Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Stores Now...

Ok, not quite yet…but let’s think positively here. Children of Zion Village has just released its very first full-length worship CD! One of the members of Mt. Zion church brought with him the equipment for a small recording studio this past October just for the makings of this CD and has done a spectacular job. It is complete with 12 songs and includes songs sung in 3 different Caprivian languages (Silozi, Khwedam, & Mbukushu). The title of the album is fittingly “Milumo Yaku Lumbeka,” meaning ‘Sounds of Worship’ in the local language of Silozi. The artwork featured on the covers is also all done by the kids here.

The album is currently only available from the Children of Zion, Inc office in Bel Air, Maryland, but hopes to soon also be available through their church’s website (http://www.mzprays.org/). To order your copy(s), please contact Lisa McLaughlin by phone (410-836-2121), email (lisa@childrenofzionvillage.org), or even a personal office visit (Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Bel Air, MD). The asking donation price is $10/CD plus a small donation for shipping if you are not able to pick them up. All proceeds will go towards Children of Zion Village. If you have any money left over from Christmas I hope you will consider this investment. They make great gifts ;-)

Also hot off the press is the 2010 Children of Zion Calendar full of new pictures of the kids. Use the same contact info above if you are interested in this as well.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas in July-Like Weather

Never had I imagined I would be spending Christmas in Africa, but these kids are now like my extended family and I loved every minute of the slightly organized chaos. It was hard to imagine that all the normal Christmas traditions I’m used to were going on at the same time at home. Everything was hot, bright, and green outside instead of dull, white, and cold so it made for a rather surreal Christmastime atmosphere, but a very unique and blessed one nonetheless.

Christmas Eve I showed them “Fred Clause” (really cute if you’ve never seen it) and then shipped the younger kids off to bed. Around 9:30 we took all the older kids out by the river to have their first Christmas Eve candlelight service. And well, it went as well as can be expected with 40 giggly teenagers with fire, haha. It was just a short little service filled with Christmas songs, a reviewing of Christ’s birth leading to a reminder of why He came. We ended with a time of personal reflection and communion before some final songs and the colossal job of getting all the candles back so we’d still have a children’s home in the morning. Afterwards I was walking down the girls hallway and heard the little girls singing in their beds, “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…” I paused and countered with, “exactly, he knows that you’re awake, so go to bed!” then went in and kissed them all goodnight telling them it couldn’t be Christmas till they went to sleep. But like any anxious child on Christmas Eve, sleep was still a long ways off…

Christmas morning, Nancy (my housemate) and I were shocked we didn’t have 57 kids pounding at our door at 6 in the morning, but rather they waited patiently till it was “time.” And finally the “time’ came. Once we had the van loaded, we scurried the kids off to their rooms while their gifts were personally driven and delivered to the Christmas tree by Mr. & Mrs. Clause themselves. Then we called them out and they sat in a large circle as each person’s name was called out, hugged, and given their stocking. Each stocking had 2 new shirts, a journal, candy, coloring books/crayons for the little ones, jewelry for the older girls, etc, (all lovingly donated by sponsoring churches) and all had cards and pictures from sponsors. The little ones made a good attempt, but just couldn’t wait until everyone had gotten theirs to open them.

Then they got their other gifts. The little boys got little backpacks with stickers, a little water bottle, a big plastic car, and candy in it. The little girls all got pink handbags with matching angel/fairy dresses and all the needed little girl dress-up accessories (they had quite the little fairy pow-wow out on the basketball court that night). We decided to give the teenagers the typical easy teenage Christmas gift and they all got differing amounts of money based on their age. I think I saw every kid in about 15 different outfits throughout the day as they all tried out their new clothes, and then everyone else’s new clothes, looking for their new favorite style. That afternoon, I spent about 4 hours playing Connect 4 with about 40 different people…a game they had all gotten that morning and thus the only game with all the pieces.

Then today we had our Mafuta Christmas. Mafuta is a nearby village where we have a feeding center and preschool. For Christmas we have all the staff and a good number of the kids come over to play with our kids, have a big Christmas meal, and get some small gifts. 1 overfilled pickup truck, 1 stuffed van, and 2 crammed mini-bus loads of people later they were finally all here…and they sang the whole way! As soon as they arrived they all went sprinting in different directions—some to the playground, some to the basketball court, some to the netball court, some to the volleyball court, some to the soccer field, and still others just to random corners to play in the sand. But they were all having fun and that was the important part. Meanwhile, I went back to helping prepare a meal for 153 people. We had macaroni, potato/egg salad, mixed veggies, sausage, and meat bones. Then after lunch we handed out little gift bags of puppets, a beanie baby, and candy for each kid and larger gift bags of food for the staff. Then everyone crammed back in the vehicles--just a tad more overstuffed this time as all now had Christmas gifts and very full tummies.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Five Hundred Ninety-Eight

