13 October 2011

History "Gregory Mweemba" (2003)

Greg peers around the corner of my closet. The closet, the pantry of our house, is claimed to be my full fledged office. It contains a desk, a plank of 1.2 x 1 meter, hammered between the walls, with equipment stacked up to the ceiling. When I wiggle around and hold in my stomach, I can even close the door to have privacy in my office. Today the door is open, and there is Gregory. He is in the house getting a glass of water while doing piecework in our garden, slashing grass.

“Can I use such a computer?”. Tough question, as computers are scarce in Macha. Maybe five in the whole village, of which two in our house. One, a fourth-hand Pentium I is Janneke's personal computers, set up on the desk in our living room. The second one, a two years young desktop, operates in my closet.

“Why do you want to use a computer, Greg?” “I have seen and touched one at school, a laptop owned by an international missionary teacher. I would love to learn how to use a computer so I can train others”. “OK, and when you have trained others, what then?” I probe further. “I want to start an internet cafe, we need an internet cafe in this rural community!”. “There is no internet in our community, Greg, not even telephone line. I am trying shortwave radio to send messages, and mostly that does not even work!”. “No problem, it will come to pass one day. Can you assist me to use a computer, please?”.

Greg sits in our house, every day, for he next five weeks. Quietly and diligently he pushes himself, working on Janneke's computer in our living room. He works within his own user account. At the end of the day he erases his trails. He resets the computer so Janneke can use it for her work in the evenings.

Within five weeks Gregory has conquered all the computer can manage. Self taught, as I am much to busy getting onto my feet in this resource challenged environment.

“Greg, sorry, we have to leave for a few month. We travel abroad to be with relatives, awaiting the arrival of a new family member”. “No problem, I will see you when you come back”. “What do you want to do now you are being able to handle a computer very well, Greg? Do you want to make money for you and your family, or what?” “No, I want to serve the community, and open the internet cafe.”.

“Let's make you a deal Greg. You know Choma town's internet cafe. They are growing well, and have an urgent vacancy for computer literate staff. I met them and did recommended you. It provides for a well paying job. Or, when you really want to continue in Macha, I suggest you spend your time on further studies. For instance, enroll for official training in Lusaka. I promise to pay for your expenses when I return. Yes, it is expensive. However, you must find funding yourself. Just bring results and receipts when I am back.” Greg responds: “Good deal, see you when you are back in Macha.”

Upon returning to Macha, my heart is heavy when Greg does not show up the during the first week. I do not dare to investigate if he accepted the lucrative job in the internet cafe in Choma. Two weeks later, Greg at the door... “I heard you did return. I was delayed as to finish much computer training. Here are the receipts”.

Together we refurbish a large, run down building and turn it around for the proposed internet cafe. A container arrives with donated goods. In it we find a pile of twenty written off Pentium I computers. Without delay they are deployed in “Vision Internet Cafe”. Right upon arrival of internet in Macha, Vision Internet is wireless connected. Gregory is in charge of it all.

11 October 2011

History "Fred Mweetwa" (Apr-2003)

“Knock, knock” goes the door. “Who is there?”. “Fred”. “Fred who?”. “Fred Mweetwa”. I stumble to the kitchen door. Another knocking on the door today, what will the story be now?

“Would you like to buy trees?”. “Trees, let me think, do I need trees you think?” “Yes, you need trees, there is much room in your garden to plant some trees”. “OK, let us plant some trees, where do you think they should go?”. It turns out that Fred nurtures trees from seed to seedling in discarded milk packages. “What do they cost Fred?”. “Give me 2,000 Kwatcha per tree please”. ZMK 2,000 equals USD 0.50.

Fred enthusiastically markets his trees, and other activities. I learn of his vision of the importance of planting trees, especially fruit trees, as the community is used to pluck the fruit, and take the wood, but not used to facilitate a process of replanting trees they harvest. He continues by explaining more and more initiatives and works, for instance the one bringing together communities to exercise the art of bee-keeping.

“Fred, such a tree brings in little turnover. There might not be a very big tree market in this rural community, and it seems you are able to do much more then that. What would you do if you were free to choose your carrier now now?”. “I would be a journalist”, he replied. “Journalist? What are you knocking at my door selling trees then? Why don't you knock on my door and ask me to be active in journalism? I will buy your trees, but let's start over and reacquaint!”.

