nothing. or everything.

On our first day in country, the four of us girls in Zambia sat down and watched one of my favourite documentaries together before we went out separate ways into the unknown 6 months ahead; the film is North of the Sun. I hurriedly jotted down the closing quote of the film that night, uncomfortable in the new humid warmth of the unfamiliar country, crammed onto a small dirty mattress propped against the wall alongside these three other bodies who would become dear to me in the months ahead. I knew that the words at that time were profound, but had the foresight that I would not be able to fully conceptualize their magnitude until after my life there had come to an end. And now, I have passed the end. It feels like it was all a dream- I do not speak about Zambia much for I am unsure of what information others want to hear, and I fear boring them with stories that they cannot relate to, or burdening them with the trauma of many hardships experienced or been witness to the story of. But the crazy idea to go forth still exists in me, the memories flutter in my brain, the relationships pull on my heart, and the personal work that I had the time and space to cultivate feeds my current life with such quality. I hope I can, and am, bringing some of those feelings with me.

From North of the Sun:

“It all started as a crazy idea. And suddenly, that crazy idea was our life. We knew it would be rough. But now I just want to stay longer. This is such a simple life. Doing what we want, when we want.

(Reading aloud from The Road Leads On by Knut Hamsun): “He was accustomed to other things abroad: fruit farms, cattle ranges. Like nothing this part of the world had ever seen. Like those you only read about in fairy tales.”

I have had time to focus on myself here. But I miss having more people around. We have really felt what it is to be alive. I hope I can bring some of that feeling with me. Here we’ve had time to sit and look at nothing. Or everything.”

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Zambia by numbers.

6-  months of breathing hot dry air and waking up to a precipitation free sky
2- feet so constantly dirty from dirt roads and red soil that scrubbing almost makes no difference
1951- the meters elevation summitted on Zambia’s highest freestanding peak
5- major field trips through work for workshops on women’s rights and gender equality
1- amazing encounter with one of the worlds rarest, most poached animals- pangolin
6- plane rides total and 4 days spent flying to arrive “that side”
24- units in our apartment complex, filled with such caring multicultural families
6- the hours of the day both sunrise and sunset, never changing by more than a few minutes
3- the number of times I checked the weather report during the whole time; its just going to be hot
2- number of horrifically heart-wrenching court dates accompanied through volunteering at the crisis centre
14- nights sleeping in a tent beside lakes, waterfalls, rivers, and in the thick forest
10- minutes of ab workouts near daily
40- days approximately surviving off of dry tuna in a can (at least once a week, and almost every day in the field)
2- near death experiences both near/on water. sorry mom and dad. I am all the wiser now…
23- kilometres hiked through the bush with 40lb packs in North Swaka protected parks
2- number of times we would run past the deliciously odorous cookie factory in our run circuit after work
7- the number of Harry Potter books read back to back to back on field trips to the east where we drove for days straight
2- snakes encountered: 1 dead boa constrictor caught by brave boys in the bush and hauled out to the road to scare passerby, and 1 poisonous tree snake fallen from the branch above me onto the ground beside my feet, hissing as ingesting a tree frog
4- hippos surrounding my tent as I camped alone on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, (way too far from help as I learned in my near death experience)
1- Peace Corp volunteer met who was actually a good, rational, kind person
11- pm, the average hour the girls at the crisis shelter let me fall asleep because they’re too busy attempting to plait my hair
2- puppies, Gunner and Zessa, who are the two best hunting/cuddling dogs who brightened our days immensely at the beautiful farm we loved to visit near the Congo
4- family members in our adopted Zambian family with one strong single mumma and three bright children, struggling to make ends meet with the most courageous resilience
204- days straight spent pretty much every sleeping and waking moment with my life partner/coworker/housemate/sister Alex (and 0 fights)
27- novels read in 133 hours- how amazing to have time to read for pleasure not for school!
2- television shows Alex and I watched religiously (Orphan Black and VICE News if you were curious)
0- number of times we cooked nshima (maize meal) without screaming in pain from the hot bubbles exploding and spitting on your arm as you stir
6- combined medical visits of Alex and I (officially avoided malaria, huge win)
4- languages spoken mish-mashed all together when going into the local shop to buy eggs and saggy eggplants (Swahili- French- Nyanja- English)
7- small children running at you as coming into the gate at home after work yelling “Aunty!”

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temple visits with neighbours.

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home.

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hiking the tanzanian border.

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the beloved farm with beloved people and dogs.

 

74- days since I have returned to Canada, and I’m still struggling to find the balance of how to honour my time away without living in the past, to find my voice again as a Canadian woman, to feel but not too much, and to stay connected to the parts of my life there that made me feel alive.

Afro- Pessimism versus Afro-Optimism

(Written September 2016)

During our pre-departure briefing six months ago, one of the lecturers brought up this issue that I shall now pose to you. As leaders in sustainable development, heads of international non-governmental organizations, and human rights advocates, the speaker and others of their calibre understandably speak from a place of Afro-optimism. As you can imagine, these terms of “Afro pessimism/optimism” have arisen out of the constant single story that Africa is painted with, which often dissolves into negative imagery. I’m sure you could make a list off the top of your head right now about the biases created and perpetuated about Africa. Cue the Lion King soundtrack, bright fabrics, safaris, gospel singing… which then is infiltrated with images of flies in eyes, corruption, drought, starvation, civil war, genocide, conflict jewels…. Highs and lows, wealth and poverty, nature and development- a continent of juxtaposition. The charity model has been a large factor in showing messaging about the plights that many people face, without taking the time to give history, language, or cultural background. Hollywood and mass media as well are biased in their messaging (did you recently see Tarzan?! Hello white saviour complex) replaying a known story without challenging stereotypes. I’m sure most of us are aware of the messaging regarding the African continent being inaccurate and damaging, but what are we doing to challenge ourselves and each other to be able to hold space for the wide variety of cultures, countries, identities, and life situations that people across this vast continent face?

