Friday, January 21

An Exorcism in Zambia

I've blogged before about witchcraft in Zambia, but it's tough to find much information about it. So I decided to take the situation into my own hands: I wrote a story about an exorcism in Zambia I witnessed -- and even participated in! It was a very cool experience. Here are some photos (that I shot with a 22-year-old Pentax) to whet your appetite:

The N'ganga (witchdoctor) Dances Posted by Hello

The N'ganaga and the Drummers Posted by Hello

The woman in purple Posted by Hello

The exorcism story was published on Bootsnall's new World Adventure website, "dedicated to helping independent travelers plan their educational, cultural and adventure trips around the world." It's great. Thanks, BnA!

Lake Mweru

Sorry if it's cold where you are this weekend. It'd be great to be on Lake Mweru, in the extreme northwest corner of Zambia.

Lake Mweru Posted by Hello

Soil Erosion

Zambia suffers from tremendous soil erosion problems, largely as a result of deforestation. Some of the reasons for the deforestation include population growth, poor land management, tsetse fly control, and charcoal production.

Farmers use fertilizers to replenish what erosion has stripped from the soil. Ironically, the overuse of fertilzers also contributes to soil erosion.

Some groups (like the World Rainforest Movement) blame Zambia's land policy and the removal of agricultural subsidies for continued deforestation.

I know it sounds boring, but if you read a little about it, it's pretty interesting.

Thursday, January 20

It Pounds the Night?

I was very confused when I learned the Big Dipper was called Chipula Usiku. Chipula: to pound; Usiku: night. Translating this, I came up with "to pound the night." What did that mean?

Big Dipper (image courtesy of

I asked my neighbor, Robert, and he explained that Zambians believe the Big Dipper is the separation between last night and this morning. Therefore, a better translation would be: "it divides the night."

Nyumba Chikulu

Nyumba Chikulu means "Big House" and is slang for "toilet." Chimbuzi is a more formal term. Since there is no running water in rural Zambia, many Zambians build outhouses -- or pit latrines -- behind their homes. Most, however, do not.

Although popular with Westerners, many Zambians are not wild about latrines. If they need to urinate, most just swing by the bath shelter. If they have to, uh, do something else, they often head for the bush. Being seen entering a latrine is very embarrassing for a Zambian.

Here's a cross-section of the "perfect latrine":

Instead of excusing himself to the toilet, my friend, John, often said: "I have to visit a sick Indian." I don't know how he came up with that.

2005's Crop Production Looks Good

In past years, Zambia has suffered from severe food shortages, due largely to uncooperative rainy seasons. In 2002, for example, 2.3 million people needed food aid.

Recently, Zambia seems to have bounced back. Thanks to a bumper harvest this year, brought on by adequate rainfall and government subsidies, Zambia is now in the position to feed many of its neighbors. According to Deputy Agriculture Minister Chance Kabaghe, Zambian farmers
"do not want to be given food [aid], they want to produce - all we are doing is facilitating them to produce and, once they reach a sustainable level, then we will not have to subsidise them. Last year we helped 150,000 small-scale farmers, and we intend to do the same this year and next year, and then re-examine the strategy."
Many farmers are shifting from strict subsistence farming to inter-planting high-value crops that yield a higher return on investment (e.g., cotton, tobacco, groundnuts). This is a good idea. However, government needs to be catious not to promote high-return crops so zealously that farmers fail to plant food for themselves.

I saw Zambians who thought they could earn big money by growing and selling cotton. At harvest, so many farmers had planted cotton, surplus outstripped demand, and purchasers paid rock-bottom prices for the cotton. Ultimately, the farmers had very little money and virtually no food stock: they were in worse shape than if they had simply harvested maize.

$6! Woo-hoo!

Development agencies have long discouraged cash handouts, favoring "in-kind contributions," believing it's better to provide people with necessary items, rather than simply giving money.

In theory, this works. For example, you might value a shovel more than cash, if there's no one to sell you a shovel. However, a shovel is useless if you're sick and can't afford clinic fees. Often, desperate people sell or trade goods for much less than their value, ultimately leaving them poorer than when they started.

A recent study claims that cash might be more valuable than material goods. According to Dr Bernd Schubert, a consultant to the Social Safety Net Project, providing $6 a month to the "critically poor" allows them to pay for necessities or invest in seed or livestock: "The transfer [of cash] does not lift the beneficiary households out of poverty; it just lifts them from critical poverty, which is life threatening, to moderate poverty." Evidently, participants reported better school attendance, more frequent meals, and increased investment.

I wonder what this means for Zambia's many Food for Work Programs. Anyway: the complete report -- The Pilot Social Cash Transfer Scheme -- is available for your reading pleasure.

Wednesday, January 19

Home, Home on the Range . . .

For those who ever wondered what "savannah grasslands" look like . . .

That's 11 Zeroes!

Prompted by: (a) the realization that Zambia's outstanding debts would continue for a long time and, (b) acquiring foreign currency to repay the debts continues to be a hindrance to Zambia's development, today Japan cancelled 3.4 trillion of the 4 trillion Kwacha owed it. According to The Times of Zambia, much of the remaining K600 billion will be cancelled before March 31.

