Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 4

In June of 2017, Michelle Walker, Content Developer for DentalXChange, attended Full-Circle Learning Center’s Conference in Lusaka, Zambia to represent the EHG Fund and see how the program’s influence has shaped the school system and to learn what more we can do to help the Zambian people. Michelle wrote a daily log of her trip to help us experience her adventures. Here is Day 4:

Davidson’s Wedding

I was looking forward to a low-key wedding ceremony, after having only slept for 3 or 4 hours, and being pretty exhausted from the excitement of the reception the night before.

Davidson told us we needed to be ready to leave around Noon, to head over to the Zambia National Baha’i Centre in Lusaka. He left very early in the morning, around 9am, to go to the records building with Peter to obtain the marriage license. I was pretty amazed that government officials work on Sunday, and wondered whether Zambian law requires marriage licenses to expire within a day or two, necessitating last-minute trips to the government office on a Sunday morning.

We all eat breakfast together, minus Davidson and Peter, at the house, and when they return we quickly pile into the car.

The Baha’i center is in a very pretty part of Lusaka, close to the city center. The building has a tall angular roof, and is surrounded by tall mature trees in the front, and a large expanse of lush Bermuda grass in the back. In the main worship hall, black chairs are set up facing a dais, and the entire right side is made of windows. Bridget and Davidson enter, and sit in the middle of the room. There are a few songs, and then Teresa gives a short speech, followed by a much longer introduction to the Baha’i faith given by a representative of this congregation.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Bridget and Davidson gather their familial witnesses, of which Teresa and I are two of them, to sign three copies of their marriage license. After another song, the wedding is complete, and everyone heads outside to take pictures.

Following the pictures, a buffet-style dinner is served, a few more people speak about their hopes for Davidson and Bridget, as well as the Baha’i faith. By this point, I am feeling pretty exhausted, and am ready to head home for a nap.

As the sun begins to set and mild day turns chilly, we pile into various cars and head towards home. Although it is only 7pm, our room is very dark because our lights still don’t work. I pretty much climb into bed and sleep until the next morning.

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Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 3

In June of 2017, Michelle Walker, Content Developer for DentalXChange, attended Full-Circle Learning Center’s Conference in Lusaka, Zambia to represent the EHG Fund and see how the program’s influence has shaped the school system and to learn what more we can do to help the Zambian people. Michelle wrote a daily log of her trip to help us experience her adventures. Here is Day 3:

 On Saturday, we had the morning free to sleep in or to walk around the courtyard. Teresa wanted to go outside of the gate and walk down the street towards the other homes to get a feeling for the neighborhood. When she asked Davidson on Friday if it was okay for her and I to take a little walk, he told us that we could, but that we needed to wait until he, Peter, or Kyei Baffour could go with us. Unfortunately, everyone was pretty busy in the morning, preparing to attend Davidson and Bridget’s wedding reception later that evening. Kyei Baffour was ironing all of his clothes in the kitchen, while Teresa and I chatted with him and drank coffee and tea.

Around 10 am I took a short nap, as I was still struggling with a little jet lag. At Noon, as we were preparing for the car to come pick us up, I officially met Porsche for the first time and we talked about some of the ways that Botswana is different from Zambia and other parts of Africa. Davidson told us to pack up all of our clothing we would need, because we would not be returning to the house until after the reception, so we all gathered our clothing and loaded it into the car. We left for Manda Hill Mall, a sprawling and bustling shopping mall near the southern portion of the city’s center. We drove on one of the main roads into town, Freedom Way, which took us right past the presidential grounds. Freedom Way is a four lane road, two lanes in each direction) separated by a large median that is covered in lush grasses and trees. There’s a 4-foot wide dirt path running in the middle, and (I assume because it is Saturday morning) I see many people strolling, jogging, and biking on this path. Driving to Manda Hill Mall is the first time I get a sense of how Western Zambia is (becoming). I don’t have any frame of reference, being that this is my first time on the continent, but Teresa and Davidson have many conversations about how Western the country looks, which is a pretty stark change from how things were just 5 or 10 years ago.

So far, all of the new people I have seen and interacted with have been Zambian, or from other parts of Africa. When we get to Manda Hill, at least 30 percent of the people I see there do not look African. There are a lot of Asian (I’m assuming Chinese) families, I see 6 or 7 people from India, and as we find seating at the restaurant (Mugg & Bean), I glance around to find that about 75 percent of the folks eating there look like they are European or American. Mugg & Bean is basically like Corner Bakery in the US, with a wide variety of sandwiches, breakfast served all day, salads, and burgers. Davidson orders coffee for Teresa, a cappuccino for me, and some kind of espresso drink for Porsche. He and Kyei Baffour just drink water. We all order food, and although I was previously warned not to eat raw fruits and vegetables, I’m not too concerned because this is a major chain restaurant, and I see lots of other tourists and expats seeming eating anything off the menu.