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2011- My art classroom in Arusha, Tanzania; lived in community for 6 weeks. No teaching qualifications.

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2014- Living in the Ngorongoro Conservation with a Maasai community for 6 weeks doing sustainable health research on water, sanitation, and hygiene with the community themselves leading and making all recommendations.

 

A difficult thing I have thought much about in the last few months is how these ideas about Africa would be easy to change if they could simply be discredited. Unfortunately, conflict, poverty, starvation, malnutrition, gender inequity, child marriage, and alcoholism are the reality for many in rural and urban Zambia. I see most of it every day. (And as a foreigner living in a capital city, I am privy to seeing and understanding only the tiniest top layer, which is all processed through my own Western lens). Alternatively, I also see skyscraper business buildings, men and women in fancy business attire strutting downtown, women starting up shops for economic empowerment of their families, motorcades of 2016 sports cars as the president drives by, children in uniforms walking to private school, and 72 tribal groups living harmoniously. Although I cannot completely reject the negatives, it is easy to present examples of positives, of people and ways of living in Zambia that fall so far outside of the classic single story.

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2016- Lusaka, ZM. 6 months of living in community trying so damn hard every single day to integrate, yet to be silent observers. It ain’t all field work! Conference attendees at Government House.

Our facilitators had a response to all of the negative messages… We have the same corruption in Canada it’s just hidden in political and business bureaucracy…. It’s our system of consumption that forces low income countries to pillage their environment and food security in order to meet our needs…. It’s our legacy of colonialism creating conflict as people attempt to return to systems of governance that work… Turn the lens back on ourselves in North America. Absolutely. Although it’s a common response- to encourage people to examine their issues in their own backyard before trying to go out into the international community- it’s powerful. When I was a teenager volunteering in Central America, or Asia, or Tanzania, I could hear this encouragement for self-reflection on Canadian issues but wasn’t ready to fully hear it. I invested in my local community happily, but very much always had my sights set on international work. Now here I am writing in my last few days knowing so deeply that I need to think long and hard about how I want to conduct myself as a global citizen. For a while, I need to really self-examine what I could possibly bring to other people in other places. Six months has barely been enough time to understand language and social nuances, which are key if I wanted to make sustainable change. Perhaps for my near future I will only travel as a humble tourist contributing to a place through my spending money. Because I am not sure at this point in my life what set of tangible, useful skills I have that others who are local to a foreign culture wouldn’t already possess. For the first time in my life, I feel so ready to immerse myself in the pockets of Canadian life that need leveraging into a better, healthier place. In Canada, overall I know the language, I know the social expectations, I know the body language, I know the hierarchy, and I know that I can be myself. I am looking forward to being back in a place where I can speak my mind without fear of either offending others or being put in danger. Knowing my rights and knowing that I am safe, I am planning to push my boundaries of comfort by educating and immersing myself into cultures within the known overarching framework of Canadian culture. Primarily, I am very honoured to have begun studying Indigenous health at UVIC as a part-time student, while working with high-risk youth at a drug-withdrawal centre. I could not be more excited to finally learn more about what I should have focussed on all along: issues in my own beautiful, complicated, broken, unceded land. While many people think of returning home from exciting destinations with sadness because of a return to normalcy, I could not be more excited. While very grateful and humbled for the time of my life spent living in Zambia, it feels very right to be turning inwards: reflecting on myself, and investing in areas I am lucky enough to call home as a female, and as a global citizen investing locally.

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west coast wanderings.

Quote me.

July 26, 2016

When people ask me about how things are going so far on this internship away, or the pace at which it feels like time is passing, I never really an answer. Some days it’s very difficult, some days are wonderful, some hours crawl by, and some weeks disappear in a blink of an eye. Just the same as your life does, where ever you are. There’s nothing outstanding about what I am doing here in my humble opionin, although people hear “Africa” and often have very set ideas about this huge continent (with such varied countries)- you are all doing equally interesting things that serve your own personal path, where ever you are. Instead of having me blab on about life, I’ve been collecting sentences that others have said to me or around me since I arrived that are contextual to the conversations we were having, but also provide external opinions from mine on life in Zambia from those more insightful than I am. WARNING: 1) Obviously these statements are also coloured by the life experiences and biases that these people carry. The individuals do not speak for any population or group as a whole. The quotes are from local Zambians unless otherwise noted. 2) The quotes that have caught my attention are usually very bold statements- they have stood out to me so that’s why I rush to write them down. Due to their boldness,this also means that usually they are comments that either upset me, anger me, or make me deeply uncomfortable. I by no means am trying to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Zambia or Africa, many of these sentences actually stand in contradiction to the sustainable development and social change that I see on the ground.  But in following my patriarchy post, it seems fitting to now write about what the lived experience is for many people I surround myself with, and how they come to process and make sense of the world around them as I grateful struggle to find my way through it all.

