Tag Archives: preparation

So, gang, here we are.

I leave home for orientation tomorrow, and leave the country on the 18th. I’m packed (mostly. My computer, obviously, remains unpacked, as does the skirt that’s draped over my suitcase because it’s not quite dry). I’m excited, yes, I’m nervous, yes, but mostly I’m feeling surprisingly prepared, aside from a little nagging feeling that I must have forgotten something, because my list of things to do before I leave seems fairly manageable (not that I anticipate actually finishing it, but the things that get bumped will be things like mowing the lawn, which can be left undone), and I haven’t even had to sit on my suitcases to get them closed — or even unzip the extra bit on the expandable one — and don’t anticipate needing to do so. They both weigh in at about 39 pounds, too (the limit is 23 kilos, about 50 pounds).

I still don’t know where I will be living, which is mildly disconcerting, but is not a major problem at this point, since I don’t expect to actually live there for at least another two weeks. (It does make trying to collect host/hostess gifts an interesting proposition, but hopefully I’ve managed okay.)

I will now bustle off to continue doing last-minute things.

Edited for correct departure information

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Getting Ready

On Monday, I mailed the last of my forms. Last week I received my mailing address (but not my housing assignment). In less than a month, I leave for orientation. A week after that, I leave the country. I’m doing last things, intentionally meeting up with people I haven’t seen for a while, and starting to seriously consider what I will bring.

I finished the last of my Zambia books, too.
That’s not entirely true. I have read as much as I will read of any of my Zambia books, and they have all been returned to the library.

The Fractured Community: Landscapes of Power and Gender in Rural Zambia, by Kate Crehan

This book was both dense and interesting. I was pretty worried by the introduction, which was prosy in a very academic sort of way, and kept referencing anthropologists that I’d never heard of. I slogged onwards, though, hoping that it would get better, and assuming that I would need at least a basic understanding of the technical bits in the introduction to understand the rest of it.

It did get better. I don’t think I really needed to read most of the introduction, though, and it took nearly a hundred pages to start talking about gender. Once she started, she did talk about it, but I spent a while going, “So, she’s said it’s a matrilineal (but still male-dominated) society, but where’s the gender come into it?”

I’m not sure how applicable this book was, since it focused on a different part of Zambia and a different language group than the area I’ll be in, but I found it interesting nevertheless. For example, Kaonde (and possibly that should have a prefix to denote language and not people, but I’ve given up on prefixes) specifies whether a sibling is older or younger, but not gender (at least, not without extra work). The Kaonde way to talk about my brother would be my “younger.” I could specify a male younger sibling, but quite possibly wouldn’t, the way that I could specify that he’s my younger brother, but usually don’t. The terms “younger” and “older” refer to cousins, too, but they refer to the relationship of our parents, not our actual age — so if my mother had an older sister whose children were younger than me, they would be my “olders,” too.

In other linguistic tidbits, the English word “to farm” has become Kaondesized (something like mwafwamu, with a disclaimer that I took the book back to the library and am not checking any of the specifics), and means to grow maize, soybeans, or other cash crops for sale to urban markets. This results in several quotes in the book to the effect of, “Women don’t like to farm; they just want to cultivate sorghum all the time.” (Sorghum being the main subsistence crop in the Northwestern Province.)

I found this book fascinating (when I wasn’t getting bogged down in it), not necessarily in a this-is-a-preparation-for-going-to-Zambia kind of way, but as a thought experiment considering the ways other people experience, think about, and codify (lexify?) the world. Full disclosure, though: I skipped bits of it.

A Political History of Zambia: from Colonial Period to the Third Republic, by Bizeck Jube Phiri

I didn’t actually read this book. I read a paragraph or two at the beginning of most chapters and decided that I was not going to absorb the crazy-complex politics contained therein. Possibly I would’ve had slightly better luck with it if I’d read it before The Fractured Community, but I only have so much patience for dense academic writing, and I’d spent most of it already.

It did raise a question for me, though: What do Zambians learn about their history? I would say that Americans of my generation, as a rule, are most ignorant about the past 50 years of our country’s recorded history. All of Zambia’s history as an independent country fits within that time frame. Is the dynamic different?

I remember reading Jamaica Kincaid’s “On Seeing England for the First Time” in high school, and the significance of a map of England, something more important than any test she would ever take. Wikipedia tells me that the British West Indies gained independence when Kincaid was 9 to thirteen. I can only imagine that Caribbean schools have changed, but how much? How much have Zambian schools changed?