Four weeks later Fred knocks at that door again. With two handwritten reports, expanding on the agreed journalistic tasks. One report provides insight on “What does the community think HIV is?” and the other “What does the community like to be educated in?”. Fred explains how he loves the tasks at hand, how he organized a good number of community sessions in which the questions under investigation were discussed, in communities near and far. Also he eludes on how the whole exercise has made all involved enthusiastic, including himself. “People were happy to be asked questions, and felt valued. They are keen to discuss these kind of issues further, it was a worthwhile exercise. What else could I investigate?”.

“Fred, what do you think you should be next? Do you need to be selling trees, work in journalism, or what?”. His heeding to calling: “I need to lead the community Radio Station”.

Mystory "Welcome to Zambia" (Mar-2003)

African border crossings are not for the fainthearted.

The official looks at the Temporary Import Permit for our vehicle and asks “What are you bringing into Zambia?”. Indeed, I did not yet fill in the part where one must declare goods that are being brought in. Quite a dilemma what to write down, as the box is only one centimeter high and a few more wide, while our car is packed up to capacity including a large cupboard on the roof rack, and our sturdy bush trailer carrying many more of our valued possessions. Chairs and a couch protrude skywards.

In Zimbabwe we got fined by road traffic police for 'dangerous overloading', although in comparison with some of the really overloaded buses traveling our African roads we thought our loading was quite acceptable.

Here we are, at the border of Zambia, changing home and country. After a period of two good and challenging years in Zimbabwe - with Zimbabweans capably taking over all our tasks - it is time to move on. Zambia is the virtual option we choose. Virtual, as there are no promises, no dwelling place, no upkeep, just a vision: let's eradicate malaria.

Without a work-permit, or even proof we are wanted 'in country', we just got a 30 days tourist visa stamped in our passports. Subsequently we settled payment for road tax, car insurance, and what not, for our Zimbabwe registered car, and now the last hurdle is in front of us: getting all our stuff through.

So we chat; Explaining our situation, that we are about to move country, are invited to come to Macha and see, and that we take quite some stuff along. “Please note down what you bring in, in this box, which exists for that purpose, Sir”. “Thank you”, I say, take up a pen, and write down in large letters “Everything needed to fill an empty house”. The customs official looks up, nods and smiles, and applies the appropriate stamp to the document. We go back to our car.

The gate to Zambia is still closed, awaiting of inspection of documents and goods. Not much movement, as not many travel between Zimbabwe and Zambia these days. We drive to the gate and wait. Although it is hot, purposefully an official walks to the car and we hand him the pile of documents upon his request. He inspects them carefully.

Unexpectedly the border post erupts with noise and running people. Big baboons invade the area, pinching goods from piled bags on the sidewalk. People react, trying to chase the scary looking animals away. An other person tries to jump the line and makes a run for the person entry gate to Zambia. Our official hastily hands me the documents and vanishes, making a bee-line for the gate to halt the fleeting person. We wait.

An other border official arrives at the scene, oblivious to the commotion and walks to our car. “Have your papers been inspected?”. “Yes, Sir, they are.”, I reply. “Welcome to Zambia!'. He opens the gate, and off we go, into a new era.

07 October 2011

Information Divide

So, here we are, in Zambia, trying to study and learn, to get en par, and even try to prepare publications about our findings. Of course, we try to review and deduct knowledge from those that went before us by assessing experiences, studies, and subsequent writings of them. Unfortunately, often, we cannot.

Try, for instance, to search for the following citation: Linda van der Colff, "Leadership lessons from the African tree” (2003). A website called 'deepdyve.com' pops up and provides a one page teaser. The document can be accessed for USD 5 per page, USD 25 for the Portable Document Format. Apparently it is published in “Management Decision , Volume 41 (3): 5, Emerald Publishing – Apr 1, 2003”. A journey to the Emerald website: 'USD 25 for the pdf please'.

