Michelle Walker In Zambia – Day 9

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 8:

Our Last Day

It’s the last day in Zambia for Teresa and I, and we are not quite sure what we’ll be doing this day. Beauty moved the 3rd day of teacher training to Monday, so that we might be able to visit another school that Teresa was interested in seeing, or even go to a zoo or wild animal park, since I wanted to see some of the animals Zambia is so famous for.

In the end, we decided not to go to the zoo because my voice was still MIA, and it was shaping up to be another cool, breezy day, which probably wouldn’t be good for my throat. Instead, we planned to visit Blessed Vale one last time, go to Beauty’s home for supper, shop for some trinkets and souvenirs, and then meet up with a friend of Teresa’s who took the FCL training, and ended up staying in Zambia (although no longer teaching).

Around 11:00am, all of us (except Peter) climb into our car, headed for Blessed Vale. There, all of the kids and teachers have a surprise for us. They sing us a good-bye song, and several groups of children recite poems they created as part of their service projects. Then, Beauty calls Teresa and I up onto the “stage” where she presents me with two beautiful rugs that the Blessed Vale teachers had spent months creating for DentalXChange. The rugs are not large, but they were clearly lovingly made. These were not really rugs, but works of art and the physical manifestations of gratitude. I promised to deliver the rugs safely! Teresa and I also received additional gifts made by Beauty, the kids, or the teachers. It was a very humbling moment. I waved goodbye to the children, knowing I would never see any of them again, and hoped their lives would be good, fulfilling, and full of joy. As we were getting into our car, I felt a sensation somewhat like homesickness, and wondered how I could simultaneously miss two very different places (one of which I had not yet left).

We only stayed at Blessed Vale for about 30 minutes, a very brief visit, before going to several shopping centers (the Levy Mall, Manda Hill, and then the shops on Cairo Road, where we once again ate at Hungry Lion). By mid-afternoon it was time to head towards Beauty’s house, for supper. Her home is only a mile and a half from our rental home, and I felt that we had spent the majority of the day driving all over Lusaka.

Beauty lives in an older suburban subdivision surrounded by much larger, newer, and wealthier homes (complete with grass out front, and gardeners watering and tending to the gardens). When we arrive at Beauty’s house, we see her daughters for the first time in a few days, as well as the girl we met on Monday at Blessed Vale, the one who just completed her first year at a Lusaka public high school.

As we enter the house, it has Beauty’s design stamp all over it, and I recognize the decorative curtains as being the same style we have in our rental home (I had a feeling Beauty was responsible for the furniture and decorations there)—bright colors, big flowing armfuls of fabric…We step inside a large square room, probably 25 by 25 feet, which serves as Beauty’s living and dining rooms. The walls are very tall, at least 10 feet, and there is a single light bulb hanging from the exposed wooden rafters above, and no ceiling, so I can see the holes in the corrugated roof above. The room contains two sofas and two arms chairs, and a 6-person dining table under the windows, near the front door. In the corner next to the dining table are three stacks of rainbow-colored child’s size plastic chairs, each stack is about 6 feet tall. Finally, there is a large TV in the corner, which is playing a DVD of a gospel concert—the music reminds me of a Disney musical, but with references to Jesus.

Beauty disappears through an arched doorway that leads to all of the other rooms in the house. I follow Beauty through the arch, and to the right, into the cramped and darkened kitchen, asking whether she has a tissue I can use (Teresa and I both got colds and plowed through all of the tissues we brought for the trip). In the kitchen are at least 8 people, all but two of who are kids, preparing the meal we are going to eat. Beauty hands me a wad of toilet paper, and I head back into the living room with it, and sit in the armchair adjacent to Teresa.

After about 5 minutes of chatting and watching TV, I see a little girl who looks to be about 3 years old, come through the archway into the living room. She is not shy at all and comes over to stand directly in front of Teresa, tapping her little hand with palm open, on Teresa’s left knee. She says very quietly, “Water.” Although not phrased as a question, it is clear that she is asking Teresa if she can have a sip of water from the bottle that sits on the floor between our two chairs. However, the bottle is not Teresa’s, but mine (Davidson had handed it to me about 10 minutes before, and it was still mostly full). I hand the little girl the bottle, and as she puts her entire mouth over the opening, I can see all of the teeth in her mouth. I tell her, “Be careful, don’t drink too much.” After taking two large open-mouth gulps, she tries to hand the bottle back to me. I tell her “No—it’s your water now; I gave it to you. Take it to the kitchen and see if any of the other children want to share it.” She stares at me for about 25 seconds, and then tries to hand the bottle back again. I repeat what I told her, and she turns and runs back through the archway, I assume into the kitchen.

