Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Makiya Village, My Village

Makiya Village, my village and home, is a tiny place made up of eleven huts in the shape of a Q. And since my compound is set just outside the main village, my hut acts like the Q’s tail.
It isn’t likely to be on any map except Google Maps where I finally found, after 10 minutes of searching, what I’m almost certain is my hut and the huts of Makiya Village.
It isn’t much to see in person — just a few grass thatched huts — but it’s home just the same and those who live here are about as close to a Zambian family as I will ever get.
About 65 men, women and children — all of them related in some manner as cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, etc. — live in my village’s 11 huts. In this one village there are four generations of the Baboon clan.
This is about 2/3s of the people I lived with during the past two years.  The villagers of Makiya Village were wonderful to me.  I wanted to take a picture like this for about 6 months but could never get everyone together... until my last week in the village.  Please notice Grandma on the left-side throwing up the double hand wave and Nshimbi in the blue shirt.  Makes me smile every time.
Of the 65 people in the village, the majority are children. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and with so many kids scurrying around, over, and under everything, it’s good they’re all related because no one mother could keep an eye on them all. I once saw a woman give a pretty serious spanking to her niece after she had pushed down a cousin that belonged to another sister.
In the village hierarchy there is Mr. Fred Fubisha, the village headman. Formerly one of the best bush hunters in the area, his body is now wracked by rheumatoid arthritis and his mobility has been greatly reduced. But his mind remains as sharp as ever.
The headman, Mr. Fubisha (on the right side of the photo) in his arm-powered wheel chair. 

This is a much better picture of Mr. F (he's not in the middle of eating at least).  Back in his prime he was a very well known hunter in the area.  His specialty... elephants.  The man has some amazing stories.
He’s not the oldest person in Makiya Village, though. That designation belongs to his mother, Nelo, who seems to play the role of stern, respected, wizened matriarch to perfection at 80-plus years of age. She’s no pushover.
Grandma Nelo with the newest addition to our village, baby Jordan.  She's a tough old lady: stern but fair.
After the headman comes the head of each household, and for my village, those are mainly the mothers. For whatever reason there are only four huts with men always present. Sometimes due to employment opportunities elsewhere, death, divorce or other issues, the women largely dominate the social landscape in this village.
And that’s a good thing for me because it means that I basically have nine mothers and one stern, but fair, grandmother keeping an eye out for me.
My brightly painted home.  To be honest it was a dumpy hut, but that's mainly my fault.  I didn't take much initiative to keep it in tip-top condition.  Nonetheless it was home.
For example, last year I got really sick from an especially bad case of food poisoning. Throughout the day, all of them would stop by to check on me and see if I needed anything, even going so far as to empty my bedside bucket.
They think that I’m something more than just a helpless volunteer that’s been implanted into their community.
Recently, one woman claimed that she considered me to be her first-born child (an honor in Zambia) in front of her actual first born and a gathering of villagers. Kind of awkward, I know, but he later told me he took no offense to her comment.
Smiles everyday... that's what Makiya Village offered.
For all the female involvement, there is absolutely preferential treatment among the children. Due to typically large families (six children on average) and limited funding, boys are sent to school before girls and there is a discrepancy between how long they’re sent (the older children go for much longer).
There’s one man in Makiya who can speak English incredibly well because of a decent education, while a younger brother speaks only the local languages due to less educational opportunities.
This overall scenario of my village’s makeup is similar throughout rural Zambia where the Zambian nuclear family greatly outnumbers the American version by at least 2 to 1.
Even the proximity of family members to one another is like this throughout the country. There may be a cousin, sibling or child who acts as the outlier and has moved away to a better job somewhere else, but mostly they live in large familial clusters.
Some villages may have huts numbering more than 100, but I’m thankful for my small village. I know everyone, they know me, and we get along perfectly.
It’s an ideal setting that allows me to have a safe community, local friends and experience firsthand the happenings of an African village and its nuclear family.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Technology and Zambia: They're Evolving Together

