A few years ago, after visiting Paris and deciding to retool our lives, we made the decision to do some traveling in order to see the final continents on our list (and to figure stuff out!). First stop: Africa Deciding to go to Zambia - one of the most poverty stricken places on earth - was a no-brainer. The timing was right, and we were eager to see/experience the reality of this way of life for ourselves and to visit the family we had taken under our wing from so far away. Our visit to Africa is what propelled our decision to do a complete overhaul of the way we look at life. We spent the majority of our time in the shantytowns, visiting clinics, playing with the kids and trying to lend a helping hand. Our visit here is likely the best decision we’ve ever made
(Unfortunately, we lost much of what we had written about our experiences in Zambia. Here are some snippets we were able to pull together from our journal.)
Our first order of business upon arrival in Zambia was to visit a community center in Kenyama. We were horrified by what we saw on our way in. The city, Lusaka, itself is certainly not what I would consider nice - it's very run down and a little frightening. The real shock came as we moved away from the central part of town. Dilapidated buildings soon became shanties, paved roads ended and became trampled red earth. The smell changed from the noxious fumes of industry and automobiles to the stench of poverty (yes, poverty has a smell; something like dried fish, burning garbage and body odor). The walled compound of the community center would offer only a slight respite, but would be our first sign of a level of hope and pride that belies the surrounding social situation.
MEETING OUR FAMILY
Our courageous driver navigated the labyrinthine, dusty, earthen alleys, doing his best to avoid the wandering child or stray chicken, until we arrived near our "adopted" family's home. We parked the car at the community’s water spigot, a simple tap built into a cinderblock structure. The short walk led us through more garbage-strewn allies. We did our best to maintain smiles and make eye contact, which was not easy in the face of staring children, their eyes wide and yellow from malnutrition, their clothes mere rags that hung off of their small frames. I was amazed to find some small relief in the fact that the Yangose’s home had a front door, which made it feel more approachable. These are the things hold comfort among such abject poverty.
LIFE IN POVERTY
This is a good time to describe the Yangose’s home. It consists of two tiny rooms (we presume, not having seen the second room). The main room, a mere 10x8, serves as the living room, dining room and kitchen. I had to keep reminding myself that 6 people lived in this place. The Yangose’s are fortunate to have a cement floor (a luxury) and cinderblock walls. The house also has a tin roof that, just a passing glance would reveal, is full of holes.
Another day and another terrifying journey into the shanty towns (did I mention that there are very few traffic regulations, and the ones that are in place appear to be mere ‘suggestions’?) we gathered up Helene, Ailess and Taonga and headed to Shoprite in Kusaka. This turned out to be a very powerful and sad visit as we learned our family had never set foot in a grocery store. We walked the store picking out items: maize meal, bar soap, laundry powder, salt, and vegetable oil. We also walked Ailless over to the toy section where she picked out a small stuffed bear. The joy in her eyes was worth every penny! It was quite emotional to see Helene through this process, as she could only shake her head and thank us. I can only imagine the relief this must have brought her as the goods we purchased represented 2 months worth of food and necessities.
We loaded all the goods into the truck and, once again, headed back to Kenyama. We made fairly quick work of unloading all the groceries and goods into the family’s home and, after a few good-byes and some of Helene’s heart-wrenching double hand shakes, we headed back to the hotel.
HANGING OUT IN THE COMMUNITY
After snapping some photos of us with the family (and staring at a video camera that made the whole experience feel a bit peculiar) we moved outside while we continued to wait for the bed we had purchased on a prior day to arrive. The sun was low and hot and we looked as if we might pass out from heat stroke at any moment (forget the fact that everyone else was in sweaters). Somehow we managed to muster up enough energy to play stick and wheel (yes, pushing a wheel around with a stick) and race the kids around the houses. The boys also played a game of dodge ball and a game of soccer, both with a ball made of old plastic bags bound with twine. This was very heart-warming because it reinforces that, despite all obstacles, kids are just kids. They want to play.
THE REALITY OF POVERTY
I was sitting next to Ngose, our guide, when a small child, dressed in rags (literally) came up and asked if he could enroll to have a sponsor. Ngose let him know that his parents would have to agree to this first. At that point an older child, maybe 10, spoke up and said that this younger child had no parents and was living off scraps of food that the neighbors provided. I nearly broke down then and there.