Monday, July 6, 2009

The Misconceptions About Roosters

Cartoons lie. Remember how in cartoons roosters crow once at dawn ever so quaintly to awake the country side? Turns out real roosters didn’t get that memo. Sleeping in the villages has taught me that roosters crow whenever they feel like, and that is usually around 1 a.m., 1:15 a.m., 2 a.m., 2:02 a.m., 2:30 a.m., and so on until you feel like having an early chicken breakfast.
In short, roosters suck at life.

Another week in the villages. More lessons learned.
This afternoon our class had our ‘final exam’ in 4x4 off road vehicle recovery. We traveled to a dry river bed and purposefully got our 5 ton vehicle stuck in the sand. We dug out the tires, uncovered the differentials, and placed logs under the tires. Eventually, we recovered the vehicle. Off road driving in Africa is less exciting than it sounds. It is all about going slow and taking necessary precautions not to get stuck. Boring on all accounts, but necessary. Is that life in a nutshell? That is a personal question I believe.
On the way back from the river bed I was laying in the back of our open bed truck on a pile of sand. I reclined in the strong African sun and let the wind rush over me as we hit the tar road at high speed. I looked about me, surrounded by people that I have grown to know and love over the last month and a half and I realized I was content. I was completely happy sitting in a pile of dirt on the back of the truck in the middle of Africa. I love traveling on the road. My mind is free to wander and consider the pleasurable aspects of life, and I came to this conclusion: I am blessed to have this opportunity. That pretty much sums it up, just blessed.
My mind wandered back to the previous week we spent in Nyawa kingdom. We returned to the area we were a month ago, but this time Overland Missions put on a leadership conference for the 100 or so village headmen in Nyawa. Never before had such a gathering taken place, and that we were a part of it, in however small a way, was truly a unique opportunity.
We were invited to stay at the Chief’s palace. On first hearing this one might think of the Taj Mahal with servants and wild game roasted over fires at all hours of the day. Now, imagine the small huts in the weeds next to the Taj Mahal and you will have a more accurate picture of our conditions. We literally had to hack our campsite out of the tall grass. The chief’s compound, as all African villages, was a gathering of mud huts, very well kept, and always hospitable.
The conference itself focused on unity among the men and training in leadership principles (some taken from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership). We were tasked with going through a questionnaire relating to living conditions in their village in attempt to gather some basic information for the SAM and LIFE projects (see overland missions website, these are our social programs). Looking into the faces of these headmen, their weathered and lined faces told about ten thousand smoky fires and endless miles of sandy trails in the bush. The look in their eyes told of hard lives lived without complaint. Of all the men I interviewed the top two complaints, far and away, were about lack of clean water and lack of quality education. I’ve read statistics that said 75% of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people in there because of unsanitary water (that statistic assumes complications of malaria and other health risks compounding the negative effect of the dirty water). And studying the bit of international development in undergrad that I did experts say there are a few “silver bullet” type solutions that improve numerous other aspects relating to standard of living. They are childhood education and women’s education. It is interesting to see how accurate the opinions of the authors I’ve read over the years are.
The conference ended well. We worked in the chief’s fields picking maize and played soccer with the village kids. Both of which are great ways to connect with people. Living life with people is the best way to see how they live and connect with them in a real and meaningful way.

Hiking with Judas the Chicken
Who would have guessed that the final exam for our “Come Back Alive” class would actually involve coming back alive? Our instructors gathered us last Friday afternoon and informed us that we were going to spend Friday down in the gorge (next to the Zambezi river) without sleeping bags and only five matches. We had ten minutes to come up with ten items we could bring with us and then ten minutes to put on as much clothing as we could.
Before we could begin our trek down the gorge we were given GPS coordinates to the location of our food. After darting through the trails in the grass we came upon our cache for the night: a bag of rice, a bag of salt, a matchbox with 5 matches in it, and a curious cardboard box with holes punched in it. “It’s a flippin’ cat”, said my friend. And lo and behold we found the 8th member of our group: a live chicken. We debated its fate. Should we make it a leash and run it around to keep our moral up when its super cold at 3 a.m.? What about a name? We decided on two names. I proposed ‘Judas’. My friend Ross wanted ‘Lucky’.
In any event, he died a horrible death because we didn’t have time to sharpen our machete before we went down and more or less scraped its head off against the rocks. He lived a good life that Judas. And he tasted delightful as well.
Cooking over the fire (that took two matches to start. I fumbled the first one) was the highlight for the long and cold night. We had to choose a place for camp, make a useable shelter, start a cooking fire, and boil our own water for drinking. I was able to sleep a few hours before the cold caught up with me. The majority of the night was a waiting game for dawn. We passed the time by building the fire and scaring the bejesus out of ourselves thinking we heard black mambas and baboons just outside our campsite.
Our team made it through the night with relatively positive moral, but most importantly we made it out alive.

Epic Opportunity
So this week the kingdom where our base is located is having a large harvest festival. It is a big deal in this part of Africa. So much so that the presidents of Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe will attend. It is amazing to think that this little spot in the middle of the bush, in the middle of no where Africa is going to gather such (in)famous figures. I want to get Robert Mugabe, the bat shit crazy president of Zimbabwe, to autograph one of the 50 trillion dollar notes that was once the currency of Zim and now are souvenirs for tourists. Crazy! I will post how that goes. Hopefully there won’t be an international incident when Mugabe finds out that there are Brits and Americans in his near vicinity.

As always, send an update if you have the chance.