Thursday, July 16, 2009

Heart of Suffering

Zeal for the cold city, shade under a feinting tree

Twapia, which has the equivalent meaning of" We have suffered" in Bemba, is the community that I presently call home - it is a township/peri urban area on the outskirts of the town of Ndola. What makes Twapia "Twapia"?

Walking through Twapia is a heart wrenching and mind tearing experience – I see what I feel is “poverty” but I don’t know what poverty is. Poverty presents its self to me every day yet I am able to shut it off – even in this simulation of a white boy in poverty I have day to day escapes. When August arrives in Zambia it will pick me up a nd take me to Canada... Even so, my mind is constantly stretched to capacity; a balloon over inflated. Every night I feel that when I succumb to sleep it is due to mental exhaustion from all the sights, sounds, scents, and stories. The mental exhaustion of ignorance – what is the cure?

The paths run red-orange with thick soil – around the paths are homes made of soil or plaster. Small wooden stands carrying a varity of goods are accompanied by people. There are always people on the paths – people of all ages and all descriptions.

Who are these people? Travelers from all walks of life – displaced from the cities due to unemployment, poor pay, social issues, and everything else I dare to imagine coupled with all the dark eventualities that are beyond my comprehension? What is Twapia? What is my new Home? What is suffering?

Rape and cabbage – does it take a farmer to know the difference?


Similar to most townships I have visited, Twapia is a collection of terra-cotta mud brick houses in the poorest areas and more 'upscale' homes in the wealthier areas. In the area I am living in it appears that most families use shallow hand dug wells as their source of water - this is fairly consistent in most Townships. A few households use Kafubo Kiosks to buy pumped water, while others will opt to use a hand pumped borehole. Wells are not well. Due to the lay of the land, latrines are too close in proximity from the wells. These latrines become a source of pollution for all the waterin' holes within a "thirty meter radius"; however depending on the ground water levels, changes in elevation, and other physical properties this radius becomes less meaningful. Regardless, water borne diseases are very common in many households. During my work on a perception study a common response about Kafubo was "I can afford it, but why would I buy something I can get for free?" - money not put towards water can be put towards other things, so why switch sources? While faecal matter permeates freely into wells, unfortunately the notions of hygiene and sanitation are slow to reach full permeation in the collective consciousness of the community.

The lush vegetation of Mapalo is not as ubiquitous in Twapia; there are fewer trees and more fields. Houses within Twapia are also more spread out; it would appear population density is lower than other townships.

Markets are not in short abundance in Twapia - I have visited two so far. Both have been equipped with the basics - chichenge, food items, charcoal, odds and ends (tropicals/flip flops, power adapters, bike parts,) ect. . . Along with the markets, most pathways have their own abundance of roadside vendors of other various items - popcorn, rape, sweet potatoes.

Similar symptoms of poverty manifest as problems in the townships, yet they are unique communities and should not be treated the same. Twapia isn’t Twapia due to the geography or the housing style as much as it is Twapia because of those who call suffering home.

Occupied without pay


One of the men I met on the mini bus ride to work spoke to me about Twapia - "there are no jobs for me, so there is no school for my son" - the community suffers the same symptomatic embodiments of poverty that have plagued the other townships. He had just spent his savings on fliers for his business – he styles himself as an electronics technician, a trade he even went to school for. Even with his training he cannot find a job and is thus self employed, yet he has told me there have been little customers for a long time. His name was George, he told me to speak his story to all “my friends”.

There is a seemingly perpetual gyre of poverty - the unemployment of parents limits the educational opportunities of children, who in turn cannot rise into the few "good jobs" available in the region due to their limited education and as a result become unemployed as well. The cycle continues. Spirals.



Johnny Appleseed


I know of a young man, a seventeen year old in grade eight - not due to a lack of ability, but rather a lack of funds. His father has to balance education amongst all the children - eventually he decided that the elder ones were a lost cause and decided to give the youngest a consistent education - grade 1-12 with no gaps - can the family truly say that this is a possibility? Every text book.., every piece of paper is a sacrifice. Even if the child finishes his schooling, what will happen next? What happens when there is no job waiting for him? How can a family living off of four hundred thousand kwacha a month pay for a nine hundred thousand kwacha three month term of post secondary? Every one or two weeks requires a new bag of ground maize meal, a bag of charcoal and all sorts of other food and cooking items. Schooling takes fifty thousand a month. Little is left over for saving for post secondary. Even if the family can pay for the child to graduate high school... what happens? Surely my Canadian money could buy one child school books till university? What would that solve... I believe the word begins with an ‘n’ and ends with a ‘g’.



