Chapter 5 American Ideals

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American Ideals in Zambian Culture 

I experienced some of the greatest bust moments while working on the medical project.  One of the first was in home based care when I visited an old woman in her home in Mwandi, one of the most remote neighborhoods in Livingstone.  We were told that She was blind and unable to walk so I met her inside.  While visiting with her daughter, I saw a curtain slowly being pushed up.  My first impression was that a dog or distracted child was walking through the curtain but slowly a woman sitting cross legged appeared.  It displayed to me what a true lack of resources looks like.  Though the woman was joyful and made jokes, she was never able to leave her tiny and stifling home because she could not go down the stairs out front.  I immediately thought how this problem would be addressed in the United States and how she would have a wheel chair and ramp outside of her home.  I soon caught myself thinking from a typical American standpoint—I try to fix everything and make everything better.  But would she be able to navigate beyond her yard into the washed out dirt roads? Probably not.  From this instance it was obvious that in Zambia, the American quick fix attitude was not always going function well in these situations.

From that point on, I tried to engage in the idea that American ideals were not always better and to work alongside the Zambian culture to imagine solutions could improve quality of life.  However, once I and my co-volunteers started conducting HIV education classes to tenth grade boys, ages fourteen to eighteen, at St. Raphael’s Academy, I realized that there truly are some places that American ideals should be pushed and encouraged.  In our classroom, we had four women teaching roughly forty teenage boys.  Naturally, many of the boys did not respect or listen to our teaching. Why would they? We were girls after all.  After the first class, we allotted time for them to ask questions, and one boy named Javier asked the question, “Can a girl lose her virginity by finger f***ing?”  He was clearly just trying to be funny and get a laugh out of his peers, but it made me realize how much women are truly disrespected in their society, especially sexually.

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Art Class for Linda Students

In the next few classes we attempted to press on them the importance of consent and respecting the women in their life.  I considered this vital because I hated imagining myself growing up in a community where I could easily be married off and pregnant by fourteen against my will.  I believed that young pregnancies and marriages were a large problem that were not being addressed really at all.  This practice was harmful and holding their girls and culture back from advancing, so in this instance westernization seemed appropriate.
In the afternoons, we would do general community based projects.  We would conduct adult literacy classes; math, reading, and arts clubs for elementary age children; after school recreation; or visit a nursing home (Maramba Old People’s Home).

One afternoon, while prepping for our afternoon there at the Old People’s Home, volunteers who had been there before warned us that the common view was at least they had some place to stay and weren’t  alone.  I wasn’t to sure what to make of this, what exactly was meant by this stance. When we pulled into the home, a lively old man opened the gate with a laugh, large smile, and wave (a man who I soon learned was dubbed Master Cheater for his love for cheating at the card game UNO); I felt like we were in a movie with the happy atmosphere that Master Cheater created.  But, getting out of the van, I realized that the Old People’s Home was starkly different from the nursing homes in the United States. Organized roughly college dorm style, there were dirt paths between rooms with meeting areas off to the side.  In the center there were tall closets that looked like cubbies with thin mattresses in them. (were these rooms or just closets?) Shocked, I feared that these were extra rooms (they were really only for storage) but my relief that they were closets was short lived.

Watch the video of CSU Summer Abroad Zambia.


Video Credit: Isabel Brown

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6 thoughts on “Chapter 5 American Ideals

  1. Two things I learned on my first trip to Europe more than 40 years ago – my way is not necessarily the best way or the only way. And tolerance. I like your insightful comments on your experience. Carry them with you always.

    Liked by 1 person

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