Sunday, February 18, 2007


Today’s topic is SECURITY. In America we don’t think too much about security unless we are flying and then in the airport there becomes quite a visible reminder that the world in no longer a safe place. We live in a safe haven in Bloomfield where the keys can stay in the car in the driveway if we want. We rarely lock the house and never worry about being mugged in Canandaigua or Rochester. You can go anywhere without fearing a pickpocket or purse-snatcher. Certainly there are large American cities where this is not the case, but for the most part we all feel very safe.

Not so in Zambia. Security is a HUGE thing here. Continual vigilance is necessary. I think the reason is because there are so many people who are without jobs, or food or real necessities that they are desperate for any way to get them. Theft is the biggest crime issue.

To insure the safety of what you have there are many precautionary measures you must follow. We have been quite careful to diligently follow the “rules” that everyone here follows.

Lock all doors. First of all we never leave anything visible on the car seat. They are stowed in the boot of the car. Car doors are always locked, as they are in the US when away from home. Now the house locks are a bit extreme. First you must know that EVERY house has burglar bars. So opening the windows requires maneuvering around the bars. The iron burglar door has 2 huge bolts that slide into the door frame and then a hearty padlock holds them locked. Then the door is locked. The same thing is true for the back door. Our landlady apologized for not having 2 separate padlocks for each door and suggested that we get another. The windows must all be shut and locked upon leaving the house. So in order to leave it takes about 10 minutes to “lock up.” Once we head toward the street we must stop and open the gate to the street. All the houses here are protected by huge cement walls all around them. Monster metal gates must be opened and closed each time you leave your house. At night or in the morning you must unlock the monster padlocks (3 in all and with 3 different keys) in order to come or go. If you have money you can hire a gatekeeper. For $50 per month he will guard the gate and open and close it for anyone coming or going.

In the downtown area we really should go with a Zambian. Thieves are abundant and will not hesitate to snatch a purse or slice a pocket to get a wallet or cell phone. Much as we would like to, it is impossible for us to “blend in” here in Zambia. We stick out quite visibly. That means we also are easy targets. I never carry a purse when I go into crowded shopping areas.

Even in the large home where we have stayed each time we have come, we always have locked our bedroom door EVERY time we leave it. The front living room was always kept locked. Now the freezers and food pantries are kept locked.

Since crime and theft have become major issues over the last 20 years or so, all the homes in the city have erected block walls completely around them. You never can tell what kind of house is behind the wall. Furthermore on the tops of the walls (while the cement was wet) they have stuck large shards of broken glass. This prevents anyone from climbing up and over the wall. My landlady has instructed me to be sure to remove all laundry from the line before retiring for the night. All tools like shovels or ladders also must be brought in. We actually try to hide all of our valuables in the house when we leave. We are told horror stories of how thieves in neighboring Zimbabwe will release a gas into homes that insure that the people sleep while burglars walk away with everything they own. If guns are used, they are usually for threatening the victims and if no resistance is shown they are not harmed.

We are told to watch carefully if we return at night to be sure no one is following us down the street as we approach the gate. Thieves will come steal your car while you are stopped to unlock your gate. We are needing to look into getting “gadgets” that lock onto the steering wheel and prevent car theft.

Vigilance is the key. My friend Edah now locks her freezer and keeps food supplies in an unused old but locked refrigerator. She says it happens because people are simply hungry.

Zambia is filled with people whose existence is simply to find enough food for themselves and their families. Anyway they can they try to earn a pittance…. Selling food by the road, raising chickens for eggs or meat, crocheting totes out of plastic grocery bags…day to day or meal to meal…many struggle.

In the meantime we grumble because we have so many locks …. !

Monday, February 12, 2007

girls from the farm

Laundry in Lusaka

Catherine hanging up the laundry. She does a great job helping me around the house and my clothes are cleaner than ever!

