Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Its that time of year, again.

Christmas. Turkey dinners, shiny wrapping paper, mistletoes, egg nog, mulled wine, crazy shoppers, unscrupulous drunken party behaviour and fancy dress parties. And of course, family.

I’m going to have to admit it is really hard for me to believe that it’s Christmas. The subtle changes of seasons don’t provide a constant time check that says ‘ Its getting cold, leaves are falling, rain is falling, snow is falling, ready…..ready… its CHRISTMAS!’ I mean, just last week, I was out motoring around in the muddy fields, talking to farmers not about Christmas, but about how much rain will come and what the harvest will be like this year. And our public space isn't invaded with Christmas decorations. Take a look at what the main drag of LusakaCairo Rd—looks like, today, on Christmas Eve, just like every other day.

This isn’t the first time I’m going to be spending Christmas away from home and in Africa. In 2003, I was in Ghana and I’ve observed about Christmas there is similar to what I am observing here. And that is, that Christmas isn’t IN YOUR FACE. There aren’t public Christmas trees, no lights, few decorations. Reminders of Christmas are usually a lot more subtle and usually unexpected. For example, last weekend, I was packed into a mini bus. The person’s phone in-front of me rang as many often do; but this time, instead of 50 cent filling the air, there was another familiar tune. It took me a few seconds to realise that it was ‘ We wish you a Merry Christmas’. And then on Tuesday, it was down pouring and I stepped into a store to escape the rain only to have another oddly familiar tune playing in the background – ‘have a holly jolly Christmas’. To my ears, the harmony and beats of Christmas carols just don’t fit with the beats and melodic sounds of traditional African music. There are fake plastic Christmas trees in cluttered in a few store windows and it’s a bit odd because you never see these trees growing naturally around here, and really, trees? Inside? There was an old blow up Santa Claus doll hanging from a thatch roof hut I saw last week in Monze. Santa? In Zambia? A fat old white bearded man in a red and white suite? SHU-AH! ( as in ‘Sure!?!?’ as in REALLY?!) Usually, when I think of all of these western symbols of Christmas, I can’t help but feel like it is a phony way of celebrating, and how it is a testament to western culture that really doesn’t fit into local context.

And today, being Christmas eve, I was out on the town and came across a sight that seems to symbolize what I'm trying to say.

Consider exibit A. Zambian Santa.

I know that this is Zambian Santa, because notice the nice booty.

Exhibit B. notice the gum boots (its rainy season) and face mask ( masks, are hot items).

And then, Santa here, has a whole other persona.

I mean, sure, there isn't a 'HO HO HO' but this Santa has a street style all his own. I don’t know what I enjoy more, his high pitched screech, his ‘HELLO!HOW IS ZAMBIA?', or the fact that he has completely blow apart any childhood image of a nice old Santa, sitting in a mall, bells ringing in the background, nice instrumental 'silent night, or the fact that instead of riding around in a sleigh and upholding an image of gentleness and care, he’s scurrying around Lusaka accosting people. *sigh*. Randomness. I love it.

But really, besides today's randomness, overall, Christmas here is a pretty low-key event. You can walk down any street and there isn’t much that will remind you that it is Christmas. Most households just use the time for family, go to church and if there is extra money, cook special meal. And I think that I kind of like the low-key nature. I used to think that I enjoyed this mostly because I’m kind of afraid ( yes, I think afraid is the right word) of the consumerism that overtakes our communities back home during this time of year. That maybe I was happy that there wasn't a lot of western influence (yet) on this holiday. But yesterday, it kind of hit me that I realised that I kind of like the low key nature of all of this because it means there are fewer reminders that I am going to be away from family.

My family isn’t religious in the traditional sense. Actually, what am I talking about? We’re not even religious in the non-traditional sense! I think that we can count the total times anyone has ever gone to church on one, maybe two hands. Christmas for us has been much more about family getting together and with my brothers and I dispersed across the country (and world) these days, the holidays has been much more about that. It is a time for us to spend time together, catch each other up with our lives, make fun of each other, cook feasts, regress back to childhood tendencies (this includes my mother of course) and remind my dad that yes, he just may be more of a circus ringmaster than head of the household. And now that we’ve got little ones in the midst, I’m sure that it will only add to our barnyard antics. Holidays really, is a time where I always remember how lucky I am to have such characters in my family, and how truly special I am as a sister, and a daughter.

I’m going to miss my family – mom, dad, mel, KH, wild man, KY, Janice, jada, KK, becca and of course, dear little izzy. A lot. I’ll be thinking about all of you from this side of the world ( yes, as I take a 2 day train ride out to the coast and Zanzibar).

Have a safe and wonderful holiday everyone and hope that 2008 will be the best one yet.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

SOOOO how's the weather?

It’s December (IMAGINE!). I hear that Kingston and Wallaceburg got some white stuff. KK tells me that Vancouver also got some white stuff (that wreaked havoc) and then turned into brown stuff.

Here in Zambia, like Canadians, we ALSO inquire about the weather, but the question du jour is not ‘how many centimeters?’ but rather, ‘How are the rains?’.

I was in Nalubwandea community last week doing household surveys ( more on this to come in another post) and that was the question on everyone’s mind. The response was worrying.

‘ Ah Ah Ah! Tsk tsk. NO RAIN! Imagine! Ah, this is not good. NO RAIN. They tell use we’re supposed to have more than normal rains but look! Nothing!’

