Sunday, October 29, 2006

03. In Sunga Village

"Chady, so you're telling me that even you, a white person, you can dream?"

"Sure Monde, of course I can dream!"

Yesterday the roosters woke me before my dreams had finished. I was in
Canada, it was thanksgiving and I was preparing dinner with my family. When I told Monde about my dream he was surprised to hear that "even I can dreams" but he did understand that I am missing my friends and family in Canada. Still though, after two months Sunga village was starting to feel like home. My village has about 15 houses and is located right next to a swiftly flowing river - you can see my hut on the far left.

I'm living in a mud and pole house belonging to the village ‘Induna’ (area chief) who lives in a temporary shelter in the forest from August to April looking after cattle and farming. I live in his permanent house with his son Monde, whose company I enjoy very much. Monde helps me by showing me the way of life in the village and I help him with a bit of English tutoring - he's mostly interested in slang. He’s 22 and will be finishing his grade 12 this December. He has worked hard farming and fishing so he can graduate high school making him one of the most educated people in the village.

The recent elections injected some extra excitement into Sunga with campaigning parties moving school to school (they are the community meeting points). They arrive like a circus; set up their tents, give speeches, play drums, sing songs and finally give away party memorabilia then move on to the next. But they are not the only new visitors; I too have been stirring things up in the area.

Since I am the first white person who wants to live in a village in the area, accommodation was rather difficult to arrange. People here believe that westerners need to live in mansions in big cities with many servants. The idea that I could live in a "normal village" and eat "normal food" was very difficult for people to grasp. But after 42 days I'm finally living in the village so let me tell you how it came to be.

The Arrangement:

I started by trying to explain my vision to a teacher. After four somewhat painful visits he was starting to understand that I really wanted to live in the village; that I was looking for a nice family with a small house to plunge me into Zambian culture. On the fifth meeting he explained that I would have to ask the Induna (the area chief) for permission. So I told him that I'd come the following day to arrange the necessary meeting.

I returned the following day to find that the teacher had fallen ill and was at the hospital for treatment. The only person available was his wife (who doesn’t speak English) and at the time my Lozi (language) was at the level of a two year old. I tried to communicate that I would be away for three days, but I'd be back Friday and would like to meet the Induna.

I then spent three gruelling days in the field, on my motorbike visiting distant villages meeting with farmer’s and women's groups. On Friday afternoon, I returned exhausted and nearly drove past the village, forgetting momentarily my meeting with the Induna.

“Ohh but wait a minute, it looks like the MMD Party is holding a campaign event in the village!” There must be 100 people gathered under the tree. Well this should be interesting - while I wait for my meeting I can see what exactly goes on at one of these campaigns.

As I drive closer, I can tell that every single eye is fixed on me. This is quite normal though, a white person on a motorcycle is not a common sighting. Anyway as I approach, I feel as though I'm getting more attention that usual.... hmm I wonder where the politicians are. Oh it looks like they haven’t arrived yet and that the people are waiting for them.

I park my bike and pull of my helmet as the teacher rushes forward. "Ah Chady, we have been waiting for you!" Waiting for me? WHAT???? Oh NO! I thought... Confusion! There is no campaign, these 100 people have gathered for me!

Then he says “we have been waiting for your address!” I'm dirty, tired and not prepared, but 100 waiting people will give you a jolt of inspiration! I get down on one knee and clap 10 times to show respect and greet the group as best as I know how. "Mutozi Kawfela" (good afternoon to you all) I say. I pull out all the Lozi I know and the meeting continues.

I say “I’d like to live in one of your villages.” I explain that I want to stay in a normal house in a normal village so I can learn to speak, cook, and live truly Zambian. They applaud this and offer me a large piece of land by a private lake where I can build my estate... hmmm they don’t quite get it! It takes me 30 minutes to explain and negotiate but finally they understand what I'm looking for. Three days later, I'm sharing a house with Monde, paying k50,000 ($15) per month as rent and enjoying life in Sunga village.

