Nikki Packer Learns the Zambian handshake from the children at the Lubuto Library Project
This week at work has been really good although there has been a lot to take in. The kids at Fountain of Hope are really starting to trust me (I think). I know this for two reasons - firstly because of the way they greet me. In Zambia, handshakes are big news (a slight problem for a person carrying a possible broken knuckle due to an overzealous sledging injury before she left the UK! It's getting better but sometimes it catches when I greet someone and I have to explain why I have winced). There is the 'English' style handshake, which is what I got at first. Then we progressed to the Zambian handshake - involving shifting your hand around to 3 different positions - I am an expert at this now! It seems that, depending on how well you know/like the person you are greeting, you can start with your hand high up in the air; so some of the kids will walk towards me with their hands held above their ears and bring it down to meet my hand with a great clap! Then there are the high fives and fist bumps, shoulder bumps, double shoulder bumps, and there are a couple who just go straight in for a hug! Secondly I have been invited to eat lunch with in the Fountain of Hope dining room with the staff and kids (it's not just the residents who are fed at lunch time, any kid who uses the Fountain can eat there - and that's a lot of nshima!). Nshima is the staple food in Zambia. It's maize meal - the best comparison I can make for people in the UK is that it's like polenta, but white, and a bit more solid. You eat with your right hand (never your left!) by rolling the nshima into a little ball, putting a dent into it and using it to scoop up your relish (meat/sauce/vegetables). Unless your meat is something like a chicken wing, that is, and then you eat that on its own! It's a technique which I haven't quite got the hang of yet... Anyway, being invited to eat there is quite a big honour for me as it shows I am seen as a member of Fountain of Hope.
As I am getting to know the kids, some of them are telling me things about their lives. One lad asked me to 'read his book', which is a notepad in which he is writing his life story. After finishing reading it I was completely speechless. Nobody should ever have to experience the things that this guy has, and yet here he is, having finished school; planning for a future (he wants to buy a grocery shop which he is saving for by selling art works). I told him that he should be very proud of himself for how far he has come, and he has asked me to help him to finish writing his book, as he still has lots to tell the world.
There is another boy who is the youngest resident at Fountain of Hope . A beautiful little boy with big brown eyes (I wonder what terrible things those eyes have seen). After I was introduced to the boys last week, he came up to me and very shyly asked if I would teach him to read. I said I would gladly help him. Since then he has been into the library twice and read two Dr Seuss books with me. He really struggles with his reading but he is clearly trying really hard. Each time we finish a book, or if he reads a passage unaided, he looks up at me with such a look of happiness in his face, and I think that if all I do while I am here is teach him to read, then my stay will have been a valuable one.
However, I do of course have lots more to do than that! So in other library news - a trainee librarian has been appointed and should start work soon; I'm learning more and more about the valuable work that Fountain of Hope does, and how they use the Library to do it; I have written a rota for the boys who help in the library during the mornings and hope to get some afternoon helpers too; the drama programme has started up again and there is a possible joint project with the Lusaka International School in the pipeline; the books are still not in order but to be honest, I think there are other things that the kids need more from their library at this point (I might be cast out of the Librarian community for that one though!). Oh, and not only do I now have my own key for the door of the library but I have been promised a key to the staff toilet - and my own roll of loo paper!