Rooster Racket

Photo Credit : Open Zambia News

Apparently, roosters in Zambia have not been taught rooster etiquette. Or maybe it’s me that’s had the wrong idea all these years. Isn’t it true, on the idyllic farm that as the sun begins to brighten the sky, the roosters crow? Well, just so you know, that ain’t the way it is. In fact, without fail, there is at least one rooster (I think they have upwards of 10 here at the Village of Hope), who insists on letting me know it’s 2:30 a.m. Like clockwork.

My hosts insist my body is still on Maryland time, but I’m not buying it. I think this guy has it in for me. They are free ranging, these feathered patriarchs, and quite in charge. Occasionally a dog gets out and chases them around, but I have yet to see a canine outsmart the cockerel.

I’m also trying to figure out what all the Western frenzy is over free-ranging chickens. According to my local sources, chickens that have no restrictions are tough . . . that is the meat itself is tough and chewy. The folks here like that because all that chewing stems the appetite. Just the day before yesterday, I walked through the kitchen and Esther (the housekeeper), was plucking the feathers from a freshly beheaded biddy. I pretended like I see that every day. Later, I understood that Esther often grabs the chickens and does the dastardly deed herself, but this day, it was one of the boys. Yeah, one of those sweet Village boys, did the chopping. Sigh. I’m such a city girl.

Folding Cranes

This whole thing started on Oct 23, 2017 on International Peace Day. Colleagues at the Havre de Grace Library presented the idea of having some activities to commemorate the day and one of the ideas was to make 1000 cranes, a long time symbol for peace, health, and well-being. I heard about the cranes a long time ago but forgotten about them in the rush of life. My most memorable encounter was some years ago at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. They touched my soul. And so, at the library, we agreed, we would learn how to fold paper cranes as a gesture of peace.

This project took on a life of its own. Customers and staff alike got into the spirit of the thing and before we knew it, we had not just 1000 but over 2000 cranes. We all experienced the meditative calm they brought. And soon, some of us were learning how to make them smaller and smaller and smaller. At my retirement party, I was given a glass jar full of the smallest of cranes, a full 1000, full of love and peace. Then I decided to leave some peace and hope at home before leaving for Africa. And here too, there now hang 1000.

Inevitably, it landed on my heart to bring the crane story to Zambia’s Village and School of Hope. Yesterday, I introduced the cranes to the teachers and several took on the challenge with great joy. Interestingly, the men were the most intrigued and even took home paper to make more. We already have over a hundred.

Tonight, I took the paper and the crane story to one of the houses in the Village where the older girls live. Some gave up at the demand for tight folds and clean corners, while several others persisted. There we sat on the dusty cement floor, with a single light bulb to illuminate the room, folding and making mistakes and folding again. We laughed at each others’ efforts. Who was there? Sharon, Charity, Mary M, Lina, Linus, Jo something, and a few others who wandered in and out to see our progress. It was hot as blazes.

The girls asked, how long are you staying? And when I told them til the end of February, they cheered. We are new friends, sharing in the peace and hope of a folded piece of paper.

Walking the Property

_DSC4518It’s a farm. I mean, there’s a lot of other things, but ultimately, it’s a farm. This is a rural area. And no, there are no elephants or giraffe or hippos or lions. It’s a farm.

And there are plenty of paths to walk about, listening to the birds (I saw a Yellow-Mantled Whydah), and buzzing insects and people working in the fields and on the buildings.

_DSC4529There are a lot of buildings: 10 Village buildings house the children & teens, and there are buildings where some of the workers live, and there is Elizabeth House (for young women in crisis), and of course the school (both lower & upper schools), and of course, the library. But there are more buildings in construction as well.

None of these buildings existed 10 years ago. That’s just one of the amazing things. But now, not only are there lots of buildings, but there are eleven deep water wells, electricity for every building, and at least at the Schwartz home, Internet access. Unbelievable really.

