter A to letter H. I often feel like I am in a sesame street episode when I am trying to figure out where people and vehicles are coming from…brought to you by the letter C. Traveling to and from Zones is complicated due to the distance. Bicycles help but to travel from one end of the camp to the other hours must be spent in a vehicle- 2 and a half hours…and that is just the main road that gives you access to Zone A, B,C, D, and H. Never mind getting to Zone E, F, or G. Zone F was the site of our tournament…off the beaten track and it took a canter many hours and trips to bring 216 youth to spend the night so that they could start their games at 0800 the next morning.

Giggles were the sounds of the evening and cheers were the sounds of the morning. Supporters of their teams began arriving about an hour after all of the set-up had been finalized for the morning. Testing counselors arrived fashionably late and were met by lines of 20 to 30 people promptly ready to test (or were they there to get the chitenge and sugar that were given upon testing? This was a question I found myself asking throughout the day and am still pondering…). Testing began briefly after the start of the first rounds of games.

I spent the morning delivering packages of sugar to those counselors that had tested 30 people and given away all of their sugar, answering questions, refusing to give people my t-shirt, encouraging people to test, checking-in on the amazing volunteers that executed crowd control like I have never seen before. Before I knew what to do with myself it was lunch time. I enviously gazed over to the football pitch and saw tons of little kids swarm the field after a team scored. Two days before, while deep in the thick of preparing for the tournament I braved the masses and decided to play a bit of football with the Zambians. Did ok- 2 assists and a million laughs as I ran up and down the field…but it was an experience to play on a pitch with people playing in bare feet, thick socks, sole-less shoes, and cleats.

As the day slowed around 4:00 I cleaned up the cotton and methylated spirits that were left over and finally made my way over to the field. Zambian music was bumping and celebrations had begun for the wining teams. A successful day.

All in all 1,087 people tested. That is a lot of people. A day to remember.


It feels like a dirty word- “Sensitization.” A negative, dirty word that rings in your ear for a bit after it is mentioned. I have an internal irk when it is used casually in the context of advertisement. Our coaches and my programme coordinators use the term when we discuss informing the public about events that we are having. In reality calling advertisement “sensitization” isn’t a dirty word; it is honest, to the point, and awkward.

As awkward for me as it is, sensitization is an integral part of what we do at Grassroot Soccer. GRS runs ten sessions of our curriculum in schools, with community groups, and any grouping of youth that seems willing and able to commit ten hours of their time. Ten sessions that aim to educate youth about HIV and AIDS and engage them in discussions. Sensitive subjects; thus the sensitization.

As I have mentioned before I work on a project that is funded by the UNHCR and which predominately works with refugees. There are about 15,000 urban refugees in Zambia and since there are few urban areas outside of Lusaka most refugees are concentrated within the city limits. The city’s limits are a fluid notion with the city stretching out instead of up and houses being filled like cans of sardines. Numbers are inaccurate but in a big 2010 push the government of Zambia is holding a census. I was counted in that census, hopefully contributing to something positive in the overall make-up, budget, or strategic planning of the city and of greater Zambia. But, in all honesty, my role is not that big in the scope of Zambia nor in the scope of Grassroot Soccer. For Grassroot Soccer this week I was darting around the field checking in on our coaches and learning how to drive the hap hazardous boulder fields that are John Lang’s roads.

John Lang is a compound along the outskirts of the city and is one of the most populated and desolate feeling places that I have been. A group of our coaches are implementing GRS’ curriculum at a community school (different from a government school in that many of the kids cannot afford uniforms) within the compound. Packed in a cinderblock classroom with a hole punched out for a window…kids learn. They learn mathematics and notebooks peppered with notes on Buddhism and other world religions provide insight for these kids. Their escape is after school, when GRS activities kick in and they become the center of the universe in the compound.

They start their activities- today it was team handball- and suddenly a swarm of kids form a perimeter that is un-passable unless you happen to be the token anomaly, a mzungu (remember this means white person). Beautiful faces. Hopeful smiles. Torn clothes. And dirty feet. What a scene. I feel privileged to see it and moved by its rawness- of those 15,000 urban refugees only approximately 5,000 of them are documented. How many of these children live in hiding? How many of them have lost parents? I don’t know the answers and I don’t need to know the answers, just need to be reminded that supporting our coaches means supporting the smiles on those faces and the notes in those notebooks, and hopefully an HIV free life.