We virtually never see magazines - even if one subscribes or buys - as most do not make it through the postal system. We pay almost USD 10,000 per month for a limited 2 mbs internet connection to provide information access for about 300 users in our community. Such cost is stretching us beyond limits already.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of internet payments from a country without credit cards and relative low amount of debit cards – after 5 years of filling in forms and persistence I got my fist debit card one year ago - who would I actually pay, and for what? Is this a write up of study results, and if so, who paid for its execution? Emerald? Who did participate in the work? I cannot access, thus do not know, but I can imagine that our African communities did contribute. Did they get paid for that? I doubt it. Do they get paid when I furnish hard currency to be able to read about them? I doubt that too.

What I normally do is hope someone, somewhere, put a scanned PDF on the internet, and that Google finds it. And then I download, from wherever. Gratefully, this is the case quite often, but for this case Google does not give me any link. Again, no clue what the document contains, only 'non-constructive thoughts' remain, like ones depicting exclusion, 'not being invited to the party', being disadvantaged. Such thoughts discourage and do not harmonize nor motivate.

USD 25 represents a lot of money in our community. It represents half a month salary for many persons around me. Thus, is it ethical to send that money to Deepdyve or Emerald, or to others that often pop up, like Springer or Elsevier? Actually, these are names of companies or magazines that I have never seen, nor have been able to access, nor read any of its articles.

Where to investing our precious financial resources that have arrived in rural Africa, often involving much hard work from the community. The choice is rather easy. I just do not know these magazines, nor the publishers, I have never seen any of these magazines, thus I can only guess to what I miss. Only feelings remain, like 'I miss something, I am being excluded, others in the West whom are able to pay or be lucky to be near a library do have a head-start, however am I up-to-date?'.

The people around me smile, and I am grateful to live in a unique context and culture. We have acquired some knowledge to their needs based upon our own observations. All this balances, and I have no difficulty choosing for investments benefiting my neighbour, and regard the other information as if it does not exist. Actually, it does not exist for us in Africa, as if we live on a different planet.

05 October 2011


The philosophical design of Western thinking - with its essentialistic focus (getting to the essence of things) - feels normal in a western setting. It utilizes definitions - abstracting qualities of things encountered - and then looks at a reality in light of such definitions. Combining definitions result in theories, mostly within a particular discipline. Theory provides guidance as to the content of the study of anyone wishing to be fluent in the a subject matter. Theory is augmented by techniques, providing exercises to enhance performance and facilitating measurements. This approach seems to work quite well in Western realities, where all is geared towards this approach (e.g. with language and literacy mostly socially constructed within this view of reality), and congruent with a definition of humans being 'rational animals'.

Rural Africa, featuring an existential focus, is not used - nor adapted - to this kind of reasoning. Its view is validated, for instance, by local ability to easily articulate indefinable qualities and humanitarian values of reality. Of course, the definition of humans being 'rational animals' does not stick either, as in rural Africa one regards 'a person is a person through people'.

Clearly, essentialism brings benefits of understanding the World-of-Things, as shown through successful abstractions as literature and mathematics. On the other hand I have found existentialism to benefit understanding the World-of-Humans, as it interacts fluently with context and culture and naturally facilitates, for instance, oration, hearing, feeling, memory, harmony, and rhythm.

In our shrinking world caution is needed for hegonism as it can be destructive to other views of reality, which loss would deprive us all of alternatives and diversity. We must continue to endeavor on innovative ways of interacting, overarching diverse philosophies, as I strongly believe that respectful cross-pollination can support either side to be inspired to face the multifaceted challenges in our complex world.

01 October 2011

Partnering Accross Borders

Partners think, want, and act interdependently.
Partners subscribe to true partnerships and jointly managed endeavors, from conception till reality.
Partners share the lead.
Partners connect peers first, then administrators.
Partners implement workable financial balances.
Partners consider bilateral arrangements as well as multilateral connections.
Partners value diversity of cultural experience.
Partners deal with risks without compromising social interaction.
Partners replace short-term stints with long-term (professional) development.
Partners treat all interactions as a learning experience.

Partners do in Zambia as the Zambians do.
Partners adapt to culture and context, which emerged from centuries of struggles, trials and victories by those that went before.
Partners adapt to local ways of communications.
Partners adhere to national and traditional rules and other regulatory facts of life.

Partners target friendship, peace and cooperation.
Partners trust.
Partners respect mutually.
Partners grow relationships through thick and especially thin.
Partners share experiences.