Sunday, March 22, 2009

Family Lineage

Bemba family lineage follows the matriarchal line. This means that that a child's mother is their mother in the sense that we understand the word, but also all of her sisters and her mother are mothers to her child. When a man marries a woman he leaves his family to go stay with the family of the wife. Any children they have together belong to the wife's family. Their biological father is not their father in responsibility, that falls the mother's brother (our uncle on the mothers side). He becomes responsible for deciding cases of marriage and other such life decisions. The biological father is still a part of the child's life to take care of the day to day needs and provide for the family but the main decisions in a child's life are made by their uncle. Also, if something should happen to end a marriage the child would usually stay with the mother's family. The head of a family is typically the brother of the oldest mother (for example, a great uncle on the mother's side). He would become the "headman" of the village where the family stays. Traditionally a "village" is really just a family group but as population has grown they have come to include many families. Got all that?

Extended family systems like this are beneficial in a number of ways, especially where scarcity of food is a common problem. One family member's abundance can always be used to make up for a defecit in the harvest of another. It can also be damaging as there is an expectation that family members share everything hurting the incentive to accumulate anything or add fields to cultivation on top of a family's immediate needs.

This is my friend Ba Shimuyembe's family. The children are both his, his brother's, and his daughter's but they are all treated as if they were from the same parents.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


"These are my parents" said the sixty-five year old zambian farmer who stands at just over five feet tall as he hold up a hoe and an ax. "This is my mother" he shakes the hoe "and this is my father" he shakes the ax "together they take care of me."

This man can use these two tools to provide everthing that he needs. So tell me, who is more "developed" him or us?


Peace Corps is a development aid organization but what does that mean? This question is not easy to answer as there are many approaches to "aid" in pursuit of "development". Maybe it would be helpful to start by thinking about what development is. Is it roads, electricity, houses with central air conditioning, grocery stores with peaches all-year-round, cars for everyone, access to education, access to health care, etc? Or is it a mental state where people feel empowered and happy despite thier physical surroundings (assuming basic human needs are met)? Further still, what parts of this development should we (some would say are we obligated to) help other countries achieve?

Once the idea of development has crystalized it still remains to be determined how aid can support that development. Should developed countries simply give money to developing country governments and let them choose where it will go or should they enact programs and transfer knowledge, or capacity, to the population of a country to empower them? Should non-governmental organizations (NGOs) determine the priorities of a country and work along side the government to achieve those goals or should they work independently with loose associations to the host country government?

From my experience up to this point there are no clear answers to these questions. There are as many stories of success for each approach as there are stories of failure. The determining factor seems to be context. That said, i still think that education and training will do more in the long run to empower populations and provide the opportunity for improving standards of living. In the end this seems all we really have the power to do: Provide opportunities. You can hand someone a pencil and paper, you can teach them how to ride a bike, you can show them the benefits of keeping bees, but in the end it is up to them to do those things. You have merely provided the opportunity to begin. We will never "bring" development, just the opportunity to develop. At that point we have to leave it up to the work of our developing country collegues. They know what it takes in their context. They know better than us what development means to them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

School in Zambia

Schools in Zambia are only free to attend up to the seventh year. Even before that time, though there are no official fees, many children are prohibited from attending because their families can’t afford to purchase the books or uniforms that the school requires for attendance (despite the cost of the eight notebooks and one pen required for one term being less than one dollar). Starting at the seventh year students must also sit for exams at the end of their second term (there are two terms per year). If a student doesn't pass the exam they can't continue onto the following year. Many students in Zambia don't finish secondary school (high school) until they are in their twenties because of problems with securing funds and failing years.

Zambian curriculum is borrowed from the British school system and the classes are taught using rote learning. Students memorize and memorize often (largely because of language difficulties) without understanding the meaning of what is being memorized. The official language after grade one is english leaving many students behind in the rural areas. Luckily, in practice, the teachers often use a bit of local language to teach though the students are still tested in english. Imagine learning history in english and then having to take a test on the material in portugese. I have a hunch it is a lot like that for most of the students, atleast in the area where I live.

In Zambia, one can see, in stark terms, the differences in opportunities available to those who have and those who haven’t finished their education (and for those who have, how good their marks, or grades, were). Here the grade twelve graduation certificate is often the difference between a life of hard manual labor in farming with little monetary reward and the opportunity for a significantly less labor intensive position in teaching, nursing, or some other service job where one receives a steady stream of income. Without a grade twelve certificate it is impossible to go to a college and in the "towns" (this is what all non-rural areas are called in Zambia) to find employment that pays a living wage.

Question: Can one be economically successful in America without finishing atleast a highschool education? How do opportunities differ in America for those who have and havent obtained a college diploma?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Life in the Village

Life in rural Zambia is very different from life in the States (even in America's most rural places). The village I live in, Muyembe, is about 15 miles from the nearest power lines and only recently had a borehole installed (a borehole is a well with a hand pump). Before the borehole people drew their water from the river. Muyembe is more fortunate than most villages because it has a basic school with grades one through nine and a clinic. There are about 100 households and 500 people living in Muyembe.

People here build their houses out of locally available materials. They use clay to mold bricks for the walls and thatch the roof with grass. The bricks are fired on the more permanent homes but some people (mostly those who live in fishing villages for part of the year and cultivate in another place the rest of the year) build their houses out of unfired bricks, wooden poles, or just thick grasses because of their frequent movements. Wood isn't used very much in building because there are so many termites. Every house has a separate insaka, or cooking hut, where the meals are prepared and visitors entertained. Typical house is probably around 20'x20' in Luapula which is a bit bigger than homes I have seen in other provinces. There are usually eight or ten people in a typical household. My house is a typical village house with the exception of it's cement floor. Cement is too expensive for most families and so most houses have smeared clay over packed bricks for a floor.

Here is a photo of my house and insaka:

What is done on a typical day is dependent on one's sex and age. If a woman, the day will be filled largely with domestic tasks and supervising children (though the children often seem to be supervising themselves). During the rainy season (oct. through april) this expands to include some cultivation and weeding of fields. Men are responsible for preparing agricultural fields, building houses, and providing things like clothes, school supplies, and perhaps a small amount of disposable income. Children go to school and help their moms with the household tasks. Young girls draw a lot of water for their mothers and help with the jobs they will someday be responsible for while young boys spend their time trying to kill birds with their sling shots and fishing in the river.


Hi! I'm Hans' brother Kai and I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia.

Zambia is in the central region of Southern Africa and is bordered by Tanzania, Malawi, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, and Angola. Formerly a colony under the British, it achieved independence in 1964. There are nine provinces and within those seven major languages and about 65 other dialects are spoken. I live in Luapula province where the language is Bemba. However, a lot of people also speak English.

If you want to know more about Zambia see these links: Wikipedia or CIA World Fact Book

The Peace Corps is a U.S. Government program (Like Teach for America) that brings American citizens overseas to provide technical expertise and exchange culture.

See this link for some more info about the Peace Corps: What is the Peace Corps?

My work is focused mostly on agriculture. I work one on one with farmers trying to introduce agricultural techniques that protect and improve the soil (the basis civilization!) and crops which add diversity and income (such as pineapples and bananas) to the farmer's system. I also work a bit with groups interested in bee keeping and topics related to gardening (compost making, green manure, etc).

I'm looking forward to sharing Zambia with you over the next few months!