Picture Tour:

To give you a better sense of my personal life, I’ve put together a quick day-to-day play-by-play picture tour of my life in Sunga Village.

6:00AM – Wake: Oh the roosters do a very fine job of waking me up on time. This is a picture of my roof as I see it each morning when I first wake. The grass is laid well and even the heaviest rains cannot enter!

6:15AM - Run: Time to run! I run to town and back each morning which takes about 20 minutes. My young friend Biemba often joins me and even though he doesn’t have shoes he keeps up without breaking a sweat!

6:35AMBath: I’m bathing in the river each day. Without running first it is quite a mental battle as it can be cold in the morning. After a good run though, I grab a bar of soap and dive into to our little harbour to get nice and clean!

6:50AM – Cook: I’m cooking on a small fire just in front of the house. You can find good firewood within a 15-30 minute walk. If I head out alone I usually end up with a pack of kids helping me. Breakfast is rice everyday with a bit of salt or sugar. Since this area is a floodplain the rice grows well. De-husking is no easy job though.

7:30AM – Walk: To get to work I have to walk for about 30 minutes and then cross the river into town. I cross either by a canoe (25 cents) or by foot (free) if the water level is low enough and if there are no crocodiles around.

8:00AM – Work: I arrive at our office! I spend four days in a week “in the field” and one day “in the office.” The field work is with cattle farmers and women’s groups (as seen in the picture) while the office work is meeting and planning with the PROFIT team. My next posting will talk about what exactly we’re trying to achieve.

6:00PM – Home: I race home to hopeful beat the sun which sets at 6:30PM. It’s a pain cooking in the dark, but I now have a small oil lamp which helps quite a bit.

7:00PM – Cook: Monde and I will cook dinner together on the fire. We usually have nshima and vegetables, and we will add meat (chicken or fish) once a week. The maize is now starting to grow so in a few months we will have fresh food right form our backyard!

8:00PM – Work Out: It’s time for a quick workout. I accidentally opened the first ever fitness facility in Sunga. To fight off ultimate skinniness, I learned some local building techniques, gather some logs, and built a small training apparatus that I use for chin-ups and dips. In the mid-day sun, it sits empty, but other than that, there is always somebody coming over for a quick session!

9:00PM – Study: last week I officially completed my grade 2 Lozi! Thank you, thank you! A favourite past time of oh... I’d say 15 people, is to gather around me while I’ll practice Lozi from my elementary school books. I’ll be starting grade three this week so wish me luck!

10:00PM – Read: Each day I try and get in a bit of reading, but I’m usually too tired from the day to read more than three pages. And Sleep……….

The Benefits:

I’ve had a few people ask me “Chad what’s the point? Why are you living on 2 dollars a day and staying in a house with no electricity, no running water and not eating a balanced diet? Why are you doing this when you could find a nice modern place in town and enjoy the same comforts as you would in Canada?” Well my friends it’s called “integration” and the payoffs are big and the small loss of productivity is well worth it.

Respect – Ultimately it comes down to respect. I respect the people whom I’m working for and their way of life. I am no better than any of them; my basic needs are identical and are being met in full. I want to learn Lozi language, be a part of Lozi culture, and understand Lozi jokes. The goal is not to live on 2 dollars a day; that is simply a means to a more important goal of increased learning and improved relationships.

Big Lessons – I’m here to help improve business/livelihood opportunities for rural people living in poverty. For me to design and implement a program that achieves this, I need a good understanding of what life here is all about. There are huge lessons that can only be learned in the village.

As an example, during my training with EWB, we discussed how in Canada we usually look at an individual when assessing someone's assets and needs. But in rural areas of Zambia, it is much less individualistic and therefore a household is a much better unit of study. After two months living in the village I disagree. I would go even one step further and propose that you’d have to consider the whole village. In the villages I'm in, assets (tools, land, animals) can be shared by many households. It is not always clear who belongs to which household or what belongs to whom but the entire collection of people and assets create a self providing unit. This implicates our project design and I would not have learned living in town.

