Volunteers Emma and Stephen Yates share their story of observing the local ways and taking the time to consider their decisions. Sometimes this involves following local rules around gender and sometimes demonstrating an alternative.
We have been developing deeper relationships with people at work and deeper insights into Zambian culture. For example, on the way back from South Luangwa, I was able to visit some of the people who are implementing the “Women in Governance” programme in Chipata Diocese. We visited a church where Literacy classes funded by the programme are run. In the classroom men and women were having lunch, all bar one of the men sitting on chairs and all of the women on the floor. It made me think – when my co-worker and I go on monitoring trips to the Dioceses, where should I/we sit? As visitors from head office we would be offered chairs. Would it be somehow prophetic for us, as women, to take the chairs with the men?
It is very important to the success of the programme that we find ways to effectively engage with and not alienate men. Talking this through we came to the conclusion that we would both choose to sit on the floor with the women. They are still the primary beneficiaries of the programme, and we need to earn their trust. It has been a reminder again for me that whilst so much about the way women are treated here disturbs me, my role is not to somehow ‘take up the cause’ on their behalf, but to come alongside them and to work with them for their own empowerment in the manner and timeframe best determined by them.
Probably our biggest single challenge in recent times has been, along with the other houses in the compound, not having any running water in our house for the last 2 months. Every day we queue with our buckets, along with the maids or gardeners of other residences, at the one or two outside taps that mysteriously are still running. It has been really difficult at times. Carting all the water and having to move buckets of water around the house for everything, when we are so used to just opening a tap, has been very time-consuming. The boys fortunately have been on school holidays, and have been very helpful, though sometimes it gets them down too (“Mum, if this water doesn’t come back on soon I’m going back to Australia”). But in the midst of it all, Steve and I have started to see that it can be an exercise in solidarity, a very small experience for us of the reality of everyday life for the majority of Zambians.
Only 14.7% of Zambian households (39.7% of urban and 1.4% of rural households) have piped water into their own dwelling/yard/plot. Females over 15 years are the ones primarily responsible for collecting water in 66.1% of the 85.3% of households where water needs to be collected (Zambia Demographic and Health Survey 2007). So I have been in good company and have enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time talking with some of the maids who have also taught me a bit more Nyanja. Steve and the boys collecting water have of course turned the usual gender division of labour on its head, with mixed responses from the locals!