Friday, February 26, 2010

Mazabuka Sweets: Zambian Trainings and Lent

My first mistake was thinking that giving up sweets was a good idea. Always a poor choice. In any city, in any corner of the world, this is just torture (note that I am writing this 6 days into my Lent). In Zambia, this is basically impossible. Am I sick? Am I on a diet? First no soft drinks, now no sweets? I must be out of my mind! Denying anything at a Zambian training is relatively impossible since eating is often considered the point of the event (learning is secondary). Let’s look at the schedule/eating program for my paralegal training (this is not abnormal):

Breakfast 7:30am (corn flakes, eggs, sausage, beans, two pieces of toast, tea)
Class 8:30-10:30am
Morning Tea Break 10:30-11am (tea/coffee, soft drinks, large plate of cookies/biscuits)
Class 11-1pm
Lunch 1-2pm (nshima/rice, three portions of meat, two side dishes, macaroni, soft drinks, dessert)
Class 2-3:30pm
Afternoon Tea Break 3:30-4pm (tea/coffee, soft drinks and cake)
Class 4-5pm
Dinner around 6pm (another meal roughly the size of lunch)

Since I don’t drink soda and am observing lent, this means that I have to explain that I don’t want a delicious treat to the wonderful Zambian host at least FIVE times per day. First I need to be concerned about being culturally insensitive, since not taking food is not that simple. Second, this goes against the entire mindset of workshops in Zambia. I will elaborate…

There is an interesting sense of entitlement when a Zambian sits at a workshop; instead of understanding that you are only there to learn, most Zambians have a completely separate list of material expectations. This includes a sitting allowance (payment for attendance, thank you affluent non-profits coaxing Africans into workshops), t-shirts, excessive amounts of food and drink, certificates to prove they completed the training and a full set of worksheets/materials. The WORST sin at any workshop is to run out of food. This has only happened to me once, and I will just say it was one of my worst days at IJM. If you lack other materials, don’t expect trainees to share. Every participant must have their own copy of every single handout, or else you will be the subject of gossip and will be considered “poor organizers.”

All this to say, a trainee turning down any item offered to them is unheard at a workshop. I now not only stand out at as the random muzungu at the table but I have added to my list of the bizarre characteristics that I don’t take what is rightfully mine. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Turning down a delicious cupcake Sara made is one thing, but it’s much harder to turn down a sweet concocted by the Zambian woman offering it to me on her knees.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Kyla, for sharing your experiences here. This year in Zambia will certainly be one to remember!! We'll be praying for strength to keep your Lenten resolutions in the face of cultural resistance.

    Aunt Pam