After about 10 minutes, the little girls comes back into the room, sans water bottle, and again goes directly to Teresa. She does the same open palmed pat three times on Teresa’s left knee, and this time says, “Banana.” Teresa frowns and says, “I’m sorry, I do not have a banana.” The little girl the takes two shuffle steps over to me and gently lays her hand on my knee, stating “Banana.” I also tell her that I am sorry, I also do not have any food. She stares for about 10 seconds then turns around and runs through the archway. Across from me, Porsche lifts her eyebrows in question, and I just shrug my shoulders and smile.

A few minutes later, Beauty announces that dinner is going to be served, and each of us, including our driver, grab a seat at the small table. Mabel and Beauty bring out several dishes (including shima, a baked chicken, corn on the cob, vegetable stew, beef stew, potato salad, a cabbage salad, and another dish that I cannot identify) and pack the table so full there is almost no room for our plates. Mabel brings us a pitcher of water and bowl, so we can rinse our hands, even though all of us eat with utensils.

We eat for about an hour, with Beauty sitting next to the table, sharing stories about her neighborhood and how Lusaka has changed in the last 5 and 10 years. As we finish, the little girl who had asked for the water comes to stand next to Beauty. Teresa points to the plastic chairs stacked near the table, and asks Beauty if she teaches a class in her home. Beauty says that she does, and that the little girl, whose name is Esperanza, was her first student. Beauty tells us how she squeezes 80 small children in her living room every Saturday morning, and how Esperanza came to attend, and now spend most of her time at Beauty’s home. The story was very sad, and we were all amazed and inspired by Esperanza’s courage happy attitude, despite going through more hardship than any 3-year old should have to.

After telling the story, I took out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures of Esperanza, who was not at all shy when the camera was turned on her. I asked if she wanted to see herself, and she nodded. I handed her the phone, and showed her how to scroll between the photos. Within a few minutes she was looking through all 3,000 photos on my phone, scrolling past the pics like she hadn’t just been introduced to this technology 3 minutes ago. She kept returning to the pictures of herself, smiling up at me. I couldn’t help but smile back at her, seeing her joy at seeing herself in picture form for the first time.

After about 20 minutes, it was time for us to leave Beauty’s home, and head back to our rental house so that we could pack our bags in the car. In two hours we were going to meet up with Teresa’s old student, at a newly built shopping center near the airport, called the Garden City Mall, where the student had recently opened a coffee shop.

We made it back home, and took about an hour packing up the last of our belongings. My suitcase was already over-stuffed when I arrived in Lusaka, so in order to fit all of the items that Beauty and the Blessed Vale teachers made, I needed an additional suitcase. Luckily, Teresa had an empty suitcase which had previously been full of gifts that she brought for the teachers. Miraculously, all of the stuff managed to fit in the two suitcases and my backpack!

Our group (me, Teresa, Peter, Baffour, Porsche, Davidson, Bridget, Baby Teresa, Mabel, and Beauty) had grown so large that we needed to hire two cars, especially because of the four suitcases, and when the cars finally arrived, it really hit me that I was leaving. I found Lusaka to be a beautiful city filled with loving and kind people. The teachers, parents, and students I met personified sacrifice and dedication, in every way. I did not want to leave.

Bruno, our neighbor’s dog, ran around the cars, excitedly sniffing at all the people and luggage. I petted him for the last time, and climbed into the front passenger seat next to the driver who had been with us since 11am (it was now 6:00 pm). As the gate opened, Bruno ran out and down the street to the grass in front of a neighbor’s yard. We pulled out onto the street and Davidson closed the gate, from the other car, with a remote control. I lamented to Mabel that I hoped Bruno’s owners would open the door for him, before it got too dark. Then we started our journey towards the airport and the Garden City Mall, as I left some piece of my heart in that little house.

Garden City is built like a maze, and we wander around for 20 minutes, trying to find the coffee shop that Teresa’s student owned. After splitting up the group, some of us eventually walk down the last path we hadn’t yet covered, and there is her coffee shop, Brew Me Coffee, sandwiched between Bombay Restaurant, and Bushman Wings.

Although it is nearly 8:30pm, we decide to go to Bushman Wings, a very Western-style restaurant, for a late night dinner. I order the burger and fries meal off the kids menu, because I already know the portion sizes will be more than I am prepared to eat, and tell the driver that I will cut mine in half so he can take the leftovers home to his family. He orders the same meal I do, and we chat the entire time we are at the restaurant, which is about an hour and a half. I ask him about his life in Lusaka, Zambia, and Africa in general, and he asks me questions about the US. He used to work for Zambia’s department of education, and met his wife (a high school teacher) while doing some consulting work after he retired. Mostly his days are spent reading and watching world news, doing some consulting work, and hiring out his car as a driver. I tell him how much I appreciate the fact that he has committed himself to a 13 or 14-hour work day, on my last day in his country. He says he would like to visit several places in the world, but none more so than America; he finds this country incredibly contradictory, for which I agreed with him.