Mr. Shambosha, a farmer in the group was lamenting to his pals about the empty skies, the dry dusty soils, and the closing window of opportunity if the rains do not come. The first set of rains came a few weeks ago and he had felt them to be sufficient so he planted his cotton. But since then, nothing, and if it didn’t rain again in 3 days time, that effort and the investment in the seeds would be wasted as they had already begun to germinate.

It’s rainy season and that means the hundreds of thousands smallholder farmers in Zambia become gamblers, testing their luck with mother nature and hoping that they will come out on top. From the middle of November through to middle of December, farmers across the country will keep an ear open during the night to listen for the pitter patter of rains and then in the morning eagerly look outside and ask: should I plant today, or wait until tomorrow; was today’s rain showers a fluke or is it really the signal that the rain is here to stay? Winning means the first step to security for your family. Losing means wasting this year’s inputs, and the dreadfulness of knowing that you will not have enough food for your family to last through the following season.

I’m not much of a gambler and certainly wouldn’t have the stomach for this risk. Just imagine what would you do if your paycheck depended on whether the sun was shining or the clouds were full of water? What would you do, if your family’s security and ability to put food on the table was dependent on whether it rained, when it rained, and how much it rained.

And even if the rains come on time, it is just one risk that among many. As the season continues, other risks creep up; what if the rains stop? What if it rains too much, as it often does in Chama district in eastern province and crops are regularly flooded. My colleague Sarah Lewis and other EWB Volunteers in northern Ghana actually knows this well first hand. Or what if someone falls sick in the family? It doesn’t just mean health concerns, it also means one less hand to weed, and if weeding is insufficient, yields will drop. Or if pests attack your crops, it is equivalent to a thief coming in and stealing your money. Some may romanticize the lifestyle of working your own fields and harvesting your food. In Canada, farming can be a choice and if that investment fails, we have other means to rely on. But here in Zambia and across the continent, farming is a gamble within in a lifestyle of vulnerability.

What is encouraging however is that while we can’t control the rain, we do have options that can decrease the risks associated with farming. With PROFIT, we’re trying to build the private sector as an alternative system that provides farmers with access to some of these other options.

By introducing private vet services, farmers can have access to preventative measures and improve animal health. In the mid 90’s when government vet services collapsed and disease ran out of control, 70% of cattle in southern province were wiped out. This directly impacted food security as farmers rely heavily on draft power for land preparation and if your lands aren't ready in time, then you can't plant on time, and if you can't plant on time, your harvest suffers.

By introducing private agricultural input companies directly into rural communities, farmers have the option to buy seeds, fertilisers and other inputs right at their doorstep, saving transportation money. It can also provide access to improved inputs and external knowledge for better farming practices.

By introducing oxen or tractor tillage service providers, farmers could have access to land preparation services without having to wait to borrow oxen; or it could increase adoption of improved land preparation techniques (like ripping for conservation farming) that can directly increase yields, but are often passed by because it of the labour intensiveness.

These are not solutions that will help everyone – there is no silver bullet. But at least these are opening up options for many farmers so that they might be able to rely less on hope and instead, have opportunities to proactively build security for their families.

So, as you’re all bundling yourselves up for the next few months of old man winter and looking to the skies to see if snow will fall, we’ll be looking to the skies and hoping that mother nature will cooperate, for another year.

I was beginning to get worried because when I left Nalubwandea, the skies had teased us every day in the end, never delivered on its promise. Three days ago, I got a text message informing me that it had finally rained. And I couldn’t help but feel relieved.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Welcome to the world Elizabeth (Izzy) Si Yun Law.

I saw you on webcam today. You were chilling out with your beautiful mom and dad. You are gorgeous. And floppy. Don’t worry, I hear that over the next few months, you will outgrow the floppy stage forever so you should enjoy it while it lasts.

I’m sending you a greeting from Zambia, where your uncle Ka-Hung, auntie Mel and cousin Dante are visiting. We were sitting in a park as the rain clouds loomed overhead when we heard the news of your arrival. We were more than excited, especially Dante who screamed wildly as he zoomed down a slide ' moooo eeeeeee'. It was wonderful to have them here as our family grew by one because it is moments like these where the delicate balance of following your passion and the relationship costs of distance is tipped in one direction.

I know that your most wonderful parents will teach you to see the beauty in the world and encourage you to follow your passion. I hope that you will listen to them. They’re smart – s -m-r-t. And wise. But don't let that fool you as I have a collection of secrets about your dad when he was young, and I"ll tell you all about them, if the price is right.

And when you’re old enough, I’ll buy you a plane ticket ( I’ll even make it return, if by then, I’m making more than $500/month) and show you around this amazing continent that will no doubt sweep you off your feet.

Hugs, smooches and lots of love from your auntie Hay Hay.

p.s. if your dad forgets, remind him that he can now shave off his pregnancy 'beard'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Food TV. Zambia.

Chikanda - raw, just harvested, and missing the love from cooking


It seems that food has become a bit of an obsession these days—it is completely newsworthy, over the top attention grabbing and fully part of the hip urban trends. For example, right next to the series of articles on how the US has decided that the war Iraq so wildly successful they can start withdrawing troops, the NY times talked about how to enjoy grilled figs; Chefs like Jamie Oliver and that other one that swears a lot have somehow skyrocketed into a celebrity class of their own; and even closer to home, in a city like Vancouver, restaurants seem to be popping up left and right and my brother KK is again shooting a series of Vancouver restaurants for WHERE Vancouver's dining guide (by shooting, I am meaning the kind you do with a camera). A whole guide, brimming with information on the where, what and why to eating in Vancouver. Imagine.