I ordered a bbq burger, since it seemed like the most American item on a menu full of American type stuff. Although the hamburger is not uniquely American, I like to compare burgers across cultures, not only because the hamburger is so ubiquitous, but because no two country’s burgers ever taste the same. Not even the US and Canada. I take a few bites of the burger and decide that the meat is seasoned too heavily for me, and the taste seems peculiar. I like the flavor of meat, and between the seasoning and the strange tasting bbq sauce, the burger does not really taste like a burger. In fact, I’m thinking that it could totally be made out of mystery meat and I would not be able to tell the difference. I only eat about half of the food before pushing it away.

About 15 minutes into our meal Peter shows up. Apparently he had gotten up early to do some shopping, and had planned to meet up with us at the mall. We stay another 15 minutes, and then I’m faced with the dilemma of what to do about my food. I know I do not want to eat the leftovers, but I’m also realizing that it’s pretty bad form for me to just throw it away. Davidson tells me I’ve got to take it to go, and he’ll just give it to someone once we get to Bridget’s house. We leave Manda Hill, and have to take two separate cars back towards Bridget’s House.

When we arrive there are already about 20 people at the home, and more arriving. Bridget’s mom greets us very warmly, while Bridget, Mabel, and the other Bride’s Maids are completing their makeup and hair in the dining room. The house is pretty chaotic, and there’s someone coming or going from the front door every 2 or 3 minutes. As we sit in the large front room watching a Bollywood movie, we chat about how excited everyone is for the wedding. After about an hour waiting, Teresa and I are told we can go into the back bedroom and put on our dresses. I am fairly confident that my custom-made dress will fit me just fine, but Teresa is worried that her dress, which she brought with her in a suitcase, will not fit. Bridget’s mom comes in to help us tie our wrap skirts, and to affix Teresa’s head covering, and about 20 minutes later we are perfectly dressed. The only problem is that it is difficult to walk in our skirts, because they are tied too tightly around our legs. Apparently, we learned later, when the person is wrapping the skirt around, we were supposed to stand with our legs spread a little wider than shoulder distance, to ensure the skirt would not be too restrictive. I guess you live and learn!

By the time we leave the neighborhood and head towards the conference center, it is dark. Although we are mostly taking side streets, it feels like rush hour traffic because there are so many people and cars out on a Saturday night. After about 20 minutes of driving, we pull into the Mulungushi International Conference Centre, a large, modern, super-sleek building surrounded by lush landscapes of Bermuda grass, tropical trees, and colorful flowering plants. As we enter the gate and head down a long straight driveway towards the building, a sign tells drivers that all animals have the right of way. Just as I ask our driver what kind of animals is the sign referring to, he slows for an animal in the road. We all look towards the end of the headlights to get a glimpse of some wild animal, and I’m thinking we’re all imagining a different creature. As the driver slows to a crawl, the headlights fully illuminate a…house cat. An orange tabby cat, to be exact. We all laugh, and wait until the cat has sufficiently licked and scratched itself, and has sauntered out of the roadway.

The driver lets us out at the entrance, and we see gusts making their way in through the sliding glass doors. We only have to wait a few minutes for the car carrying Davidson, Peter, and Kyei Baffour to arrive. With lots of excitement we take arrival photos, and say hi to some of the people who are streaming in. With an hour before the festivities are set to begin, we sit on soft chairs and couches placed in the large entry hall, and wait for Beauty and her husband to arrive.

Davidson told me that I needed to give a quick speech, and I asked for further clarification on what the speech she be about. He explained me, Teresa, and Beauty would serve symbolic roles for him. Because Teresa is essentially his mom, she will serve as the maternal representative, and Beauty as the paternal representative. As the official Guest of Honor, I am supposed to give a speech about wedding advice. With only an hour before the wedding is to start, and having no idea of when the speeches are supposed to occur, I thought about a few versions of the speech in my head. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do a toast at the end, or if the speech should be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 20 minutes long, so I thought of how I could cut or elaborate to make my ideas fit into whatever time slot I had.

As we hustled into the reception hall, Teresa, Beauty, and I were placed at a 3-person round table, located in the front of the room near the wedding party table. The reception began with Davidson and Bridget entering by dancing, separately, into the hall. There were traditional dancers with drums, and there was singing. Next, the members of the wedding party danced their way in. The Wedding Matron offered a brief speech, and then the Master of Ceremonies had each person in the wedding party introduce themselves to the 150 or so guests. Our table was last to do the introductions.

After more singing and dancing, Teresa and I each had about 5 minutes to complete our speeches, before dinner was served to our table. Teresa spoke about what a pleasure it was to be a part of Davidson and Bridget’s wedding, and how she was very proud of them and happy that they had begun their own family with baby Teresa. I gave my speech, which people said they enjoyed. I cannot really remember much of it because it went by so quickly.

