Sunday, May 27, 2012

The First Few Days

*I will begin this post by noting that I am exhausted and am fully aware that this is not my best writing. Don’t worry, it will get better after I get some sleep…in August.

We have finally arrived at the Kazembe Orphanage! After a long and arduous journey (which ended up being exactly 80 hours of traveling) we have made it to our destination.

The best way to describe the bus trip is…grueling. It’s hard to have a positive attitude about it; it’s flat out just rough. I spent the first six hours sandwiched between a Zambian woman and one of the bus drivers (they switch out because the ride is a bit long.) The woman was very interesting and very sweet; more about her later. The man and I…did not become friends. His arm was the size of my torso (I compared) and his elbow spent a significant amount of time digging into my waist.

I spent some time talking with the older Zambian woman on my other side. She told me about her family and her village and her faith in Christ. She also told me about her village’s efforts to care for the children in the area who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. I was surprised to hear about people in her village who brag about being HIV positive because it means that they are sexually promiscuous. I asked her what she thought needed to happen to fix this problem. “Education,” she told me. “The people need to know the truth.”

I had a similar experience earlier on my taxi ride to the bus station. My driver declared his love and loyalty to Obama and actually showed awareness of his policies – probably more so than myself and more so than many American voters. He then began to discuss the political issues of Zambia and the lack of a “constitution that can withstand the test of time.” This Zambian taxi driver, who was raised and “educated” in an impoverished northeastern province of a developing nation, understood the corruption and flaws of his government’s systems and also understood what needed to happen to correct it.

Zambians know what needs to happen to fix their country. So why hasn’t it happened? I honestly don’t know and haven’t studied it long enough to really be able to tell you definitively. Apathy, corruption, poverty – all of these things and more. The Enemy has a great deal of power here, and you can see it in the hollow eyes of hungry children, the blank stares of the men, and the tired smiles of the women.

It is easy to come to a place like this and become incredibly discouraged. I have found two cures – at least, temporary ones. The first is prayer. The second is action. And fortunately, there is plenty of action to be found at the orphanage. I can't solve the corruption in the Zambian government or ensure a fair election. I can't eradicate poverty and reform the country's education system. I can't stop HIV from ravaging this continent, and I can't go back and stop kids like Jessie, Gladys, and Lily from dying. But what I can do is get down on my knees and pray, and then stay on my knees with a scrub brush in hand and attack the playroom floor. I can do the work "which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10), whether it be sorting baby clothes, changing a diaper, disciplining a child, teaching school, or just holding one of these sweet children and telling them how much I love them, and how much their Father loves them. And that is just what I intend to do.

After spending a few hours of happy reunion with the kids – most of whom remembered us and were excited to see us – we all dove right into working. The first day was spent sorting through the tons of clothes and other goods we brought with us. In addition to our work with the kids, we have also come up with a list of projects and assignments that will keep us occupied for the entire summer – everything from scouring the nursery to organizing the storage room to finishing the map on the wall of the library. The phrase “I’m bored” will not be able to be uttered in this orphanage for the next three months.

I would also note that we will be eating very well this year. Turns out David is an amazing cook. Even the drabbest of meals becomes a work of art at his hands. This is fortunate, as all of the work we are doing makes us all very ready to eat at every meal. Meal times are always a project in and of themselves, however, as cooking for ten in the African bush isn’t exactly a cakewalk. It requires a great deal of ingenuity and creativity, and an awful lot of dish washing.

The past three days have been a blur of activity. We’ve managed to scrub and bleach every inch of the clinic and playroom, which means that two of the rooms where the kids are the most likely to pick up illness are now safe. Physicals have been performed on a few children whose health we were concerned about, and we are keeping a close eye on two ear infections, a bad rash, and a moderate case of thresh. Other than those few, the majority of the kids are healthy and thriving.

The children’s’ health is always a priority here, followed shortly by their education. Today I took each of my students aside to evaluate their status and realized just how much work I have to do this summer. I will be teaching a group of kindergarten-aged children, but if they were in the States, they would most likely be placed in a preschool class. This means that my curriculum will be covering shapes, colors, the alphabet, basic counting, patterns, positional concepts, quantitative differences, and developing fine and gross motor skills. I will also be incorporating Biblical teaching into school time. As much as I would love to see some of them start to read this summer, I also need to be realistic in my expectations. We will start regular school hours on Tuesday, and I am so excited to begin. I’ll have more information about that in the coming weeks.

I am now going to change topics swiftly and divert your attention to this little cutie. 

His name is Michael. He’s about six weeks old and is an absolute angel. He is a little underweight and we're having a hard time keeping him on a feeding schedule but he's not sick, but he’s improved over the past few days and has managed to completely capture all of our hearts. We love him so much, in fact, that we don’t mind all that much when he covers us in bodily fluids. 

I would really love to now spend some time relaying an important lesson I’ve learned, or recounting some of the hilarious and adorable things the kids have said, or the ridiculous antics of my fellow volunteers, or providing the juicy details of what it’s like to live in Africa for a few months (teaser: I ate a few bugs in my macaroni today.) All of those will be coming soon. For now, we’re all pretty wiped out. My roommate Emily and I will soon retire to our room, which we share with a number of friendly geckos and some very noisy and very large rats, before starting another wonderful day tomorrow. (Sneak peak: It involves first graders and incredible water falls.) 

And so concludes yet another evening in incredible Africa.  

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