Globetrotter Zambia and Victoria Falls, by William Gray

I was more than a little disgusted with this book. So far as I could tell, it divided the country into random squares of territory in order to talk about it, squares that had no relation to any geographic or political realities on the ground, and did not, in fact, actually cover all of the country. Macha was one of the areas it didn’t consider worthy of mentioning. I realize that it’s hardly a destination, but it wasn’t even inside any of the squares that the book talked about. Besides that, it felt very touristy. Possibly this book would be useful when looking for things to do in Zambia, but I didn’t feel that there was any point in reading it before going.

The map was nice, though. This was the first chance I had to look at a big paper map of Zambia. I’m very fond of maps. I also discovered that Macha is relatively fairly close to Kafue National Park. Goodness knows if relative geographic proximity actually facilitates travel, but it’s a cool idea.

Quills of Desire, by Binwell Sinyangwe

One of the earlier books I read mentioned Binwell Sinyangwe as a Zambian novelist whose work is published outside the country, so I went to some effort to track down one of his books. I quite enjoyed this one, up until the end, which I found depressing. (I’m not sure if that’s a commentary on Sinyangwe, Zambian literature, post-colonial literature in general, or The Modern Novel. Possibly I will be better able to judge when I’ve encountered a larger sample set of Zambian literature.)

Reading a novel is a different way to encounter a culture than reading nonfiction about the culture. I’m glad I read this one, depressing or not. I did again find myself wondering how much has changed — Quills of Desire is clearly set pre-1991. One example that springs to mind: there is a period of sanctioned hazing at the beginning of the school year, which permitted quite harsh humiliation and physical violence. Coming from Smith, where every funded student organization has to read the Hazing Policy (“You can’t haze people. This is what hazing is.”) at their first meeting, a world within the past 25 or 30 years where it’s okay to beat people up if they’re new students is a bizarre concept.

I am also very sure that I do not understand the Zambian school system at all. It may or may not be the same as the British school system (which I also don’t understand), but I don’t even have enough of a grasp of either of them to make an informed judgement. Forms? Standards? Junior and Senior Secondary? (Do the British find American schools this confusing? Our system seems to make sense to me.) Also, boarding school is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

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I am VERY pleased to announce that this afternoon I reached my fund-raising goal of $5,400! I’m really overwhelmed by how generous everyone has been in helping me to make this trip feasible.

This past week I read Sarah A. Lanier’s Foreign to Familiar, which I liked much better than Ministering Cross-Culturally. Halfway through this book, I decided that everyone should read it, even if they aren’t going anywhere, just to help understand other people. I felt like the approach was much less, “This is everything you need to do and I will interpret it for you with my particular Biblical context,” and more, “These are ways that different cultures look at the world, and these are problems that people frequently encounter when moving between two very different worldviews.” The book is written for people moving in both directions, not just for westerners going to third-world countries, which is what I felt the other one was. One of the things that I really loved is that she’s been all over the world and talked to all kinds of people, so the examples were drawn from a really broad range of experiences. She talked about all sorts of things, like spontaneity vs. planned schedules, conceptions of when an event starts (if the wedding starts at two, does that mean that the ceremony starts at two, or does the bride start putting on her dress at two? It depends on how you define “the wedding”), privacy vs. inclusion, etc. She spoke briefly about the struggle of being a woman going to cultures where women generally take a more subordinate role, and things that she has worked out to respect both herself and the culture she is visiting.

I could talk about this book for a long time, but I will just say that the narrative style really clicked, and the things she said made sense to me — broader ideas that fit into things I have observed, and helped provide a framework in which to understand them — and that I both enjoyed it and learned a great deal from it. If you have a chance, I highly recommend that you read it. It’s only 120 pages. And the print is big. I read it in an hour and a half — and I was pausing about every three pages to read bits out loud.

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No, this book did not speak to me

I still think that Ministering Cross-Culturally had a few useful things to say. Mostly, though, it did not connect. (And the more I think about this whole idea of, “you must take care of everyone else before yourself,” which was repeated at least once more, the worse it sounds. I know that putting myself in situations where I do not have enough food or enough sleep is likely to result in a meltdown. Ignoring these basic needs when I’m in a stressful and unfamiliar situation full of strangers — especially since ignoring food needs might well result in becoming physically ill — does not, in any way, sound to me like a good idea. I’m not good for anything in meltdown mode.)