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My meditative place of late: homemade lemonade hidden away in a jacaranda tree on top of Lusaka on the water tower 

“Sometimes you have to sacrifice your life for others, to be hard when you are serious about something” (Zambian staff of an NGO encouraging protesting on traditional chiefs land through hunger strikes and possible arrests as a means to enact social change)

“That’s the worst part about living in a poor country you cannot even leave the jobs where you are being mistreated at because the time it takes to find a new job your children will have starved. Most days I give up my food so that they are not hungry. Even with a job we cannot afford eggs or fruit, and with inflation even bread is becoming too expensive to buy.” (Zambian single mother discussing the intense stress of seeking economic stability).

“If a girl goes to school how will she learn the household chores that she needs to do once she gets married?” (Elders from a rural village voice their concerns about girls accessing education)

(A perfect example of how the majority of my conversations go- so close…. But yet so far from a specific answer) Me: “Do they have crocodiles there” Guide: “Yes they have a crocodile that side”(Me thinking/laughing… Just one crocodile? Where? What side?)

“It’s all the historical influence of colonialism still having its influence” (My mum after hearing me lament how upset I was about being targeted by an insanely disprespectful harassment event)

“If a woman is not sick how can she say no to sex? If you do not have any real reason you cannot just say no to a man. If I refuse my husband he says that I must be tired because I have been giving it out [sexually] to someone else so women do anything to avoid the suspicion. Maybe the man will pretend to accept what is said [that the wife is simply tired] but for the rest of the week he will disconnect and not have any talking or relationship with the wife” (Female workshop participant discussing whether daily marital sex is an obligation)

“That’s Zambia for you- your friend has crashed and died only minutes ago and you’re rushing the car to steal the fuel.”- (Zambian man as we drive past a bloody accident on the highway to the Eastwhere man stand around taking the truck for apart for valuable parts rather than tending to the assumed deceased).

“I don’t think fear is a word in your vocabulary” (Zambian coworker gives me the most profound compliment I have ever received in my life after seeing how I manage myself during field work)

“They captured 8 females and 8 males, and made them marry in a church ceremony, told them about church and then sent them back to educate their tribe on how to be real humans not to act like monkeys because they don’t even know how to sit or dress. It will be good for those tribes, it’s good for the church to do this.” (A Zambian discussing their opinion on a Christian group indoctrinating one of the last remaining bush tribal groups in Kenya)

“You would never guess she grew up in a developed country she adapts so well” (A staff member discussing me; I am left feeling uncomfortable about the privilege and bias it assigns in what was meant to be a simple compliment)

“Look at me, look in my eyes [little girl]. Have you ever had sex before? How do you know what sex is? What do the private parts do to each other? Maybe you want to show us on your body where he raped you” (Lawyer who is defending the accused rapist during his cross-examination of the bravest 11 year old girl I have ever had the pleasure of loving with my whole heart)

“Should labola (bride price) be there still? Yes. Why? It is our culture. Even if it’s a bad practise sometimes culture should not be changed”. (Male and female participants in Central Province at a workshop overall still advocated for bride price being paid from husband-to-be to father-of-the-bride. Women then have difficulty leaving abusive marriage because they were purchased as a transactional object.).

“The real reason that women do not succeed in powerful positions is because they are too jealous of each other to support each other” (Female workshop participant discussing barriers to women in political leadership prior to Election Day)

(Context: Following a conversation where participants in a rural workshop in Central Province laughed at the idea that men should ever sexually pleasure their female partners and announcing that it’s not culturally appropriate for females to make noises of pleasure during sexual relations, a Zambian woman pipes up to say:) “What about women in Islam, they have no power at all. Do they even listen or enact any sense of their rights if you try to sensitize them?” Response by Zambian facilitator: “We need to think of ourselves and how, even as non-Islamics, we don’t put gender equality into practise either. Our laws don’t even allow us to have full women’s rights. It’s a universal problem. We won’t make any change until we target men but it’s also our culture and mindsets that women need to be submissive to men so how do we deal with all of these influences? For the men you are women’s advocates at work but how do you treat your girlfriend or wives back home, do you live it?”

“Promiscuity by the man can never break the home. Promiscuity of the woman is headline news.” (Common Zambian quote)

“A young crocodile survives by hanging onto the reeds of the river shore” (Zambian proverb regarding women (crocodile) needing to rely on men (reeds) for their survival and basic needs, interpreted by a Tonga man in a workshop)

“Sometimes it takes someone else to love your culture so much to show you that you should too, and that you don’t need to take on other cultures from so far when yours is so beautiful” (Female responding to my dressing in local attire)

“Are you going to educate or are you going to embrace what you need to?” (Wise Canadian pal reminding me of my role of an observer, not an educator)

“Social society forms cultural norms, as such they are not wrong” (Same wise Canadian pushing me to think critically about the social norms I have a visceral, immediate, negative reaction towards)

“In African tradition you live and breathe for the man” (Rural Zambian woman in a gender rights workshop)

“We see the charity model and its workers coming in, and we don’t want them. They do things and give things to try to make Africa like America. But we don’t want to be America, we want to stay how we are, even if you see us an underdeveloped and primitive. The issues you have, of pollution and food genetic modification and loss of community, those problems are probably worse than what we have here. Your views of health and human rights don’t always fit into our way of life” (Zimbabwean friend who lives in Zambia expressing frustration with the constant influx he sees of charity in Africa).