Stereotypes – One other benefit is the chance it has given me to break down stereotypes of us westerners. From generally proving that a westerner can live in a village house and eat village nshima, to specifically helping Monde realize that I too can dream… he concluded our talk by saying "Ahhh, Chady then maybe it is true that we are just the same.”

One good thing about life in the village… It’s fun!

Before I left for Zambia, a good friend of mine said “Chad, you won’t be able to do the same things you do in Canada, but you must find ways to be and express your true self while integrating in Zambia.” I feel like I’m well on my way to figuring out and being Chad in Zambia.

I hope you’re all happy and healthy and enjoying the coming of winter! I’ve heard rumours of snow! BRRRRRRRRRR! If any one wants to borrow my snowboard, please do, the farmer's almanac predicts 'no snow' this Christmas in Sunga village!

Thanks for reading and especially for leaving comments!

- Chad

P.S. Next time I’m going to send out videos!



sarah said...

Dear Chad,

It is excellent to hear your bright optimism and down to earth engagement come rolling through the computer.

It is currently snowing outside, and I'm heading out for b-fast (Tim Horton's style) meeting with Megan and Ben,to talk about reverse culture shock and the meaning of the OV experience.

Having read this post has given me a boost and some inspiration for my thinking.

Thanks, mister!


Bryn said...

I have to second what Sarah said.

Keep up the amazing work and super interesting blogs!

Take care,

P.S. That workout station you built looks awesome!!

Tommy C. said...

Hey Chad!

Very entertaining read!

I'm very interested in what other people in the village really think of you now that you've been living there for a while. I imagine stereotypes of white people there are very hard to break?

Andrew said...

Hi Chad,

Great update. You are well on your way to becoming Zambian. It is great to see how you are setting yourself up for understanding the community and those who you are working for in the first few months of your placement.

take care,


Warren said...

Hey Chad!

It's great to see that you are following your dreams and fulfilling your potential by doing important work. I wish that I was right there doing the same! I'm glad that you are out there, though. You have a real clarity of thought and ability to share what you are learing.

Keep dreaming.
Warren Brooke

mallory said...

Another interesting and exciting post Chad! We are amazed at all your experiences and are glad everything is going well. Take care and congratulations on your grade two Lozi!!

Justin said...

Awesome Photos. Thanks for the post. Hope to hear back soon.



Geoff said...

Very impressive Chad.

Geez, your experiences really put some of my integration hurdles in perspective; Zambia looks a lot more challenging than the Australian immigration department. I imagine there must be some very frustrating times, but its really good to hear that your optimism is healthy as ever. Congrats on the Lozi; I've set a goal to read Harry Potter in French, you may seriously beat me to it in Lozi at this rate. Take care out there, and keep us all posted of how its going.
-Geoff Stewart

Anonymous said...

Hey Chad, this is your old neighbour Janelle - I loved reading about your experiences there! The workout station really shows that you are a twin of Lou's! I think what you are doing is great! Take care:)

Teddy said...

Hey Chad,

I must say it is really great to read your posts and I, along with anyone else who knows you I'm sure, am really proud of you. I am living in Chile still and though sometimes I feel like I am going without things I took as every day norms, your experiance is a great reminder that in Canada we live far above the basic requirments of life. Write down everything you can, your last post sounded like it could be the start to a great book about your experiance.


Jennifer said...

Chad! I absolutely love your updates, thanks! You are inspriring and will no doubt have an enormous impact in Zambia. You look good little brother! Miss you!

Lindsay said...

Hey Bro,
I miss you!!! Happy to hear that you are getting the community in shape with that little fitness center you created! Sounds like things are going well, I can't wait to come and visit you, Brett and I will be there in June! Your work is no doubt making a change in the world, you are an inspiration to many....keep it up!!!
Love you

Levi said...

Keep on living in solidarity. I'm glad to read what your doing and feel that you are finding the Chad in Zambia. It's tough. Good luck with relationships and creating great connections.
We're all cheering for you!
Ride till dawn amigo.

Mark said...