Please keep reading....

I apologize for the outdatedness of these posts but let these photos act as a teaser, a reason to continue reading and figure out what they are from…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stars upon thars

Marissa, me, Max at the Lake o' Stars/ Marissa and me on the beach

Perhaps water is my element. This past week traveling to the Lake of Stars Music Festival, just outside of Mangochi, Malawi proved to me the sanity that water and mountains brings to my life. Exiting Lusaka on thursday we precariously made our way to the boarder of Zambia and Malawi on a windy bus ride that lead through the African bush. Mud huts with thatch roofs speckled the tarmac and the 5 min rests were some of the most relieving of my life.

Our haphazardous crew of Grassroot Soccer characters and new friends successfully arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi on Thursday evening with fake Malawian Kwatcha in hand (many of us exchanged money at the border attempting to receive a better exchange rate, only to find that the oversized cash received was predominately counterfeit- an adventure in the making). Running on little sleep, fried food, and bundles of anticipatory energy we powered through the following day of travel to reach the shored of Lake Malawi.

We were greeted by a sandy beach, palm trees, and a campsite filled with festival goers from around the world. The Lake of Stars festival is sponsored by an organization based out of the UK they pair UK artists with local Malawian and African artists as a way to support Malawian tourism and to disseminate inspiring music to those in attendance. Sleeping and swimming by day, dancing, singing, and clapping by night we spent three days soaking in the sun, water, and of course appreciating the brilliance of the stars- both in the sky and up on stage.

Some highlights:
Watching Oliver , dancing in bare feet every night, watching the Noisettes perform acoustically, sleeping under the stars, Tenache, chicken curry, not looking at my watch for 3 days, enjoying the silence of the water and the freedom of listening to music on a beach.

broken camera.

All in all, Malawi is a gorgeous country with dramatic mountain villages that seem superficially romantic and tangibly isolated. The lake was a solace with a cooling effect; and the music acted as its quintessential partner providing the perfect soundtrack to the break we all needed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Helen from Kalikiliki.

Saturday was filled with another VCT Challenge Day in the compound of Kalikiliki. Sounds like the name of an exotic island, right?! Indeed for the day it felt like an island. Insanely hot and dusty we awoke bright and early; a day of 37 degree Celsius (100 degrees) and over 800 meat pies awaited us. We successfully pulled off the event. People set-up, tested, danced (duh), and ate, amazingly enough. Here is one brief snapshot from the day:

Helen, a sturdy woman from Kalikiliki lost her husband 2 and a half years ago. He died of a “sickness.” She approached me confidently, her English choppy and expressive. “I am nervous to get tested. I don’t have a boyfriend.” An onslaught of neurons firing peppered my brain but the most overwhelming was that of pure excitement- this woman wanted to be tested and was asking for a stepping stone; someone to show a glimmer of hope, confidence, and I think above else, approval. I asked her if she’d like me to walk with her to one of our testing partners, Marie Stopes, and she accepted my offer. We moseyed over, her baby on her back and her 3 others close behind. I left her there, per her request. Twenty minutes before the event ended she found me, caught up in the logistical chaos of clean-up and proclaimed her status, negative. The same status blanketed the whole family- safe, confident, and empowered.

Helen is why I will happily work Saturday events for the next 6 weeks. Helen is proof as to why why Grassroot Soccer needs to exist. Helen is one more woman who knows her status and who set an inspiring example for her children. Helen is...remarkable and I will eternally be proud of her.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Twin Palms- the road home

Tonight I am spending my first night under a mosquito net. Half of me feels claustrophobic, a quarter of me feels poetic, and in reality I feel (yes, feel) like I can relate to animals in the zoo. Stuck inside a box, confined and baffled. How does such a tiny bug make for all this hullabaloo? As I was draping it around my bed, finding that not all the corners tuck in just right, trying to anticipate the late night hemophiliacs strategy at getting to me, I find myself chuckling at my insistent personification of a mosquito. Like the poor thing is out to get me...most likely he isn't and in the chance that he is I have a mosquito net covering me and a bright blue malaria pill to take at 8 am tomorrow morning that should render my being safe for now.

