Friday, June 29, 2007

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Sadza

"When I don’t eat sadza for a day, it’s like… something is missing in my life!”

This is how Field Officer Lovemore Manjoro described sadza, a thick maize-based paste that is the staple food in Zimbabwe. I can safely say that I don’t feel like anything is missing from my life on days when I don’t eat sadza. It has been a challenge to adapt to eating this food everyday, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it! I’m learning strategies for finishing my sadza and not looking like a wimp or food snob. So, here’s my guide to eating sadza… and maybe even liking it.

(1) Wash your hands. You will be eating with your hands and nothing kills an appetite for sadza like dirt on your finger-utensils. There is always a chance to rinse your hands off in a basin, but believe me, that doesn’t do much.

(2) Try to get sadza served with lots of sauce, meat, vegetables, and, if you are very lucky, rice. Here is an example of a very small portion of sadza with lots of extras:

(3) Dip each bite of sadza in the sauce and get a piece of something else with it. Put the something else on the tongue side.

(4) Take big bites.

(5) Don’t eat the stuff in the blue bowl.

6) Sit next to someone who really likes sadza. Miti is always a good choice.

(7) When you think you can’t possibly take another bite, take another bite.

(8) When the meal is over, sit back and thank those who prepared the sadza for you.

And the key to liking sadza? Keep eating it! It gets better every meal.

Monday, June 25, 2007

At First Thought...

“I thought first of killing myself. I kept asking God, ‘Why me?’ I tried to think of my kids, but all I saw was my death ahead of me,” Netsai Chikohomero explains emotionally as she described the day she found out she was HIV positive. That was seven years ago.

She lights up when I ask about her Kufusa Mari Savings Group, which is composed exclusively of HIV-positive women; “We’re just like a family when we’re here. We are all in the same boat, so we can give each other physical, emotional, and spiritual support. We share ideas and help one another.” For Netsai’s savings group, Kufusa Mari has already begun to turn their lives around after only eight months of internal savings and lending. “Some of us used to beg, but now none of us beg. If you use the money properly, you can raise money to buy things for your own. The project is especially important for those of us who are single mothers. Some of us used to be prostitutes, but now we don’t have to do that anymore.”

Still, the current economic climate continues to create struggles for Netsai and her family; “The hardest part is telling my kids that I don’t have money for them. My youngest daughter is only five, but she is trying to understand. I’m trying to raise money for her education, so when she asks for a sweet, I have to ask her, ‘Do you want a sweet or do you want to go to school?’ She thinks about it and decides that school is better. She is starting to understand the reality of the world.”

Though she has huge financial needs, Kufusa Mari has already helped Netsai to earn her own money to pay for food and her medical costs. She is hopeful that it will continue to help her as her group’s combined income grows each month. So far, she says the most helpful part of Kufusa Mari was the initial training in savings and lending methodology; “I learned how to budget, how to buy first what is most important. I have already taught my friends and relatives about how to save and lend money. Most importantly, we learned that we don’t have to beg. We learned how to work hard, use our heads, and fend for ourselves.”

When I ask how she can have hope in such difficult circumstances, she smiles broadly; “I want to see my kids grow up. I have this vision,” she gestures excitedly, “I want to leave my children in their own homes, able to take care of themselves. I want to see my grandchildren.”

I ask her how she feels about her disease now and she pauses for a moment to think. “Now, I feel that I am just like anyone else. When I die, I will die like any other human.”


Thursday, June 21, 2007

100 Kilometers from Nowhere

Today I went to a wonderful field day in a very rural area called Nyamhingura. About fifteen years ago, several non-governmental organizations and governments banded together to build Zimbabwe’s infrastructure. This area is an example of how the infrastructure has outgrown the rest of the country’s development. In Nyamhingura, there are schools, but no qualified teachers. There are clinics, but no doctors or medicine. There are roads, but there are no buses for people or transport for crops. The people here live on the cusp of change, but lack the resources to improve their lives.

That’s why Kufusa Mari has made such a difference to these women and men. They are able to pool what little they have with the contributions of their neighbors and then make their own development without waiting for a foreign organization to bring them what they need.

Today, 195 participants graduated and were certified capable of continuing their savings activities without the monitoring or guidance of ASAP field officers. What a moment of success and empowerment for many who have felt powerless! The celebration was wonderful as groups of beneficiaries sang, danced, and made speeches. At the end, the cluster presented me with a beautifully woven basket as a gift. I was humbled to be honored by women and men who deserve so much more credit for their work than I do for mine.


Monday, June 18, 2007

We Miss Martin!

On Wednesday, ASAP IT intern Marty Henderson left for the United States. He was a great help and encouragement to all the ASAP staff and indeed optimized the heck out of our computers! Thank you for your service, Marty, and good luck with your future ventures! We trust that you will be back in Africa soon.

Fambai Zvakanaka!

ZESA...Where are you?

Right now I am sitting in the ASAP field office out in a rural area. It’s midnight and I’m working on my computer because it’s the only time we have electricity nowadays. This week, coming to work during the day has become more like a habit than a productive use of time. We all do whatever work we can without computers or printers, but after awhile, we’re all just sitting there waiting for the lights to flash on.

We occupy ourselves in different ways. Marty and I have been practicing our Shona and bike skills in the yard. Diana has been walking laps around the office, neatening up as she goes. One friend listed out his monthly expenses and discovered that he now spends more on candles than electricity.

The power cuts change how we live at home as well. Cooking must be done over a fire and entertainment options are limited. Usually we end up reading or playing cards by candlelight. I’ve been very grateful that I remembered to pack a flashlight and headlamp!