Besides that, I think I’ve isolated my two main issues with this book:

1) The whole idea is an “incarnational” model of interacting with foreign cultures, that you need to learn the new culture as if you were coming to it as a child. That I’m okay with. Where I begin to have problems is “incarnational model of ministry.” Perhaps I’m reading things into the text that were not written there, and bringing a lot of baggage with the term “minister” in this context. All the same, I don’t see how one can enter a culture as a child, and yet have some kind of corner on Truth. Doesn’t clinging to our own religious preconceptions — especially if there is some intention to share them — hinder a person from fully engaging with the new culture?

2) The whole book is divided into sections of different cultural/personal ways of addressing concepts or occurances (event focused vs. time focused, person focused vs. task focused, status focused vs. achievement focused, etc). Aside from the fact that I felt like the authors were forcing complex issues into dichotomies that were not useful analyses of the patterns I see in the world, I had real problems with the going-back-to-the-Bible sections at the end of every chapter. I felt like most of the chapters concluded by saying, “This is the way Americans tend to view these issues, but if we look at the Bible, we see that Jesus had this focus, which aligns more closely with the way the third-world country you are going to views this issue. Therefore the viewpoint of the third-world country is valuable and you should take it seriously.” I agree that the Zambian viewpoint is valuable — but Jesus had the cultural outlook that he had because of the culture he was in. I figured out a long time ago that Jesus did not have the viewpoint of a 21st-century American. It wouldn’t make sense to have a 21st-century worldview in the first century; the cultural viewpoint was necessary to deal with the culture he found himself in. I don’t think I feel that Jewish culture at that time is inherently applicable to my life, just because Jesus lived in it.

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More excepts from my reading

I’m currently in the middle of Ministering Cross-Culturally, by Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers. It’s one of the suggested (required?) books for the SALT program, or possibly for MCC service in general.

And . . . I don’t know.

I do think that it has useful things to say about being open to cultural differences so that you don’t freak yourself out about things that you assume one way and your hosts assume another way.

It’s also very dated (1986, which is older than I am), which sometimes doesn’t show up and sometimes really does, for example when he talks about “college students today,” and I realize that “today’s” college students are not even part of the same generation I am.

There’s an extent to which I think that the person for which this book is written is not the person I am. There are definitely parts where I find myself going, Yes, you’re preaching to the choir here, or This part could be shorter, or occasionally, You think I WHAT?

In particular, though, I have a really big issue with the end of the section on event- vs. time-orientedness. cmoore is here, and I’ve been reading aloud bits here and there (Did you know that on the island of Yap at the time of writing, a person would not be considered late even if they arrived more than two hours after the time an event was stated to start?), and we’ve been talking about cultural perceptions of time, and the anxiety most Americans feel when someone is late. At one point I said, “I think that one of the ways I deal with variable interpretations of punctuality is to bring knitting or a book with me, so that if someone doesn’t arrive when they say they will, I don’t get frustrated by feeling that I could have spent that waiting time doing something else.” cmoore responded with stories about her trip to India, and how she learned to do the same with food or snacks, so that she could eat when she needed to and not get into a terrible state because she hadn’t eaten.

So then I get to the end of the chapter, which cites, as a Biblical example, the Matthew story of Jesus being pursued into the wilderness by the crowd: “Few of us have the strength or will to follow this example. Jesus attended to the multitude around him, and then he ministered to himself. . . . Our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus, to satisfy the time and event priorities of others before considering our own” (51). I really can’t agree with that. I feel that it is important that my own needs are met, or I am not in a place where I am able to help anyone else. Rather than the Lingenfelter version, I’ll take the cmoore version: I should do my best to be prepared to take care of my needs myself so that I am not frustrated or distraught when others do not cater to them, or perhaps even perceive them as valuable. Only then am I in a position where I can be useful.

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Books I have been reading

Too many months ago, I requested every book in the Free Library of Philadelphia catalog about Zambia. I’ve been (slowly) working my way through ever since:

Art in Zambia by Gabriel Ellison
Summary of this book, as I see it: There is some, but not as much as we would like, art going on in Zambia. Partly this is due to a lack of galleries and prestigious shows, but there is a National Council for the Arts which is doing some good work, including this book. Here are some artists who are or have been operating in Zambia, with not nearly as many pictures as you were hoping for.

Possibly I should not have even bothered trying a book about Art. But it did suggest that the closest thing there is to traditional textiles in Zambia is basketweaving. It did not answer the question, So if there isn’t really anything in the way of traditional textiles, what did people wear before machine-made cotton cloth became available?

Cultures of the World: Zambia by Timothy Holmes and Winnie Wong
Um, this was a book. It was marginally informative, but not significantly more so than the Wikipedia article on Zambia, and not really any better written. There were lots of color pictures. It’s basically what I was expecting from a series with a title like “Cultures of the World” that has something approximating 150 titles.

