For years my tummy felt splendid-
But from bad water, it up-ended.
I spent a week in bed;
I thought I was dead.
Amoebas have come, and I’m bested.
Still I can really eat nothing.
Broth is no longer enticing.
I’m still in my bed.
So bored I feel dead.
All I really want is some ice cream!!!
an original limerick by Ashley Keller (who is operating under the influence of bowel-enforced house arrest)
by Ashley Keller with No Comments
Yesterday was “Africa Freedom Day” in Zambia. Some of our holidays here are nebulous at best (Youth Day and Unity Day are at the top of my ???? list). But I actually like this one. I’ll admit there’s a side of me that does a real eye-roll, though. After living in Africa for 8 years I can tell you that there is still a LOT of work to be done before real freedom is achieved, especially in the political, police, and military corruption sectors. That being said…. Zambians have come a long way since achieving their independence from Britain in 1964.
First accolades would have to go to LOCAL GOVERNMENT. They are no longer ruled by a foreign power in an entirely different hemisphere. While I appreciate a lot of what Britain did with infrastructure and development in Zambia, I do not believe that you can understand a country and her people from thousands of miles away. The Zambians really own their government now. They have taken control of their country and they truly want to be a great and prosperous people. (Unfortunately, many of the government officials have zeroed in on the “prosperous” bit…).
I also love how Zambia as a country is working to empower women. This is still a very real issue in Africa. Women are grossly under-educated and badly mistreated. I can tell you from personal experience that the average grade achievement for women is grade 7 in the towns and grade 3- THREE- in the rural areas. And this is African grades 7 & 3, not equivalent to what we see in Westernized nations. In the bush women are still chattel, sexual merchandise, and slave labor. I love that Zambia has so many programs to improve the lives of her women.
But I think it would be a mistake to spend the day celebrating Africa’s “Freedom” without contemplating a few things that have gone wrong- and I mean really, really WRONG since Zambia’s independence nearly 50 years ago.
Dependence- While the theme of the holiday might be liberty, the unofficial motto of the government is something like “Trust in me…. only me……” Political candidates here secure votes by passing out mealie meal (grain for porridge) and promising schools, houses, cars, etc to people in poorer districts. The medical clinics and government schools are free to extremely cheap. The care and instruction are less than abysmal but most of the local people don’t know any better and the officials take great care to make sure everyone feels privileged to receive anything at all. The maize prices are set at a rate that keeps the farmers at a subsistence level (which means they need government loans and subsidies every year) and gives the people cheap staples. This perpetuates dependency because there is fear of independent farming and selling- the “cheap maize” would go away. Zambians depend almost entirely on their government for food, education, and care. They have few options since they are not taught to seek anything else.
Education- I have noticed that many of the older Zambians can read and write in 2 or 3 languages. They achieved British equivalent certificates in school and could have transferred to British or European universities. That is no longer possible. I know a guy here who nearly finished his degree in architecture and wanted to transfer to a university in the UK. He barely, BARELY passed the entrance exam for Year 1 at a British university. He was shocked and dismayed at these results. Then he started the course and was utterly horrified. The uni was generous to let him in at all. The education he received in Africa was woefully deficient.
Corruption- there is no longer a strong system of accountability for the Zambian government officials. No “checks and balances”. No auditing. Nothing to stop those with power from exploiting those beneath them. It’s bad. You can’t get anything done without “making a contribution toward expenses” or “helping” things along. We don’t participate in that method which means our applications and permits move a lot slower than if we “helped” the department out.
Medical care- look this up online and you will find a wide array of opinions. Sure, there are more rural clinics. But believe me when I say that for the most part they do more harm than good. The hospitals are FILTHY. I was privileged to save a baby at a local hospital… he nearly died of dehydration from diarrhea. They refused to put in an iv. Best I can figure, the mom couldn’t afford the “fee” (bribe) required by someone on the hospital paperwork chain. The medical situation is BAD.
Africa Freedom Day. There is indeed more freedom. But it came at a very real cost to the generations that followed. Zambia’s hope lies in God’s grace and in the determination of her people to keep going and their ability to look on the bright side.
Thank you, God, for the freedom that you’ve brought to Zambia. Thank you that you have brought them closer to “a hope and a future”. Please guide these amazing people into your embrace- into a walk that honors you and in turn creates a culture of Christ, a culture of humility, honesty, and hope.
by Ashley Keller with No Comments
It’s easy they said!
Before I tell you my sad tale, there’s something you should know about Africa. Everything is bigger here. The trees are bigger. The animals are bigger. The insects are bigger. Everything that can be bigger IS.