October is HOT but beautiful. I live on a road called Twin Palms road. Apparently our side of the road was just paved. About a week ago I walked out the gate to find that the paved road had recently received dotted lines. Stunning for a country with few traffic laws. Dotted lines were being speckled up an down the road by men dabbing bits of paint in a sequential order based on the chord that was laid out perfectly. Anyway back to the road. At Twin Palms genesis there is a sharp and blind curve, one that I relish and habitually make racing sounds as I pass through it. As you continue on the road, I am distracted by the beauty. Red, purple, orange, pink, green, and an occasional yellow paint the road and distract from it. Instant serenity and imagination take hold of me for the 3 minutes or so that I coast down Twin Palms. It is by far my favorite road in Lusaka so far. It is mysterious, with houses fenced in with no sign of their stature apart from the vines and flowers that overhand the walls and say "screw you" to the broken glass and barbed wire that keeps those out and those in. Nature at its best, refusing to be limited.

Off to sleep- Kamba says goodnight as she twitches next to my bed. Tonight she is granted the rare occasion of sleeping inside. Peace.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mosi-oa-tunya. The Smoke that Thunders.

On Saturday morning I woke up, packed my backpack and walked out the front gate into my friend Jamie’s car, a red Toyota that would take Max, Jamie, Brandon, and I on an adventure to Victoria Falls. Partnered by an impromptu playlist we drove out of Lusaka and said good-bye at a bright 0730 in the morning. Sang a little Lion King and focused hard on the road ahead because one battle with a pot hole would have left us deserted, hitchhiking back to the closest town, a true African Adventure. All in all we arrived in Livingstone in one piece, checked into a serene hostel, grabbed some food and headed out towards the falls. As you approach the falls from the footpath you can hear them, feel the humidity increase, and sense a mighty force. Currently the dry season is upon us and the geology of the falls is what baffles the eye rather than the influx of water. Little waterfalls descend rapidly from a cliff and create a mist of rainbows and “smoke” that then fades into a raging river. It’s glorious and powerful- erosion at its best. I could have spent all day just looking at the falls, taking photos that hardly match the picture in my head.

We headed back into Livingstone to cool down and relax before hitting up the Royal Livingstone, very royal indeed, for drinks and the sun set. The Royal Livingstone is one of those places that seems timeless and like a timewarp all at the same time. You feel clean and sophisticated when you walk in and I found myself sitting up straight and drinking a drink with Brandy in it (hahaha, when in Africa). Sunset was red as always, but had a coolness to it because of the river-the Zambezi-speckled with flocks of birds overhead, that looked more like swarms, and a hippo breaching in the water. It’s odd to see the animals from the zoo in the wild- they seem tame and it is easy to misjudge their veracity. Baboons lurked on the path we took the next day down to the boiling point- where the falls cauldron themselves into the Zambezi- lots of swimming, watching rafters flip, good times. We hiked along the top of the falls that afternoon, looked over the edge, and more swimming. The water was perfect. After a day in the sun we drove home to Lusaka. A stunning 48 hours.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The virgin VCT

Days and weeks fly by here. They pass so quickly I hardly find chance to process, pause, and breathe them in. There is an awful lot to breath in. Good and bad, carcinogenic and organic, familiar and foreign. I wanted to put the days events down before they escape their raw, fresh, and under-processed purity. Today was a day that can only be characterized by dirt, dance, and over 300 people tested for HIV- a complete success and pure sense of pride for those who organized the event.

Let me just explain what a VCT event is. GRS has created an event that centers around getting people excited about testing for HIV and then actually having them do it and be supported in doing it. In conjunction with providing free, mahala, HIV testing our partners provide family guidance counseling, information on male circumcision, and birth control services to all those that attend. The focus is on providing holistic care to those who seek it, and for GRS getting the youth tested, educated, and treated if deemed necessary. On top of all the noise associated with testing we provide entertainment, activities, and music to all those in attendance. A mad house of smiles, curiosity, greed, generosity, and humility encompass the event and showed me some moments of pure humanity.

