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…