Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Coming to Life in Mulenga - September 16th, 2009

The morning we drove into Mulenga, I literally felt the world as I recognized it shift on its axis. We drove north from the farm towards the city of Kitwe. On our way to Mulenga, we pass the copper mine standing as a monument to changes over the decades that have led to the demise of an economy. Driving past it, it looms large and there is little visible activity on the surface. Even in the mornings, we don’t see signs of workers entering or commuting although the roadsides are filled with people walking. Taxi vans drive up and down the road and fill literally every square inch of their capacity and then fill some more with those needing to get into the city. Our van is relatively empty with just the eight members of our team and our driver, setting us apart as white people and furthering the thought that we not only can afford to live in luxury, we can afford to travel this way as well.Our driver, Dickson, veers off the road to the right into the oncoming traffic and then makes a sharp left turn off the roadway onto the dirt about two feet below. We are now in Mulenga. Mulenga is close enough to Kitwe to perhaps have been considered a suburb although it what Zambians refer to as a shanty town. Although we used the term “village” to describe it, it is more accurately a collection of dirt paths lined with a variety of dirt brick housing with corrugated tin roofs. There are pit latrines built sporadically along the lanes, spilling their contents into the dirt creating a red sludge. The shanties and laneways are haphazardly spread out from the main roadway we just left down to where the river runs approximately a kilometer or more below. As soon as we enter the dirt pathways, we are spotted by children milling around in the upper yards of the village. We begin to hear shouts of “Mazungu! Mazungu!” “White person! White person!” The bus windows are open and children run out to greet us – full smiles, hands outstretched. I’ve never been welcomed in such a beautiful manner. The children begin to run behind the bus and follow our slow, bumpy progress towards the school where we will meet up with the home based care volunteers. Women walking up the lanes with their day’s worth of vegetables or fish to sell stand to the side and shyly smile as we drive by. The van winds its way down the narrow lanes, our windows offering us a front row view of life in each of the yards we pass by. Each small courtyard is a vignette of the daily life that the people of Mulenga face – children too numerous to mention stand in doorways or sit in the dirt, young girls are sweeping the dirt yards or drying small articles of clothing over the hedges that surround every structure. We are arriving early in the morning although these households have been active since first light. The yards are immaculately kept while the outside of the hedge is littered with every type of garbage imaginable, even that which is not imaginable litters the roads. We turn onto a wide roadway which we learn is the work of James and the volunteers in anticipation of our teams’ arrivals. Not only did they manually dig and fill the roadway, negotiating with each household along the way to infringe a few feet into already tiny yards, they did it in less than three weeks. At this point, it feels like an informal parade and we are riding the only float. James is walking along the road with his wife, Sukai, and they join us in the van. I’m hit by a wave of emotion when I meet Sukai – I have felt an affinity for this beautiful person since I first heard of her. I have prayed for her and wondered about her and now she is here, in front of me, and though it would embarrass her to death to hear me say it, I cannot take my eyes off of her and want to inch closer. I felt I was meeting a kindred spirit and a lifelong friend and I could hardly wait to get past the initial introductions to begin this friendship. The van parks in front of a small garden plot and the remains or the beginnings of a brick home. Our team arrives and is instantly mobbed by children who are eager to shake our hand and greet us in English. Their phonetic pronunciations of “how are you” and “I am fine” are lyrical and I find myself laughing every time a new child greets me. Surrounded by children, seemingly more every minute, we make our way to the school that James and the volunteers have built with the funds from our churches’ Advent Conspiracy campaign.* I have seen photos of this simple building but as I walk toward the actual structure, I feel all my inadequacies and frustrations of presenting and promoting this community’s need to others a world away. Almost physically, these things drop off me and are replaced by tears of joy as I feel that I am being shown the results of the small role I played. Even as I write this, the tears come again, there was something so tangible about the presence of God in that moment about seeing the school that I can hardly articulate it, other than to say that I believe He was showing me what I knew all along, that if I just play my small role, He will do the rest and many will reap the rewards. It is embarrassing that I need those reminders but I do.
The home based care volunteers begin to arrive and we meet in the school. Introductions are made and although James invites us to speak freely to one another, the common experience of awkward silence fills the room, broken only by the sounds of children clambering at the windows for a glimpse inside. Looking around the circle of volunteers, I tell them how we have heard of the selfless work that they are doing and we have come to learn and support them. I share with them how a church across the globe is praying for them and how their photos hang outside my office with their names attached. I try to communicate how amazing it is to be in this very spot, experiencing these photos and names coming to life in front of my very eyes…stories of Loveness’ dedication in feeding as many children as possible daily are wrapped up in the beautiful woman standing next to me. Nkosi, who is 84 and nearly blind can hardly contain his enthusiasm and is standing with a huge smile on his face and clapping his hands with joy intermittently. Sheila and Anita, two of the gorgeous young teachers in the school, are shy although from what I know of them, they will soon be two of the most gregarious and outgoing young women in the town, leading us in spontaneous dancing and singing with any group of children around at the moment. Everything about these few moments erases sadness or disappointments that have buried themselves within me…there is just no room for these in me here. I have no idea why or how but I am absolutely filled with joy in this place, as if it had already been imprinted for me to be standing here and I am just filling in with my physical self where my soul and heart had been for some time.

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