precipitous hills; jill came tumbling after

Another family I met is composed of a young man, twenty six, and his wife, who appears to be a bit older. The only source of income they have is selling small bits of vegetables at a improvised wooden stand. Diligent work consumed the wife’s time during the rainy season as she worked tirelessly to make a bit of cash. Upon return to Twapia her meagre pay cheque has been used to purchase goods at the market in Ndola. The goods are then sold for a slight profit from the top of a stall made of scrap wood. Is this a form of entrepreneurship or economic suicide? Every day I see this family as I walk home from work; their table is stocked with the same goods from the day before – maybe a few bunches of rape are missing, but the general quantity remains almost the same. Tired looks are perpetually painted upon her face, their situation appears bleak, however her voice rings with a longing optimism for tomorrows that have yet to dawn. Sometimes her hopefulness would make her seem unaware of the crushing circumstances around her; however, these notions are dispelled with her lack of hesitancy as she exclaims “we are poor in Twapia”. The husband spends most of his days waiting - waiting for a chance, waiting for change. He looks for some piece work here and there – odd jobs that will render a little cash. Perhaps one day he can cut some grass with a machete, or even work for a farmer during the maize harvest. Maybe a brick crew needs an extra set of hands ...? Usually he returns home empty handed and ready to pour what little kwacha he has down his throat in the form of cheap liquor. I have seldom seen this man completely sober.



“And then I’ll change the world...”

Twapia is a world away from the rock stars, politicians, and rock star politicians - who vehemently claim change is tangible while riding in their luxury aeroplanes far above the ground amongst clouds and fantasy. Calgary, my home for twenty one years, minus a few months, is vivid in my memory but has become a surreal notion of what the world can be. Each passing second draws me closer and closer back to Calgary – to a world that fills me with indignant curiosity – time is an angler, drawing me as a catch towards the old reality. My conscious lies in a perpetual state of derailment – catastrophic train wrecks lie along the pathways of my heart and mind – it is such a rational spiral, this game of poverty, no opportunity breads no more opportunity, yet the cruel actuality of it is something that is a rough face to greet every morning. The perpetuation is irrational. To smile when my family offers me the lion’s share of the Nshima while their children eat very little is a feigned and superficial appeal to their gentle hospitality. I am frozen in time unable to convince them to feed me less, every meal is an argument. To laugh with the girl, whose mind is a vacant bookshelf which has yet to know school, unsettles the heart –shouldn’t this young one be given the same chances I was so effortlessly granted? Dreams lay in wait in Twapia, lingering amongst the early morning mists hovering above the highway, parted by mini buses and freight. Yet even this analysis is based on my framework of what is ‘right’ and what is not – a framework instilled upon me from the date of my birth till the day I stepped on the KLM flight to Malawi- instilled in me by the land which has turned from an object of frustration to a catalyst of indignation. Perhaps my notions of opportunity are a flawed sentiment applied to an incompatible setting, a botched blood transfusion leading to illness. Still I wonder ‘Why do the majority of youth in Canada get to experience all these opportunities?’ – a song called “WMA – white male american’ opens with the line “he won the lottery when he was born’ – a line I always enshrined as one bit of thoughtfulness amongst the landscape of modern music full of trite lyrics and superficial messages. My experience only reinforce that notion – in North America most children won the birth lottery- yes we have poverty and problems in North America, yet applying irrational relativism it would seem that the opportunity granted to me by my birth is unfair. I won the lottery – a nice middle class family, a great public school, and a government scholarship. Why are such things not awarded to my Zambian friends?

“we have suffered” is the name of my new home – a home which has taught me what it personally means to suffer. Suffering is hard to imagine in Canada – when I think back to all the expressed feelings of frustration in Canada and look back to the Zambian backdrop the two are incomparable. Suffering isn’t a universal state, it varies from person to person. There’s no homogenous state of being, no complete rigorous definition of emotion. Everything is relative. Yet I feel that for the first time in my life I’ve truly learned what it might be to suffer. For me to suffer is to see the suffering of others and to feel it through them; in Twapia it is abounding in such an unbearable intensity. The heart of suffering is in knowing that suffering exists in the lives of others and that I am incapable to cause it to cease. My actions will do little to end the suffering in Twapia or even in the household I call home. Regardless of their dream– as one Musungu all I can do is ponder the injustices running rampant through this global village called Earth, no panacea to deliver. My actions can help here and there, but also lead to more suffering. Stories of the Musungu who never delivered – a handful of people I have met have them. “He stopped sponsoring me and I never could pay for grade 8” – said one woman. Broken dreams that hinged on the will of a white man. After a pampered existence in Calgary I feel that I now have had a glimpse into what it might be to suffer; suffering is watching the suffering. Perhaps that is why Twapia is called ‘we have suffered’ - neighboured by other compounds, neighboured by suffering communities, households neighboured by other suffering households.

Yet if each person in the "have" category of humanity faced these issues head on with thoughtfulness and caring – what then?

1 comment:

  1. Patrick, thanks for sharing all your thoughts and feelings about life in Zambia. What you share does not reach deaf ears and I certainly find your words very moving. I hope you can find something to share with the village - your good-nature, your music, your life story, whatever!

    I really enjoy reading your blog and I could probably say the same thing many times. Keep it up! Lots of love to you and your African family!

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