“You cannot go outside when it’s raining you will get cholera” (Lusaka weather report due to high density compounds having poor sanitation facilities)

“Here if you have a different opinion than me, you are my enemy. That’s why there is a lot of fighting in Africa. Democracy is too complex for us, we are not civilized enough.” (Zambian woman speaking about her perspective on the origins of African conflicts)

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Traditional leaders meet to discuss gender roles and rules

perils of patriarchy.

“I do not wish for women to have power over men, but over themselves “ Mary Wollstonecraft.

This has always been my favourite quote about the intersections of feminism and patriarchy: simple, straightforward, assertive, unarguable. And feminism is all of these descriptors; forget the societal ridiculousness you may hear people talking about when the “F(eminism) Bomb” is dropped. Nobody actually ever burnt their bras (but hey bra underwire gets pretty painful some days!), and it’s not about excluding men from public and privates spheres or even from conversation. (Speaking of bras and patriarchy I saw a sassy quote online– “Damn boy, are you a bra? Because you make me uncomfortable but society has brainwashed me into thinking I need you.” HA!) Should females and males and anyone else all have human rights? Yes. Should one sex have more privilege than each other in every single aspect of life? No. That’s all I feel the need to say about the theology of feminism, because I’m just so “over it” having the validity of feminism being challenged when it’s one of the most important social forces for every single person to get on board with.

It’s often that I find myself struggling too much (such a Zambian thing to say for most questions- “too much”) with the daily pressure and pervasiveness of patriarchy to be able to put it into an eloquent post. Living in Zambia has been a really great opportunity for being independent, so although I have pretty high amount of contact with those back home, there’s so so many situations I’ve encountered and thoughts I’ve pondered that I’ve really simply had to sit and think through on my own. And this is a goal I had set myself for this time away, so I am very grateful for this newfound level of assurance and self-sufficiency. But this is an issue on which when I stay quiet about it for too long, it feels like I will implode or explode. There’s been a few full-out sobbing phone calls to my parents about the injustices of the world, but over time the heart has built up some protective mechanisms that allow manoeuvring through the day without full-on consistent heartache.

I fully understand that patriarchy is everywhere, in every culture, in every corner of the world. But there are varying degrees, and my personal experience here feels crippling at times; new encounters triggering old fears and experiences. Never have I experienced such outward and explicit forms of patriarchy as I do in this new life: not in Tanzania rurally or urban, not in the jungles or dirt streets of Central America, the beaches and ruins of Asia, or the cobblestone mazes of Europe. Of course unwanted and aggressive male attention has emerged in all of these locations, words and limbs springing up and lunging as I walk through foreign streets, but never to this extent. Part of the current personal sensitivity is the greater awareness as I age- I am intentionally carving out a life for myself that priorities respect for myself and my body, and I assertively hold others to those standards. Part of this is race: as a white-skinned person I stick out sorely, so much of the attention I receive is rooted in racial differences and then extrapolated by gender. And part of this is simply the duration of time living in a place that is ultimately foreign, where every day you’re trying to make sense of things new, and deciding what you can live with versus what feels too unfamiliar to ever get used to.

I wrote a lengthy report during my time here at the gender-based NGO I am interning at; arguably the most impactful report of my life, regarding the process women go through to report sexual assault in Zambia. Or realistically, an eye-opening account on how very few women and girls get any form of judicial, medical, and psychosocial services post assault. The global forces of shame, familiarity with the perpetrator, fear over reporting, and victim blaming are huge deterrents. Combined with a country where they are trying desperately to provide services, but lacking the resources or human power especially in rural areas, it means a staggering amount of females are sexually assaulted every day and nothing is done. Some days I am just trying to keep afloat through the heartache of reading horrific documents and staggering data on the way women are treated, still. Patriarchal assaults on women worldwide take all forms: physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, economic, social, and internalized. And spending days and overnights volunteering at the crisis shelter for girls who have experienced rape and defilement means that these statistics and reports unfortunately have faces and names. Sitting in the court house with one of the most incredible little girls I’ve ever met as she trembles like an autumn leaf with her hood up hiding her face from her horrific rapist means that we bear witness to the many layers of trauma, connected by the tight squeeze of a handhold.