I’m not complaining here, but simply making a small observation. Food after all, is more than just nourishment; it can be a social tool, bring people together and narrow differences.

For example, the fair trade phenomenon is largely centered around food - coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar, you name it, they’ve got it (except maybe haagen daas….) The 100 mile diet,, popularity in organic foods and farmers markets is as much about eating good food as it is signal of our growing recognition that our individual actions really do have impact on the environment. (imagine. there is actually a causal linkage). The debate about over consumption of food has almost eclipsed the concerns about the issue of under consumption and scarcity of food. Discussions about food never just about food, but as it is promoted in the slow food movement, discussions about food is really a reflection of where our society is heading these days and the type of values we’re trying to breed.

And of course food, its preparation and enjoyment can be the thing that brings friends, family and people together. I remember when growing up, my family would gather around big Sunday (turkey!) dinners every week. This was our time to connect; sometimes it was over old Chinese fables, sometimes over lectures and always over laughter, jokes, riddles and general silliness. Equally significant is the time my mother and I shared in preparing these meals; her stories about the post WWII, Great Leap Forward, Cultural revolution days of China would simultaneously transport me into her world of reality, and my world of imagination.

Also, growing up in a Chinese family embedded within a rural white community meant that sometimes I felt like an outsider, misunderstood and because of this, at times, ashamed to be Chinese. However, I remember neighbours would come over to learn how to cook Chinese dishes from my mother. While it was difficult for them to understand our cultural values and norms, food was the easy way to connect over our commonalities and forgo the many things that made us so different. I saw this again, when in Ghana, learning to pound fufu with my sisters, drinking palm wine in at 6 am with Mr. Andrews and eating from foodstalls on the street by kerosene lanterns; all of these experiences over food opened doors and windows into the culture that were invaluable.

Here in Zambia, one of my favourite foods here is Chikanda – Zambia’s meatfree version of bologna. (Anyone interested in testing this out in a Vancouver restaurant? It would sell like hotcakes guaranteed!) Chikanda is actually a small tuber that comes from an species of orchids that is found in the Northern region of Zambia. While it is a food common to the Bemba tribe of northern Zambia for generations, with the increasing urban migration, there it's popularity has meant that it can be found in and around Lusaka. Chikanda can often be found on the street, recognisable as a big plastic covered dish sitting atop of women’s heads as they wander through the streets, selling a piece the size of a domino piece for about 15 cents.

Recently, I discovered that my neighbour, Mama Mulenga is actually renowned for her chikanda. Naturally, I convinced her to teach me how to make it.

The makings of African bologna requires:

1) About this much Chikanda – a small tuber, dried and pounded into a powder. It is harvested rvested in the Northern region of Zambia. I am told that it is not farmed, no it is something that ‘god gives us’.

2) that much Groundnuts – most of us know them as peanuts. Groundnutsmakes much more sense. The groundnuts (raw) should also be pounded into a powder.

3) Up to here Water Pure refreshing tap water.

4) Just a bit Baking soda

5) One big Mama Mulenga Found only in Zambia

Salt and chilli pepper to taste

Step 1. Mix 1 and 2 with 3 in a big pot over a hot mbaula ( charcoal stove). Try hard not to think about the deforestation you’re contributing to.

Step 2. Stir until thick.

Step 3. Add 4.

Step 4. Continue to stir. Try not pass out from the heat of the stove.

When finished, place lid back on the pot and place the mulasha on top to cook the top of the Chikanda

Now for the secret to chikanda: Listen to the life stories and advice of 5.

Makes as many servings as you have number of friends around you.

Mama Mulenga is about as wide as she is tall. Which is not very. Her rotund shape gives her as sense of softness and her chuckle of a laugh offers a sense of approachability. She captures so much of what I love about elderly African women; a motherly nature, openness and willingness to share her culture, a work ethic that comes with being an African woman. And of course, a sense of rich history from her 63 years.

Chikanda newbie

She is Bemba and has been cooking chikanda since she was ‘a small girl’. Her husband passed on some years ago as have two of her 6 children. Within the one room she has in our compound, she looks after her teenage grandson Wellington and one daughter. I learned that she’s lived all around the country following her husband who was a police man and that for her Zambia’s independence was significant because so many people had fought so long for freedom and finally they could live free. Mama Mulenga is active in her church and praises god for many things. Also, curiously she teaches young brides to be, how to care for a husband – in all aspects. (as a side note, THIS, I’m VERY curious about. Because you know…someday….against all odds, and to the relief of my dad, maybe…just maybe, this might actually become useful for me….).

As we wrapped up our lesson, mama Mulenga said “You know Ka-Hay, I am surprised but really enjoy that you are so free and want to learn about our tradition.’

It reminded me that having a muzungu living in your midst is just as peculiar for them as it is new to me and it didn’t necessarily matter how much I love it here and appreciated it if they didn’t feel it. As much as I’ve come to adopt to this culture and feel completely at home here, I’m still a bit of an anomaly, and certainly still an outsider to them. But I realised it wasn’t my living with them or the learning of the local language or the chats we would have in passing that demonstrated to her that I really loved it here and saw us as equals. No, it was over the heat of the mbaoula, and over the shared interest for a food embedded in her history that she recognised my appreciation for her culture as being true.

