Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stories from the field: Learning to listen to the voice of Dorothy

{The first week with my partner has gone by incredibly quickly - I have spent some time in the field each day this week and would like to try and share some of these experiences as best as I can.these are some glimpses into what I have perceived when I visit communities for field work, take them with scrutiny and critical thought for they are just the perceptions of a volunteer}

{Dorothy is a term EWB uses to describe those who we work for. Who/what she embodies will vary from person to person. Who is my Dorothy? That is a tough question. I could say in my short time in Zambia I have met many men, woman, and children who are Dorothy to me. One is mentioned in this post}

The taxi is jostled on the red dirt roads to Mackenzie I am riding in the taxi with two others from my partner and one determined driver. The bumpy roads do not unnerve me anymore; I feel I have become accustomed to being thrown around in these toyota taxis the moment the car disembarks from a major road. Scraping sounds are common as the taxi bottoms out over the large pot holes, slopes, and cracks that dominate the hard red soil. In the rainy season are these roads washed away? Eventually we arrive in the community of Mackenzie - a peri-urban dwelling on the outskirts of Ndola.

Mackenzie is a far cry from many of the places I have seen thus far in Zambia. It is unlike the highway towns, unlike the small mud hut villages beside the highway, and unlike the massive cities of Ndola and Lusaka. My first sight is a borehole well and a small child using the hand pump to fill a small red container. This borehole sits outside a primary school for community children. One by one more children come to the borehole and begin to fill up all manners of plastic containers - yellow, blue, red - but mainly yellow.

I spent the morning in Mackenzie collecting field data ranging from answers for a questionnaire to water samples. I met a girl in one of the households we visited, whose name I wont include, and heard her story. I ask her if she speaks English, quietly she replies "I can try". She tells me her story - how her older brother does 'nothing' and how her younger brother and her try to go to school. She tells me her parents are 'gone' and that she takes care of her brothers. She can't be older than fourteen or fifteen. Her house is dimly lit - I nearly trip upon entering. There are no windows and no electricity. The only source of light is the sun, which barges in through the open front door and creeps in through cracks in the wall and the roof. She speaks softly with hope in her eyes but it is now time for our group to move to the next house. What will happen to her? She says she still goes to school - will she be able to finish? Where will life take her? How can I better listen to her and understand her stories? How can I learn from listening?

As I walk through the streets of Mapalo young children sneak up behind me yelling "Muzungu! Muzungu!" others yell "Yesu, yesu!" while others still call me "Rambo! Rambo". I turn around a wave, struggling to utter some Bemba, trying to communicate. In Mapalo as we meet with some community leaders sitting on small wooden stools on the porch of the RDC office little children gather around staring at me - as the RDC and I discuss the state of water and BSF in the community the attention I receive from the little ones gathered by the porch and across the street leaves me very uncomfortable. Little faces peering at me from across the street on a giant pile of dirt when they see me turn my head towards them they wave. I grin. They grin back. I am told that these children never see white people since their world is this small community - I am told that unlike North America where mothers and fathers take their children to market with them these children are left at home. Many do not go to school. It's a hard situation to understand and even harder to react to - how should a JF respond to hundreds of little eyes constantly staring with such perplexed looks on their faces?

My meetings with the people of Mackenzie and the leaders of Mapalo have helped me learn a lot about the state of water in these communities and how water and different water methodologies are perceived but I am still trying to learn how it all relates back to Dorothy. I need to spend more time in the community so I can learn how to listen to Dorothy's voice - from Dorothy and from those who represent Dorothy. I need to listen to the people like the girl I spoke of earlier so I can better understand the true realities of these communities.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Patrick!!! Glad to hear it going well!
    Just wondering ... how is the quality of their water when you tested it?
    From Grace :)