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MIT student blogger Mitra L. '07

You Can Plan a Pretty Picnic by Mitra L. '07

... but you should also research the weather.

… but you should also research the weather.

I am still mentally, physically, intellectually, and emotionally reacting to the three weeks I spent in Zambia. To make a long story short, the only road to Mwape (the rural village where we were supposed to stay and perform water testing for two weeks) was completely flooded, so we were unable to make the trip. Instead, we spent more time in the capital city of Lusaka, where we: 1) met with government programs (the Agricultural Support Programme) and NGOs (Peace Corps, CARE), 2) visited orphanages, schools, compounds, and 3) tried to strengthen ties with the University of Zambia (UNZA) administration.

After this trip, I have some conflicting views on development work, humanitarian efforts and the motivation behind them, international aid, and globalization. Even before going, I thought and read about these issues often, but I think it is different now. It is one thing to understand a fact or condition (e.g. “In 2000, an estimated 73% of the population lived below the official poverty line”) — and I mean really to understand this fact intellectually — and it is another thing to go somewhere and witness this fact living out its daily life. (Add to this the phenomenon of knowing that you knew so little and by extension still know so little, except now you are aware of how little you know. Conscious incompetence.)

As I reflect more on these issues, I will post my questions along with accompanying photographs, and invite you to comment with what you think.

For now, here are some photographs of our trip.

A legal compound a few kilometers outside of Lusaka.

A guesthouse, where foreigners often stay.

A school for 1000 1st through 8th graders, at least 70 of whom are parentless and sponsored by an NGO.

35 responses to “You Can Plan a Pretty Picnic”

  1. Amjad says:

    o yeah!


    that’s it lol

  2. Amjad says:

    wait wait wait…
    that wasn’t the post i saw mins ago!!!!!

  3. Amjad says:

    Impressive, very deep!

  4. Mitra says:

    Hey Amjad, You’re right — I posted the text part first and then revised it and added photos.

  5. Solomon says:

    Mitra, coming from Africa I think it is the first picture which really shows the true state of Africa and the developing world as a whole. There are even worst places than the first picture. I am glad you have witnessed it first hand Mitra. Some day I hope you will really do your best to help change this situation.

  6. Confused says:

    Has anybody heard or read of GLOBAL YOUNG LEADERS CONFERENCE. What crap is it? They sent me an email telling me that I have been nominated. MItra or anybody else, if u know about it just explain it here. Thanks

  7. Confused says:

    Has anybody heard or read of GLOBAL YOUNG LEADERS CONFERENCE. What crap is it? They sent me an email telling me that I have been nominated. MItra or anybody else, if u know about it just explain it here. Thanks

  8. Sueleyman says:

    I am also nominated to GLOBAL YOUNG LEADERS CONFERENCE. I have no idea how they got my name and my e-mail address. I hope that somebody can inform me.

  9. José P. says:

    “The Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) is a unique leadership development program that brings together outstanding young people from around the world to build critical leadership skills in a global context.

    GYLC offers students the opportunity to learn from and exchange ideas with some of the world’s top business leaders, policy officials, lobbyists, journalists, diplomats and academics in the challenging and dynamic environments of Washington, D.C. and New York City or Vienna, Budapest and Prague.”

    Official Website / Contact CYLC

  10. Mitra ché (alt+0233(numpad)), I really envy you for being able to go to such places…

  11. Paritosh says:

    hey…..i also got invited for GYLC. I remember my bro also getting invited for the same thing. I dunno how useful it is but anywayz i wont b able to make it to the meeting. Is anybody going there????

    Can anyone please inform me if we can submit the financial aid application through E-mail. Please reply quick to this one coz the deadlines approaching.

  12. Yah they have nominated me also……………….

    But don’t know how they got my address etc…..
    And not only that, there’s people to people future leadership program, the International Student volunteer program…etc .

    So are you going there? Anybody?
    I seriously wanted to go there, Alas, no financial support.

    smile anyway good luck for who are able to go……grinh

  13. reddy says:

    hey the gylc nominated guys,
    i have been nominated to, is there anyone who has already been to one and can share his/her experiences?

  14. Paritosh says:

    Can anyone please inform me if I can submit my Financial Aid Application through e-mail. If yes how so???……please reply fast to this post as i need to submit my appli. urgently……Thanks in advance…..HURRY!!!

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for posting the pix! I posted earlier hoping you would. It really helps us, those who haven’t had such an experience, try to understand as well.

    and reddy, I went to NYLC last year. It’s the same program but a different section. It was pretty cool. It occurs to me now that I kind of only went because I thought it might be a little interesting but would help on the college app…only I don’t think I put it on any apps. Hmmm… it was really fun though, and educational at the same time. Much more fun than it sounds though.

  16. m says:

    hi nice pics though its apparent that the government is more concered about its tourists then its people. the bazzar looks nice. not meddling but what did u get as souveniergs?(i hope i got the spellings right)

  17. Solomon says:

    Timothy: Are you really the presec guy I know. If you are then flash me to confirm.