Technology is crazy. It’s constantly improving, changing, shifting and doing things for us that we wouldn’t have imagined 10 or 20 years ago — maybe even five years ago.
I’m constantly at a loss when trying to understand why things are getting smaller, what a hash tag is doing in front of a person’s name or how people manage to keep up with any of this. It took me a week just to understand what a “selfie” was.
Teaching Nshimbi how to use a computer.  He was so excited and incredibly nervous to even touch the keyboard.  He picked up typing surprisingly fast.  He know has an email... although no computer with which to check his inbox.
It doesn’t matter what I can’t keep up with, especially when I’m trying to keep up with it while living in a Zambian village, because even my village is changing.
With more than one billion people, Africa represents a large portion of the market available to technology manufacturers and companies like Samsung and General Electric.
It’s in this area of cell phones that I notice the largest growth in technology adoption. Nearly every person has a cell phone and nearly every street corner is staffed with peddlers trying to sell a newer, better model.
These phones often provide villagers with Internet access, and although the uptake of this crazy notion called the World Wide Web is slow, it is gaining. It’s only a matter of time until my villagers start asking for my email address and we’ll be able to stay in touch long after I’ve left for the U.S.
Though the phones here aren’t as nice as those back home, some aid groups are trying to use phones to improve people’s lives.
My neighbor Willie setting up his Facebook account with his cell phone.   
For instance, there’s a texting service that rural, small-scale farmers can use to find the price of certain commodity crops like soybeans, corn and beans on the world market. The service will even identify companies that are buying these crops and provide the company’s contact information.
The Peace Corps in Zambia is also getting into the technology game through its partnership with a local technology hub called the Bongo Hive.
Last year this partnership created a cell phone application called Bantu Babel, which helps translate many of the local languages into English.
Twice a year, volunteers team up with local tech enthusiasts during a “hackathon” to brainstorm and create new development-focused applications and programs. Next up from the Bongo Hive group is a transportation-inspired application.

Some of the Bongo Hive attendees.  I took this photo off of Google Images.  Don't be made... I'm promoting you all.
There has also been startling growth in the use of solar panels throughout my community’s villages. Where there were no lights nearly two years ago, and only the occasional candle, there are now families using solar panels to charge not only their cell phones but to power light bulbs in their huts.
As an American abroad, the growth of technology in Africa has been great. I have a cell phone that let’s me text and call the United States — for a small fortune — check my email and Facebook accounts daily and I’ve even started a Twitter account from my hut based on all the things my favorite villager, Mr. Nshimbi, has said to me throughout my service. These newspaper articles are products of Zambia’s growing connectivity.
A fellow volunteer, Caleb Rudow, has greatly surpassed my own use of technology to stay connected by creating something that I affectionately call the “war room” in his hut.

Caleb's "war room" where throughout his two years of service he was more connected than any individual in a village had ever been connected before.
He has an entire solar system for his computer to use and through that he can Skype with his family in the United States — right from his hut. I always know when Caleb is in the war room because I’ll get email after email from him in regard to projects I’m connected to, projects that may interest me or just friendly emails to check in.
In the future I see technology’s use only growing throughout rural communities, especially in the area of public health.
Mobile health clinics are becoming more popular in the rural areas because technology has allowed these clinics to feature smaller, more easily transportable machines for checking a person’s vital health (HIV status, blood tests, respiratory, etc.) in the less accessible areas of Zambia
Text messaging services will play a greater role, for example a mother could receive a text reminder for when her child is due for a vaccination or what dietary needs the mother should meet while cooking dinner.
Ultimately, the spread of technology to villagers will only increase their connectivity and access to news, knowledge and information.
What slowed them before, inability to access information, is slowly being chipped away at, allowing those wanting the information to have access to the world’s databases — essentially connecting us all and making life a little easier.

Pregnancies In Zambia More Difficult Than Most

My nearest neighbor Anna had a baby recently. Like the majority of preg­nancies, this baby wanted to come in the middle of the night, so she was rushed to the local clinic — via the back of a bicycle —sometime around midnight.


