Sunday, May 13, 2012

At Home in Mulenga

Oh friends, I'm sorry it's taking so long to get anything out to you. Time is flying by us in Zambia and every day I try not to be bitter about the fact that we should have just come here in the first place. It's home to me. I'm not saying I would have missed our time in the communities of South Africa and Zimbabwe, I loved it all. What I am trying to say is that I don't know that I could ever spend enough time here in the communities of Zambia, particularly Mulenga. I love the people, the kids, the market, the dirty streets, the clean swept yards, the impassable roads, the fires burning, the taverns pumping out loud music, the women selling kapenta (small fish) and tomatoes, spinach and sweet potatoes from their stands, the broken houses, the indescribable lack of adequate toilets, the school house, the sugar cane, the shanties leaning this way and that like an image in a funhouse mirror. I love the hedges with their gluey branches, the village chickens that meander throughout scratching for something to eat, the entrepreneurs of Mulenga with their cell phone charging shack or tyre repair shop in the yard, the man who makes and sells cooking pots in all sizes, the woman who tries to teach me a little more Bemba each time I pass her house. Most of all I love the care Elizabeth, who serves 100 kids per day making shima and kapenta and cabbage or shima and cabbage and sausage, or shima and soup...every day. She smiles more than when I first met her and she's lost the hard look in her eye that was distrusting of anything or anyone unfamiliar. I love that when I show up in the skirt she gave me last time I was here, she gets teary eyed and holds my hand for just a few extra seconds. Care workers like Cynthia and Gitness, who I've stayed with and shared meals with and slept overnight with. They've moved into leading roles in the community and watching children clamber at them as mothers moves me to tears. I remember crying with Cynthia as she wept over a husband who left her years ago because of an inability to conceive a child. His loss. Literally. Here is a beautiful woman with children all around her who call her mother. She is a mother to many children in Mulenga, not by biology but by love. She knows the names and needs and living conditions of these children but also their favorite game, their grades in school and where they sleep at night and probably what they dream. Gitness too, is more and more beautiful each time we meet. This time was the most fun, she saw me and her first words were, "Welcome home!" She laughs easily now and her smile is contagious. She used to bring up the rear when care workers walked together but now she is front and center, leading the way into the homes of the community. She still hobbles on her once broken foot but she continues to walk miles a day to visit the children of her community, without complaint. I know the room she stays in is often shared with any woman that needs a safe shelter or some medical attention. She sleeps on a small wooden couch in a small cement room. If someone needs that couch, she will sleep on a small sofa chair sitting upright. I've only been to her home once when it was just she staying there. That's her nature. This morning, it's Sunday, so we drove to Mulenga to hear our friend, Blessings, speak at his church. We drove into the community and made our way to the building where I had last attended Blessings' church. They had met in a school classroom with another church in the adjoining class. The walls didn't reach the ceiling so each church congregation sang louder and louder and prayed louder and louder. Why they didn't just join together is beyond me? This morning was no different although I warned Jason we should peek in and make sure it was Blessings' church before entering or we'd spend the entire service with the wrong congregation. Sure enough, at the first room, there was no sign of Blessings. Next room? No sign of Blessings. We were sent to a building behind the one we were in. Two more churches? No sign of Blessings. We did see our little friend, Peggy, outside so we stopped and chatted with her for a minute but she agreed with everything I asked so I didn't think she was a reliable source...she just seemed happy to be with us! We left her there and then started up the road to see if maybe they met in the Mulenga school. On our way, we passed Dickson, who was our driver, when I came with a team. It was great to see him and he was happy to see me. He is doing well, working at a steady job and his family is well. It made me really glad that we had come as every time I come, I look for him and haven't been able to see him, only speak on the phone. We headed along the road and then heard my name being called. It was Kennedy. I can't say too much about this boy other than I feel he is part of my family. He feels it too. Today, he was very hungry and looked extremely tired. He's not doing well - for many reasons. Life is hard when you're a boy and trying to be a man but without any guidance. At 14, he's as small as Easton and he's struggling. He hasn't been attending school - it's a long way to the school in Kitwe area and he doesn't eat well or take care of himself well. I challenged him last week to go to school. I asked him this morning if he had been to school this week and he said that he had. I believed him. He also told me that he was very hungry. I could see that that was the truth. I had brought along some soup and carrots from the market so I passed them to Kennedy and sent him home to his grandmother. I'm not sure where life is going to take Kennedy but what I do know is that he knows we love him and that we are proud of him. I'm just not sure it's enough. I'm sure it isn't. Some day, I'll be able to write Kennedy's story without crying but for now, I am just going to ask you to pray for this boy. He's absolutely gorgeous but he is now fragile and more vulnerable than ever. I am afraid he may not be here next time I come back. I pray I'm wrong. As we carried on, we stopped by Chrispin's stall in the market and greeted our friend. He works hard and does his best to support his family. He's always free with a smile and happy to see us. I am hoping this week we can sit with him for awhile and catch up on life together. We left Mulenga without having gone to church but I feel like we were still there to connect with God and with those we ran into. I always feel at home in Mulenga, although I still stand out as a mzungu with my white skin and odd words. It's those who see past those things that really make it home. No wonder I feel so homesick when I'm away from Mulenga. It gets harder and harder to leave each time, not knowing when I'll be back.

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