It takes 598 construction paper links to make a chain all the way around the main hall in the children’s home, in case you were wondering, haha. In light of looking for fun Christmas decorating ideas for the kids, I came across this “good deed chain” idea. Basically you have to do a good deed before each link can go up in the chain. I found out later from my mom why I subconsciously thought it was a good idea; I had done one when I was little and loved it, only completely forgotten about it. Anyway, I came up with 56 different things for them to do including memorizing Christmas story verses, singing Christmas songs, doing something nice for someone older/younger than you, making someone’s bed, making an ornament for the tree, and drawing a picture of what Christmas means to you. Then I made it a competition between the boys and the girls to see who could get from the one side to the other going in opposite directions. I questioned if it would take off or if one side would quickly give up, but it took off like wildfire. The girls took a very strong lead in the beginning, but that only further motivated the boys to get their butts in gear. Sadly (for the boys), it was a little too much of a beginning lead and girls won it, but the boys definitely fought hard till the end and made up a lot of difference. The girls ended up with 300 exactly and the boys 220. Even after winning, many of them are saying they want to keep going because its fun and helping them to memorize scripture!
Pictured here are Muny, Milinga, and Likuwa with the chain for our Christmas tree…decorating themselves for a little while before finally handing it over to the tree.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow...

Its Christmas time in Zion village…aka, winter coats, knit hats, scarves, sleigh rides, snow everywhere…well, not so much. But there is a lot of Christmas cheer as everything is now fully decorated and Christmas parties have commenced despite the ever-threatening sun and never-ending sweating in this 95 degree heat.
Earlier this week the kids spent an afternoon decorating the home. They decked out the tree with lights, christmas balls, home-made ornaments, paper chains, and mardi gras beads. After decorating the tree they spent the rest of the afternoon making more ornaments and decorating the walls with Christmas pictures. Towards the evening some of the girls and I squeezed out the last of our energy making Christmas cookies while the boys made their own Christmas tree…of the human sort.

Then today we had our staff Christmas party. Us girls spent the whole morning cooking and preparing different salads and desserts while the guys manned the braai outside steaming up tons of chicken and sausages. Once lunchtime came around we fed the kids then locked them in their rooms for a couple of minutes to ourselves for a grand feast of a party and the distributing of the staffs’ gifts. With traditional music in the background, one of the oldest staff women, Monica, danced her way to the table in excitement. Once everyone had finished eating, she got up and finished her dancing on top of the table!

A Fly On The Kuta Wall

On Wednesday I was asked to drive the local indunas (village chiefs) to the regional chief’s royal establishment for a meeting (the place where ‘Movin’ Muchembelles’ was held). I thought it was just a meeting to discuss chiefly things, but I arrived to find they were being called to tribal court (kuta). Before I’d left that morning they had told me to bring a tshirt and shetenge (traditional cloth wrapped as a skirt), but they had forgotten the part about the head covering until we’d arrived. To avoid being fined by the regional chief, some quick thinking led to wrapping my tank top around my head. We waited and waited outside the court building until finally one of the chief’s summoners came out and “clapped” to signify that the court was ready to be in session.

Now this is not really clapping as you or I would normally think of it, but rather, in this culture, its where both hands are cupped and put together softly to make a light clapping sound as a sign of respect, greeting, and/or thanks. The more respect being given, the louder it is (lightly audible instead of silent) and the farther you kneel down to the ground while doing it. According to the tradition of the tribal court, all must kneel at the door and ‘clap’ 5-6 times before entering and then get down and do it again after being seated. This particular day it was the 2nd in command to the regional chief that led the court and the clapping and kneeling occurred again when he entered.

In the front of the court sat 4 officials with the 2nd in command sitting on a wooden throne ornately carved with a hippo just above his head. The rest of us, about 20 indunas and other respected elders of the region, sat on benches. It was a rather short court session (only 2.5 hours) because those that summoned the court did not even show up. But the session still continued, just in the favor of those present. Part of it actually concerned the land where our children’s home is and the surrounding riverbanks, which are locale to several tourist lodges. Whenever someone either wanted to speak or was summoned to speak, he had to go up to the front, kneel/clap, and then sit on a reed mat with his legs straight out, just like a child would sit playing in the sand.