Water, Plumbing and Washing

The water here in Africa is not safe to drink. This really is a major issue to deal with in our day to day living. Bottled water is readily available and is used for all drinking, cooking and brushing of teeth. The alternative is boiling the water for at least 20 minutes. When you use as much as we do in cooking and just living here full time we definitely use this procedure. I have a huge tea kettle that I fill at least once a day and boil for 20 minutes. The whole procedure takes 2 hours. When it is cool I pour it into a 4 gallon covered container which is always then available for use. We refill water bottles and chill them for drinking. The only problem is the heavy mineral content in the water. By the end of the pot we have to discard the cloudy sediment-filled water. Even the native people here follow the water-boiling procedure, so it must be very important.

For washing dishes I put a capful of chlorine in the wash water and the rinse water. For vegetables : they are first washed off, next thoroughly soaked in chlorinated water and then rinsed in boiled water. I was worried because some people don’t eat lettuce, but following this procedure I have done a couple of tossed salads without getting sick at all.

Now the plumbing is another story. Everyone has a geezer. That is a hot water tank that is usually outside. Ours gets so hot that it boils the water. We have to shut it off part of the day. The showers are very difficult to regulate. You either freeze with icy water or get scalded. Once in a while you can balance it to get a warm shower…..or should I say a warm sprinkle. The water pressure is another issue. There are some solutions to this problem. Since outside my door we have a large area of weeds that I hope to transform into a garden I find that if I get up at daybreak and work in the garden until I am ready to faint with heat that a cold shower is very refreshing and I don’t mind it a bit. The other choice is to take a bath, since we do have a bathtub. So far I am good with a cool sprinkle.

Washing clothes is all done by hand. Since we have a maid, I don’t mind that at all. The clothes get a lot cleaner than my washing machine at home did. And when I help hang up the clothes I am immediately transferring back in time to when I was a farm girl hanging up the wash on my mother’s clothesline so it could whip in the wind. Now say what you will about technology…there is nothing that smells better than clothes coming off the line. They all get ironed…even underware and towels. I didn’t understand why until Edah explained to me that ironing kills the bugs that might be in them. (and I thought it was to merely press them so they looked good!) It does soften up the stiff things.

How MWB is set up

In order to understand the terminology that I use I probably should define a few terms regarding the structure of Mothers Without Borders here in Zambia. There are some local employees as well as local volunteers. The volunteers are not on the payroll, but receive many benefits as they work with MWB. They may receive housing or meals, etc. Innocent is the country director, Josephine is the program director. They keep the programs going here in Zambia as directed by Kathy. Faith and George are the house parents at the “farm” with Boxen, Fagness and Helga all assisting in the care of the children and the household. Fred and Webster assist as directed in various areas.

The “farm” is a rural farmhouse that is rented by MWB to house the many children who have been rescued from a life of neglect or abuse or abandonment. They live in a family environment where their needs are met and they receive not only food and shelter and clothing, but loving adults who care for them and have become their family. They go to school, participate in daily chores and learn what family responsibilities are. They attend church if they choose to, and most always do. I will be profiling each child sometime soon at this site. Their stories are very sad, but the life they have now is very hopeful and promising.

The idea for the new Family Resource center is to replicate what has been created at the farm many times over. By having a “village” of homes where a couple or perhaps a widow can care for 12 children in a home environment is the ideal alternative to an orphanage. Supplementing these homes will be a health clinic, a school, a vocational training facility, a farm where orchards and crops and animals can be grown to provide food for the homes and stores where items can be sold to the public that have been produced at the center.

The children at the current farm have come to love the employees and volunteers that serve them. They also love each and every American volunteer team that visits for 3 weeks and enriches their lives with love and attention. Most of all they love Auntie Kathy. She has developed a wonderful program here and has a great vision of how to turn this “farm” into the Family Resource Center of Zambia. When it is completed we hope it will be a prototype for others throughout Africa. We hope to be able to make this Center self-sufficient, so that it can support those who live there, thus giving hope to a generation that has been smitten with a dread disease.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

I'm a little teapot

This is my petite teapot for sterilizing water. Holds about 2.5 gallons and takes 2 hours to come to a boil and remain boiling for 20 minutes.


So that white blob on Evan's plate is NOT mashed is nshima and is the mainstay of the Zambian diet. Think of cream of wheat cooked with half the water ...! It is eaten with your hands. Roll a ball of it in your hand and dip it in the "relish" of meat, chicken or fish or vegetables.