The clinic tries to meet the demands of those in the sur­rounding areas but often fails due to a lack of resources. This time was no different: there was a shortage of blood. Luckily, the district hospital is nearby (just 10 miles) and she was sent there to deliver her baby, again on the back of a bicycle.

Anna with her new baby... this is just 10 hours after delivery and she's back in the village.
But not all women are lucky enough to live near a govern­ment hospital.

  Sometimes, the clinic must do, and the labor room in a clinic is spartan at best.

  The only way to describe it is as being bare.  A clinic’s capacity is usually limited to giving anti­biotics and occasional injec­tions. There’s a blood pressure cuff available but no machines to help a woman if she goes into shock or has other, more seri­ous, complications.

  Even electricity is a luxury, which most go without. And the most important resource — ac­tual medical personnel — is of­ten unavailable.

Combating this issue is the job of the traditional birth atten­dant. TBAs have been around in Zambia for ages, but recently the Ministry of Health outlawed their use because they wanted women to give birth in clinics where hygiene and safety were thought to be better.

TBAs like this one, Finnesse Magenda, do a lot in the local communities to ensure safe births.
Yet, the issue of the lack of proper medical personnel didn’t disappear so many TBAs are now going through formal train­ing where they’re becoming trained birth attendants and thus allowed to deliver babies at the clinic.

The training involves mother and child nutrition, recognizing danger signs in pregnancy and labor, emergency response to those situations, and preventing mother to child transmission of HIV.

  When a woman goes into la­bor, a TBA is called in to help and there she’ll stay through the en­tire process. 

Although many of the clinics have the bare mini­mum in terms of equipment, they’re still better than a home birth where absolutely nothing is available.

However, many births still occur in a village setting due to distance from a government clinic, pride and even mistrust of the clinics. 

In these areas, the TBAs go about their job of bringing babies into this world in the same manner as they have for years. 

Weighing babies beneath a mango tree.  It's not the most ideal place, but it does work in the villages.  Funny side note - that scale in the middle of the photo is also the same one we used to weigh fish during our fish harvests.

For the actual birth, it’s a cultural taboo for men to be in the room.  Only female members of the father’s side are allowed in.  

Because of this, the mother will go through the entire childbirth without making a noise or the use of pain medication. Let me repeat that – without a single sound. Complete silence. This is because the mother doesn’t want to appear weak in front of the father’s family. 

And this doesn’t just happen for the first child, it happens for all the mother’s births, which average about six babies in a woman’s lifetime. 

 Some mothers are as young as 14 when they give birth to their first child. The national average hovers around 18. Anna is 17. 

After the birth, the clinic or hospital will make the mother wait for six hours to make sure both her and the newborn baby are healthy and safe. Once they’ve been checked out, they return to their village and back to their lives — often on foot. 

Due to the high child mortality rate in rural Zambia, the mother usually won’t give her baby a name for a few days until it is clear that the newborn is likely to live.  I’ve seen women back in their fields just days after giving birth.  It’s incredible. 

Six days after the birth, the TBA will make a follow- up visit to be sure of the general health of mother and child.  She’ll do a second follow-up six weeks later.  TBAs in my area have delivered so many babies (at least one of the eleven local TBAs will deliver a baby per day), that at some point they lose count.  But they always know the mothers and which babies they delivered, which creates a sense of pride for the TBA. 

Rhoda, a local TBA, filling out paperwork at a local Under five clinic.  Under five clinics are held once a week and all women with children below the age of five are supposed to bring their children in to be weighed and measured as a way of tracking the baby's health.
I’m continually astounded at the resiliency and toughness of women in Zambia and the entire ordeal of childbirth is no different.  In fact, it only helps solidify my amazement: no sound is made, a woman with no formal training provides much of the technical knowledge to bring a child into this world and at the end of the day there is a mother, a child and a TBA that have all connected through the miracle of life. 

It’s crazy and wonderful. 

My namesake - Baby Jordan
Oh, and before I forget — the name of Anna’s baby? Jordan.

* Special thanks to Charlie Brink for some of these photos.