So, some people may love food because it’s the hot thing to do these days, others because it tastes good. For me, I love food for its ability to bring people together in the present moment, to transport you through history, and narrow the gaps between cultures and connect as people.

Bon Appetite.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Indians are bad, but the Chinese are worse.

The NY times is doing a series on Chinese investment in Africa. I think that it’s an interesting read.

"We are back where we started. Sending raw materials out, bringing cheap manufactured goods in. This isn't progress. It is colonialism."

- WILFRED COLLINS WONANI, head of the Chamber of Commerce in Kabwe, Zambia, where a Chinese company once manufactured finished cloth but now exports only raw cotton.

This topic has been gaining real estate in my sphere of reality over the last few years. First, I noticed a bit of if when I was in Ghana where a few Chinese were first heading into the country. Then when I was working in corporate social responsibility, the issue of Chinese companies in Africa was a hot topic. The concern was related to the emergence of Chinese companies in previously western dominated markets. Because Chinese companies do not have the social pressure to operate according social and environmental standards that were being demanded of western based companies, (think Talisman in Sudan – shareholders demanded their withdrawl and in comes a SINOPEC, a Chinese company. Is the situation better off?) there was a fear that the emergence of China was going to create a bit of a race to the bottom effectve where companies, in order to be competitive with the chinese, were going to not have a choice but to forgoe any investment in social and environmental iniviatives.

Here in Zambia, as you'll read in the NYT seires, the Chinese invasion has happened. They’re investing in mines, they’re giving development loans to the Zambian government ( just released $39M US for road construction), they’re opening up shops and importing goods. China has an insatiable appetite for natural resources, they’re looking for new trading partners and Africa is their answer.

I am of course perceived to be Chinese (from China) who is here to do business. This means that I’m constantly fighting the stereotype that comes with this. The reputation of the Chinese is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good. On one hand, I’ve never met so many people who are interested in learning Chinese, and wanting to go to China. On the other hand however, the Chinese have a poor reputation because of the poor working conditions in the mines and factories, (they really can’t seem to shake this can they?), for low wages, for not trying to understand the culture and the language and all of this culminates to a reputation that they have little respect for Zambians. Last year, during the election, the opposition party actually campaigned with quite an anti-chinese sentiment that promised that if they were elected into power, all of the Chinese would be kicked out of the country. While there are also a lot businesses in Zambia owned by Indians, and the Chinese are more recent additions and last week I read the quote that is the title of this post – ‘The Indians are Bad, but the Chinese are worse; – in an article on this exact topic published in the national newspaper, THE POST.

And so, with every stranger that I meet, I often find myself in a bit of an identity crisis because I only know Canada but I am often greeted and treated with an entire other set of baggage that I don’t and can’t relate to. And when this happens, I feel so much appreciation for the multi-culturalism of Canada.

Finally, the role of China in Africa touches upon the bigger question of foreign direct investment and its impact on broad based poverty reduction. My time in Zambia has blown open a door to the role of markets and the impacts and limitations that an underdeveloped/dysfunctional/inefficient economic system has on the poor. Through all of this, I have come see that trickle down benefits do occur, and have also come to see that perhaps FDI plays a bigger role in development than I had originally perceived. This is not to say that I think that it always happens and necessarily impacts the poor in the most beneficial way, but merely that I think that it does happen and that it does produce benefits like job creation, wealth generation opportunities, technology transfer, tax payments that can lead to investment in infrastructure (of course many of these are limited by the effectiveness of government policies) and these are all critical factors in the overall economic environment in which poor communities are trying to develop.

That’s about as far as my thoughts take me. Like the rest of development, the question of China in Africa sparks a greater flurry of questions; Questions like how can foreign direct investment be better structured to benefit the poor? How much control does the government actually have over foreign companies to ensure that that benefits do come through? What is the responsibility of a foreign company entering into a developing country? What mind set shifts need to happen with large multinational companies when they enter into developing countries and how can we get them to understand that they have to learn a new way of doing business? Is FDI really just another form of colonialism? Or is the presence of foreign companies actually even avoidable given the global trends of globalisation? Apart from investment how does Chinese development loans impact development activities? Will the fact that Zambia now has an alternative source of funding outside the traditional western based avenues of the IMF and World Bank, improve their ability to lead their own development?

Questions. So many questions, but that is development. That’s part of why I enjoy it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

home. sweet. home.


(sorry, some of the photos aren't showing up properly right now because the internet here has been so wonderful. and by wonderful i mean as wonderful as a stick in the eye. i wanted to post anyway, so just check back for some photo updates.

Lusaka, Zambia

end of day football game on my walk home

Well, I’ll have to admit it is hard to believe that it’s been over 7 months since I left Vancouver, 6 months since I left Toronto and 5 months since i arrived in zambia.

In 5 months many things can change, and many things can stay the same. In the most basic terms, seasons back home have moved from the punishing freeze of winter into the sweltering heat of summer. In world affairs, Tony Blair has left office, Harper continues to be well, uninspiring, China is continuing to take over the world and Zimbabwe slides further into economic crisis. And perhaps most importantly to me, my dad has retired, my little niece Jada has learned to walk, and my little nephew Dante got his first haircut and has proceeded to grow what looks like his first mullet.