Then there’s something you should know about me. I can’t grow anything. At all. Horticulture hates me. Bring me the vegetables and I’ll give you an entree that Jamie Oliver wouldn’t turn down. Bring me the plant and it will shrivel on the way in the door, begging for mercy all the way.
However, I firmly believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and this last year I determined to conquer my nemesis: the vegetable garden. After talking to a variety of home gardeners I found a general consensus: Carrots. Anyone can grow carrots. After considering the fact that preschoolers even grow carrots from carrot tops, I decided even I could not screw this up. I sallied forth with seeds: carrot, onion, and cauliflower (because I am a masochist at heart). I cleared, mulched, and tenderly planted those tiny seeds in the soil. I’ll confess that I was skeptical. After decades of failure (my preschool carrot didn’t survive the week) could I hope to see those seeds germinate? Survive?? Produce some FOOD?!
While I waited to see if Tim’s fond epithet “the Minus Touch” might be overcome with a little care and patience, Monica planted some flowers. Apparently the plant kingdom does not hold one’s unfortunate genes against them.
With time, water, and sunshine my carrots did grow. And much to my surprise they actually looked… great. Lacey green fans promising a juicy, crisp harvest before long. As the carrot tops began to expand I decided to take a little sneak peek at my gardening victory.
Apparently the nematodes are bigger in Africa is well.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At least we have flowers!!
Please share your gardening failures so I don’t feel like such a loser. You know… unless you don’t have any of those stories… in which case you can just go away and enjoy your garden.by Ashley Keller with 2 Comments
Recently there has been a lot of talk around the internet and blog-osphere about MISSIONS. Mostly I’ve seen people hashing out the million ways it’s being done wrong: wrecking culture, producing dependency, maligning the name of Christ, etc. Really bad stuff- and really going on in some places.
Naturally, I find the whole discussion fascinating.
There is certainly and undeniably a reason why the Church at large is having a second look at missions. And this is possibly one of the most positive aspects of the whole discussion- people are looking at missions. I’m hoping this has the same effect that a movie production does for book sales. Let’s face it, few of us read the classics until the movie comes out. Maybe this spotlight on missions will propel a new wave of missionaries into the world. As people have the opportunity to consider and critique world missions, maybe they’ll feel compelled to head out here themselves.
The thoughts expressed by interested bloggers have been really interesting. MORE interesting have been the comments these posts have generated. Everyone has an opinion about how Missions should be done- and this is (usually) a great thing. HOWEVER, one observation I’d like to throw out into cyberspace (let’s go ahead and call it my “two cents”):
It’s no more possible to generalize Missions than it is to delineate parenting and project the definite outcome. Or the future. Or war. Or the working out of our faith in Christ. Because those things make up missions. And adding the aspect of cross-cultural to Missions means increasing the variables and uncertainty.
Let’s absolutely dialogue about Missions and how to do it better. But let’s bear in mind that Missions is about people and people don’t fit well into absolute formulas.
I challenge you to look- really look at world missions. Look at what is being done poorly. Look at what is being done well. Then ask the hard question:
“God, how should I be involved?”
Guess I’ll go eat worms!!
Remember that song from summer camp? So cute.
“Long, thin, slimy ones; short, fat, squishy ones; itsy-bitsy, fuzzy-wuzzy worms!!!!!!”
Well, it’s all fun and games until you see them in the toilet!
Ah yes. While parasites are common in EVERY part of the world (yes, friend, you too could have them!), they are a particular menace in Africa. Parasites seem to cling to every leaf, rock, crevice, droplet, hair, and fiber.
But, wait! There’s more!!!
So what’s a mom to do? Well, there are a few great anti-parasitic medications out here, but you just can’t take them as often as you get exposed (infected!) with the nasty little buggers.
Fortunately there are many other safe options. We’ve tried all kinds of herbal concoctions and have our favorites.
Down goes the first one, down goes the second one……….
oh how they wiggle and squirm!
Actually, though, we’ve been pretty lucky. We have our occasional outbreaks of ringworm and pinworms, we’ve had a few rounds with giardia and amoebic dysentery, oh, and I suppose Tim has had roundworms a few times. And tapeworms… but considering our level of exposure…. I’m grateful it hasn’t been worse.by Ashley Keller with 6 Comments
Missions is so glamorous. We get to do all kinds of awesome, world-changing activities everyday, dynamically affecting every person we meet. When we get sick we are at least consoled that the diseases are exotic (read: involve diarrhea)- no humdrum headcolds for us! We regularly enjoy flavorful, indigenous foods like boiled cornmeal and okra. We live right alongside magnificent and dangerous wildlife like
lions spiders and giraffes snakes. We get to tell thrilling stories about parasites, broken vehicles, and cultural disasters. It’s the dream life, baby. Why don’t more people sign up???
