Tuesday, July 29, 2008

life in zambia

So i have crossed over to a different world...In certain parts of South Africa, you feel like you are in Europe. There are swank coffee shops and jazz music pours through the windows of open patio restaurants in cities like Cape Town. The restaurant about 10 kms up the road from where i lived these past few weeks serves sushi!

mmmmm pap...or nshima...this is the staple food that i ate a LOT of...and yes, folks, those are chicken feet. chicken heads and feet are considered a delicacy, and they call them "walkie talkies" pretty clever, eh?

Zambia is real Africa. I landed in Ndola International Airport with about 40 men on a small plane. The airport looks more like a machine shed from my family farm in South Dakota, and you get off the airplane with a slightly rusted green ladder. All of these men were European or South African businessmen, here to be a part of the copper mining industry which is located in this region..this is called the copperbelt of Zambia.

I live in the skeletons of a booming copper mine. In its prime, this region was where Zambia’s middle class was born.(this next bit is pieced together from talking to staff members and community members and background reading i have done). Copper companies built housing compounds, and families travelled from all over the country to settle down to a good life. People weren’t hungry, wages were fair, the work was safe. The house i am living in is a 3 bedroom flat with a kitchen and a living room. In the late 80’s, the International Monetary Fund came up with this idea called Structural Adjustment. It was a bad idea (please remember this is my perspective). All of the companies which were previously managed by national governments and national taxation policies were privatised (meaning external groups were able to regulate the industries), and regions like this became economic ghost towns over night. Wages were driven down, standards of living plummeted, and workers lost their jobs so quickly they were not even able to save up enough to travel home to their native villages. People still living here are a hodge podge of different tribes and people groups from all over Zambia.

This is where i am working...

Unemployment rates in my ‘hood are around 80%. How crazy is that? The houses are dilapidated beyond recognition – i can see the sunshine through the roof of my room. My shower is a sawed off rusted pipe that sends and electrical shock through my body every time that i try to turn on the tap....i have learned to master the art of the African bucket shower...

my shower that shocks me:

My days are pretty simple. We only have power 3 or 4 days a week, so i wake up wondering if it’s hot coffee or cold coffee each day. I have learned that coffee powder will, in fact, dissolve in cold water. I’m living across from the director’s home, and about a 10 minute walk from the office. I walk down a shaded dirt path, past dozens of half-dressed black Zambian babies who chant “azungu” (white person) over and over again, and greeting me with a broken “How are you?” (emphasis on the YOU. Just imagine having that yelled at you 29 times a day!!!). if anyone’s ever been to Africa, you know what i’m talking about.....When i get to the office, we either turn on the computers or head to the community for interviews with the young mums. I am also giving typing lessons to the staff members here, because right now they are all pecking away at around 3 words per minute. When i was working in south Africa, i played a terrible prank. I switched around 4 of the vowel keys so they were spelling everything wrong. They didn’t really like my joke, and made me retype their reports.

the first day of typing lessons with paul, the finance officer. he was cheating and peaking at the keyboard, so i covered his eyes.

this is the view as i walk to work

My mom always asks me what i eat here – have you guys r had cream of wheat? The staple food is called Nshima (people will eat it for 3 meals a day if they can, they love it!!), which is like super-thick cream of wheat. You have it with baby fish called kapentas, or goat or whatever meat may be available and a little bit of greens....that’s dinner. Then lunch is usually deep fried sweet potatoes. And breakfast is an egg. Every day. Same thing. Mmmmm....african food. That’s where the African booty comes from!!!

Alright, my candle light is fading and the battery is slowly slip sliding away. Much love from me, under the beautiful black and blue African skies.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

the leprosy of teenage pregnancy

thabi, sylvia, agreement, agnes, linkie and maeghan after an interview

this is me and thabi and nelisiwe after beading lessons for the income generation program


i am only describing what I have learned from the girls i am working with here in South Africa. the research is NOT representative of the entire continent of africa....

So two weeks have passed since arriving in south Africa...my days have been filled with walking dusty roads to the homes of young women, booty shaking at a few braiis with the young mums, and documenting what i have been finding. I always struggle to explain situations without telling a story, so here is the tale of a few of these girls woven together.

Teenage pregnancy in rural south Africa is roughly equivalent to leprosy in mid-evil times. It’s a curse - a situation where one becomes an untouchable. Let’s start from the sex and go from there - sex is not a choice for most African women ... it’s an obligation and a job and one which they are trained to perform from a really early age. In some communities, girls are still married at the age of 13, expected to be pure virgins for their husbands. So girls are taught to obey men, and that sex is expected in an intimate relationship....South African rural societies are caught between two worlds – the Western world of Beyonce’s and beauty queens and the traditional societies of the bride price, where daughters are given in exchange for 10 cattle. And this is the tension these girls live in. Teenagers in Africa are just like teenagers in Europe – they experiment with sex. Then, it gets tricky. Condoms are not cool here. Despite HIV/AIDS and STIs, only maybe 1 in 10 use condoms regularly (more than once a month). It’s a sign of trust in your relationship to have sex without a condom, and girls are beaten and seen as unfaithful if they request the guy to use one. Does this make sense at all? Not to me....but that’s the story.