I only ate about half of my dinner, before becoming distracted by the star of the evening: one of Zambia’s top musical artists, Macky2. I could tell by the gasps and stunned reaction of the guests that Macky2 was kind of a big deal. He sang 3 songs before there was more traditional dancing, and Bridget came out in the 3rd dress of the evening. There was the ceremonial splitting of the cake (one to Bridget’s family, one to Davidson’s family, and one to the bride and groom). After that, Bridget came to the parents table and layed down on the floor to represent supplication.

As the evening was wrapping up, Macky2 sang two additional songs, and left the building in a flourish of dancing and laughter. At the very end of the night the entire wedding party, including Teresa and I, lined up to greet all of the guests. I must’ve shaken hands with and hugged at least 100 people. It was a very long night, but highly entertaining!

We arrived home around midnight, and after texting my husband, I had intended to go to sleep. Instead, Teresa and I stayed up talking, just about until sunrise.

Lindsey Schurman in Liberia – Day 5

In May 2016, Lindsey Schurman, Manager of Client Services at DentalXChange and a representative of the EHG Fund, went to Monrovia, Liberia to attend Full Learning Center’s Conference to see firsthand, the changes and challenges the Full Circle Learning has had to deal with to help that community. She was king enough to write a daily log so we can read about her adventures. 

Day 5 – The Final Day

20160528_204601Day 5 began with a power outage at the Full Circle Learning Office. While they attempted to resolve this, Teresa, Beauty, Justin, and I sat over breakfast and discussed the future topics of the day. This was our day to review the conference, its successes, what follow up should occur and areas that can be grown in the next conference. While we passed the time, we talked about different strategies the teachers and schools can use to help get parents involved in the child’s education and how to help children exhibit the “habits of heart” outside of the classroom with items such as homework around the specific trait, pre-school year conferences, a parent university to coincide the students curriculum.

20160528_135556We then went to the Full Circle Learning office and spent the day devising ways to leverage the strengths of this conference over the next year and to plan the next conference, where we could improve on such an already successful program and to further grow the program in Liberia. In August, there will be a training held for an expected 3000 teachers that will grow the program in Liberia from 81 schools to 103 schools. This training will be provided by 72 trained volunteers. There were also an additional 30 people at the conference that aspire to become a trainer. Full Circle Learning has also organized follow up sessions to connect NGOs with teachers to allow for community involvement in schools and assist in the growth of students across Liberia. We received feedback from three schools who were able to come say good bye to us and thank us for our visits and participation.

Everyone involved with the program in Liberia was so appreciative of our attendance and excited for the opportunity to work alongside Teresa!

To learn about more about Lindsey’s trip and how it affected her, please read her post trip interview by clicking here.

 

Lindsey Schurman In Liberia – Day 2

Lindsey Int PhotoIn May 2016, Lindsey Schurman, Manager of Client Services at DentalXChange and a representative of the EHG Fund, went to Monrovia, Liberia to attend Full Learning Center’s Conference to see firsthand, the changes and challenges the Full Circle Learning has had to deal with to help that community. She was king enough to write a daily log so we can read about her adventures. 

Day 2

Delegation of NGOs meet at conference (1)Last night there was a torrential downpour that washed out our agricultural project scheduled for this morning and delayed the arrival of Dr. Teresa Langness, the President and Founder of Full Circle Learning. Davidson, Justin, Beauty (the director of the FCL program in Zambia) and I started the morning discussing the conference with a number of people involved in the planning. We went over the scheme of events, made any changes to the plan and brainstormed creative ways to manage the great number of people expected to attend. Davidson is still receiving calls from new individuals that want to be involved and the expected number of attendees is over 300 including the Minister of Education in Liberia! They are anticipating at least 50 students and up to 200 teachers.

We spent the next couple of hours compiling the packets for tomorrow’s attendees while the fans attempted to cool us (me) in the heat of the day. Several stories were shared of the positive experiences that have come out of the program. I was brought to tears by the teamwork and leadership of the children that are taught by teachers like Beauty. I know I will hear so many more stories at the conference tomorrow.

20160526_084359We then adventured to the venue and planned all decorations needed from town.  The available pieces and options were very limited and I will be surprised to see how so many people will fit in such a small space tomorrow. The five of us followed up this trip with another adventure to town where I got to try some rice with greens and fish Davidson had and I got to see how people drive, as if road lanes are a suggestion. I also got to experience the different cityscapes Monrovia has to offer. The streets were crowded with vendors and people. Monrovia has not been what I expected but also not what I am used to.

Today has been an experience in learning so much more of the curriculum Full Circle Learning is teaching, the difference it is making and learning about daily life in Liberia (and Zambia from Beauty). I even had Davidson teach me some words in their local language! The language uses English words and shortens them by taking letters off the end.

20160528_131724The day ended with dinner with Dr. Langness, where she told me about the beginnings of Full Circle Learning and her individual experiences with each of the different communities that have become a part of the FCL family. She is an inspiration to all.

 

To read about Lindsey’s Day 1 adventure click here.