“Wait, I sense sarcasm. Do you mean you aren’t actually riding around on an elephant, passing out tracts and singing ‘I’ll Fly Away’ in the local language?? I’m so disillusioned!”
Ok, so if it’s not everything that the big fund-raising gigs and missions conferences crack it up to be, then what’s the real story? If every day is not a Billy Graham crusade, then what is it? Do we not chase down every man, woman, and child in Kabwe and ascertain their stance on Christ and eternity? And what about the starving? The orphaned? And AIDS, yeesh, shouldn’t that issue alone take up at least 2 or 3 days of my week?? “Reaching the lost”, “discipleship”, “building relationships”… what does it all MEAN?
The short version? It means we work our butts off against a daily list of challenges and difficulties, and we do it because we’re crazy. Wait… that’s not right. We do it because it makes us feel good about ourselves. No, that definitely doesn’t apply to the last 5 weeks of my life. One last try:
We work in Africa because it needs to be done and because the Lord loves the poor. Serving pleases Him so we do it (those are Tim’s words, I couldn’t figure out how to say it without sounding oh-so-hyper-spiritual and la-di-da). Serving others, making disciples, and increasing His kingdom makes God happy, whether it’s through the “daily grind” in your community in the States or in the great Battle Against the Elements in Africa. As the Body of Christ we are (or should be) working with a “kingdom mentality”. Ok, there I go again, what does THAT mean?!
The bottom line is: we, the Kellers, work and serve in many ways. Sometimes it’s teaching Zambians about Christ or how to evangelize. Sometimes it’s preaching, teaching, discipling, leading, training or preparing for those things. Sometimes it’s spending three days trying to get the correct pipe for our water tank because the local “shops” all carry EXTREMELY cheap Chinese-made GARBAGE and you have to find it in their backroom yourself under piles of other cheap garbage (after waiting in line for hours on end). Ok, done ranting now.
In my experience, “making a difference for Christ” is never easy. And here the “devil is in the water” so to speak (well giardia and E.coli are anyway). The physical challenges are daunting. Overwhelming, occasionally mind-crippling, frustrating, discouraging- these are all part and parcel of our work. Disease (not just germs, I’m talking real disease), parasites, heat, language barriers, cultural barriers, government finagling, financial restrictions, distance from loved ones, poor food, bugs, rats, thieves…. the list can go on and on and… anyway….
And WHY? “Why did I sign up for this again???” Is a question I ask myself
every once in a great while at least once a month week more often than a woman on a mission should. Why? Well, I can go super-spiritual and tell you that the devil has a foothold in Africa (which would be true). I can be practical and tell you that this continent has not had the benefits of millennia of civilization like Europe has (and even North and South America to a lesser extent). This would also be true.
But the real problem? The actual reality? The difficulty, the challenge, the issue we deal with in missions? It might surprise you. In fact, I bet you can relate on a personal level:
It’s a fallen world. It’s a world that does not embrace Christ and grace.
Being a part of the Body of Christ means taking on the bad with the good. And there’s a lot of bad here. But there is a lot of GOOD too. A lot. There are a lot of people who respond JOYFULLY to the news of redemption- true forgiveness and grace. We so take God for granted in the States, but in Zambia, enslaved by animism, people shake off the shackles with incredible joy.
So there it is. We’re in Africa because…
oh come on, we’re here because we are definitely, positively, at least a little bit crazy.
And we like it here.
God bless Africa.by Ashley Keller with No Comments
We are finally back home in Africa! After a marathon container pack and load in March and April, we packed our THIRTEEN suitcases up and headed home. (Don’t even ask me how I ended up with that many check-ins after we shipped an 18 ton container. Life happens!)
The flights went much better than expected. Frederick (now 3) had a meltdown or two, but for that little OCD monkey… that’s not too bad! Fortunately his “blank-let” was along for the ride and totally saved the day (and the sanity of a few hundred haggard passengers) Olivia did GREAT. She didn’t sleep much for 30 hours… but she did great nonetheless! One of the kind and attentive flight attendants said to me at about 3am, “My. She doesn’t stop moving, does she??” Nope. I’m very thankful the check-in lady was kind enough to get us as many bulkhead seats as she could manage (God bless British Airways)!