The power outages have become such a part of everyday life here that Zimbabweans have even given electricity a nickname- ZESA. ZESA stands for the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, or, as I’ve heard some say, Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available. They speak about ZESA as though she were a person:
“When do you think ZESA will come?”
“Do you have ZESA at your house?”

Everyone here seems to be just taking the outages in stride. Certainly there are moments of frustration, but mostly people just joke about the hardship and continue hoping that it will improve soon.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Power of Working Together

Before I came to Zimbabwe, I believed the Kufusa Mari project was successful because of the financial gain it provided for people living in poverty. As I have learned more during my time here, I realized that the most important part of the project is not the money, but the community and fellowship of experience the groups provide. The closeness that the groups share is obvious at field day celebrations and group meetings, which are full of joy and laughter. The cluster format allows for deep bonds to be formed in the act of pulling one another out of poverty.

As a result of the authentic community within each cluster, participants can share important information with one another in a way that is authentic and effective. Here, cluster facilitators share with their neighbors what ASAP has taught them about agriculture, nutrition, child protection issues, and HIV/AIDS training. Some clubs form within existing communities like Netsai’s all HIV-positive club and or the all deaf club that I had the opportunity to visit today. Within these groups, participants can share their hardships, successes, lessons, and ideas with those who understand their situation. I’m excited to see how this form of education expands organically as the participants help one another through sharing their own experiences.

When I visited the all deaf club today, I got the chance to talk with Memory Zhuwao, a young woman who is part of the savings club. She has only been a member of the club for a few months, but she is already starting to see the benefits of it.

As a deaf person, Memory has struggles even beyond those worries common to Zimbabweans. She told me that often when she tries to sell vegetables as part of her income-generating activity, people try to take advantage of her. “They tell me, ‘I’ll give you the money tomorrow,’ but when I go to them the next day, they act like they don’t have to pay me. It’s as though because I am deaf, they think I don’t know how to think or reason.” Even communicating with her family can be challenging. Though communication is often difficult for Memory, her savings club has become a place where she can find community as well as work to improve her financial situation.

Memory’s group is just starting, but she is happy to tell me of the success she has already experienced. She uses the money she borrows from her group to buy vegetables for resale and to buy fabric to make coats to sell. When I asked her what she has bought with her profits, she smiled and proudly pointed to her tightly braided hair. “She got her hair done,” the translator laughed. She went on to say that she uses her profits to support her mother and her brother, who is employed, but whose salary is not keeping up with the sky-rocketing inflation.

Groups like Netsai’s and Memory’s show me that good breeds more good. Kufusa Mari brings people together to share their ideas in an environment of equality and empowerment. We call it self-help for a reason- these women and men are learning how to pull themselves out of poverty and expanding the project into new and wonderful purposes. ASAP’s projects are strengthened as the staff and beneficiaries collaborate.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Joy...Down in my SOUL

Last week I got to go to another Kufusa Mari graduation field day in the city of Mutare. Normally, Kufusa Mari works mainly in rural areas, but recently ASAP has adapted the project for implementation in urban environments like Mutare.

It was so much fun to see the women dance, tell stories, and sing together in celebration of their success! This time, I even got to give a speech to the graduates congratulating them on their accomplishments. When Joseph Miti, the Kufusa Mari Project Manager, asked me to speak I protested saying that I was here to learn from these strong women not the other way around. He laughed and told me that I didn’t have to talk for long; everyone would just want to hear my funny American voice! However, he maintained that I should speak because seeing a woman speaking confidently to a large group would be encouraging to women who may not be accustomed to having a voice even in their own homes. According to Miti, many of these women faced opposition from their husbands when they decided to join Kufusa Mari, but were brave to pursue the opportunity anyway and now have won over their whole families. These women are courageous and willing to battle through adversity in the hope of a better life for their families.

This field day was a special one for me because I also had the privilege of helping to hand out the diplomas and t-shirts to graduates. I got to shake the hand of each graduate and personally congratulate them on their hard work and admirable accomplishments. At the end of the ceremony, Lovemore Manjoro and Causemore Samanga declared Marty and me to be graduates as well and gave us both our own Kufusa Mari t-shirt! As they handed me the t-shirt, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the people, experiences, and lessons that are coming my way this summer.

Then, to top it all off, I ran into Netsai Chikohomero from my last blog entry and was able to talk with her awhile longer! All in all, it was one of my favorite days in Zim so far. Life has not been kind to most of the women and men who graduated from the Kufusa Mari program, but despite everything else going on in their lives and in their country, they know how to be joyful in celebrating their blessings.


Monday, June 04, 2007

What's Next!

The hardships in Zimbabwe are affecting everyone and it proves to be a frustrating time. Below you will read a message from Samanga an ASAP Kufusa Mari Senior Field Officer as he expresses his frustration towards the economic situation that he faces every day.

“I wish to bring to your attention the hardships which are affecting my social life as well as work.

Busfare has gone up from Z$5,000.00 to Z$20,000.00 a trip which makes it Z$40,000.00 per day. I need to buy bread for my family and myself. A loaf of bread costs Z$12,500.00. Rent has gone up from Z$80,000.00 to Z$350,000.00 per month. Meat has gone up from Z$30,000.00 to Z$80,000.00. This is affecting me psychologically at home and work. Considering that I was paid last week and this week everything has gone up.”

ASAP felt that this message adequately painted a picture of the ever-changing economic hardships that Zimbabweans face day to day. We hope that this message gives our supporters a real idea of what life is really like.