One example that is commonplace in our Lusaka life is street harassment- “street harassment” describes unwanted interactions in public spaces between strangers and make the harassee feel annoyed, angry, humiliated, or scared. Because it happens between strangers in a public place at present means there is less recourse. In a US study 99% of the respondents said they had been harassed at least a few times. Over 65% said they were harassed on at least a monthly basis. Why does this issue matter? Street harassment is a human rights violation and a form of gender violence. It causes many harassed persons, especially women, to feel less safe in public places and limit their time there. It can also cause people emotional and psychological harm. One thing I’ve been increasingly frustrated about is that “seemingly innocent street harassment” is not just words. It cannot be disregarded as simply verbal effluent but with no tangible outcome- the changing of sides of the street, clutching of mace or a weapon, looking over a shoulder, rerouting your direction entirely… it sounds overdramatic but this is a daily experience of women worldwide who have to change their behaviour in order to react to perceived and real threats of gender based violence. Due to everyday low-lying safety issues in Lusaka and increasingly so around our election-lead up (overall Zambia is incredibly peaceful as a nation), I rarely walk home alone without my roomie, but when I it feels like holding your breath for the 45 minutes: it’s harder to ignore taunts and comments when you’re not in stride and good conversation with another. We’ve been physically harassed, sworn at, groped, sexualized in uncountable ways, stalked, had objects thrown at us, chased, leered at, hissed/whistled/yelled at, and been called so many objectified/degrading words that its not even worth repeating. Fine, overall we’re probably safe, overall Zambians are friendly people, and overall most of the comments are one-off’s and we can continue walking without being followed, but on my dark days the list of negative interactions so far can be a lot. My main lesson is that a lot of it is simply cultural in terms of extroversion- as Canadians we are so used to being to ourselves quietly, that a lot of the shock is coming from different ways of interacting in Zambian culture. In addition to this cultural influence, it builds confusion for us because we don’t know how to react- back home I would be outspokenly assertive and aggressive but heare, silence often doesn’t feel safe, meaning that standing up and speaking out feels even less so.

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If there’s any part of you that assumes women will be treated better if they cover their bodies with clothing, your argument is not valid: every day I desperately drape any extra layers onto myself before walking home to cover every square inch of pale skin from my ankles to my collarbone and down to both wrists. This has been something I have reflected on a lot through our time here in Zambia: even though women deserve to wear whatever they want and never be treated poorly because of it, there is still an omnipresent idea worldwide that less clothing means more attention, and visa versa. This is also deeply related to issues of sexual assault and serious violence- in Canada I can’t count the amount of times that educated, engaging, kind men have still brought up the arguments of women being at high risk for sexual assault by dressing “slutty” and attracting the male attention, when I thought that they were above victim blaming. Being a racial minority (albeit still a privileged race) attracts a high amount of attention to begin with, and being a woman is another layer of unwanted attention. It’s like trying to swim against a current of patriarchy- whenever I have moments or days where my walking through public spaces goes okay, the harassment inevitably always returns with full force. Yes, not all men, I understand this. But patriarchy is worldwide, and it is stronger in some places like Zambia. It’s this constant force that feels like it’s sitting on your chest every day, you learn to breathe with the weight of it and make change where you can. Harassment and gender based violence is not about sexual interest, it’s about power. I wish that men could read things like this and not take the defence overall- we need you so desperately to join the fight for human rights, to set an example for others, to engage fellow men in conversations, to be our equal partners. For me, Zambia life has been a great opportunity for me to force myself to reach out to supportive, feminist, trustworthy, caring men in my life in order to stay grounded; a few extra kwacha on WhatsApp phone bills is a welcome trade off for the connections I am able to maintain across thousands of kilometers with incredible men I am lucky enough to know and befriend.

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One of the lesson plans: “Benefits of Women’s Participation in Decision Making”

In a recent work field trip to the rural areas of Central Province the animator staff of our organization taught a five day workshop that drew 22 participants from remote rural areas in thedistrict, with over 50% participation being female attendees (Zambians teaching Zambians, as it should be- I simply attended). Although some of the men and women had been previously sensitized about gender, these workshops were able to provide another layer of information and empowerment to them. All of the attendees were unfamiliar with the details of international and national regulations that protect the livelihoods and rights of women, such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Land Act (which protects against super prevalent land grabbing when a women is widowed the family comes of the deceased and steals everything), the Termination of Pregnancy Act (legal abortion under specific medical criteria), the Marriage Act, and the Gender Equity and Equality Bill. Cue me choking back the tears of pride as one women declares that she has the right to say NO to sex with her husband if she is not feeling like having sex at the moment, for whatever reason, she doesn’t need to justify why or placate her husbands sexual needs. Amen, my dear. Unfortunately (for now) almost every other man and woman disagreed with her, saying that it is a wife’s duty to provide sex whenever a man wants no matter what- she has been bought for bride price so is his for the taking. Conversations were had about what “violations” means and what are the types of gender-based violence they see in their lives and/or communities. But this is why the workshops are occurring- sensitization and awareness raising for sustainable development. Other debates arose too about women’s access to land, abortion rights, whether marital rape is “real”, whether its a woman’s duty to provide children, whether women can enjoy sex for pleasure, and whether bride price is still a good practise. The point is that these are being discussed openly between men and women, which is important for mapping the way forward. There were moments of happiness because of high energy and empowerment, but there were also some really tough moments for me as a silent observer where I passionately disagreed with some of the problematic issues commonplace for women, but knew it was needed for me to completely keep my mouth shut. It is the hope of Women for Change that the workshops will help the attendees see gender as a cross cutting issue,
and to advocate for their human rights in their daily life as well as in an informed manner on Election Day. By using a train-the-trainer model, we put responsibility into the attendees to return to their home areas with the promise of sharing their newfound information and excitement with others, so that the knowledge continues to grow and spread.

Let’s hear from some of the most badass feminists out there to challenge the mind and raise us up in action, out of this ocean of patriarchy:

  • Atwood, Margaret, Writing the Male Character (1982) (reprinted in Second Words: Selected Critical Prose from a Hagey Lecture on February 9, 1982, at the University of Waterloo)

“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said, “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.

