It’s Sunday. Sunday is church day. Yesterday Austen asked if I was religious. I paused for a moment weighing my options. Lie about being religious and probably have to back it up in some form, or tell the truth and perhaps jeopardize trust and face two weeks of trying to be converted. I decide to go for the honest more risky option.
“I don’t believe in god.” He wasn’t shocked, nor seemed unsettled in anyway. He only pronounced he was Jehovah’s Witness and invited me to church.
“Ahh, Spainca, we go to church!” I say I will go.
After my bucket shower and breakfast of maize porridge Austen suggests we go visit farmers following the service. Soon am on the back of his bike heading to meet the third CLA who will come with us to church and on the farmer visit.
Austen has his own living compound with cattle, 2 huts, shower area, and small kitchen. 300 meters north along a narrow foot path with cotton on one side and maize on the left, his father, Mr. Zewa, has his own home. This one is larger, has a tin roof instead of thatch, and a small solar panel on the roof. Across from that is a larger kitchen area and my hut. Just behind Mr. Zewa’s home is a small creek and just less than a kilometer past the creek is Lemick’s. Lemick is the third CLA and AZCC agent
The luxurious foam pads of the bike taxis in Chipata are just a memory as I bump up and down painfully on the rebar rack. I start to wish for a short ride.
When we arrive at the farmers home I am relieved there is no talk of piglets. As Lemick, Austen and I sit down with the farmer, Austen pulls out a piece of paper with a PROFIT/USAID letterhead. He hands it to Lemick. It is a survey for farmers asking about land size farmed and type of crop, and has been assigned by PROFIT. There are about 100 in total to complete between the 4 agents in Chinjala. Austen tells me has already completed 60, and it is clear this is the first time Lemick is seeing the sheet. They start interviewing the farmer.
“What is the total land you farm?”
The farmer pauses in thought, “6 hectares”.
They then go through how many hectares of each crop he farms. I notice if you add up the breakdown it does not equal the total the farmer gave in the first question. I wonder how many surveys were done like this. I show Austen and Lemick, they talk with the farmer in Chinyanja until Lemick scratches out and changes one of the numbers. I start to question whether or not if farmers even know how much land they cultivate.
I go on to ask the farmer about markets for their crops and we talk about the FRA, briefcase buyers, government subsidies, and the struggles of farming in rural Zambia. At the end he said something that summed up the theme of the conversation, “Farming is out natural duty to feed ourselves and our family – sweet through sweat.”
On the walk back I start asking Lemick about his job as an Agent. As a Dunavant buyer and distributor he finds it easy. The company delivers cotton seeds and inputs to Lemick so he can easily distribute them to farmers. When he buys the cotton, Dunavant comes and picks it up and drops off his commission. They also provided him a bike, work clothes, and a high incentive to perform. The reason he’s not very active with AZCC and as a CLA starts to become obvious. If you had three jobs on the side of being a farmer, you would focus your energy on the easier more successful one also.
My mind is also on the surveys. The agents must go door to door to complete the surveys and receive no compensation. What is this data for? The agents feel obligated to do them because they were assigned by their “boss at PROFIT”. But, why do they feel PROFIT employees are their boss? Shouldn’t they consider their boss to be their vet camp officer? Or someone at AZCC? I mean, after you are trained for a profession at university do you refer to your professor as your boss?
It’s after supper and I am sitting in the tin roofed house of Mr. Zewa. His wife is in Lusaka with one of his children who is in the hospital there, but the rest of the family and I are circled around an oil lamp.
“Spainca! I hear you do not believe in god?” The truth is out, news travels fast in rural Zambia. I have received at least 4 pamphlets on Jehovah’s Witness ideology and bible study guides while passing through the villages today. From complete strangers. I’m infamous within my first three days.
I explain to Mr. Zewa that I am a scientist and believe in evolution. He gets up and disappears into the darkness to the back of the house chuckling and shaking his head. He returns with pamphlet called ‘The Origins of Life – 5 Answers to Life’s Big Questions’. He goes through it with me, reading slowly in English and following each word with his finger, pausing every once and a while and looking at me to make sure I am still paying attention. He flips the page and in the middle is the iconic illustration of the transformation from ape to caveman to modern us.
“This is what you believe?” He points and laughs.
For some reason in Canada evolution makes perfect sense, it is easy to explain to people. However, the argument of single celled organisms -> apes -> me, and the basis of Darwin’s theory is difficult to make convincing when you are sitting by candle light in rural Zambia. In fact, it is impossible. I find the observation a little amusing and we laugh together.
“There is no proof for it my son, no proof.”
“Where is the proof there is a God?”
“The bible, God spoke to those who wrote it”, he says as if it were a silly question.
“Where is the proof for that?”
“AHHHhhaha!” He says in a tone that is both ‘you got me’ and ‘I can see it will take time to convince you’ at the same time.
“I hope when you return to Canada you will become a religious man Spainca. Then I will see you in Gods Kingdom my brother, and say ‘Spainca! Is that you?!’”
We continue to laugh.