While it is always exciting when we return to Kantolomba, it is doubly exciting when someone new from Sangha joins us. As we drove into the Living Compassion project today, smiling and waving children crowded around the van, greeting Jen and newcomer Beth. The children were quick to say “Hello,” “How are you?” “What’s your name?” in English. And we were quick to respond to such enthusiastic use of this new language for them! It was especially wonderful to see how much adults and children alike wanted to know how to say “Beth,” repeating the pronunciation without hesitation until it became clear and big smiles and high fives celebrated the accomplishment. What a reminder that there are no mistakes, just learning something new!
Soon the shouts of “kopeniko” (take my photo) rang out. It is nearly impossible to get a clear portrait of a single child. As soon as you lift the camera, a dozen children (often boys!) race to place themselves at the center of the frame, preferably with a super-hero pose.
But we out-smarted them and finally got a shot of this adorable fellow!
As lunchtime was just beginning for the littlest ones, Beth was introduced to many of the team, including some new members of the Saturday lunch crew. Yes, it is Saturday!!! Wahoo! These 1,000 children are here at Living Compassion 7 days a week! Go team!
Lining up to wash hands before lunch
Always so colorful!
Amazing. This maybe 7-year old girl, with her baby sister on her back, hoisting herself up onto the porch.
In a nearby classroom, the new Girls Program was being held and the girls stood and sang Beth a welcome song.
The Girls Program
Martha, our project accountant, had come out for the day. While she and Jen met, Theresa whisked Beth away for a tour of the project. As they neared the kitchen, Peter and Charles were carrying a big pot of mealy-meal over to the lunch room.
Peter and Charles.
Outside the kitchen, the women cooking that day were taking a break. They showed off the huge paddle spoon used to stir the nchima and promised to come and get Beth when the next pot was ready for stirring.
Taking a break between nchima batches.
Foster and Veronica show off the nchima paddle.
Meanwhile Martha and Jen were discussing possibilities for Martha’s involvement with the Girls Program. Martha is a very successful accountant. She grew up near Kantolomba with a background not dissimilar from the girls in the program. Her husband died when her four children were still very young. She had sole responsibility for raising and financially supporting them. She has done a remarkable job. Her eldest has just finished law school; the next is studying business. Her younger two are on a similar track. She is an excellent role model for what is possible.
Some young girls come to greet Jen and Martha. It is exciting that each year more and more children have the language and the confidence to approach us!
It wasn’t long before “Older Foster” (to distinguish between the two Fosters on the team) came to alert Theresa that the nchima-cooking was imminent. Off Beth went, complete with a hat and clean hands—they take their cooking sanitation quite seriously. What looks easy for the women who are there every day doing it is a whole new experience for a musungu!
Beth learning the technique
The pot is completely filled with boiling water. They start pouring in the mealy-meal, the consistency of dry polenta. When it starts to be full, you begin stirring, in quick stabs up and down. The technique is very exact. You must keep the mixture moving so it doesn’t become lumpy. Meanwhile, more mealy-meal is added until you are sure the pot is about to overflow, except that the quick stirring allows the water to absorb the new mealy-meal. As the mixture gets thicker and thicker, the stirring gets faster and faster and requires enormous strength. The women operate in tag-team fashion, one doing it for a few minutes, then replaced by another. Two paddle spoons are in the mixture at all times, so it takes about 4-6 women to cook one pot. Nearing the end, the paddles are used in a scoop, lift and flip motion, almost like kneading the mixture.
Blurry but we think it shows the fun of it!
They call in the experts for the end of the process.
Soon declared done, one woman then uses a lunch plate to scoop the piping hot food into a tub for transport to the children. The bucket is hoisted onto one of the women’s heads to be transported to the lunch room. What an example of strength and grace acting together!
Scooping into the bucket.
Margaret will carry it over.
A pot of water coming to a boil for the next batch. 1,000 children is a LOT of batches of nchima!
It is always heartening to see that the men also participate in the cooking.
Peter helps prepare the tomatoes for a dish.
We followed the nchima over to be with some of the children as they ate, always one of the greatest pleasures of being on the property.
She could easily fit in the pot holding the vegetables for today’s “relish.” Relish is the word for anything that accompanies nchima.
And wow again! (You can see why we love this so much, huh?)
The team is truly a well-oiled machine. As the cooks for the week (they rotate) are starting the next pot, another team is washing the plates.
After eating, wash your plate.
We got to sit in on the end of the Girls Program just before they “knocked off” for the day.
Ethel working with the girls.
And then we had a great treat—we got to spend some time with four of the grade 11 girls. That was a grand pleasure. We sat down to get to know them a bit, and were blown away by how conversant they were. They understood our questions and were able to answer in English. This is new! We took advantage of the small group to use the computer and let them learn their way around some more.
Left to right: Mirriam, Sylvia, Ethel, Rachel, Jen
We googled Kantolomba. One of the first results was a video we made fairly early on in the project. None of us had seen it in years. It was so moving to watch it together—each of us shouting out names of children we recognized who all looked so little compared to their contemporary selves! The video laid out a history of the project to that date and Veronica remarked with a huge smile, “We are really making a difference!” And the fun part is that we have done so much more since then! It was a tangible reminder for all of us of just how far we have come!
Enjoying the Living Compassion video together.
The girls get to have some time to navigate themselves.
A few more treats before calling it a day:
“Mr. President” came for a visit. This is a young fellow, Celestino, who told us once that he plans to be the President of Zambia one day and has since been called Mr. President by the entire community. He poses here with Theresa.
Beautiful vine growing on the property fence.
Theresa poses with many of the girls in the program.
And the team rest at the end of another amazing day!