Next week, the school will open and now begins the planning for receiving over 700 children (including the 84 from the Village). Lots of trips to Lusaka for school supplies and food for lunches. They feed every child and teacher lunch every day.

_DSC4540It’s a simple life, but for the kids, it’s a good life. They have plenty of food to eat, a roof over their heads, adults who care about them, and most of all, love.

For Westerners, who don’t know better, it may look like nothing, but for many of the 130 employees it’s a livelihood and for the kids, a true hope for the future.

_DSC4507

Sunday Morning

In some ways, they are like teenagers everywhere.

Intellectually, I knew they would be older. After all, it’s been at least 8 years since I was last here. For me, that didn’t seem like such a long time, but for a teen, it could be as much as half a life. So many are all grown up and yet not grown up at all. Something like 54 teens out of 84 children are being raised in the Village of Hope.

Of course, that means hormones are raging and curiosity of “other” is overwhelming. It means pushing at the envelope of authority. It means making lousy choices without thinking through the consequences.

But here’s where they may deviate from their western cousins. They are not married to “screens” and still know how to enjoy conversation and good-hearted game play. Most are devoted to God and understand the miracle of being in a “family” where love rules the day and compassion is a given.

And they lead in the church, from musicians (self-taught keyboard players and drums) to worship team and service host. They lead in prayers.

On the Great North Road

It’s about an hour and a half to the Village of Hope from Lusaka on the Great North Road. There’s a lot of construction as they are making it a 4-lane road, so far, barely beyond the city, but the plans are in place for 4 lanes all the way to Kabwe. It’s a huge project.

I still can’t get used to the cars on the left side of the road and often think they’re coming straight for us. We did a lot of shopping and errands in the city before heading to the Village. Every trip to Lusaka which can cost $150 in gas alone, needs to be multi-purpose.

I can’t get over all the green. The last time I was here, it was towards the end of the dry season and land was aching for water. This time, the fields are lush with green grass and trees.

As we drive up the road, at first I am struck by the flimsy buildings that line the road, peppered with fruit stands of mangoes and various bags of who knows. But then, I get it. This is entrepreneurship at its most basic. Whether it’s items they have made or gathered, it’s a living. And although it may feel like a kind of blight along the road, is our Route 40 with its brick and mortar and brute signs any better? These things evolve and when we see them every day, we lose perspective. It’s the sudden drop into a culture that catches us by surprise.

There are many communities along the way of the road, but they are unseen, either behind a privacy wall or along a perpendicular road that cuts back into the bush. There are very few paved roads, just dirt roads that wave with ruts. It’s supposed to be the rainy season now but the rain has held off (for Lusaka, a blessing, for the rains would exasperate the cholera bacteria). But I can imagine how these roads must look as mud. Well, no, actually I can’t. But soon enough.

Tree Out My Window

It’s a hotel. My window is open and it’s January. Yep, honey, this ain’t Maryland.

This is my first trip post retirement and it’s lovely. Granted, my brand new Christmas gift suitcase got destroyed on the way and the Johannesburg airport carousel was littered with my underwear, but it all worked out. It’s a story now.

I am here because my host, Benedict, who picked me up along with Muzo (rhymes with Ouzo), had some errands to run in Lusaka before heading back to the Village of Hope. They also have to make another human pick up (Gipepe, that spelling can’t be right), who is the Village doctor, an amazing woman I met once before in Maryland when they were visiting stateside. There’s a cholera outbreak here and it makes everyone nervous, but it’s mostly in the poorer areas. Nonetheless, bottled water is everywhere, and still I almost brushed my teeth with sink water. Habits die hard.

But that is the point. I am here to serve and work at the Village, true. I am also here to break down the every day habits,  to discover the me I’ve lost in the busyness of my life that has been on automatic pilot for too long. I want to be more conscious. And integrated.

And it’s time to write again. Here yes. Also on my Meditations blog, as God leads. And maybe, just maybe, another story may be birthed as well. Slow down. Listen.

Watch the trees bend to the wind and leaves flutter outside my window.