Wow! K3.4 trillion is just under $750 million.

Japan owns more of Zambia's debt than any other nation (of course, the IDA and the IMF own more). The US ranks fourth. Zambia still owes more than $5.5 billion to creditors, which is about what the US will spend in Iraq this week.

Here Comes The Bride

"The Donald" is getting married this weekend, and this reminded me of Zambian weddings.

Typically, men and women do not "date." Instead of courting, the couple might meet at a soccer match, or see each other at school or the market. Their intentions are often secret. Sometimes, the couple meets in a maize field, which can lead to all sorts of, uh, problems.

When he decides to propose, he asks a "go-between" to announce his intentions. Her family decides if the marriage will occur. If her family approves, the couple marries pending payment of lobola, or bride-price. (The lobola has dropped lately, as many Zambians have become poorer. What used to be several cattle is now often a single scrawny cow.) If the couple elopes, the groom leaves a chicken on the bride's family's doorstep, as a down-payment: he is still expected to pay the lobola. If, for some reason, the groom fails to pay the lobola, the bride's family may sue him in court.

The bride has a "kitchen party," which is similar to a bridal shower. The groom drinks beer.

In most ways, a Zambian wedding is similar to a Western wedding: friends and faimily gather; there is singing, dancing, and a reception. An interesting difference is that the bride typically enters the ceremony with her head covered. Upon reaching the groom, she lifts the veil, revealing her beauty.

Considering how poor many Zambians are, "honeymoons" are often out of the question. Instead, the new couple usually stays in a neighbor's house for the night.

Tuesday, January 18

In Zambia, GM Doesn't Mean "General Mills"

Despite famine, drought, and international pressure (mainly from the US), Zambia has refused to import genetically-modified (GM) foods. President Mwanwasa even called GM foods "poison." Zambia has shied away from GM foods for 2 reasons:
  1. GM foods are dangerous. Depending on who ask, this charge is spurious. (Europeans are likely to agree; Americans -- who have been eating GM foods for years -- are likely to disagree.)
  2. GM foods may contaminate non-GM foods. The argument goes like this: If a Zambian farmer plants a GM seed, it's possible this plant might pollinate a non-GM plant. Since the EU refuses to purchase GM foods, Zambia might lose the ability to sell its crops to the EU. And since a large chunk of Zambia's export earnings are the result of EU purchases -- estimated at $62.6 million in 1999-2000 -- then the Zambian economy could head south. (As Dennis says, follow the money-trail.)
In the event of another serious drought, Zambia's refusal to import GM-foods might result in a humanitarian disaster.

Nyumba, Sweet Nyumba

Here's a great photo of a typical village. It's not typical, however, for homes to be round; often they're square or rectangular, like these "more traditional" homes.

Something else that's not typical: there are no children running around -- especially since someone had to pull a camera out of a bag. Zambia is one of the few places in the world where, when somebody sees you preparing to snap a photo, everybody jumps into the frame.

(Can you guess what nyumba means?)

Lake Kariba . . . aaahhhh

In 1960, when it was built, Kariba Dam was the largest in the world. However, 50,000 members of the Tonga tribe -- as well as countless animals -- were displaced due to the flooding of the area. A $12.6 million joint operation among the Zambia Electricity Supply Company (ZESCO), the World Bank, the Zambian government, and descendants of the Tongas is in place to correct the social and ecological catastrophe the flooding caused: they are building schools, clinics, and roads; improving agriculture and economic opportunities; and installing extra power grids.

Today, the dam provides power to Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as excellent adventure opportunities. Some of the most exciting things you can do are:
  1. Fish for bream and tiger fish.
  2. Visit Chirundu Fossil Forest, featuring fossilized trees 150 million years old.
  3. Take a houseboate holiday.
  4. Tour the hydroelectric plant.
  5. Boat.
  6. Waterski.
  7. Head to the crocodile park.
  8. Relax, and look at the water.

Kariba Sunset(image courtesy of

There are a number of places to stay at the Lake, but remote Gwembe Safaris, with their solar panel-powered A-frames, would be my pick.

"Kuponyaponya" Strikes Again

In a previous blog, I mentioned that Kuponyaponya translates as "to masturbate," a taboo word in Zambia. This is one reason why HIV/AIDS educators have such a hard time changing behaviors in the country.

Last August, 2 Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) employees were fired after broadcasting 10 minutes of Unshackled, a Nigerian film about a man addicted to masturbation. ZNBC fired the employees because their choice of programming failed to live up to the "high standards of decency and taste" the national broadcaster had set for itself. This, of course, serves mainly to keep masturbation cloaked in secrecy.

Interestingly, Nigeria's film output is the third highest in the world, behind India and the US. Zambians freak out over Nollywood movies!

It's A Start

According to Martin Brennan, the US Ambassador to Zambia, the US pledged $102 million to tackle Zambia's staggering HIV/AIDS problem. Of course, Zambia receives this money only after Congress approves it.