Tuesday, July 15, 2014
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.
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.
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.
|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.|
|Grandma Nelo with the newest addition to our village, baby Jordan. She's a tough old lady: stern but fair.|
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.|
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 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.|
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.|
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.|
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.