The allowance for cell phone usage within the court was something unexpected. Whenever someone’s phone would ring, the person would get up, kneel/clap, go to the door, kneel/clap again, then carry on with the phone call outside. They did the same kneeling/clapping ritual upon returning to the courtroom once finished. But it didn’t matter who it was…those leading the court or those in the court, I lost track of the number of times they went in and out after having their cell phone ring in the middle, but they left and entered respectfully at least.

After the court was over I was called over and asked if I would bring them back again the following day for an address by the chief himself. I wasn’t really left much choice to say no to such an official, so off we went again the following day. This time, I brought all the proper garb, especially since I would be in the presence of the regional chief himself. The 8 o’clock meeting began promptly…at 11. As always, it was hurry up and wait.

Everything was the same when entering the courtroom, but this time there was also respect given when the chief’s throne was carried in and again when the chief actually entered; each instance was kneeling with now 2 rounds of 10-12 ‘claps.’ This meeting was an official Chief Address. He had just been in Windhoek (the capital) with his 47 other colleagues, all the Ministries of Namibia, and the newly re-elected President of Namibia for a week-long, year-end meeting. Now he was to share with all his local indunas what was discussed. For both times I had the great privilege of a personal translator so I could know what was going on, but to sum up a 5 ½ hour meeting will be tough.

They started by giving a synopsis from what was said from each Ministry. The biggest of which being that there must be a stop to electing chiefs with no ancestral heritage and no chief must rule in another chief’s territory. This was emphasized many times. Additionally, each chief is only permitted to give 20 hectares of land to each person and that they must each now have a certificate of ownership. Then if they wanted more they had to apply for it. The chief did a new thing of opening up the floor forum style and things got a little crazy for a couple of hours, with there having to be order brought several times. Another tense discussion topic was about compensation from wild animal damage. All the prices were reported depending on what animal it was and what the damage was. For example, if an elephant crushed this much of your corn, you would get this amount.

Lastly there was a discussion on the weight of the tribal courts. Namibia, recently (1990) established as a democracy, has a co-existence in its justice system between civil and tribal courts. Though there are elected officials in civil positions, there is power still remaining in both the tribal leaders and their court systems. The chief spent some time reassuring them of that and motivating them of their responsibilities within their people and to bring appropriate things before the tribal court. I really knew I was amongst tribal Africa when they read off all the tribal court punishments and fines in terms of number of cattle and whippings. In a rather conservative fashion, everything from insulting your parents to theft to adultery to rape each had a cow amount to it. He emphasized this by pointing to the jail cell out back where the offender will stay until the full number of cattle was paid off. The biggest thing I didn’t expect in a tribal chief address was a beginning and ending prayer and even a Bible reference in one of his explanations!!

Though a very long 2 days, what a more unique privilege and way to learn to local culture than to get to sit in on the dealings of the tribal court system with all the local indunas and the head regional chief!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Many of our kids, though they don’t still have parents living, do still have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings remaining in the villages where they came from. Since most of their family members barely had the means to provide for themselves, they weren’t able to then provide for additional children the way they wanted to and thus how the COZ family has come about. These kids come from all over the Caprivi Region, the 3-hour stretch of Namibia’s northeastern panhandle (see Caprivi Tiddlybits). We try to take them for visiting as often as possible but are not able to often enough. And since they have little way of contacting their families ahead of time, it’s always hit or miss who will actually be around for them to see when they arrive.

On the most recent trip, we took 10 of the kids to the farthest part of the Caprivi. It was overall a very successful trip. They didn’t all find everyone they had anticipated, but also found some people they hadn’t expected and hadn’t seen in years. The most touching to me personally is when they get to reconnect with siblings. Some of them have siblings who were not placed in COZ care with them for various reasons. Some because they were the youngest, some because they were separated at the time, and still others because their extended family could take care of some of them while not others.

My favorite story of this last trip was with one of our older boys, Nico, who had been disconnected with his younger brother until just last year. His brother was now staying with his grandmother along the way to where we were going and he wanted to pick him up for the day and take him to visit the rest of his family farther out. When we got to the his grandmothers village he went in and asked, but, since he didn’t know that language very well, the grandmother thought he wanted to take him for good and of course said no. He sullenly walked back to the van reporting the sad news when one of our staff members realized the grandmother had probably misunderstood and went to go talk to her. He quickly got things cleared up and got permission. So we went back to wait while the 2 of them got ready to go. He had brought a bag of some of his old clothes he wanted to give his brother…but we didn’t realize that the make-over was why we were suddenly waiting so long. But finally they came out and the cuteness of it was worth it. Nico had replaced his brother’s dirty and torn school uniform with a baggy tshirt and shorts down to the knees, just the way he would wear them. They came out looking like twins and he walked around the rest of the day with his arm around his new-found little brother.