  • Rebecca West

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute”

And some laughs finnallyyyy after such a hard post (apologies for being a Debby Downer):

  • Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”

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One of the workshop attendees shares her story of female leadership in the church.

five senses of field work.

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Chipata town.

Listen, taste, touch, hear, smell. People often say that when you are experiencing exquisite or profound moments, time seems to slow down and your five senses intensify. Particularly, the senses of smell, auditory, and taste have been known to unlock memories buried for decades, hidden behind walls of ego, trauma, or forgetfulness. I’m sure we can all think of key moments in our lives, heart warming and heart wrenching, intrinsically related to not only what you were feeling internally but how you were experiencing the world through your external senses: a certain fresh- baked good triggering the nostalgia of a childhood home, a sickly sweet floral aroma sending pangs of memory about a past lover who came bearing bouquets, steaming loam and feelings of rebirth after a lightening-filled prairie rainstorm. This month provides a unique opportunity to do many weeks of field work in Zambia, and I readily flee the confines of a cold, concrete-walled office to opt for the hundreds of kilometers in a constantly bumping Land Rover where fine red silt settles in all crevices. To the East where plump, blue-tinged, forest laden mountains tumble forward towards a river escarpment before settling back to flat and arid lands bordering Mozambique and Malawi. And next, to the West where horizons lay even and rocks have fragmented under the harsh conditions to form sand that swirls and collects into shape-shifting dunes. Instead of describing life during fieldwork, I invite you to imagine it for yourself through my senses…

I hear…

  • Waking in the early shadows of dawn to the scratching and skittering of tiny fingernails attached to dozens of engorged rats, echoing raucously on thin tin ceilings. Happily snuggled into a sleeping bag on the ground, I smile at how unperturbed I remain, letting their grubby scampering be my lullaby to rock me back into a few hours of sleep.
  • Seated around a small crackling fire supplied by scavenged shrubbery and under a sea of milky stars hundreds of kilometers away from any dense human settling, it is the absence of noise that strikes you. Moments of pure silence are medicine in a world too busy to hear itself.
  • As the roosters flash their vibrant feathers and assertively crow, the adorable high-pitched chirps of tiny chicks are heard as they rush around in lines scouring the ground for spilled kernels in the warm rays of sunshine.
  • Three too-thin sisters with wide eyes, shy smiles, and dusty bodies prepare ground nuts for us, pitter-patter popping sounding like a tambourine and the methodical scraping of a wooden spoon on overused, thinning metal pots over a fire echoes around the small clearing in the grass.
  • Shrieking and squealing in fright and pain, a robust adult pig is strapped upside down with green leafy branches onto the back metal bar of an ancient, equally squeaky bicycle in motion as the owner attempts to keep a straight course to the slaughter house.
  • Clambering into the squished back seat after wringing hands repeatedly with new-found friends in remote rural villages, women of all ages break into a goodbye song, harmonizing their melodies with a variety of pitches and tones.
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Following members of an Area Association in Lundazi after viewing how the drying process of their current maize crop is going. 

I smell…

  • A flaring and subsiding wood fire that permeates your clothing with the smell of outdoor adventures, needing careful attendance to ensure it maintains steady heat on a simmering dish heavy with oil and salt.
  • Dark, dense, and dank, mud walls are carefully pressed with calloused hands during the erection of homes and community buildings, trapping in the smell of cold earth.
  • Explosions of citrus tang that makes the eyes water with their intensity as thick-skinned indigenous oranges the color of a ripe lime are forced open; minute bursts of oil from the peel stains the cracks of fingers.
  • Exhaust and dust combined into a coating of the nostrils as hundred of kilometers are covered- sudden left and right turns made down tracks designed for oxen-cart and the fine particles of red soil are kicked up onto, and into, your face.
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Kapiri Mthiwa. 

I taste…

  • Vegetable oil dissolves on the tongue as the other flavours of dinner by candlelight combine: bitter greens, acidic tomato, salty beef sausage, creamy boiled potatoes, umami onion, and delicately sweet ground maize.
  • Honey delicately savoured by the spoonful unlike anything you could ever fathom, as if you had candied all of the sweetest, boldest flowers in the world and liquefied it into this dark brown floral elixir that makes taste buds burst to life.
  • Mellow and sweet pasty texture of bananas bought in bushels of 20 from women on the roadside, who elbow and push their fellow competition away from the car windows, raising their voices attempting to make a sale.
  • Intoxicatingly complex flavours of sweet and sour guava picked fresh from the tree, yellowing in color, and drawing the passer-by towards their seed-filled gifts with their rich pungency that fills the mouth with perfume in each bite.
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Glances in the pot at how groundnuts are being cooked in the morning sunshine in Kapiri Mthiwa. Consent for photography acquired prior to capturing. 

I feel…

  • Fluffy lumps of cotton rolled through my fingertips, freshly picked from drying and darkening stems before being stuffed into canvas bags and loaded onto semi-trucks who tilt and sway on winding mountain passages, and unfortunately, as seen, often tipping to their own demise.
  • Thick reeds polished and bound into large mats that we gather on for meetings, a barrier between the cool concrete floor and our skirt-wrapped legs, bare feet tucked under layers for warmth.
  • Thick, swollen skin of a 15 foot long python snake killed by two adventurous boys on the roadside, like a long dusty balloon.
  • Dry ridges of groundnut shells, coarse like sandpaper, eroding through friction the fingerprints on your digits as hours elapse shelling each seemingly-impenetrable outer layer.
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Groundnuts (peanuts) awaiting their lengthy shelling process by hand.

