Goodbye Zambia

some students from Amano

Again sorry for not writing for such a long time. I have had this post prepared for some time. I was waiting to get the text checked, but people at Amano were on holiday.

I have just arrived in Austria a few days ago. The 6 months in Zambia are past and have gone, but not in a flash. The great thing about experiencing something new is that the experience is a bit like a child discovering its environment. The time seems to go much slower, because of all the new input you are getting.

If I went back there now, it would be nothing like discovering the country for the first time. I would arrive at the airport in Lusaka and say hello to the people I know, organise some transport and not spend any time looking at my environment, except if I notice something has obviously changed. When I arrived at the first time I spent hours walking around the small building, staring at the people, trying to figure out what they were doing and what they were there for. It was hot and humid and totally foreign. I remember the chapel room in it’s horrible state of disrepair and my first meal that tasted good, but upset my stomach.

My first night at the home of German missionaries in Ndola, seeing the geckos on the wall and sleeping under a moskito net. One thing that always amazed me until I left was the nature in Sambia. Once I had arrived at Amano I hardly ever left the campus, but I’ve seen many species of insects, birds and many plants that don’t have any relatives in Europe.

I started at the school half-way through the school year, replacing another German volunteer in the boy’s dorm.  The first few weeks must have been a bit frustrating for the dorm parents with me forgetting things and not doing exactly what they expected. It was usually the job of the dorm “mother” to inform me of my duties (that I often hadn’t heard about before) with the words “Simon, you are supposed to …”

Knowing my bad memory, one of the first things I did was to write a list of the daily duties and stick it to the door of the volunteers room. It didn’t help much. I forgot so many things that I had gained my usual reputation before I had settled into the automatisms of daily routine.

Communication was not easy. Up until the end I had to frequently ask the dorm parents and the students to repeat what they’d said. And I thought my English was decent when I arrived. The students generally don’t speak slang, but it was still hard enough. I often times didn’t understand their pronunciation or the words they used and vice versa.

It wasn’t just the vocabulary that posed a problem. The students often took me literal when I was not trying to be. When I told two primary students: “If you’re snitching about your friend like that to make yourself look better, you’re the worst kind of friend.”, they answered: “What? We are the worst friends – in the world?” They made a fuss and told me to take it back.

Getting upset and complaining about many things seemed to be a favourite pastime of many of the students there. That was something I had real trouble with. It appeared like an unwritten rule: If you dislike something, shout it out for everyone to hear.

Another thing that would put me off a little was the students’ behaviour at mealtimes. I hadn’t been in a school canteen for years. Maybe European schools are worse than Amano. In Zambia where the poverty of the people is quite visible on the street, the food greed of some and pickiness of other students really got to me. There were a few students who were exceptionally different though, sticking out as examples of politeness that would put Japanese people to shame.

As a volunteer in the boy’s dorm I had a lot of free time on my hand, but not much to do. Basically the entire time that the students spent at school was left to us to do whatever we please. Except that we couldn’t do much without permission form the dorm parents and one of us always had to stay in the dorm. The only exception for me was a bit of office work for the school towards the end of the first term and one lesson of ICT during the second term, where I would teach Webdesign to the students.

Teaching webdesign for grade 11 was fun, but I often had the impression that what I was saying didn’t fit in with the students prior knowledge. Not many of them use a computer at home. The students struggled a lot with basic things, like navigating and managing their files, downloading and similar tasks. This hampered the process of creating websites quite a bit. It was surprising for me to see this as they all knew how to use a web browser and use the internet a lot at school.

What I have described so far might make it seem as if I am seeing everything about the Amano School with a critical eye. I know I tend to see the negative rather than the positive side of things. Let me tell you more about the good experiences I had.

I enjoyed to see the primary students getting into the habit of drawing while I was there, especially towards the end. It wasn’t me who made them do it, but I think I may have helped a bit. I left them some art materials to play with. This for me was a great and encouraging thing to see. I showed them a bit of how I draw and did two or three drawing lessons with some of them.

I also witnessed how many of the students got quite good at reading, which is another fantastic thing. Many are lacking behind what European children would read at their age. But for a few I could see the foundations of a really good education. One of the boys, Cholwe, loves reading books and devours classic adventure books. He read Gullivers Travels, Jules Verne’s 20.000 Leagues under the Sea and The Lost World by Sir Conan-Doyle, and a few others while I was at Amano.

The library at Amano is a fantastic place. It is very small, but has about 2.000 volumes and for anyone interested in children’s literature it has everything you could want. I spent a lot of my free time in there, going through a lot of illustrated children’s books noting down the names of the illustrators and looking them up on the internet. They have a few art books with great prints of classic painters as well, which I enjoyed studying. I also read some fantasy books and some Christian books there. I was glad I managed to read “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis not long before I left.

Drawing, reading with the students and at the library, and the beautiful nature that I described at the beginning, are the things I will miss about Zambia. In a way I would wish I had used my free time to explore more of the nature and more of the library, but I am happy with all that I got.

I am now working on a picture book now that will tell the biblical story of Ruth, with text from another volunteer, who was our Librarian at Amano for a while. That’s just one of the results of my time at Amano, others will show with time I guess.

So that’s goodbye to Zambia from me for now. If you’re interested in any more specific accounts of events you can read my earlier blog posts. I plan to continue this blog with graphic design and art stuff.