Because our flight leaves Lusaka at 1:05am, we want to be at the airport by 10:30pm. It has been a long day, and we’re all exhausted. We park in the airport short-term parking lot, and everyone helps us take our bags inside. When we enter the doors we see that the security gate (and the Ethiopian Airlines ticket counter behind it) are not yet open, and won’t open until around 11:00pm. We all stand around chatting in the main hall of the airport, for what seems like a few brief seconds, before the airport workers open the security line, and tell us that we should now begin the check-in process for our flight.

I think all of us want to say our goodbyes quickly, so that we will not feel too sad. I look at Beauty’s face, and she looks so forlorn, and it makes me even sadder. We promise to email one another, and then Teresa and I push our bags to the scanning machine, and then on to the check-in counter.

After over 20 hours of flying and a 15-hour layover, we arrive in Los Angeles. Teresa and I say our goodbyes, and prepare to meet up again in 5 weeks for teacher training, and I head back to my decidedly First World life behind the Orange Curtain, trying desperately to find a way to hold onto all of the lessons I learned during my week in Africa.

Thank you to Michelle Walker for her time and efforts for the EHG Fund and the Full-Circle Learning Center. To learn more about her trip and how it affected her, please read her interview here.

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Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 8

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 8:

I wake up this morning excited to see a full day of FCL teacher training at Blessed Vale, only to discover that I not only still feel tired and groggy, but I also cannot speak. Not at all. Its my guess that the 24 hour garbage fires burning near our home have finally taken a toll on my throat, or perhaps there was something very bad in the dust I inhaled while in Misisi. Either way, after checking Teresa and I into our flights, I decide that I should stay home and rest instead of going to Blessed Vale. Teresa, Davidson, Porsche, and Baffour depart around 9:45am. They head to a pharmacy to purchase some throat lozenges for me, which Baffour brings back. He stays with me the entire day. Along with him are Bridget, and Baby Teresa, I am not alone.

It is a very long day, and I spend most of it napping and reading.

Around 4:00pm Peter arrives, and he and Bridget begin preparing dinner using our one-burner electrical cooktop, and a traditional metal cook stove (which looks kind of like a metal Easter basket, and requires wood charcoal). I offer to help cook, but they both shoo me away. I ask Bridget how she cooks the shima, telling her it reminds me of a more solid version of grits, which a lot of people eat in the Southern US. She shows me how to make it (basically, you just put ground maize—from a bag—into a pot of boiling water, and stir every few minutes for about 15 minutes), and I can see why it is the staple food in Zambia: it is filling, healthy, cheap, quick to make, and doesn’t require any of the seasoning that can make meal preparation so expensive here!

A little after 6:00pm Teresa, Davidson, and Porsche arrive after attending the full day of teacher training. Bridget and Peter bring in the meal, consisting of 4 or 5 different dishes, and set everything up buffet style in the dining room that has no furniture. Today was one of the colder ones since we arrived, only reaching the mid-60s, and now that the sun has set it is cold outside, which means it is cold inside. Bridget brings in the metal cook stove and sets in the middle of a little circle we make in the living room, in order to provide heat. Some of us are sitting in the brightly-colored plastic chairs, which serve as our only furniture, and the rest are on the tile floor. There is me, Teresa, Baffour, Bridget, Baby Teresa, Prosche, Peter, and Davidson.

We mostly eat in silence (there is shima, vegetable stew, cooked pumpkin leaves, and a baked chicken). Teresa decides that we should tell a story, round-robin style, with each person contributing a little something.

She begins by telling the tale of Marlowe, a little boy somewhere in Africa, who goes to a watering hole outside of his village, to collect water for his mom. However, when Marlowe gets to the hole, he finds that it is has become filthy because some animals—attracted to the water—have made a mess nearby. Not wanting to take the time to clean up the mess himself, Marlowe decides to go back into the village to find his friends, to convince them to help him clean and get the water his mom requested.

As each person takes turns recounting what happens next, the story gets very dramatic, and at times dark (one of Marlowe’s friends is eaten by what we can only presume is a lion). When it comes time to finish the story, I offer to tell the last portion, even though my voice is so strained I can barely be heard. I conclude the story, but baffour doesn’t like my ending, so he tells the Epilogue to my ending, which goes something like, “And it was all a dream!” Then everyone really does start laughing so hard we can barely talk.

