October 28, 2006

  Nyur men 'flying' at the top of a pole

There are 72 tribes in Zambia. Each tribe has its own language and cultural tradition.  While Zambia has statutory law, tribal law still holds great sway over the actions of many Zambians. Initially after independence tribal traditions were not encouraged by the government. The first President, Kenneth Kaunda, was seeking to unify Zambia as one nation and discouraged strong tribal identity as he believed it would tear the country apart.


The distribution of these tribes don’t respect borders drawn up by the colonial powers. So for instance Chewa tribes are found in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique and may often see their first alliance to their tribes people rather than their compatriots. Of course this isn’t unique to Zambia or Africa, Europe is full of similar cross-border divides and alliances. But the extent to which tribes impact on Zambian life is really significant.

For instance a lady we met recently has very short hair. We found out later it had been part of her ‘cleansing’ after her husband had died. Another part of this was that she had to sleep with her husband’s brother. Initially she refused and the in-laws came round her house and started removing her possessions. The hair cut suggests she may have given in, and this is how tribal law is enforced.

In the Eastern Province boys are encouraged to spend six months with the Nyur men, being taught traditional ways. Some people have resisted this due to the time out of school, and the changes in these boys when they return. The boys will refuse to listen to a teacher who has not been initiated in these ceremonies.


People living positively

October 20, 2006

Yesterday we had a training session on HIV/AIDS in Zambia. Three HIV Positive people spoke to us about their experiences advocating for their rights.


The first lady, Catherine, was diagnosed at the age of 20 in 1991. She had only slept with her boyfriend, and at that stage thought that HIV was confined to prostitutes. When she told her family and friends they reacted badly and she became isolated. Then after years of appearing on television to make everyone aware of the virus, people questioned whether she had made it up to get sympathy. But Catherine was not daunted and has continued to take action on HIV. Now people in the compound where she lives come and ask for advice.


Another man, who had been a Premier League footballer, was diagnosed with HIV 10 years ago. He has since married an HIV Positive women and had two HIV negative children aged 6 and 3. He was really keen to emphasize that HIV Positive people should have the same rights as everyone else.


It was inspiring to see these people who were not prepared to let HIV affect their lives. People can live with HIV for many years, but only if they are aware of their condition and how to manage it. Diet is important, but so is access to medicine. At the moment the big brand anti-retroviral drugs are way beyond the reach of most Zambians and big pharmaceuticals have pressurized governments into banning cheaper generics.


But with people like I met yesterday on the case I think there are lots of reasons to be positive.

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October 17, 2006

Arrival in Lusaka

Compound opposite Kenneth Kaunda’s house





I called this blog Positively Zambia, without knowing how I would feel about the country, but it has certainly turned out an apt name. It’s a fantastic country and the people are incredibly friendly.

I arrived in Lusaka on Saturday afternoon. We were met by a few Zambian VSO staff who took us in a small coach to a youth conference centre in the grounds of the University of Zambia. It’s quite plush really so no culture shock yet.

The soil has that African redness and there are lots of colourful trees. The grass looks like it did in England this summer, but the texture is more like straw.

There are some wealthy districts in Lusaka containing the embassies and a few businesses. We went passed a few compounds (areas where the poorer people live) with quite neat houses and little plots of land near the Presidential house. Later on we were driven through a much poorer compound with massive overcrowding, lean-to shacks, sewage and rubbish everywhere and loads of kids running about. It was really friendly but understandably the locals were a little surprised to see a bus full of white people going passed. Lots of them waved, and some of the kids pointed and shouted “Muzungu” the generic African term for a white person. “Wuzungu” is the plural.

I’ve got a week of training starting this morning before I go and start working for my employer, the Youth Development Foundation, in the Eastern Province. It turns out that all of the staff at my organisation are volunteers. They are just a bunch of young people trying to do something to engage other youngsters in advocating for their rights. There are 30 of us being trained, with 10 from the UK and the rest from Kenya, Uganda, India, Ireland and the USA.


The sign below was outside the house in which the first President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, lived between 1960 and 1962 while campaigning for independence from Britain.

Sign outside Kenneth Kaunda’s house