Smiles. Hundreds of children came rushing into the event and traveled in a swarm to and from every direction. A rumor would fizzle through the crowd and they would be off. Jumping onto a moving vehicle, surrounding a mzungu (white person) who had a red ribbon that they wanted, mobbing the celebrity, a tv star from a local Zambian soap opera, or fighting-literally fighting- to be part of the circle that would play host to the next GRS activity all were premised by a blob of children ebbing and flowing to the said location-a chaotic norm. I was so surprised to find how quickly children are willing to sit down next to a complete stranger, how they stare at that which is different (namely me), and how no matter if they are falling down, singing, fighting, yelling, dancing, or giving some one a hug throughout the day they were smiling. Smiles that radiate and remind you of something, something different every time but something human and vital. There were points throughout the day where I thought that the mob could erupt into a violent and uncontrollable mess, but it never did. There is order, I just don't quite understand it yet.

Curiosity. We arrived at our site, the Kizito Basic School in George Compound, a few hours late and began setting up. From my initial steps out of the car and onto the school grounds I was aware of how many people were "watching" me all day long. I know I stand out, purely for the color of my skin, but I always just assumed that all me and my skin warranted was a quick glance and comment and then I would fade into an afterthought. How wrong was I, this was absolutely not the case here. Children followed me around all day. I would pause to ask a coach a logistical question and a school of children would quickly form a circle around us and simply stare and watch. It must be like waiting for water to boil, waiting for a mzungu to do something. Honestly I did nothing special today-I walked, I talked, I ate, I danced, and I got tested (I am negative by the way!!!!). Nevertheless anytime I took 2 seconds pause a crowd formed. At one point my hair became the object of desire and at least 50 little hands reached out to touch/grab/trample...I can't blame them for being curious, and I can't blame me for having to be harsh and say "no," but I have to reveal that the irony of their curiosity is that I think I am more curious about what they think I am going to do when they wait for me to do something.

Greed. I say "no" so many times a day I feel like I am a 2 year old trapped in a time-warp of the terrible twos. I was asked over 100 times today for my pen, my t-shirt, and my bracelet and I was not once offered anything for them or in return for them. A strange expectation, which has roots based in many issues and facts of life, that has made me more savvy and aware of how to handle an intense desire for everything I have. Learning to say "NO!" I don't like saying no, and I immediately think that I am being insensitive and selfish but I've heeded quickly that you can't give to everyone and in that case you cannot give to anyone. Turning the question around and posing, "well, what are you going to give me?" has been the most effective phrase of my life. "No" doesn't allow anyone to think about what they are asking for, the question forces more than a "yes" or "no" response and holding your ground...well, that is priceless.

Generosity. I walked into a classroom today and found 2 groups of 10 or so boys huddled around a table with 2 of our GRS coaches. Maintaining my distance I aptly eavesdropped for a moment to find that these coaches had taken it upon themselves to seek out these boys, discuss girls, condoms, condom usage, abstinence, and male circumcision to them. Coaches organize the event, manage it, and orchestrate much of the flow and essence of the day but are not asked to counsel...these boys did and it was intense and surreal to see. It wasn't unexpected of them, but it also wasn't expected in this venue...I am daily floored by the passion and generosity, of themselves and their time, that these coaches give to their communities. Intimacy in a form that I will never give, nor should I, that I know lead many of these boys to think a bit harder about decisions they've made and will make.

Humility. I had to dance in front of a crowd, with a tv celebrity, all whilst wearing a scarf around my hip area and having children scamper up to put 50 and 100 kwatcha (the currency of Zambia) into my make-shift belt. Cultural relevance is very important here. My initial feeling was insane fear. I love to dance, but I like to dance best when everyone else is around me focusing on their dance moves and not mine. I also love to push my boundaries and so after a few minutes I let go a bit more and did a bit of solo dancing but then realized that I am in much need of practice. A woman from one of the women's groups that we work with offered to teach me how to dance- that is how bad I was, I think I embarrassed even her. The most awkward and humbling moment came when these children, whom have little came up and began giving me money. First off they were stuffing it into my belt and pockets and my first thought was, "huh, this must be what it feels like to be a stripper." and my second thought was, "this is a cultural norm, they are praising me with all that they have and I can't even dance!!!" I was confused and nervous, flattered and suspicious all at the same time and in the end I was just humbled. Humbled to have been given the honor of dancing with a celebrity, humbled to have been deemed worth of a few kwacha, and humbled enough to laugh at myself.