Hey Chad, life sounds good out there and I am happy to hear you are enjoying what you are doing. I dont want to scare you but that water that you bath in everyday looks alot like the water that crocidle hunter used to wrestle crocidiles in. But then again he was in a zoo so maybe you arent in the same place. Unless... Are you at a zoo?

I always wondered, are our stereotypes of africans villagers true? Can you steal souls by taking pictures and so on?

Keep making a difference.

Myriam said...

Hi Chad,

You probably won't remember me. I'm a friend of Lianne. I was there at the ewb BBQ just before you left for Zambia. Your blog is great. Your level of integration in Zambia is impressive. I applied to be an LTOV this year. I am reading some parts of your blog to my family. It helps them understand why I want to volunteer. Some of their fears are disapearing as well (maybe not with the part about the crocodiles ;). Anyhow, I just wanted to say that your work in Zambia already has an impact in Canada.

Continue ton excellent travail!


Bud Sambasivam said...


Love it. Keep it up! I hope you're not lonely. It sounds like you're intigrating well, and breaking down some western misconceptions. You're headed in the right direction. Very thoughful, well written and informative post.

We're cheering you on from the N.O.,

Anonymous said...

Hi Chad,

I love reading your blogs. Congrats on your Lozi and keep writing about every detail. I admire your courage and drive. Take care.

Sarah Pooler

Jean-Luc said...

Yo chaddy... :-)

i can see "everything's under control"! I was just wondering where was your helmet ?!? :-)

see ya


Dan said...

Hey Chad,

It is super amazing to hear your stories from Zambia. There is a very subtle feeling that I got while in Zambia that combines excitement, fascination, simple comfort... You writing captures that beautifully. I am reminded of how different life is in the village, and yet how understandable and logical it is as well. On the surface it's so exotic, but deeper down it feels like home.

I have been struggling to put my experiences into context and find out what they mean to me. Your post has helped me remember some of the things I had forgotten. Thank-you

Heather said...

Wow, awesome pics and awesome stories. Thanks for keeping us in the loop, I really appreciate it.

Heather MacKenzie
UofA Chapter

Gillian said...

Hello Chad!

Wow... reading your blog makes me more excited about development. Glad to hear that you're doing well. Keep up the great work. You have some awesome pictures. I especially like the gym!
You're an amazing dude.

Take care,
Gill Langor
(from MUN... in case you don't remember me)

Anonymous said...

hi chad, interesting blog, i m planning to go to kalabo zambia soon. (coming dec. 2006) i m from panama, and i m studying in argentina. so it would be nice to keep in touch... my mail is

Anonymous said...


Love reading your updates, keep them coming...June says hello, she misses you and is wondering when you'll be stopping in London again. I've been working on my Nigerian accent but apparently it'll never be as good as yours!

Take care and keep up the good work,


Cathie M said...

Dear Chad, you are totally amazing..we heard your comments about your grandpa when we travelled in to Saskatoon from N.B for the funeral yesterday afternoon too are so inspirational!!!!!Your Mom and Dad and grandma and everyone else that knows you I'm sure are very proud of you....Your Mom, auntie and uncle did a wonderful eulogy and hearing your words was a perfect ending.....take care, Cathie Migneault

Anonymous said...

Hi Chad

Am Zambian living abroad...Its interesting and amazing to see what you are doing out there..keep up the good work, its takes some one with love in their heart to do what you are doing..keep up the good work! you are an inspiration.

All the best

Mike Amoroso said...

Hi Chad, you don't know me, but I came accross your Blog and I'm very impressed and intriuged with your living in Zambia and the experiences you're having. I have been to Zambia with Habitat For Humanity in Mufumbwe, and I'm going again to Kaoma this June. The best experiences on these trips for me are to immerse myself in the culture and leave my life behind so that I can truely understand the Zambian way of life. I have started a Non-Profit to help communities in Zambia, and I hope to retrun for a few weeks every year. Respect to you, you're living my dream!
-Mike Amoroso

Anonymous said...

Awesome. I am a proud Lozi living away from beautiful Barotseland. It's an amazing place. Miss life there, can't wait to visit.