Edit Blog Post
Published: August 6th 2006
I hear this shouted wherever I go. Muzungu is a term that Zambians use for white people. It is not insulting or racist. In fact, it is usually said with a smile, sometimes followed by laughter.
This is something else that gets yelled at me while walking the streets. Apparently Zambians think that I bear a strong resemblance to Zinedine Zidane, a French football (aka soccer) player who is famous for being one of the best football players of all time as well as for head-butting an opponent during the recent final of the 2006 World Cup. (I have recently bought a Zidane jersey, actually. I think I will throw it on some day and run around town, head-butting everyone in my path. Then they’ll really think that I’m Zidane.) Some other names that I’ve been called include “John” and “Henry.” Once, another muzungu (Dave Damberger, EWB’s Director of Southern Africa Programs) and I were called “Beckham and Owen” (again, football players). I wasn’t jealous that he was supposed to be Beckham. But later on he was called “Chuck Norris” and, naturally, I was green with envy.
Children seem equally intrigued and petrified by me.
You see, development is just like basketball...
Here is Christian (currently in Ghana) and I using basketball as a metaphor for development during training. Yup, I'm going to change the world through my vast knowledge of sports.
A group of young girls were walking behind me while I was with a friend who could interpret for me last week. One of the girls ran past me, turned around, ran back to her friends, and then bragged to them about how brave she was that she ran past the muzungu.
The most common reaction seems to just be a big smile, a “how are you?” and then an even bigger smile or a little giggle when I respond (especially if I respond in Bemba). I’ve asked some of my friends here why people are so fascinated by white people. True, there aren’t that many of us around (especially in the area in which I am currently living) but then again, there aren’t that many Africans in Newfoundland, but the ones there don’t seem to get such special attention. I asked some friends and they explained that people here often see muzungus as the creators and the source of all the advancements that they have made and the wealth to which they aspire. And the advancements that they have made, they attribute to us. Yet we also brought them massive debt burdens and structural adjustment programs that have
My current home in Kitwe.
Right now I'm staying with my coworkers Simon and Clyd until I find a place of my own. This is probably one of the nicer homes in Chimemwe, a lower-middle class area that we live in.
been devastating for the whole country.
Not only that, but I have heard numerous stories of Westerners travelling to developing countries to “help” who end up either wasting time and money by doing little to benefit the people in their target community or negatively impacting it. In fact, I even met some people who appeared to be working on just such a project in Lusaka.
They were a group of architecture students from the United States. They’re here for six weeks to build a library. But is a library really going to address any the problems of poverty here? Yes, education is certainly one of the keys to development, but who’s going to use the library? Probably those who are already literate and somewhat educated, no? So this isn’t likely to address a root cause problem of poverty.
Moreover, why do we need Americans to build a library? Based on my observations, Zambians really don’t have trouble erecting buildings. If a library really were deemed something important by Zambians (who are much better suited to make this decision than are Americans, or anyone else for that matter) then wouldn’t this have been a good opportunity to employ Zambians to design and build the building?
So then, after coming down on this project, it’s only fair that I turn the critical eye on myself. Firstly, ZATAC’s projects have been developed by Zambians to help Zambians. They target rural farmers where poverty is rife. And in this province, the Copperbelt, which is dependent on mining yet has the most fertile agricultural conditions in the country, attempting to support the agricultural sector addresses many key problems.
But what about my role? I’m here to work in agriculture, but yet have never planted a thing in my life (well, two sunflowers, actually). I wonder at times if in fact I am working for free in a position that a Zambian could be paid for.
So I see three ways that I can have a positive impact on world poverty in my position in ways that potentially a Zambian could not:
1. Opposing muzungu stereotypes in Zambia. When you’re a muzungu in Zambia, people automatically assume that you are rich and educated simply because most are. Westerners here either work in big business or NGOs - positions that pay well and require an educational background. This is true even of volunteers usually. Not everyone can afford to take time away from paid work. People here are shocked when I tell them that poverty exists in Canada, too. While I can’t throw away my education, I can try to live life differently than the way people would expect of a muzungu. I don’t have a car - I take mini-buses. I don’t eat at fancy restaurants or eat pizza and hamburgers - I eat the local cultural food. I’m learning the local language (Bemba) and speak it as often as I can. Essentially, I try to live the life of a typical Zambian. I’m not living in poverty by any means, and do not put myself at risk, but make every effort to integrate into the local community. And I see it working already. Eating nshima (the local staple food) in the market never fails to surprise people. (Some of my friends in Malawi even had Malawians taking pictures of them while they ate in a market restaurant - an interesting reversal). Every time I walk the streets of Chimwemwe, the lower-middle class area where I am currently living, people react as if they have never seen a muzungu here before which I think is one step, albeit a tiny one, in the right direction. And speaking a little Bemba never fails to illicit surprise and a huge smile.
2. I’m going to learn and experience a lot while I’m here and I’m going to share as much of that as possible (like through this blog, for example). Positive stories about Africa and Africans are rarely told in Canada where images of war, corruption, hopelessness and desperation are the norm. I’ll try to be connected to home as much as possible and share my learning experiences.
3. Increasing the capacity of ZATAC. It’s not enough for me to at the end of my time here say that I was a good field worker - there are plenty of very good Zambian field workers around. I’m here a sustainable impact on the organization that otherwise wouldn’t have come from a Zambian. I’ll be drawing on all my experiences, education and resources to do this. At this point, I have no idea how I’ll do this - it’s a learning process and my learning curve is still very steep. But I’ll get there. And if anyone ever has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
This is how I intend to “kick poverty ass”.
Tot: 0.125s; Tpl: 0.064s; cc: 6; qc: 24; dbt: 0.0214s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 6;
; mem: 1.3mb