I have now officially lived in Lusaka for about 5 months and that is truly hard to believe. I find that that when you settle into a new city and new culture, the changes that mark the passing of time are subtle and tend to creep upon you without you knowing. Neighbourhoods that once blended into each other and are now distinct in style and character; strangers who looked at me curiously and cautiously when I first moved into the neighbourhood have now emerged as people like Catherine the young girl who sells groundnuts along the road and Royd, the elderly shopkeeper around the corner who once served in Zambia’s foreign service; roads, which once seemed a jumbled mess leading no where and everywhere at the same time have somehow found order and direction. And maybe the biggest change over 5 months is that this city, once filled with newness and attractions that tugged at my senses and jockeyed for my attention, has somehow slipped into something more comfortable, more familiar and something that resembles a home.

And it is home that I have realised I have not yet even talked much about– where I live, who I live with and how I live. While my writing on development may be a stretch for understanding by those of you who are not involved in development everyone can relate to home so I though I would take this post to give you the royal tour.

When I first took this placement with EWB, I had the expectation that I would be posted in a rural community far out in the western part of Zambia. The thing with EWB placements is that they range from field positions through to head office positions, depending on the needs of the partner organisation. When I arrived, I learned that I would be based out of the head office in Lusaka – the capital city of Zambia.

Lusaka is a city of just over 1 million people and is pretty much the centre of this oddly shaped country – if you want to go from east to west, from north to south, you have to pass through Lusaka. It is a mixture of people from all around the country, all speaking variations of the 72 tribal languages. It is a city of contrasts; western fast food restaurant chains and supermarkets coming from South Africa juxtaposed against the traditional bustling African open markets; people decked out in Jay Z street gear sharing the road with women in African chitenge suits; obvious symbols of wealth as evidenced by shiny BMWs and opulent mansions on treelined streets with obvious symbols of urban poverty as seen by street children and high density compounds.

Because of these contrasts I found Lusaka difficult to classify and so maybe that is why it took me a while to understand it. It is a city that I didn’t fall in love with instantly, but have learned to love over time. It took me a little while to become comfortable with Lusaka because in my reference point was still Ghana – with its boisterous, emotional West African culture that had drawn me right from the beginning. While I had understood, from an intellectual level that Lusaka was not Ghana, I had not yet emotionally grasped it. Compared to Ghana, the culture is quieter here, there is less street activity, things are more orderly, and people are more reserved. Things are not necessarily better, they’re just different and over 5 months, I have come to enjoy the very differences that had once created a sense of longing.

Where I stay now is actually the second home that I have had since arriving. For the first few months, I stayed in Emmasdale with my roommate Yvonne. We shared a very modest space; in one room was the kitchen and Yvonne’s bed. I stayed in the store room and we had a self contained bathroom. But Emmasdale was a bit too closed off and cold for my liking and the daily commute to work was taking its toll on me and so in June, I searched around for somewhere where I could feel a real sense of community and energy, where things were more ‘African’ and where it would be possible for me to walk to the office.

Yvonne and I, at my old place in Emmasdale

And so, after asking around at the office, it was suggested that I should consider Kabwata. I asked Yvonne one evening what she knew of Kabwata.

‘Kabwata? Well, sure, Kabwata is the Dallas of Lusaka’

Woah Woah Waoh. The Dallas of Lusaka!? When I think of Dallas, I think of this.

“You know, Kabawata is the part of the city that never sleeps. There is always music playing, people in the streets. If you’re looking for energy, you will definitely find it there.

I was instantly sold.


Fruitstalls on main drag in Kabwata

The day I moved in, I was kind of stressed out. I took a walk along the main stretch of Kabwata and just past the market and I discovered the very things I had been looking for; busy streets, a gauntlet of ladies selling their fruits and vegetables, and people mingling about and friends chatting away and music playing from shops.

One day, my friend Chad and I were walking through the market and was able to capture an example of how I’ve come to love this place and an example of the energy and randomness that I drawn to. I was going to use the footage and create a video, but Chad has done a wonderful job capturing the feeling and sentiments of Lusaka and Kabwata, there really isn’t any point.

My home.

My home here in Lusaka is different than anything you’ll find in Canada. It is simple, and its simplicity is the very thing that I value. I have come to realise that my life at home was filled with so many things that I didn’t need and in many ways, I love my time here because it has re-centre myself on the true material goods that I require to lead a comfortable life.

EWB volunteers are provided a daily living stipend that amounts to $15/day. While this is definitely on the lower end of expatriate remuneration, it is about on the same level as a field worker which means that we can live like one of our colleagues.

Road infront of my house

walkway to house

I rent out one room in a house owned by Auntie Phiri. I pay about $80/month. In my house is Auntie Phiri, her 16 year old daughter Cairo, her son Timothy who plays football for one of the teams here. There is also another tenant who rents out the other room and his name is PRINCE. ( that’s right, PRINCE. I just love that my housemate is PRINCE).

Cairo, ironing in the kitchen

Aunti Phiri, Cairo and Timothy have sectioned off some space in the kitchen and they stay there, while I have my own room.

Other units in the compound

Our home is part of a compound with three units in total and many people coming in and out. As a compound there are things that we all share like water, toilet and shower.