Living in a 3rd world country….

I have been to Zambia two other times. I should know that in spite of being 3rd world, it is still on our planet. They do have civilization and Lusaka is a very large city. They have grocery stores, general supply stores, drug stores, movie theatres, internet caf├ęs and restaurants. Nevertheless it seems to be an instinct of mine to try to bring everything but the kitchen sink with me.

Living in an unknown environment can sometimes bring a little fear. For this reason I tend to try to be prepared for any unknown emergency that could befall us. Since the medical facilities are not very up-to-date and since you may find a hospital stay more detrimental to your health than a local witch doctor, I came prepared to solve my own health issues. That meant packing a little of every conceivable medication or treatment on the shelves of Wal-Mart. I now could open a local Zam-Mart with what I have. In fact, I think the local pharmacy would be jealous. Anyway, our health is great and we try to take precautions so we don’t end up sick. Malaria is a real threat but we take Malaria medication daily. We boil the water and use that for cooking and food preparation. We drink bottled water. We put chlorine in the dish water and rinse water. We use hand sanitizer all the time. In fact, we are probably much more likely to get sick at home than here in Zambia. But I am prepared…just in case! I even have a snake-bite kit!

Now I like to cook so I also had to bring everything I could possibly need to make every dish in my cookbook. Not really knowing what exactly was available on the grocery store shelves left me trying to pack a suitcase full of kitchen equipment and food necessities.

I brought a small baggie of at least 50 spices and herbs. I packed knives, cake, bread, pie & cookie baking pans, measuring tools, scrapers, whips and graters. Upon arriving here I have found them almost all available, but I know our food will taste better coming from my familiar equipment! The cost of getting everything here would have been very high, so it wasn’t wasted energy in bringing what I did. Plastic is pretty pricey here. Things you can pick up very cheaply at home are sometimes 5 or 10 times the cost. Yet other things are quite cheap. It will cost about $200/week for us to buy food.

We don’t really care for nshima (shee-ma) which is the mainstay. People eat it twice a day. It is finely ground corn which is cooked in boiling water. It is like cream of wheat cooked with half the water. It is served on a plate with “relish” which is a meat sauce and vegetables. You use your hands and roll the nshima in a ball and grab some meat and gravy and vegetable with it and then eat it…all with your hands. This saves on dishwashing with no silverware to wash. It is rather bland and does not taste bad. It just does not taste. The meat sauce that our hostess, Edah Chikusu cooks is always very tasty … beef or chicken cooked in a very good gravy. I have found a really good way to use the powdery fine mealy meal is to make corn muffins with it.

The sugar is like raw sugar at home. Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are a bit different consistency, but noone seemed to turn them down.

Our living arrangements are coming together quickly. Kathy rented a small newly –built home for a year and we are moving in this week as soon as we finish the final touches.

This cottage has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with a kitchen and livingroom. One bedroom will be an office for Mothers Without Borders. We are busy buying furniture for it so we can move in within a few days. Part of the deal with having a home is that you usually can hire a maid for helping with the cleaning, cooking and laundry. The usual pay here is about $50/month. Our laundry is all done by hand since we don’t have a washer. We will be planting a garden very soon.

The owner, Mavis, is very nice. Her husband died very unexpectedly last April. This house helps support her. She is a seamstress for the teams that come and can make some pretty snazzy African outfits. She thought she also could raise some money by selling chickens. So right across the yard from us is a shed with 200 chickens in it. Now I don’t know if any of you have ever lived near chickens, but they have a very distinctive odor! Some days it isn’t too bad, but it can be pretty foul, or should I say FOWL!!!

The people here are wonderful. We feel very comfortable with them. In spite of their hard lives they are amazingly cheerful. We are humbled by what we learn from them daily. Whatever we may be able to contribute here is but a small thing compared to what we are gaining ourselves.

Life here is very different from home. Things are slower and less efficient. I feel like I am at girls camp. It is a challenge to try to figure out how to make things work without the tools we are used to. Different doesn’t mean bad…we are learning patience. We are learning to appreciate what we left behind.

We will continue to publish here….thanks for joining us! All is well and we appreciate your comments.

Love, Mike and Pam