I see…

  • One of the most striking scenes of my life flashing by in the car window: an electric maize grinder runs in the middle of the grass outside a concrete house, sending up billows of white powder similar to the consistency of smoke. Beside it, two Zambian women are completely covered in white residue, looking like albinism or the survivors of an ashy volcanic eruption except it’s maize particles. Ten feet around their circumference, the world continues with its vividness of emerald leaves, chestnut tree trunks, sun-kissed orange flowers, and vibrant optical-illusion patterns of cloth hanging on a laundry line. But within the small sphere of production it is a world of snowy white and two pairs of dark eyes.
  • Dark pupils and yellowed whites of the eyes staring at you from all directions, coming from small, slack-jacked, runny-nosed faces of children unsure how to react to the presence of white skin. Ashy grey or copper dust covers their dark arms, elbows, knees, and shins, the remnants of a day spent working and playing outdoors. Sometimes their mouths curl into earnest grins full of knobbly baby teeth, otherwise their lips curl with fear and they maintain a safe distance from our attempts at friendship.
  • Unhampered by light pollution, the galaxy takes its opportunity at night to put on a show of twinkling light: golden Venu, translucent waxing moon glow, and smatterings of tiny diamonds of stars.
  • Cracks in-between the mud bricks are opportunities for warm candlelight trapped inside the dwelling to spill out into the dark surroundings; standing outside I can’t help but see the parents of three girls attempting to put their energetic children to bed, shadows shrinking and expanding in light of the weak flames, spilling out in golden bursts to the darkness of night.Hearing the monthly reports from Women for Change paralegals regarding how many clients they have counselled and sensitization workshops taught.
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Hearing the monthly reports from Women for Change paralegals regarding how many clients they have counselled and sensitization workshops taught. 

 –

 

Close your eyes right now- what can you sense around you that you were not previously attuned to?

 

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eat me!

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.”  – Michael Pollan, author, journalist and professor at UC Berkeley

I’m sure we’ve all heard the quote by Hippocrates “Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. Realistically though, our society has a pretty messed up relationship with food. As stated before, some of these overarching issues are the food production system taking over land, abusing certain population groups, maltreatment of animals pre-slaughter, and pillaging the environment in a multitude of ways such as carbon emissions. On a social level, our media sends strong, omnipresent messaging about what we should and should not be feeding our bodies with (organic, fresh, low-fat, high protein, low calorie, etc.). Furthermore, this media attempts to limit the amount of food we intake in order to meet “beauty standards”, particularly for women. As much as I wish I could say I avoid all of the negativity- shopping locally as possible, eating mostly plant based, attempting to love myself- I am totally a perpetrator and a victim of so many aspects of the worldly relationship to food. But this post isn’t meant to be depressing- on the contrary, my mother told me I should write about the beautiful connections built through the sharing of food in community (since pretty much the only pictures I send her from Zambia are the meals I am eating).

Who doesn’t love some stats to start off their read? I went to a fascinating presentation and the national government centres a few weeks ago to hear the 2015 national statistics being reported for the first time. I realize how much of a social pariah I probably make myself by declaring speeches on statistics “fascinating”, but hey, as a health researcher I know how valuable this information can be to advocating for meaningful change (& looking at how instantly Canadians crashed the online longhand census form with their blatant exuberance, perhaps I am not the only nerd around). This stuff is hot off the lips of the World Bank and the Ministry of Health, so consider yourselves lucky to be privy to the notes I typed as fast as humanly possible as they presented:

  • Distribution of meals per day: in 2015 3.1% of Zambians said that they eat only 1 meal per day. 41% say they eat two meals per day, 52% said three meals, and 3.5% say that they eat more than three times a day. There are slightly more people in the data grouping which ingests three meals per day, in comparison to the data from five years ago.
  • Household expenditures: Keeping in mind that most Zambian families have on average 4 children, 1588KW ($199 CAD) (is the total spending monthly per family in Zambia, and 645KW ($81 CAD) is the average spending on food. If you are to break this down based on settlement styles, 763KW ($95CAD) is the average in rural areas for total monthly spending, 430 KW ($54CAD) being spent on food necessities, leaving 333KW ($42 CAD) of that for any other non-food expense (rent, charcoal, home supplies, school supplies, etc). Breaking this into percentages, rurally 56% of peoples monthly expenditures is spent on food, and 35% of urban spending is on food. Obviously as well there are huge discrepancies between average incomes in rural versus urban areas.
  • Income monthly per household: on average, rural 810KW ($101 CAD), urban 3152KW ($394). Migration is common from rural to urban areas, and income inequality is worsening every year between the high and low income citizens.

You may need some time to just sit with this information. I know I do every time I read it over. It’s hard and heavy to take, the idea of feeding half a dozen mouths in a rural area on $1.80 CAD a day. I acknowledge that the cost of living is cheaper here, but in Lusaka at least it’s still incredibly expensive to live, especially based on the salaries. Now you can begin to understand why mothers, frantic over food shortages and skyrocketing prices (from 45KW to 150KW in a week for 25kg) were fighting each other tooth and nail over the last bags of ground maize a few weeks ago, desperate to put food on the table for loved ones. We’ve noticed that in buffet events, food runs out almost instantly. Our Canadian manners of only taking 1 or 2 items is not the norm- as a generalization, many people, especially children visiting from rural areas, take as much food as they can fit on their plate, and I assume this comes from having a mentality of taking what you can while it is there, since scarcity could come at any times.