Another Dying Long Ago

The core of this story my mother told me. But the details are mine.

Boris Feldblyum Collection; Riga 1928

Boris Feldblyum Collection; Riga 1928

May, 1928.

I was sitting at the kitchen table working on my English homework. English was my favorite subject. It was late and I guess the light at the table was bothering my mother who wasn’t feeling well and trying to sleep. It was just one large room, our apartment. There was a coal stove for cooking and heating and sink for washing up, but only cold water from the tap. We had a settee and a soft chair where my father would sit to listen to the radio. There were two beds: my mother and I slept in one and my father and brother slept in the other.

My mother called out to me, “Herta, come to bed. Come and lie beside me. Herta.”

“In a minute. I will. Just let me finish this. In a minute, I promise.”

I didn’t realize that those would be the clearest words I would hear from her again. By the next day, she was struggling to breathe. Her slow labored breaths made such a terrible sound. She didn’t get out of bed again. And I sat with her then.

After he came home from school, I told my brother to try and find a doctor, anyone to come and help her. He didn’t know who to ask. He knocked on a few doors but no one was home. My father was at the barber shop working. He worked long hours, often ten hours a day, at only ten cents a hair cut.

I tried to get her to drink some tea. But it only made her start coughing when I tried to raise her head. Her eyes wept when she looked at me. She couldn’t speak. She tried, but only a few words I couldn’t understand. Maybe my name or Harry’s or my father. Once, I thought she called for one of her sisters. I wasn’t sure. And so I sat there because I didn’t know what else to do.

Finally, my father came home. He told me to make him something to eat and then he stood by her bed. I couldn’t hear what he said to her, but I could tell she was listening. He held her hand. He pushed hair back from her face.

I don’t remember what I made. Maybe it was potatoes. We didn’t have much. My father and Harry ate at the table. I couldn’t eat. I sat. And then they sat with me, the three of us, sat around her bed.

“Papa, can’t we get a doctor? Go to the pharmacy and get her something.”

“Herta, it is too late. She is dying. Her heart is not strong enough. We always knew. She knew. She warned me.” And he said no more.

Harry went to bed. I fell asleep in the chair, my head against the side of the bed. When I woke up, my father was still there. He did not go to the barber shop. Harry didn’t go to school. I didn’t go to school. We watched my mother die.

The silence was punctuated by her breaths which became slower and slower.

For three days we sat, sometimes sleeping, sometimes eating, but never far from her side. And then, I heard it and I saw it, her last breath, like a deep sigh, every last breath was released. She left her body in that sigh. She didn’t linger. She left.

My father rose. He pushed her eyelids down and then he washed his hands and face in the white bowl. He turned to me. I couldn’t look at him. I only looked at her.

“Wash her body after we leave. The bed clothes will be soiled. Dress her and comb her hair. I will go to her sister’s house and ask for a wagon to take her to the graveyard. I will ask her sister’s husband for a loan to pay for the gravedigger. Harry will go with me. Don’t wait. You must clean her before her body becomes stiff.”

And I was alone, at fifteen, with my dead mother’s body. I had never washed a dead body. I had never seen a dead person in my life. I cried. Hard. It wasn’t fair. None of it.

My aunt had promised to make me a new dress, a red dress, for my birthday. But now, there would be no red dress, only another black one. And every birthday after that would no longer be mine, but hers.

I washed my mother’s thin arms and legs. I washed her small breasts and sunken stomach. I rolled her from side to side to remove the sheet and thin blanket. There was a smell. I found two towels and put them under her. I pulled a dress up across her body. It was her better dress. Would she need underpants? For what? Should I put stockings on her? What would be the point? I covered her legs, up to her waist, with a blanket from my father’s bed. I pulled her hair back with side combs and tried to put back her wave. I folded her hands on top. Should I take off her wedding ring? I did. I put it on my own hand. Forever, I thought.

But, of course, it wasn’t forever. It was only one of the many things I would sell or trade, later on, during a war that we couldn’t imagine would happen again.