So now we have a lot of pregnant teenage girls. Lots. Like i said, 1 in 3 are pregnant before 19. This is where the tension comes in. When the community members and family members find out they are pregnant, the girls are shunned for being “impure”. Now they are no longer suitable for marriage in the traditional village systems. Parents tell their kids not to talk to these girls. They are seated at the back of the classroom so no one has to look at them... A lot of the girls i am speaking to hide their pregnancies under baggie clothes, and then hide from the world, not leaving the house for 3 or 4 months straight at the end of the pregnancy. They dropped out of school because teachers harassed them, and some where kicked out of their homes by relatives who were caring for them. The boys they are dating can’t marry them even if they want to, because these villages still use the practice of bride price. And with the going rate of a cow sitting at around $1000 US, the average girl in my program is worth about $15,000 US. So even if the boy loves her, he can’t afford to marry her until he graduates high school, gets a good job, and saves for about 30 years, as the average yearly income in the community is around $700 US per year.

When this program started, about 90% of the girls had dropped out of school. They started working as house maids to feed themselves and their kids, and were still shunned by the communities. All of the girls in these groups have also lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, so they are caring for little brothers and sisters as well.... Now they meet together every week, on Fridays after school, and have tea (which means bread and Roibos tea with 9 sugars per cup) and talk about what it means to be a mom. They talk about dreams for their futures, about the latest fashions and new music, and about normal teenage life. The transformations have been amazing – we have 90% of them back in school now, with a few eyeing up medical school applications in the new year. They still have their ups and downs, but it’s pretty rad to see how much strength they have found by just meeting together and realizing they aren’t alone. They told me stories of literally sneaking into the homes where families had hidden a pregnant girl, and praying with her and telling her about their group and helping her to leave and go to the doctor. Such cool beans. And they organized an anti-AIDS march earlier on this year, and a pregnancy awareness event. I was never that bold when i was 16.

So now I leave for Zambia in the morning, to a rural community on the Western side of the Copper Belt called Luansha to find out about the situations of the young women there. We are hoping to start up the program in August, and i’ll be interviewing potential participants to see what their challenges are, and community leaders so I can better understand how teenage pregnancy is seen by the community members.....It’s gonna be a bit more rough because i am without the internet, and i’m living on a farm about a 5 hour bus ride from the nearest city, but it will be an adventure....for now i need sleep.....much love....maeghanjune

Saturday, July 05, 2008

young mums are da bomb

back again....

it's always weird to come back to a place that has been home. you expect things to have remained unchanged, but instead to understand that life goes on without you, and you were only really a visitor.

so i am living on an old game reserve about 10 km from the nearest paved road. there are 15 or so international volunteers living there, who come from england, canada and all over the world, who are working with Hands at Work (www.handsatwork.org). life is pretty normal there, outside of the fact that there are electrical security fences and security guards and the threat of robbery. we had a robbery last sunday morning, right before i arrived, where they cleaned out the electronics in the apartments here.

i never know what to write on these blogs, but i know that it feels good to be able to journey with people into the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS. so welcome to masoyi....i am working in a rural black community about 50 kms from nelspruit. when i was here last, i worked as the project manager for a USAID-funded education initiative focused on keeping orphaned girls in school. now this project has been established, and the women i trained up when i was here last are sucessfully running the programme for over 2 years (which is one of the coolest feelings i have ever known). now i am here working on my dissertation research for my masters of international health, focusing on maternal health of orphaned girls.

pregnancy in south africa is a huge challenge.... 1 in 3 women are pregnant before they are 18 here. pregnancy is one of the leading factors which makes a woman vulnerable to HIV infection. and there are 9 women who are HIV positive for every 1 man in the 13 to 24 age groups. that's a lot of stats to say that it's really critical to understand these young women's lives, and to understand more fully what can be done to help them be protected from contracting HIV.

but what precisely am i doing? well, a lot of talking. and recording. and asking questions. hands at work is running support groups for young mums who are also orphaned children. my days here are filled with riding public transit taxis and walking on dusty dirt roads to sit with young women and talk to them about their lives. i ask them about their families, how they became orphaned, what it is like to be pregnant, what the community thinks of their pregnancy, and what challenges they face as young mothers.

their fearless leader is a gorgeous woman named thabisile (thabi). she is 19 years old, and has a laugh that starts deep in her before erupting into a loud sound of joy. if any of you guys know my laugh she sounds a lot like me. she speaks quickly and won;t meet your eyes until she trusts you. thabi is the head of a child-headed household, and lost her dad when she was 10 in a car accident. then her mom died when she was 15, so she went to live with her uncle, who then died early this spring. it is so humbling to sit beside someone so strong. people often feel sorry for the women i work with, but they have a strength of spirit that one only knows when they have suffered. she approaches life and friendship and love with a fierceness of one who know that all can be lost, and the next moment is the most important. thabi wants to be a social worker when she grows up so she can tell other women to continue to fight for hope in their lives. how cool is that? i used to want to be a lawyer when i grew up so i could make loads of money....i think she might be onto something!!!!

We are also doing some cool stuff with income generation programmes. i ran a workshop on friday afternoon, teaching the girls how to make hand-made paper beads so they can start to make earrings to sell in the local market.

and i have a load of pictures to upload, but the internet is too slow here. so i may modify it later on today. and i was super-sick earlier on this week, so if you guys could pray for my health here that would be great....much love to you all!!!!