Water access in Zambia varies. Upper middle class homes will likely have own access. New neighbourhoods or high density compounds often don’t have direct water hook up and have to fetch water from public water source. In this case, most people will fill 200L barrels of water and bring them home. This, is a common sight I see on my Sunday morning runs, and let me tell you, is not an easy task to do!

Arnold, who weighs about 60 lbs, pushing 200L of water

My home is somewhere in the middle. We have water source that is shared by all of the people in our compound. It looks like this.

And is multifunctional, serving as our kitchen sink, our bathroom sink, our laundry sink and anything else you can think of.

Doing dishes in evening by candlelight ( how romantic)

We also share a toilet ( come on, I know you’re all wondering!). Ours is luxurious – porcelain, flushing.

And shower. Cold showers during the hot season are wonderful, but heated bucket baths most recently as the temperature has been too cold. Amazingly, with probably 15 people sharing one shower, I’ve only had to wait for the shower twice!

My room is about 3.5 m x 3.5m and is perfectly simple.

cooking dinner


bed/work area

And that’s about it. To me, it is exactly what I need and allows me to live with a family while having my own personal space. I don’t eat with Auntie Phiri and Cairo because they don’t eat until 2130 hours and I’m usually in bed by 22 hours. But every day, when I get home, it is a bit of ritual where I chat with Cairo and see how her school is going as she prepares tea and popcorn as a snack for her and her mom. Auntie Phiri then comes home and we also catch up and then I head to my room and cook dinner and do some reading and head to bed and chat with them as they watch cheesy Spanish soap operas.

And it is this ritual, this familiarity that I’ve come to enjoy and that has come to be part of my life here. It is this relationships with a family, and a neighbourhood, and culture that makes things more real, helps me to frame development in another light and makes the distance from friends and family ok.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


“But we didn’t add any water! *humph* ma ma ma ma ma, you’re trying to cheat us!”

I see Simon Malambo’s jolly round face looking back at me, his round eyes wide, and round cheeks puffed from his open smile. I hear the laughter of recognition coming from the likes of Mr. Mwenda, the dairy representative.

I shake my head and reply “ ah ahn. No no, I tested it, and there is WATER! In the HONEY! It is YOU who is trying to cheat me! I expected PURE HONEY! I can’t buy this now!’

What the!? You might be wondering ‘Is Ka-Hay getting into the honey business?’ Actually, no, I’m not. It’s better than that. I’m acting. That’s right, making like Julia Roberts, playing Ms. Nyabako, the Honey buyer who has discovered that the honey she was sourcing from smallholder farmers has been diluted with water.

Why you ask? And what in the world does this have to do with poverty reduction in Africa?

Over the last month or so, I’ve been struggling to sit down and actually write about what I’m doing here. Not because I don’t know what to tell you - oh god, that’s certainly not the problem. No, my problem is that I don’t know where to start because the issues in development just aren’t that simple, and sometimes I feel like things need to be perfectly nuanced in order to properly communicate the details and subtleties of the realities that I’m working it. And when I think about those subtleties, my head goes into a spin thinking about where to begin, what to include, what not to include, how to say it.

It has been the start that has stopped me.

But I’ve decided that it’s time to get past that because at the rate I’m going, I’ll never be posting again. I’ve accepted that it’s never going to be perfect and I might miss out key points but that’s the way things go. So, here we go, and if you have questions, let me know and I’ll try to clarify.

I’ve got a number of projects on the go and one of my primary responsibilities for now is to develop a mediation program to resolve agricultural disputes. MEDIATION, just quickly, is a form of dispute resolution that is based on common interests, focused on preserving relationships between disputing parties and aims to create mutually beneficial solutions.

PROFIT’s overarching goal is to strengthen agricultural industries in which large number of small holder farmers participate as a means for poverty reduction at the household level. We approach this in various ways, including linking relevant players (farmers, input suppliers, buyers, service providers) together, and facilitating an environment that ensures that these relationship are sustainable and conducive for industry competitiveness.

While this objective may sound easy, making it happen is quite difficult. For this intervention to work, strong relationships between all players- private sector companies, small holder farmers need to be in place.

Agricultural Input company and Farmers meeting (click to view)

Currently the realities in which small holder farmers operate and private sector companies operate are vastly different. Rural communities tend to do business through their friends and family network and make decisions based on factors that are heavily linked to the local social structure. On the other hand, private sector companies are outsiders to these communities they operate with a set of standards that carry very little weight with rural communities. So, for these relationships to be strong, small holder farmers will need to learn how to participate in the formal business economy and private sector companies will need to learn how to work with rural communities and understand their behaviour and the social context in which decisions are made.

We believe that this will be entirely possible, but also understand that no system is perfect and that it will be natural for disputes to arise.

Currently, the only means currently available to resolve disputes is through the court system which is ineffective for a number of reasons including, inefficient, does not take agricultural priorities into account, creates win-lose/right-wrong situations rather than mutually beneficial solutions, geographically inaccessible, and costly.

And so, this is where mediation comes in. Establishing a strong mediation program in Zambia is part of PROFIT’s exit strategy as currently, PROFIT often mediates the relationships and that isn’t sustainable in the long term.

To do so, I am working with Zambian National Farmers Union (ZNFU). ZNFU is one Zambia’s oldest institutions and home to some 30 000 + small holder farmers in all corners of the country. It will be the institutional home to the mediation program and will be a critical player in promote strong and productive agricultural relationships between all players in the agricultural sector.

