Of Leaps and Leadership

It’s a beautiful silent serenity. The half-full moon’s light floods the yard around my hut, and the packed-down red dirt paints a mural with the shadow of the mango trees. At night is when my mind can slow down, my heart can expand, my lungs can breathe deeply in the presence of my Zambian family. My Tonga is steadily improving, and I’d say 90% of our conversation is now in Tonga. It’s something to look forward to every day, as I weave my way across the good patches of the sandy road home from work. It’s extremely humbling to be interacting in another language. One of my favourite phrases is “Ndilaswilila maningi, ndavwla ashonto” meaning I’m listening very much and I’m understanding a bit. Which pretty much sums it up -> I spend a lot of time listening. To words, to sounds, to gestures, to posture. I wish I could articulate so much more to everyone I live with – but to my host mother Florence in particular. In “hard knowledge” terms I honestly don’t know too much about her, but in human contact – shared time, space, meals and eye contact – we know each other so well.

I’ve been moving around a lot lately – and swallowing deep drinks of guilt each time I have to tell my family how long I’ll be gone for. I spent a week in Choma – learning from Zambia’s best in CLTS – which was really eye opening. The place was swelling with leadership, and I really want to figure out what the early days were like. How do you spark so many people to action, and how do you make existing structures work for you? Then I also spent a good 4 day weekend in Livingstone, which is home to Victoria Falls, and is a bit of a tourist hot-spot. Restaurants, white-water rafting, sunset safari cruise, waterfall visits and bungee jumping. We went all out, and complemented it with some deep and powerful discussions about our experiences in Zambia, and our perceptions of this thing called development.

The gorge below is absolutely stunning. Beautiful green cliffs and way down below is the water that has just leapt over the falls, and is sorting itself back out afterwards. The sun has past its peak, and is bringing warmth and make-up to the scenery. I peek over the edge of the bridge and lose my bearings. I give my head a shake and bring my eyes to focus on the distance ahead of me, rather than the distance below me. I manage to psyche myself up and focus on leaping as high as I can – rather than contemplating what happens shortly after I stop moving up, and start to plummet head-first below. 3, 2, 1… I throw myself out there. My brain froze in disbelief – what person in their right mind throws their body off a huge bridge? Eyes widening, lungs filling, heart hammering. The freedom of free-fall is very deservant of the title – speeding to infinity and slowing to a stop in one fell swoop. What a rush!!

So I’ve got roughly 2 weeks left in my placement which is way too short – but at least I’ve managed to separate myself from that ever-moving clock. My friend Tony had a beautiful way of putting it – which is that we’re here until the end of a time period, not the end of a task or a project. It’s not necessarily easy to accept, but that’s reality. I feel like I’m short-changing so many relationships, opportunities and experiences by packing up and leaving Mazabuka just when I’ve started getting comfortable. But to spew out too many paragraphs on that topic would hardly be living in the moment, would it? I’m definitely excited for Canada – the people, the potential – to see my home through a different lens. And without a doubt my time this summer has solidified and grown my commitment to Africa, to Zambia -> more specifically to Zambia’s people. Like Alfred, like Florence, like Edmond, like Febby.

A major component of CLTS is leadership – and we talk about finding natural leaders within communities. Makes me wonder what are the core qualities of a leader – not only amongst the participants of triggering meetings here in rural Zambia, but also in students in Canada, in politicians internationally. In CLTS we look for people who speak up, who actively participate, who have influence over other people. The spark that really reveals it is when people get outraged – they say this is NOT acceptable, and we have to do something about it. Their sphere of responsibility extends beyond just their own household and family, and includes the entire community. At the core, I think this comes down to caring. It takes mental and emotional energy to care about people, and it’s too easy to just disassociate yourself from something so that it doesn’t matter. The next piece of leadership is speaking up – like the women in Choonza village today who challenged their own village headman after his quoted price to build a local toilet was ridiculous. They spoke their mind loud and clear, and let it be known that they care, despite what their friends might think. Finally, it takes action to be a leader. Spend the time, spend the energy – sink yourself into the task at hand. It’s a simple way of thinking, but I’m not convinced that the world needs another 400 page book on the depths of leadership theory. I think it needs people who care deeply, and are willing to put themselves out there to create the change that’s needed.


~ by mikeklassen on July 31, 2009.

3 Responses to “Of Leaps and Leadership”

  1. So good to hear you sounding at peace with your situation – being there and knowing you will be leaving. As ever, gorgeous pictures. We can’t wait to have you home. XX

  2. “…but I’m not convinced that the world needs another 400 page book on the depths of leadership theory” – Right on, brotha! I will be quoting you forever on this!

  3. […] Mike had an opportunity to volunteer in Africa through Engineers Without Borders during the summer and I loved reading his reflections. […]

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