A successful day. Over 300 individuals were tested, multiple boys and men were referred to a clinic for circumcision, many women received birth control and I met a face that will stay with me eternally. Innocent is his name. We went to a school to recruit students to come during the past week and this boy was in one of the classes. Today he sought me out, thanked me for coming to his class, told me about his testing experience, told me about his family, opened his world to me...I am excited to see and hear what great things he does in his life. A big day, one that will now conclude in sleep.

Thank you again to all who have donated, literally you are all keeping me sane. Please share this blog and the GRS story with others. I will be fundraising throughout the year and love to talk about Zambia, GRS, and everything in between so please write if you have questions or just want to say hello. Much love from Lusaka. peace

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meheba; a ten hour bus ride to the bush

Pretty well rested and back from the bush for the second day in a row I am settling into life back in Lusaka. For the past week (Monday to Sunday) I was up North. Traveling through the Copper Belt and up to the Northern capital, Solowezi, I found myself removed from all the familiar and at 11:30 at night entering a refugee camp with a rickety bar for a gate- very official. My first trip to Meheba had begun. It should be coined the place of logistical nightmares, or the place where I successfully butchered my first chicken, or perhaps the place where the song "Hold ya" will forever play to a new tune in my head.

Meheba is a refugee camp in the northern part of the country. The project that I assist is funded by a grant from the UNHCR and allows GRS to implement its curriculum on two refugee camps. It is a privileged opportunity and a blessing that we are still able to maintain contacts and a commitment to the community up there. I have not witnessed a place more worthy of the cause and the education that GRS provides. In Lusaka you find that schools, community centers, religious centers, the media, and the government are far more educated, open, and have accurate information about HIV/AIDS and all of the research, knowledge, and prevention surrounding the epidemic. In Meheba the myths are alive and questions go unanswered with little outlet for response. While they hear news and some are up to speed via the radio and some internet access, most know bits and pieces and rely on imagination and others to fill in the gaps.

For three days I assisted in a Training of Coaches, as we call it here, where we mentored the coaches on subjects of praise, vital conversations, making personal connections, and of course dancing every hour or so. I remember my third day sitting in the room of about 26 or so coaches, all with roots in places like Angola, Congo, Rwanda, etc and feeling completely flabbergasted and humbled by the fact that I, no one special, was allowed and respected in this community. It is just so strange to me that a month and a little bit ago I didn't know any of this existed and I had no idea as to just how honored I would feel to be in the presence of people with epic, tragic, and very real stories to tell.

The settlement of Meheba is a settlement, it isn't the camp that you concoct when you imagine a refugee camp. There are not many tents, mainly houses made out of the bricks of the earth and a base layer of cement. There are thatch woven roofs and perhaps four independently running vehicles in the entire camp. The UN of course has vehicles but are extremely busy currently. The Zambian government runs and is highly present in the camp of Meheba and recently the government has been under a push to repatriate refugees in certain settlements and those that do not wish to repatriate are being moved to Meheba. Thus the settlement grows and the vehicles are occupied. So we road around, when they showed up, in the back of many flat bed trucks, on the bumpiest "roads" that I have ever been on. I think I have more bruises on my butt than any other part of my body-but well worth the adventure to see the camp.

It is a rural camp, lots of trees, reeds, a few streams, and chickens and goats running around everywhere. Even Guinea Hens...! I cannot escape them. So on our last night in Meheba one of our coaches gifted us a chicken- a village chicken, a very distinct difference-and I was the one to cut its neck. A strange moment, met with many gitters but I feel accomplished. And they really do twitch, even after the head has been severed. I ate the gizzards and the liver, dressed it, cooked it, ate it, felt like I should have blessed was a memory none the less.