We arrived bright and early and our friends brought not one, but TWO cars to pick us and our luggage up and transport us all back to Kabwe. Driving home was a little strange- Lusaka has such a burgeoning economy that even in our absence much had changed. Most noticeably: the roads were even more congested. Ah well.
Our first day home was great (if exhausting). We kept the kids up late so they actually slept pretty well (midnight to 9am!) Friday morning all seemed well….. then Olivia seemed to be melting. I mean we’d set her on the floor and she’d just kinda slump over. :L I called it jetlag and carried on. By bedtime a fever set in… and I spent half the night nursing, jiggling, patting, walking, and cleaning up diarrhea diapers and puke. You know, for a 15 month old, she has GREAT projection. Just sayin’. But that was only half the night, right? Good catch. You see, the other half was spent with Olivia AND Frederick. Who also has projectile vomiting down to an art from. Who knew? Our family is so talented.
Saturday and Sunday are now kind of a blur. I remember changing about 2,465,894 pairs of diarrhea pants from Frederick and another few million diarrhea diapers from Olivia. Oh, did I mention that we hadn’t gone shopping yet?? Praise GOD we had left a bunch of wipes in the cupboard and the cloth diapers were ready to go!!! I did NOT have enough disposables in the diaper bag to get through that putrid marathon! I would have been resorting to desperate measures like wash cloths inside ziplock baggie pants! And yes, I have really done that. (Desperate times, desperate times!) I’m also incredibly thankful for our neighbor, Christel, who had the food basics waiting for us in our kitchen (and a camping fridge for us to borrow since ours somehow broke while it was turned off!) And for water kefir! I had NO yogurt, NO probiotics, NO dry toast for these poor diarrhea bellies. But I DID have all my precious cultures, packed with TLC (by another amazing friend, Joy) and carefully transported all the way to Zambia.
It’s amazing how God supplies, though. In the last week I’ve probably averaged 3-5 hours of sleep a night. Any one who knows me will tell you that I do not function on less than 8 hours. 9 is better. 10 is awesome. (How am I surviving motherhood???) But I am really feeling ok. Now, I’m not volunteering to add anything to my to-do list… Fred and I are still dashing to the bathroom every 45 minutes or so… but I’m very thankful for the energy needed to take care of my babies. (And Timothy… who’s also sick. But he takes himself to the bathroom.) Then there are the
little big things like there being an ample supply of wipes in our cupboard. Seriously, I would have been outside hosing their little butts off at 2 am if not for those precious packages of prelubricated, disposable convenience!!
Oh, one last thing. Our sewage pipes are blocked. Diarrhea goes down and………..
welcome back to Africa!!by Ashley Keller with 6 Comments
I mean, really. You’d think I could find a few stolen moments to update the ol’ blog during this furlough!
Well, the truth is… I DID find a few quiet moments here and there…
We’ve been having a great (busy!) time in the States. Timothy has been able to gather tons (literally) of books and materials for the Container Project. The kids have gotten to spend lots of time with their grandparents. And I’ve been tanking up on Starbucks whenever possible.
In October we were able to make a road trip to California. We took the kids to Sea World and they LOVED it (who persuaded me that taking 3 kids, aged 4 and under, was a good idea??? I should stop listening to my own suggestions.) Part of the reason we went to California was because I received a scholarship to attend a nutrition and health conference in Santa Clara. Wow, it was so helpful! The longer we’re in Zambia the more I find myself teaching mommies how to feed and nourish their little ones. I’m grateful for the resources I have at hand now!
In Decemebr Tim got to go hunting with his brother, Aaron. He didn’t get to shoot anything, but they did spend an afternoon hiding from drug runners. Who says adventure is only in Africa?
We recently celebrated Frederick’s third birthday. Where does the time go? And next week Timothy reaches 35. Party time? I think so.
The next month or so will be spent packing the many, many boxes of books and supplies for the container. This process is arduous and time-consuming… but sooooo worth it! I can’t wait to use the books in Zambia as we reach out to teachers, parents, and new Christians.
Thank you for your prayers!!!
oh, and God bless America!!!!!!!!
Thank you so much for your prayers while we travel and put together the Container Project. If you want to catch up with us while we’re in the States, you can reach us through the Contact Us page on our website.by Ashley Keller with No Comments
Living in Africa has a major perk: we are never, ever bored. Ever. (Sometimes I could actually go for a little boredom…) This has been an amazing, crazy summer! Looking back I can hardly believe the opportunites we’ve had to share the Gospel, reach out to those in need, lend a helping hand, and grow together as a family.
Tim has traveled all over the continent! Early in the summer he went to Sudan and Uganda. Recently he traveled to extremely remote parts of Zambia. Our vehicle has been well loved this year!