Jeremiah Kasalo (f), ZNFU Agribusiness Manager in one of pilot districts and Charity Ngoma ( PROFIT) during mediation training

We have trained 20 ZNFU staff and provincial chairmen in mediation skills and are piloting formal services in three districts before scaling this up nationally. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting with each of the pilot districts and working closely with the Agribusiness managers and lead farmers to develop the implementation strategy, as well as raise awareness of what mediation is and the role that ZNFU will play. It is during this time that I had my moment of glory playing Ms. Nyabako.

Henry Chikwanda and Simon Malambo, North and Southern Province Chairperson

And then over the next few weeks, we’ll be pushing a lot of community promotions and also identifying how to best create buy in from private sector players.

I'll do my best to keep you updated on how this goes!

Hope all is well back home in Canada or wherever you are!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

About a boy

I have a story. It is about a boy.

This boy lives in a rural village that lies outside of the reach of the city, the electrical grid and other amenities that comes with modernity. He is second born of 9 and the first born son. Like the rest of the community, his is a farming family and their life is synchronized with the sun; they get up as it rises, work in the fields with it overhead, and head home as its travel down the horizon. The family works a modest plot of land that for the most part, allows them to put food on the table and at times, even has some money left over to send a few of the 9 children to school. As the eldest son, this boy is one of the lucky ones.

One day, the small boy goes to his father with a simple request: to have his first pair of shoes. Shoes after all, rank low on the list of household needs.

The father thinks for a bit and says to the boy. ‘I tell you what. You know that we don’t have very much money. But you get up every morning at 5:30 before school, feed these ducklings over here and look after them. Once they grow big enough to sell, you and I will take them to the market. With the money we make, we will buy a pair of shoes. Deal?”

As so, the boy gets up before the crack of dawn and diligently feeds the ducks before heading off to school. After a few months, the father tells the boy the news that he’s been waiting for “Son, the ducks are looking nice and fat. I think that they are ready for the market.” and off they go.

Carrying the ducks over their shoulders, they weave through the stalls of the market and find a buyer who offers a fair price. Ducks and money exchange hands and just as the father promised the small boy, they make their way to the shoe stall. They enter the stall and the little boy can barely contain his excitement. ‘Imagine, after all this time! Shoes!’.

But the thing to remember is that it takes time to raise ducklings. Just as ducklings grow big, so do small boys. And over the course of all of the 5:30 mornings, over the course of all of the daily feedings and disciplined patience, feet that were small enough to fit into children’s shoes had now grown into feet that only fit into the more expensive adult size shoes.

The little boy’s feet had outgrown the profits of his ducks.

And father and son have no choice but to leave the shoe stall with money in hand, and feet as bare as when they arrived.

Some of you may read this story and feel sympathy. Some of you may pity the small boy. I feel empathy and to me this story represents the meaning of opportunity and is part of my story of why I care.

This story doesn’t take place here in Zambia, far from it in fact. It takes place in the rural village of Wan-Sah in southern China some fifty or so years ago.

This story is a about a boy, and this boy is my father.

My dad grew up in poverty similar to what I see around me. He grew up with hopes, dreams, and abilities and I see these, in abundance, around me. My dad had to travel to Canada to access opportunities that enabled him to translate these hopes, dreams and abilities into a life of security. And I, by happenstance of being born in Canada, enjoy a life of choice and freedoms, just one generation later.

When I think about this, I simply can’t accept that the opportunities of access– to health, education, markets and technology – that enable people to leverage abilities and make something of hopes and dreams should confined to our Canadian or ‘western’ borders. I just can’t accept that; not when I meet people who are just like me, just like my dad, but happen to fall on the broadside of the injustice of global poverty.

Dad, I want you to know that I see you in so many of the inspiring people around me who have hopes and dreams and abilities just like you; in people like Frances, the porter who moved my bed 4 km by wheel barrow to my new place to earn some money so he can send his young daughter to school; in Mr. Moyu, the PROFIT mechanic who is so proud that his eldest son will attend university; in Mr. Chiyombwe, the pragmatic farmer who doesn’t take risks but has worked hard in his fields and his family is now more secure than when he was growing up. In so many of the people I see, I see your story of working hard, of searching for and taking advantage of every opportunity to give your children a better future, a better tomorrow.

I know that it might be hard to understand why I have chosen this path after getting my engineering degree. I know that in your deepest dreams, you too had wanted to be an engineer, but couldn’t afford to go to school. I know that after owning your own factory in Hong Kong, for thirty one years, you worked at someone else’s. Day in and day out you worked hard, not because you loved you job but because you loved your children.

Thank you. Your gift of freedom and opportunities has allowed me and my brothers to follow our passions and to lead lives that we value. This is a gift that inspires me. And this is a lifetime gift that I will cherish, always.

Happy Father’s Day Ba. I hope you and mom are off enjoying the freedom of retirement as you tour around New Foundland. I miss you lots and can’t wait for you and mom to come and see Zambia.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

colour wheel

One day, I was out with three other EWB folks. As the four of us walked down the street, we passed a young man who flashed us broad grin and pointed down the line from David, to Parker, to Louis and to me and said "







I thought that those of us of chinese persuasion were yellow.

This reference to me being orange happened again today.

Maybe I'm getting a bit of a sunburn....

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Chiyombwe household, Malama community

"Come Ka-Hay, I’m going to introduce you to the lady you will be staying with”. We’ve finished the Malama community meeting and Jonathon takes my hand and leads me over to a lady dressed in a bright green chintenge.