Teresa asks us what the lesson is of the story, because it’s got to have a lesson. For a few seconds everyone is quiet, and then Peter says that it cannot be a true African lesson unless there is a song. So we create a song to explain the lesson, which goes something like this:

When you go to the watering hole (When you go to the watering hole)

Just clean up the mess

Don’t wait for the rest

When you go to the watering hole

Because this is our last night together, we are slow to leave the living room and prepare for bed, but eventually we do around 10pm. I am still humming the watering hole song as I climb into bed and drift off to sleep.

Michelle Walker in Zambia – Day 7

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 7:

Today is shaping up to be another long day. Davidson tells us to be ready to head out around 10:00am. We are going to the Cry Community School, which is a section of town that is even more run-down than Chibolya. After visiting this school, we’ll return to Blessed Vale in the afternoon for the first session of the Full Circle Learning teacher training.

Porsche stays behind on this day in order to visit the Zambian Consulate in order to extend her stay into the following week. In her place is Baffour, who seems less than enthused to take pictures, but is interested in the training.

The driver picks us up and we head to the ShopRite to pick up some items for the children. Teresa and Baffour pick out soccer balls, pens, pencils, and notebooks, while Davidson and I grab a snack at the hot food section of the store. We basically get the same thing: a donut-type pastry, and some savory fried rice.

As we head for Cry Community School, our driver repeatedly tells me (I am in the passenger seat) that he does not like going to this part of town. We are headed into Misisi Compound, which is one of the worst slums in all of Sub Saharan Africa, where HIV and AIDS make the life expectancy less than 35 years. The school we are visiting is made up of AIDS orphans, of whom there are hundreds, if not thousands, in this community.

When we arrive, one of the teachers pushes the gate open for us to pull the car into. Beauty has gathered several different schools together for the purpose, not of evaluation, but to show us a service project. The children have put together songs, poems, and even a dance for us. They are also presenting the elders in their community with shoes, as the final part of an earlier community project.

There were about a dozen elderly people, some of whom are the grandparents of children at the school, who received shoes. As a surprise, Teresa presented the students with the gift items we had purchased. After saying brief goodbyes, we got back into the car and headed for Chibolya and Blessed Vale, to prepare for the first day of training.

When we arrived, Teresa, Beauty, and Davidson, planned the structure of the training. Beauty decided to shorten the training so that there would be time for us to do some tourist things on our last day in Lusaka, Friday. Thus, the training was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday, and then all day on Monday. We had downtime of approximately 2 hours waiting for the teachers to arrive around 2:00pm.

Close to 2:30pm, Beauty began the Day One training session, with approximately 50 teachers in attendance. Due to the lack of electricity, the training needed to end by 4:00pm, as the sun set shortly thereafter. The session lasted until around 4:30pm, and we headed to Bridget’s house for a special post-wedding ceremony.

When we arrive at the house, Bridget’s mom greets us and explains that all of her family has been at the house for hours cooking a special meal. I see various people that I met at the wedding, as we wait in the living room to eat. It is taking longer than usual to make dinner because the power has been out for several hours now, and they are cooking on very small coal burners out behind the house. As the sun sets, Porsche and I turn on the flashlight apps on our cell phones to light the living room. Around 6:00pm Peter arrives, and the ceremony is performed in which Bridget is officially given to Davidson (and Teresa). It is announced that dinner is ready, and Teresa, Davidson, Porsche, Peter, Baffour, and I sit at the dining table to eat. Just as Mabel brings us some water to wash our hands, the power comes on, so we do not need to eat by cell phone light.

There are so many dishes (at least 13), that I do not get to try them all. Basically, if a dish is on the other side of the table, I am not eating it. Towards the end of the meal, I remark how no one is eating the two bowls that contain the cooked caterpillars. Porsche and Peter state that they have eaten them, and Porsche tells me I should try them—that they are delicious. I say that I will try the ones that do not have the heads on, because I do not want to see caterpillars eyeballs as I bite down. Porsche hands me a bowl of the “juicy” caterpillars, and I empty a few onto my plate. Without hesitation I pop one in my mouth, and am pleasantly surprised—it’s delicious. Teresa asks me what it tastes like, and I tell her they taste somewhat like pork rinds: lots of seasoning and salt. Unfortunately, she cannot eat salt, so she passes on the caterpillars, and I eat a handful more, for good measure.

Once we finish dinner, we do not linger at Bridget’s house because there is a long day of training planned for tomorrow. When we return home around 8:00pm, I head directly to bed, as usual.

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.

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.