I think I married Tim for his handy-man skills. Seriously. Who else can fix something the first time they lay eyes on it??
Monica started doing preschool at home too! It’s been… interesting…. Ok, it has been a lot of fun!by Ashley Keller with 2 Comments
This is part 2, part 1 is How Did That Happen?!
The morning of the President’s arrival we scrambled to have everything ready. Many of the Zambian dignitaries and leaders came early and lined up to greet the President and his wife. Most of them were sent home to change from their suit and tie to work clothes, with the injunction to dress appropriately for working. Their perplexed faces were, I’ll admit, quite funny to observe. In the early afternoon, the President’s twenty-four car motorcade pulled up to the clinic. I stood at the end of a line of Zambian VIPs, now dressed in work cloths, to meet President and Mrs. Bush. Some of the Zambians were visibly taken back by the fact that we were all, including the President and his wife, dressed in the most informal clothes imaginable.
Over the course of the morning we reminded the steady stream of arriving volunteers that the purpose of this time was to work and not to dress up and chat. That we were serious became apparent when the President stepped out of his car, briefly shook hands with everyone, and then asked for his paint brush. Culturally Zambians view manual labor, especially dirty work, as the job of the lower class, the poor, and the uneducated. Seeing a world leader hard at work was a tremendous shock. Because we regularly teach Christ’s example of servant leadership, it was gratifying to help a leader of such significance set a godly example of service. After watching the President for a few stunned moments, many of the volunteers followed the President and Mrs. Bush’s example of dignity in labor and began working with exceptional diligence.
Since I had carried out the preparation work, I was asked to partner with George Bush’s contractor in managing the volunteers’ projects. This was a challenge as over 30 people showed up to work the first day, all requesting direction and supplies. This number did dwindle over the following days as the volunteers realized this really was a working party and not a photo-op. Those who remained worked hard and required less management as we all got into the rhythm of our various responsibilities.
Because the project took place over the weekend, I asked President Bush’s coordinator if I could be excused on Sunday morning to attend church. I was apprehensive that this request would cause consternation from the team (or the President). I don’t think a lot of people keep the President waiting while they go to church. However, it was important to me to put God first. The Coordinator’s response was not what I’d expected at all! Surprisingly, he wanted to know where I went to church and if I could take the Secret Service agents to examine the possibility of an “off the record” attendance by the President and his wife. After seeing the church, the Secret Service felt it would be a safe venue, but I was strictly told not to share the information with anyone. Thus on Sunday morning we were able to welcome President George and First Lady Laura Bush to our small church in Kabwe. What a shock it was to the people who came that morning! It was incredible to worship the Lord with this couple and their team of aids and servicemen, many of whom were becoming very good friends. We were blessed with a great message that morning and many of the members of the team shared how touched they were by the service. I’m glad the Lord gave me the courage to ask for the morning to go worship Him!
Everyone worked really hard over the next few days, and we watched the dilapidated clinic transform into something attractive and serviceable. I had several opportunities to talk to President and Mrs. Bush. I appreciated how down-to-earth they were and enjoyed the President’s dry sense of humor. He even took as much hassling as he dished out.
I asked President Bush why he came to Kabwe to renovate a rural clinic. He replied that he didn’t want to just be “president”, but wanted to roll up his sleeves and really help people. I have to say, regardless of political opinions or affiliations, I appreciate anyone who is willing to work with their own hands to help the underprivileged and suffering people in Africa. It was an honor to work alongside someone with an appreciation for good, hard work.
On Tuesday there was a re-opening ceremony for the clinic and their new cervical cancer program. The local and international media finally had their chance to take photos of the President and Mrs. Bush and interview them about the project. I was asked to open the ceremony in prayer. Before everyone, I was privileged to give glory to God for everything that He had done to bring about this event.
After the ceremony, the President and his staff, many of whom I’m proud to call friends and brothers in Christ, returned to Lusaka. As he left, we exchanged thanks and I gave him one of my favorite books of prayer, Valley of Vision.
It was a privilege to be a part of this clinic renovation project. The opportunity to serve our community alongside President and Mrs. Bush and their incredible staff was both unexpected and incredible. I’m not sure why the Lord allowed me to be a part of all of this, but I’m glad He did!
More photos of the clinic project from The Bush Institute on Flikr
Why Kabwe? Hear it from him.
More information about the Bushs’ trip to Zambia:
Ashley’s experiences are also recounted in Not My Average Weekby Ashley Keller with 1 Comment
Good Old Fashioned Hand Written Code by Eric J. Schwarz