As for now I am home again, back in Lusaka. I have to say it was nice to come home to a familiar place and to familiar faces. All these people, Max, Marissa, Spaik, Zales, Tommy, Lena, and the office really are turning into my family and I have to admit I missed them all over the week. Getting back into office work now. I want to share a few more stories about the camp but will have to do so later as the post is getting a bit rambly.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

some attend graduations, others create them

I should begin by elaborating on the title. There is an advertising campaign in Lusaka for the phone company Zain. Billboards splatter the city with images of happy couples, families, events and all retain a similar phrase "Some [fill in the blank], others create [fill in the blank]." For example, "some fall in love, others create it." Therefore in honor of the one advertising campaign that has caught my eye as rather individualistic and something that I have spent a bit of time pondering my title reflects the power of catch-phrases. The graduation part might also seem a bit confusing...Grassroot Soccer has a curriculum of 10 different hour long sessions that they disseminate to youth ages 12-about 19. At the end of the curriculum we like to celebrate-aka dance a lot-the knowledge, skillz (our curriculum is called SkillZ so I now spell many s' with a z), and relationships that they have attained over the duration of the curriculum. Since I work with mainly refugee populations the event took place at the urban UNHCR site, Makeni.

Let's paint the scene shall we. A courtyard surrounded by 302 chairs set the stage for the graduation, a PA system played every popular Zambian song known to man (it's getting to the point where I am starting to learn the words of songs, or make them up), and off to the side we had our testing partners. The Elton John Aids Foundation recently gave GRS a huge grant to amp up our testing and Voluntary Counseling and Testing capacity. An amazing gift and an intense undertaking it has lead us to combine all events with a testing component. Children and their parents getting tested for the first time, dad's with their children coming up to me and asking for consent forms, people excited about knowing their HIV status. That is why I am here- to support knowledge and healing. It was chaotic and nothing, I mean nothing, went as planned but at the end of the day it all happened in a successful and positive manner. A quintessential learning process. It feels like a small accomplishment to have the first event of my time here past and I am curious to see, feel, and experience those to come.

Off to Meheba this morning, the refugee camp up north. Gearing up for a 10-12 hour ride. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

honeymoon is over

good morning!

Our dog has taken to barking non-stop from about 6:30 till whenever I get up in the morning and then the cat starts in- an ensemble that compels me to get out of bed early in the morning. I have to admit that I rather enjoy Lusaka early in the morning. The colors are cool until the sun reaches the right angle with a mass of yellow and red. Beautiful.

This morning I am having my first cup of coffee in some time. I resisted purchasing coffee because of the price but I think there are just some things in life that are routine and comforting-coffee being a big one for me. I've decided I'm never traveling anywhere without some sort of French Press ever again.

Zambia is still Zambia, spent the past week and beginning of this week in a workshop based on training coaches. I should probably explain a bit more about the curriculum (which everyone here pronounces culiculum-Zambians mix up there r's and l's in English and in Nianja). Basically Grassroot Soccer is a prevention program but what they have found is that youth are more inclined to change behavior based on a role-model or caring adults influence. Makes sense right? So the positive is that the knowledge and awareness about HIV is very high, myths still exist-there are billboards echoing the rumors that sleeping with a virgin will cure AIDS, and a child proclaiming that someone with AIDS has the power to bewitch you, but in general the communities are aware of the epidemic and it's relationship to sex. The things that they aren't as aware of are the cultural norms that promote HIVs spread. For example multiple concurrent partners and intergenerational sex. Older men with younger women and having more than one partner at the same time-fascinating stuff. So we have been trying to come up with a way to train our coaches as facilitators, leaders, role models. I love love love this stuff! The curriculum is just that, education and facilitation, seems simple but there is so much to it. More will come...don't want to bore you just yet.

We are getting ready for some big events, settling in, and I am getting to know everyone in my house and the workplace much much better. Incredible people who I will introduce you all to-perhaps in my next blog.