The one piece of information it provided that is very nice to have, that it didn’t even occur to me to ask about is this: “Issues such as laws of succession have not been resolved to women’s satisfaction, but women may now open bank accounts and obtain credit without permission from a husband or male guardian” (72). It might have been very difficult to not say impolitic things if I arrived in Zambia and learned suddenly that that was not the case.

Culture and Customs of Zambia by Scott D. Taylor
I was not expecting much from this book — it looked like a slightly thicker version of the Holmes and Wong book. I found myself pleasantly surprised. The book is not without flaws (it wants to be pseudo-academic, and has some tendency towards sentences like, “For example, whereas colonial rule was an oppressive system of governance that could enforce compliance and cooperation, . . .” It is never, thankfully, as bad as De Montmorency, and tends to wear off as the author gets into his stride. This is a good thing, both for general legibility and because the grasp of grammar is occasionally not quite good enough for that level of convolution), but it is a much more nuanced view than the other, and managed to describe the political situation in such a way that I didn’t get lost and think I have a bit of a feel for the major players and parties. Also major sources of media.

Overall, it was pretty good at digging deep enough to answer questions like, Maize is a staple of the diet, but isn’t it a new world crop? What did they eat before? Perhaps you’re getting a sense of the kinds of questions that occur to me. I blame Jeremy Ross and his Historian’s Questions. (If you, like me, are curious, the answer appears to be finger millet (Eleusine Coracana) and sorghum. Other interesting factoids in this section are that pumpkin and sweet potato leaves appear to be edible, and that both mangos and avocados grow in Zambia. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere that avocados could be grown locally in any reasonable kind of fashion. (Maybe they could in Spain, since we had local mangos in Málaga. But I wasn’t aware of it.)

This book also answered the textile question: “Prior to the arrival of colonialism, traditional dress consisted mainly of animal skins or bark cloth wrapped around the waist or draped over the shoulders much like a Roman toga” (90). Constance suggests that they probably don’t actually mean like a toga, and upon reflection, I imagine that she is correct. I wonder what the natural shape of barkcloth is. Long rectangles?

This is also the book that provided the statistic on English speakers that I cited in my last entry. I suspect that it will be my favorite of all the books I got.

Right now I’m working on Kate Crehan’s The fractured community : landscapes of power and gender in rural Zambia. It’s very dense in the way that books written by Anthropology professors for people who know things about anthropology probably tend to be (I wouldn’t know, mostly not having read them). I’m hopeful that it’s better after the introduction, when she’s talking more about concrete Zambian examples and less about Hegemony and Gramsci and Marx.

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Beginning again


So here I am, in a new blog, preparing for a new adventure.  In two months I will go to orientation, and a week after that, barring huge unforseen problems, I will go to Macha, Zambia.  (If you haven’t seen it on a map, here is a link to Google Maps. It’s not as small as it looks; the community is spread out over about 6,000 sq. kilometers, but it is quite rural.)

As far as fund-raising, I currently have $4,063 of the $5,400 I need — there is a $4,600 required contribution for the MCC SALT program, and the rest will cover student loans beyond what they will assist me with. I’m feeling incredibly grateful for the support I have received so far, and very loved by my community.

To answer a question that I have received from any number of people, no, I have not yet started packing. At this point I do have a box for cool-weather clothing and other things that I expect to want in Zambia but don’t think I’ll need before then.

To answer another question I’ve gotten a lot, there’s been a lot of paperwork (I needed notarized copies of my entire life, including my college diploma, to apply for my work permit), and I had to get shots for yellow fever, polio, typhoid, and hepatitis a, not to mention a tetanus/pertussis/diptheria booster, in addition to a number of innoculations that I’d already gotten, including meningitis, hepatitis b, and some other things that I’ve forgotten. Yes, it is a malarial region; there’s a malaria research center attached to the hospital in Macha. I do not intend to get malaria if I can possibly avoid it.

For a final frequently asked question, the official language in Zambia is English. The local language in Southern Province, where I’ll be, is Tonga (there are 73 distinct regional languages spoken in Zambia, not to mention any number of dialects). No, I have not started studying Tonga — I think I’ll get six weeks of language lessons after I arrive — because I have been unable to find any resources or native speakers to help me do so. But Culture and Customs of Zambia reassures me that 80% of people over the age of fifteen speak English, and people who have been there tell me that people will speak English in Macha, and I’d have to go into very remote areas to find people who don’t speak English at all.

Hopefully this is crossposting to livejournal. Feel free to read it here or there; I’ll try to answer comments in both places.

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