The men marching single file down the bush trail in front of me stop abruptly. Excited, they point and exclaim. What? A snake! Where? I strain my eyes, follow their pointing fingers, but I can’t see anything.
“It looks like a stick,” they explain. Then I see it – a long thin grey line, looking for all the world like a piece of the dead tree, sticking out into thin air only a few feet from me. Someone picks up a big stick to kill it, but not before Robert takes a few pictures. It’s safe enough – it hasn’t flared it’s ‘nostrils’. Then it’s dead. We move on to look at another farmer’s field.
Carol didn’t get her farm loan renewed this year because she still has a large part of her last year’s outstanding. Her story disturbs me greatly. I was so happy for her last year. She was given a loan by the church to grow a plot of maize and was expecting a good harvest. The maize would provide food for her three children and some to sell. She was a proud woman – until that drunkard husband of hers slipped out at night, stole her maize and sold it for booze. He took her last bag of maize from her too, and she was left hungry for three days with her children.
The church is counselling with her and has sent her to victim’s counselling. The sad thing is that this story is just too common.
I was surprised that the women’s small business loans weren’t more successful. Most of the loan money came back, but Pastor Jessy says not one of the women is still carrying on with the business. He suspects many of them didn’t even start. What went wrong?
Jessy says most of these women have never handled money. Their men take care of everything financial. If they need money for food, the men go buy the food. Women are more afraid of defaulting on a loan than men, so they might have been too afraid of the risk and done nothing. Or they began a business, returned the loan, and used the money to buy things. Looks like our training needs improvement! If you have any good leads here, let me know please.
I talked to a Zambian social worker with experience in rural areas. Ernest says that if the men are not involved in these business loans from the beginning, the women will usually fail. The men need to be invited to the initial meetings and taught what the loans are about, and the women need their consent. Otherwise the women won’t have the courage to try.
That explains the answer my two widowed Zambian friends gave when I asked them if they were married: “No, we are widows,” they replied. “We are free!”
Spending a week in the villages with our Zambian farming friends was a huge learning experience again. We enjoyed the fellowship, the walks through the bush (including the snake part!), and seeing the fruit of their labour. There are good things going on, for all the sad stories in between.