For now just busy learning the lay of the land, the terminology, and trying to find another little niche to use as a project. And learning Nianja- amazingly humorous language! Weather is warm...settling into the hot season, but evenings and nights are still cool. Stars are beautiful and I know none of them by name. Time for work this morning. Will chat soon. peace.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Who knew you could find Hatch Green Chile in Lusaka, Zambia?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the goodness and loveness

Broken English is wonderful and every day when I hear a Zambian say, "the goodness" I chuckle inside. To an extent it truly is an appropriate saying. The goodness in Zambia is seeing a bright red sun every evening around 7, getting used to the smell of petrol and burning trash, knowing how to get home even if you are driving on the left side of the road, and having a projector in your house to watch movies on. The loveness is watching all of us interns gather around our pup-kamba- when she got partially run over by a car. Happy to announce Kamba is fine, limbing and swollen, but surviving. The loveness is also learning all 17 coaches names and their sites, heading my first GRS meeting, and understanding every single acronym in a conversation.

A few notes from the past week. I started running around a bit and every step that I take turns my shoes a deeper and deeper red. I find it absolutely amazing that Zambians walk to work and arrive with so little dust on them. I have, however, heard a rumor that they carry shoe brushes with them. Perhaps I'll find out soon. I ate a chicken claw at a braai, tasted like chicken. Baked. On Saturday me and the girls in the house, Maxime, Marissa, and Lena, went to go see Jamaican artists Brick and Lace and as an intro to their African debut, Zambian artists opened. Incredibly entertaining, the whose who of Zambian Artists appeared and sang, or rapped, their hearts out. Let's just say that I am well versed in the genre of Zambian music. Sunday brought with it relaxing by the pool in the heat and a warmly welcomed Indian meal for dinner.

The week has been piled with visits to many of the sites where our programs take place. I was able to take an unexpected trip to the Tuesday market that immediately made my heart soar. It was a colorful mosaic of fruits and vegetables, not to mention the mamas who aptly sold the, literal, fruits of their labor in their decorative fabrics and wise smiles. It was a scene full of life and non-sequitor. Suits, people in business suits, shopping at a grungy market. I will end with a brief scene from the market.

I was on a mission to buy eggplant for a roommate, Max, and found a supply of eggplant priced at 3,000 kwacha, approximately 60 or so cents a kilo. I still have very little idea as to what a kilo looks like, except I weight 56kilos or at least that is what the scale in the kitchen says, and so I selected 3 eggplants. The mama asked me to hand it to her, balanced it in her rough hands and shook her head disapprovingly at me. Obviously I had no idea what a kilo looked or felt like. She quickly piles 4 more eggplant into the bag, hung it on the scale, showed me the scale reading one kilo exactly, and sent me on my merry way. Mission: learn what a kilo and half-kilo feel like.

peace to all.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

sun sets on first weeks

Every evening the sun sets around 6:30 or 7:00pm- eternally giving the illusion that I am up much later than I actually am. The sky lights up in a red and yellow haze, emphasizes the dust that inhabits the air, and the sun lights up like a ruby-red red red. It almost looks poisonous. It's life giving though. It is peaceful and wonderful to end the day with a brilliant send off that soon gives way to constellations of stars I have yet to recognize. No orion here, just the southern hemispheres fireflies, and NO light pollution.

Our house sits in a respectable neighborhood. To be honest with you it is difficult to tell what houses look like. Walls sprout up around ever residence, causing mystery and a sense of suspicion. But in reality it is self-defense that motivates the wall and I guess the blessing is that it provides a job for a lone security guard. I went for a run earlier this week down the road, took a few turns, and suddenly found myself in rural Africa. Goats and chickens pecking through burning trash- the eternal smell of Lusaka, combined with petrol- clothes hanging on lines, and a whole community bustling about. It was great to make my way through and back home.

Just a quick work up-date, I started in on a few projects this week. Organizing our coaches for home-visits. Grassroot Soccer just received a grant from the Elton John Aids Foundation that allows us to combine our educational curriculum with home-visits and thus consent for testing. It is an exciting opportunity with many logistics. I am preparing, as well, to head out to the refugee settlement camp of Meheba in a week, where I will be spending a week training, witnessing graduations from our program, and following up on the results that we are getting. I cannot wait to go!