“Mulibwuia Buti” I greet Madame Chiyombwe with a small curtsey and she returns a small smile, a gentle handshake and a softspoken “Kabutu’. I tried to read the somewhat restrained and emotionless face, and as I came up empty handed, a part of me wondered what the next few days were really going to be like and if much of it would be spent in silence.

It wasn’t. Over the next four days, I shadow Madame as we go into the fields, as we walk around the community to visit village headman. During our time together, I discover that she is a community leader, a risk taker, and above all a mother who represents the simple hope that is common across communities and cultures.

I arrive at the house, and look around me to and see the tin roof on the main house, four mud brick thatch roofed houses, maize in the three sheds, the ox ploughs, a latrine, plenty of chickens, pigs, cattle, a well, and a the sizeable woodpile. This is the time of year when many households are trying to hold hunger at bay for another few months until harvest season arrives but I can see that this is a secure household and I was curious to know understand what made the Chiyombwes a successful rural farming family.

Madame is 50, healthy and still built like a horse. We get up at the crack of dawn and head into the fields to weed her groundnut and sweet potatoe fields. As much as I want to slow down with as my spoiled hands form blisters and my weak back begins to pain from being bent over, I have to stifle these thoughts as Madame shows no signs of weakness.

Madame tells me about how she first had to learn to use the ox drawn plough – a rare task for women because of the strength required. Mister Chiyombwe was teaching, and there was no one else who could help with ploughing and so I had no choice’. She says this with a quiet pride as she recognises that in ploughing her own field, she had bucked the gender trend.

Madame, Muzinga and Whista, weeding sweet potato field

She is a community leader, an HIV/aids peer educator and takes care of HIV patients when she has time. She used to sit on the committee for Food aid distribution, was one of the first women to join CLUSA – a cooperative initiative, and also one of the first women to join Zambia national Farmer’s union. Because of these leadership positions she is highly trusted within the community.

"Why doesn’t mr. Chiyombwe put the cattle in the health plan? I asked as we walked to visit the village headman one day."

Madame had attended the livestock meeting to learn about what the Herd Health Plan was all about. Her husband, Mr. Chiyombwe has about 70 cattle but none of them were yet on the health plan, and for what she understood, it makes sense that they invest a little money to keep the animals healthy. Afterall, the family had lost 50% of their cattle during the disease outbreak 10 years ago.

‘ ah, I don’t know.’ And then with a small smile, she says ‘but you and me, tonight, we’ll talk to him, and I’m sure he’ll agree.’

You see, in the Chiyombwe household, Madame is the risk taker. She was one of the first farmers in the area to grow paprika and soon became the lead famer. One of the challenges in getting farmers to adopt new behaviour is that the vulnerability of poor farmers make them highly risk adverse and it is difficult to get them to take on a new behaviour because any slight mistake would cost a household their security for the season. She is the one who was willing to plant fruit orchard when Mr. Chiyombwe thought it was a waste of time. After two seasons, Mr. Chiyombwe saw the value in the fruit and decided what a great idea having an orchard is! And decided to create one for himself.

On our way back from weeding

And of course, Madame is a mother. she is a mother of 7 and a grandmother of 28. While she was not able to attend secondary school, her daughter Muzinga has and in fact, Muzinga is now a teacher in the nearby community, Mazabuka.

I ask Madame what she hopes for her children and grandchildren. ‘Security. Not needing to worry about food, about money. To continue to pursue learning and get an education. ’

Muzinga (daughter), Madame, Little Chipu ( grandaughter)

It’s simple isn’t it? At the end of the day, this is what development is all about. That you may not have gone to high school, but you work hard so that your daughter might. And while she might not be able to finish high school, she will work hard to ensure that her daughter can. Step by step, this is how progress is made and you work hard to provide a better future for your children, a future with opportunities and freedoms that you had only dreamed of.

And when I think of this simple fact, I can’t help but think about the one woman who embodies this same spirit; the same simple dream, a better future for her children. This woman is an incredibly hard worker and has inspired me to be a better person; she taught me about compassion, to care about others, to not be afraid to laugh at yourself and to see the beauty in the world.

I see this women in all of the inspirational people like Madame that I meet and this woman is of course, none other than my mother.

My mother 'recently' turned 60, and I am proud of her for many reasons. Not just because of raisingus four kids ( three pain of the butt brothers and me, the angel daughter :) hehe) but because she finally decided to take time to take care of herself and do things that she wants to do. And it's been amazing. She taught herself how to use the computer and is now on the internet using messenger and webcam; she learned to play the violin, began ballroom dancing, she goes crazy with her tai chi ( hence not doing anything for the reputation that us chinese all know kung fu). She continues to be a child at heart and in doing so, has not lost even the tiniest bit of the care and compassion that she has for her family and her community.

Mom, thank you for all of the gifts that you gave me and my brothers; the love of art and music, the love of laughter, the care and compassion for others, the love of sport and learning. But maybe most of all, thank you for giving us the opportunity to lead a life that we value, for the freedoms and choice that enable us to follow our passions. And I hope that you will know that part of the reason why I'm doing what I'm doing today is because of these gifts that you given me and for that, I am forever grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day mom. Miss you lots and can’t wait to introduce you to Madame when you and Dad come to visit.

Like mother...

like daughter.