Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Baluba village


It’s the smell of smoke from charcoal fires. It’s the sound of children, laughing and following you in droves. It’s the feel of mud, ruts, and raw grass beneath your feet. It’s the sight of women peering from doorways, cooking, nursing babies. It’s a typical village, in this case Baluba. Poverty has its smell, its sounds, its sites, its feel.

It is impossible for me to understand, let alone describe for others, what life in a village must be like. It is life in the present, day by excruciating day. It’s a hopeless circle of going nowhere, except to the end of one’s expected life of 30-some years. It’s marrying at 14 or 15, birthing babies as nature allows (although with Zambia’s high infant mortality rate, many will die). It’s living with gnawing hunger. It’s living with the air filled with spirits and curses; it’s a life of fetishes and sorcery, living life equally among the living and the dead—yes, even though all would say they go to church.

Life in the village is lived without electricity. That means that the equatorial sun’s pattern of 12 hours of darkness and light brings long hours of darkness to these tiny houses. Long evenings and long nights, some passed mindlessly at the local bar whose satellite and electricity provide the village’s only entertainment. Children gather and peer into the windows to watch television, mingling with the drunken in the yard long into the night. Pubescent girls are continually in danger of rape, wives of violence against them.

Water is drawn with bucket and rope from tiny shafts of wells. Generally one will serve several families. The water is not potable, but must be boiled and chlorinated for use. The village does not have a common sewer system, although at least it does not have ditches where human waste flows in the streets. Instead, there are pits for human waste, generally behind a home, and moved as necessary. With the tiny spaces surrounding these houses, one can only imagine the condition of the ground water in the shallow wells…especially with the heavy rains of rainy season.

The tiny rectangular homes are typically Zambian. They may have a roof of grass or of sheet metal, or both. Their lack of windows are for security, from thieves and others, especially for widows or homes with single mothers. Tiny triangles let in only slivers of light. Building materials are either mud brick (unfired) or fired blocks. The mud bricks are susceptible to collapse in the heavy rains, evidence we saw at several places. Sometimes a cloth is hung to create a doorway. Inside, only a fragile cloth separates the sleeping spaces of parents and children, too many for the tiny floor spaces given them. Rats and vermin are constant companions, chewing even on callused feet at night. Sometimes homes fill with extended family, leaving no space for children. Cooking generally occurs outside over a charcoal flame; some homes have a small awning of grass designated for cooking.

Baluba has a police station and a few tiny stalls to sell maize or tomatoes. Children walk to school, about 1.2 miles on rutted paths and in the rain of this season. An international organization began a project here to provide space for the town council and other offices; however, continuing theft of building materials brought the project to a halt. Its shell remains a darkened reminder of the difficulties of trying to help. About 3,000 people live within the immediate boundaries of Baluba, about 6,000 including the surrounding farms. Two buildings stand out in Baluba: the police station and the clinic. Kafakumba helped build the police station by providing fired bricks, and an important relationship was developed. The clinic was a gift of a church in the U.S. Kafakumba was required to provide electricity for the clinic, a project just now being completed (this included erecting the poles and wires that bring the first electrical power into the village). However, there are not yet ongoing funds for staff or medicines. It is hoped that economic development projects at Kafakumba will provide the money for basic ongoing medical care here.

Life in Baluba is much better than it used to be. Hope lives here now. The gospel of Christ is “Good News” indeed for its people. Good News for the possibility of working, of earning a living wage that means food and schooling and more, of Kid’s Clubs that nurture children, a youth organization that creates hope for its young adults, care for the hurting and ill, a Women’s Center to teach sewing and entrepreneurial skills as well as more traditional training. Crime has dropped around Baluba, testament to the fair wages provided by the businesses associated with Kafakumba. The word “empower” is an overused word in English; however, here it takes on a whole new meaning as people are indeed empowered to live a new life beyond the bitter despair of hopelessness. Kafakumba—its Training Center and its many businesses—are bringing very Good News indeed to Baluba.


JB said...

Hi Gina and Allen,
Thanks for your blogs. This one particularly touched my heart on this Ash Wednesday. I pray for those with the gnawing hunger you describe.
Jeanie B.

Turzh said...

Dear Mrs Riendeau,

I'm delighted by Yours "Africa Stories". Despite of your life & activities could be hardly named easy & only interestfull being also problematic & even dangerous or risky fm time to time, this lifestyle for a few, I'm admired by You & I wish you sincerely ever best. Let me also give you one ask. I'd appreciate Your official allowance (by e-mail it would be abs. extra) for uploading of Your photos like this (in the Ukrainian Wikipedia)-

Plz don't be afraid wh such big www-page's name :-)

best regards,

Igor Turzhanskyy, Kyiv, Ukraine