Although food can be a source of division, it is also the most beautiful point of connection that we can share as a global humanity. It brings us closer to connect over things, to bridge the gap of differences, to revel in the beauty of shared nourishment for the body and spirit. Extra butter, salt, and loving care can significantly increase the taste of just about anything (coming from the girl who has eaten a tarantula).

Two special food-related moments that instantly are conjured are as follows:

  • The bottom of the pot jingles like a small tambourine as fennel, mustard seed, bay leaves, ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, peppercorn, and other unknown shapes and sizes dance happily. The colours blend together- sandy brown, deep red, muted green- as their tiny pores of fragrance open in the heat of the fiery stovetop coil. You never knew your nose could pick up so many subtleties of flavour until you’re standing in a cramped kitchen of an Indian woman, watching her slender, bangle-heavy wrists emerge from draping of thin fabric to stir the captivating source of the heady scent. We do not share a common language, instead our communication requires the use of other senses: unfamiliar ingredients handed over to be touched and inspected, pot lids noisily lifted for a waft of intoxicating scent, a spoonful or pinch of mystery to be savoured on the tongue. I hold her baby on my hip, letting his chubby toddler hands wrap around the wooden spoon as I direct his motions clockwise and counter clockwise, peeking into saucepans usually too high for his tiny statue to explore. As we cook, I am fed unendingly from glorious dishes lining the counter: it reminds me of the carnival game of not knowing which lid the prize will be, enraptured by the process of the revealing. Crunchy poppadum swelling and blistering on the burner, velvety potato and peas formed into cakes the perfect size for a wide bite, thick sauces that tingle and burn your lips on the way past. The pressure cooker for the concoction blasts through the eardrums like a train pulling out of the station, notifying us of our culinary progress. Not only are all of the ingredients I brought to contribute left untouched, I stumble out of their doorway at the end of the night clutching an entire pot of perfectly spiced Ayeurvedic kitchari dinner to last me the week. I walk across the courtyard home under the sparkle of stars, and behind me a perfumed trail of spices lags behind, dispersing into the night sky.
  •  “Don’t put a picture of me on Facebook” she barks as the slings a huge piece of beef deftly onto the grill, using the point of a glistening knife, blood being pulled down the steel glint of the blade by gravity. A gutted fish, eyes dully open, fits in the space beside two elongated steaks, like carnivorous puzzle pieces spanning a charcoal grill. Juiced lemons lay nearby, having spilled their guts onto the sizzling meat, and heavy pinches of salt are intermittently tossed like confetti over everything in reach. The sun beats down with glowering intensity as we stand by the side of a road beside train tracks watching the process from sketchy slab of mystery meat to an end product of caramelized fat and smoky protein. Containers begin to pile up beside us: plops of cooked ground maize for balling and rolling in one hand, greens sliced into thin ribbons and steamed until they fade from chlorophyll fluorescence to emerald sheen, brown beans that melt like the texture of chocolate in your mouth, okra puree that wiggles and wobbles, and muted pastel yellow eggplant wilt alongside soggy tomatoes and onions. As we wait, the methodical chef cuts small pieces of meat off, dodging rouge flare-ups of flames, and silently hands them into our dirty outstretched palms the way you would placate an annoyingly cute household pet. Back in the shadows of a lunchroom/library, we lapse into the comfortable muscle memory of eating nshima: pinch off some sticky maize, press it into your palm, and begin the methodical technique of forming a perfectly dense ball with which to then indent a forceful thumbprint, before using your homemade maize spoon as a scoop for the plethora of steaming sidedishes.

 

“This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.” – Joel Salatin, farmer and author of Folks, This Ain’t NormalYou Can Farm

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kitcheri by mrs patel (as i hovered and took notes). special times with my neighbour; she doesn’t really speak english, but the few sanskrit words i know from yoga studies she recognizes. i play with her baby, and she teaches me how to make the most incredible indian, ayurvedic dishes.

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the glory of spices: indian staples in my neighbours home. handful of this, dash of that= perfection.

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a classic haul from the chaos of market.

 

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ruth woke up at 0400 to get to the fish market to buy us fresh river fish. we fried it together on the back porch in the dark, and ate it hot with nshima (maize)& impwa (small yellow, bitter eggplant)

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thought it was granadilla/passion fruit… turns out its a gross sour cucumber. crushing.

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my italian roomie simmering some saucey magic, teaching me her food of heritage.

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ingani fruit- no idea how to describe them other than close to a dried apricot but with big seeds and minimal flesh. more of a jaw workout than anything!

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freshly picked mint leaves from a friend’s garden; every sip savoured.

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factory of millie meal- ground maize. filling bellies of the nation, day after day. this maize has a habit of just sitting in your lower stomach, filling you for hours without any twinges of hunger.

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zambia’s national dish: nshima i loveeee you. sides of beans, meat (fish in this case), greens, and the maize meal which is balled and used as an edible scoop.

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samosa’s from mrs phiri