For now that is all from Lusaka. Many more stories to tell, perhaps sometime soon. peace.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Birthdays in Zambia are the best ever because basically you just dance all night long. My birthday was simple and nonchalant until about 8:00 at night, or as they say here 20 hours. It began with a heavy dosage of shima, a tipical local meal of cornmeal cooked, balled up, and then dipped into sauces filled with vegetable, meat, etc. absolutely delicious and the best part is that you get to use your hands as utensils. hooray for finger food! Then the dancing I've mentioned before Zambians can dance, and when they dance all I can do is stare because my body has never nor will ever move in that way. So me, the white girl (muzungu), attempted to dance and had the time of my life. I hope that by the end of my stint here I will pick up a few dance moves.

So I had a wonderful birthday, still love Zambia, cannot believe that I am here, have the best group of interns around me I could ever ask for, and I start in on my first tasks on monday. Life is sweet.

Just to fill in the lines-I'm going to be focusing on working with the programme coordinators for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees project that Grassroot Soccer does. I'll be traveling once a month to a refugee settlement called Meheba in the northern part of the country. I will also be working with more urban refugees organizing the implementation of curriculum, helping train coaches in the improvements of the curriculum, and organizing the testing and counseling events that we host.

That is all for now- keep in touch everyone. much love.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Walking up to the yard the 10 year old is jammin' in the middle of the circle. Moving in ways that I only dream of moving in, I have entered a world of rhythm and fluidity to which I am not quite culturally sensitive. I am chosen to enter into the mix, moving rhythmically as best I can...all the kids laughing so hysterically that they can hardly continue singing the song. Luckily, I have no shame whatsoever, because if I don't get over my embarrassment today, it is going to be a very long year.

Basically, I love to dance and will never be as beautiful nor as slamming as these kids. Till next time. peace

mulibwangi- hello, how are you?

Day four. At first I thought that I would attempt to recount all the details and happenings of this place, Lusaka, Zambia, but I know that will not only prove to be boring but impossible. So here are a few tid bits from the past few days.

Kamba, which means speak in Nianja, is the Rotwieler/Labrador puppy that greeted us as we approached the house that I will be living in for the next year. Could not have asked for a better welcoming...she is so full of energy and for about two hours every morning she runs around and then crashes for about half an hour and is back at it. I'll share a picture later...I haven't had a chance to pull out the camera just yet.

Day one. Getting used to the office, the time zone, and the weather we ran around town visiting different schools and then Tommy, one of the past interns turned employee, decided that we were going to go pick up a cat...but on the way we picked up a few coaches that had just been circumcised, one of Tommy's personal projects. Just to clarify "coaches" or "peer educators" are the people that disseminate the HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum, personalized to GRS (Grassroot Soccer), to the kids in the communities. Anyway, this was my introduction picking up three boys in a fair amount of pain on the way to pick up a kitten...Welcome to ZAMBIA!!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

beginnings... August 3, 2010

The adventure has begun. Woke up too early yesterday morning to catch a plane to Boston, MA. It all seems very surreal. I am on my way to Africa, to Zambia to be exact to work for Grassroot Soccer (, check out the website if you haven't already). On my way... and starting a blog to track my successes, downfalls, learning experiences, and just life for the next year of my life.
So first things first, what in the world do you take to Zambia? Well after some advise from Grassroot Soccer, previous interns, and the internet here is what I have taken: my backpacking backpack, filled with clothing-specifics are unimportant, about 7 books, a journal (of course), and my passport. Details as to whether or not what I am taking with me is appropriate will follow in the months to come.
Currently I am anxious for what is going to come in the next year. Ready to take a new step and to learn. Focused on keeping my eyes and ears open and for contributing all that I can to Zambia and to the organization. Tomorrow morning I head up towards Hanover, NH to begin my orientation. I will do my best to write sometime during or post orientation.
Thank you to all who have donated, it means more than I can say but hopefully through this blog you will be able to see where your money is going.

I miss the states already, but I guess that just means that I am luck to have a place to miss.
till next time. ciao.