Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Time Warp, Pen Pals Update and Preview

I've been in Zambia now for a week and it seems like a month, but it also feels like the blink of an eye. How can that be? Time warp is my answer and I'm sticking to it.

I spent two days at the American International School of Lusaka rehearsing with 14 students ranging from 5 yrs old to 13. They performed two songs with me at the opening session of the AISA (Association of International Schools of Africa) conference on Friday. The children were brilliant and the presentation was well received by the 300 plus delegates at the conference. The 85 year old founding President of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda was scheduled to do the greeting before my keynote but his wife was rushed to the hospital that day and he couldn't make it. I was sorry to learn of her illness and disappointed he wouldn't be there. He plays guitar and sings and I was hoping to get him to sing with me. In essence he is the George Washington of Zambia which has only been a country since 1964. It used to be called Northern Rhodesia. Although Kaunda was not there I did get to sing with a marvelous acapella group, in some ways similar to Thula Sizwe. They joined me on stage to sing "Where We Live," the organizing piece to our new project of the same name. You can see and read about the Zambian Vocal Collection at the web site http://www.zambianvocalcollection.com/ They have a strong Christian faith and message, and like many people whose lives include suffering, want, and uncertainty, they have found great solace and hope in the church. If you read their personal messages they are really inspirational.
Following Fridays opening session I spent three days conducting workshops, meeting teachers, refining my presentations, and trying to adjust my sleeping to the time difference. It's only six hours but I suspect changing hemispheres also comes into play because it took several days to get remotely close to sleeping as I do at home. The interest in BoPH here at the conference is very promising. Teachers from places I had never heard of attended my sessions and are now excited about our project. Two of the new places are Lubumbashi, which is in the DRC, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Dar es Salaam, which is in Tanzania. Look them up on a map or globe if you have time.
Many of the pen pal letters that were entrusted to me have been delivered to teachers from across southern Africa. Others will travel on with me to Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa. I was able to get names, locations and emails to match most of the packages but in the logisitics of changing sessions and people moving in and out of rooms a few envelopes went missing. I don't think they are lost. I believe some teachers didn't hear my request to come up and provide me with their information before taking the letters.
Following some sessions there were 4 or 5 teachers waiting to talk with me as I packed up my guitar, computer etc., while others were looking through the envelopes spread out on a table. Since I am alone I couldn't be in two places at once and some envelopes went unaccounted for. They will be our "mystery" penpals. If you don't hear from me or Mary Jain in a couple of weeks you will know that you are in that small group. I was most disappointed to discover this and ask your understanding and forgiveness if you do not hear from a school.
The smiling young lady in the picture on the right is Anna Tembo. Anna teaches at Banani International School here in Lusaka, Zambia. She is originally from Zimbabwe, a neighboring country, and like many others she chose to leave the country which has suffered from war, violence, and a repressive and at times brutal leader Robert Mugabe. It was moving to see Anna's emotions as she thought about that past. We were doing a storytelling / interviewing activity and she was unable to talk about it. She's a lovely lady and seems like a great teacher committed to helping others and making a better future for our children. This posting brings me up to Sunday but I'll close here before going on too long, if I haven't already. The events of Tuesday require many words to talk about. I spent the day visiting two schools in a compound which is the type of community in which the vast majority of poor Zambians live. I feel like a wrung out dish rag at the end of the day but a grateful, enriched, and hopeful dishrag at that.

On the left are some of the students I sang with on Tuesday at the Prince Takamado School in Bauleni Compound in Lusaka, Zambia. The school has over 2400 pupils and the average class size is 75, and students only go half days then another 75 come in for the afternoon session. They loved to laugh, smile and sing but it really isn't surprising that the teachers rely on small sections of rubber hose or a "switch" or tree branch to enforce keeping students in line. Can you imagine teaching all subjects to 150 students a day. I think the switches were used mostly as a threat but the students respected the threat in a way that made it clear that it also gets used.

More in the next installment. Thanks for reading.


  1. It's interesting to see that the same man that came into my school to sing songs is still doing it and in so many diverse and distant places. The idea of being a "Mistery" pen pal seems more interesting then being a regular pen pal.

  2. It sounds like you are having a blast in Zambia! I hope you get some rest soon, it sounds like you are exhausted. Give all the students you meet a hello from Susanna in Edmeston!
    Susanna from Edmeston, New York, USA

  3. I would have to agree somewhat with Carl on that one, on one hand, it would be quite interesting with the aura of anonymity.
    However, it would be somewhat sad to being truly connected with somebody else on a personal and open level.
    Either way, this is still a great experience for everybody, whether they are in the small mystery group, or in the larger known group. Can't wait to read more about your stay in Africa.

    ~From Edmeston, NY

  4. I'm sorry to hear about the situation with Dr. Kenneth Kaunda and his wife, and it's too bad you two couldn't meet up. I understand feeling tired with jetlag...it really is a killer. It sounds though the gratefulness you have from your experiences keep you motivated, and that is great. I hope the pen pal situation works itself out, and "mystery" pen pals can't be all that bad! Everything happens for a reason, and hopefully that is shown wih this situation.
    -Allen from Edmeston

  5. Seems like you are having a good time in Zambia, I hope to hear from our pen pals and that you can get some rest! I also have to agree with Carl on the "mystery" pen pal, seems more interesting.

    ~Also from Edmeston, NY

  6. from your blogs it sounds like your doing alot of good over in Zambia and i personally hope that they get as much if not more from your visits as the kids here in Edmeston do.

  7. This sounds like a very "eye opening" experience. From your blogs it is easy to tell that you are making a world of a difference over in Africa and from the smiles on the kids faces in the picture, they definately appreciate everything. I hope you are having a wonderful time and I hope you work out that jet lag issue. Tell everyone that the folks back in little Edmeston say hi!
    ~Megan Lawrence from Edmeston, NY

  8. It's to hear from you John. It is unique to dicover the differences in education oppertunities between the international schools in Africa and our own in little Edmeston. I cant wait to hear from our penpals in Africa. It is nice to see the smiling faces of all the children too. Hope to hear from you and have good travels.