Friday, June 11, 2010


Travel to Africa demands an open mind, I told my friend who had a difficult time understanding this journey of mine. This time, this trek will lead to Zambia where I will meet Elizabeth and Margaret, two preteen girls who I know only from photos and letters. The arrangements for the visit were made through Children International the U.S.A. based organization that provides for their well-being. I called the Headquarters in Kansas City a few days before my departure to assure them that I was making the trip and they assured me that the folks at the Children International Headquarters in Zambia would be expecting me. I came armed with contact numbers, rules and regulations from the organization and of course the latest photos of Elizabeth and Margaret.

When I made contact the sound from the voice on the other end said "ready, set, go" Oh ye of little faith I thought, after months of communication via E-mails, why wouldn't everything be in place? It was the beginning of winter in Zambia and the sun was playing hide and seek but the warmth of the smiles from the group who greeted me soon let me forget the chill in the air. As I went on my guided tour, I began to learn each persons role at the Headquarters and they welcomed me and marveled at my philanthrophic spirit. Their extended open arms meant a lot but I quickly downplayed the small role I am playing in these two young girls' lives and wanted them to know that I have made it my duty to make a difference in the lives of as many children as I possible can.

The road to Kanyama was paved with potholes of anxiety, and happiness all rolled in one. The bumpy road did not seem to bother the driver or the guide who were transporting us to the Children International Center where I would first meet Elizabeth. Another round of introduction and tour of the Center was the order of the day. The center was packed with children and adults and alive with activities. I later learned that some of the parents of the children who are lucky to be counted as members of this center, do volunteer to help out in various areas, making it a real community affair. We entered a classroom and a group of boys and girls greeted us in unison "Good afternoon and welcome, we are glad to meet you," they screamed with joy. We thanked them, listened to them rattle off the alphabet, pronounced big words and I watched their smiles lit up the room. As we departed and the door closed behind us, I could still hear their infectious laughter, even in the midst of such poverty. These were very young kids being prepared by their teacher to enter the very few community or public schools that exist. In the midst of all this excitement, Elizabeth, her mother and baby sister were patiently waiting to meet me. I had passed her on the way in without noticing her presence in the sea of faces but at this formal introduction, she became familiar. I pulled out the photo I was carrying with me and she shyly smiled. After a little chitchat and lots of smiles, we started out to the township where the family lives. Realizing the distance Elizabeth had to walk to get to the Center, my stomach was in knots. Her feet were the only means of transportation, yet this young girl has the fortitude to regularly attend the Center's program.

After we entered the road leading to the family's home, the whole neighborhood came out to see us, adults and children peered around corners. A group of young children were chanting "Bazungu" meaning "White people" the guide explained that they were only used to seeing "Bazungu" on these missions. I am sure others will come when they can. The space was tight but they welcomed us in their humble home. I sat on a tiny stool, the only seat in the house, everyone else stood. I gave the gifts I had brought, games, books, clothes, sweets, etc. Elizabeth and her family were delighted,a skipping rope and a colorful skirt received wide grins. Then we were on our way to meet Margaret and her family who were in another Center located in Chibolya, which was certainly not around the corner.

As we traveled on more bumpy roads, I glanced back at the quiet young girl in the back and wondered about her future. At this Center we repeated the activities as before, tour of Center, introduction to staff, volunteers and children. This time I was prepared, I knew the drill and I instantly picked Margaret out of the crowd. We chatted for a while, smiled a lot and then headed for their house. Along the way they proudly pointed out the school she attends. We came to a halt in the road as the van, our transportation, struggled to mount the rocky road. We advised the driver to stop and we left Elizabeth, her family and the driver waiting in the van, while we walked the rest of the way to Margaret and her family's abode. We didn't want to chance having the vehicle conked out on us.

This time we were greeted by Margaret's uncle and cousins. You see, Margaret's mother died a few years ago and her mother's sister, her aunt went to the village, where they lived to get her and raise her on what little she has for her household. Her aunt's husband, her uncle, proudly told us that he built this concrete house after he retired. The house albeit small had the luxury of electricity which is so rare in these areas. Again, I disbursed the gifts, chitchat and as per the organization's regulation, a family member must be present with us, so Margaret's 20 year old cousin joined us the rest of the way. Margaret's aunt had been out for many hours already and must stay home to prepare the family's meal.

The plan consisted of having lunch and then going on a shopping spree. Our group had swollen to two guides, Gladys and Melody, Elizabeth and her baby sister cozily strapped to her mother, Margaret and her cousin, my traveling companion and me and of course the driver. This was the families' first outing to a shopping center and on the recommendation of Gladys and Melody, we made ourselves comfortable at a restaurant called Steer, which had a menu with various choices. We ate and the guides prodded the girls to talk, after all they told them,"do you know how far they came from to see you?" The parents said the girls did not sleep all night, they tossed and turned, full of anxiety. While we ate, I took the opportunity to advice them to stick to the program at the Centers. I encouraged them to study hard, keep learning, never to give up. Dream big I continued because all things are possible. Will my words take root in their young minds? Only time will tell.

Shopping was fun, I gave them a budget and the freedom to choose the clothing that meet their fancy, watching them brought excitement for all of us. The guides were snapping away, they wanted to capture every moment. I wanted to make sure their feet were protected in sturdy walking shoes, after all they walked everywhere, far and near on perilous terrain.One of the girls picked out a strong looking pair of school shoes, the other a more dressy selection. I like that they have a style of their own and my concern for a sensible selection seemed not to matter right now. They chose the pairs of shoes they liked.

When we parted company, I had time to reflect on the day's journey. Here I am in the warm heart of Africa, I am convinced it is in their DNA to be naturally friendly. Our trusted guardians, Gladys and Melody did a fantastic job. The driver took to the hazardous roads with confidence and took us safely from town to town. The children were quietly absorbing this day, their tell tale faces showed happiness. The parents were exuberant and wished us God's blessing. Before I left for Zambia, I asked and answered the question:"What will I say to two young girls?"(See blog of 5/16/10). I came, I saw and I felt contented but listen up, more stuff to tell them.
Margaret, Elizabeth, you should trust life to take you as far as you want to go.
I have pledged to coddle you through the hard times you certainly face.
But never forget there is always HOPE.

The day's event opened up my soul even further, my soul was filled to bursting. That night I slept like a dead person,already I miss engaging in colorful conversations with the locals, but I'll be back. You just wait and see!

"I have always known that at last
I would take this road,but yesterday
I did not know it would be today."
Ninth Century Japanese Poet,
Akiro No Narihara

All Is Well!