  18. Guyomar says:

    Hi Mitra. This is off-topic…I was reading your introduction and noticed that you mentioned liking ‘Integration by parts’. I love it too. I remember my Mathematics teachers warning me that integration was a long chapter, and advising me to know all the rules well, and practice a lot. Lucky for me, I actually enjoy differentiation, integration and differential equations. It was the best part of studying in the last two years (other than my language classes) at school.

    Anyway, back to your post. It’s true that when you really start experiencing something, instead of just reading about it (the theoretical aspect), your perspective is bound to change. You suddenly realise that actually facing something/living it makes you question what you already know. You also think to yourself how little you knew, and how little you know even now. Finally, you are left with even more questions than before, feeling more ignorant than ever.

    And that’s what I love about life! Knowing that there’s always more to know, to discover. There’s always something to find out about at the next turn, something to learn. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where there were no more questions, where there was no more mystery, where all the puzzles had been solved. One of the things that makes me happiest is solving a riddle, a problem. It’s my own little discovery, my reward after hours of frustration.

    Blether Blether… Blether on Guyomar…

  19. Mitra's mom says:

    About the GYLC, when my daughter was nominated we sought the HS counselor’s advice. We were told that in her opinion the program is a ‘business’. They nominate just about any half-decent high school student. Its value added on your college application is zero. It may, however, be a fun camp to attend and a good learning opportunity. But, my daughter decided not to go.

  20. Anshu says:

    Nice post mitra!!! its hard to believe that ppl still live in such conditions…
    n ya i too got d glyc thing…i guess they send it to everyone…Anyone planning to go???

  21. Paritosh says:

    Hey Guyomar….
    indeed Calculus is probably the easiest and the MOST INTERESTING part of 12th standard. I love solving calculus problems listening to my iPod. Its awesome fun man!!!…

  22. Was-confused says:

    Mitra’s Mom? huh? Well thanks ma’am for the advice. Like ur daughter I am also not going because many many people appear to be nominated for GYLC. I just feel wierd how they got my private info like address and other things. I think I’ll be emailing about it to Collegeboard. Anyways guys all GYLC nominees DO NOT ATTEND CUZ MIT STUDENTS DONT ATTENT GYLC JUST LIKE MITRA!! ; -} and thanks once again Mitra’s mom.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hello Mitra! I’m from Bangladesh and the situation here is almost the same as that you witnessed in Zambia. There are villages where conditions are even worse than the ones in your pics. Why doesn’t MIT arrange development work for South Asian countries too?

  24. Timothy says:

    I couldn’t agree better with Solomon. Coming from Ghana, I believe the situation is not very different in majority of the country. The irony is that, there is a lot of wealth here. It will really help if that wealth could be distributed equitably.

  25. Hi anonymous, tumio ki amr motoi bangle bhasae kotha bolo? ami epar theke, mane West bengal…

  26. Bangladesher kothae thako tumi? ami Nadiae, mane tomader joshor er paschime.

  27. ONE THING I could spot here in the first pic familiar to me is a plantain …. Mane kola gachh… ki kola jani na…

  28. Michelle says:


    I honestly hope that you can get to terms with your trip to Zambia. Now that you know the relative poverty that a lot of people live in, you’re more inspired to change the world around you! That’s a good thing, yeah? So, use your amazing MIT knowledge to change the world for the better. smile

    (Oh, and to lead to the GYLC thread weaving through the comments, a LOT of people get nominated for these things. I’d digress and say how the process works (roughly), but I’d rather not.. not at this time, anyways.)

  29. Guyomar says:

    Hey Paritosh…I usually take my homework up on the roof when it’s not too hot. I spend some time each evening meditating on the roof. Lol. I think that’s something I’ll miss when I go away to school.

    Was-Confused, I won’t be attending GYLC either. If it were an all-expenses paid trip, wonderful! But I can’t really afford to go otherwise.

  30. To Mitra’s Mom and was confused (will-have-to-be-kinda-confused lol)…… To me, if I get the money from somewhere, it’s an opportunity to visit new country, and make new friends……

  31. Hi Mitra….. i recently came to know Mitra means the sun god in ancient Persian, i.e. babylonian . Is it true? In my mother tongue Mitra (pronounce mitro)means a friend. LOL!

  32. it has emotional touch

  33. Dan says:

    Sorry Ms. Jackson!

  34. Udit says:

    hi mitra…. saw ur blog….its nice

    well ur name suggests that u r an indian…. if so cud u pls help me….
    i am in india
    i am about to enter my 12th grade…… i wish to get in to MIT… can u pls let me know that by when would i have to give my toefl….. and also my sat…. i would be thankful to u…

  35. TKD says:

    Verrrrry interesting . . .

    Perhaps one day you could share some of that “conscious incompetence” with some of my seniors — cycle some of that valuable knowledge back into society — “planting seeds”, as they say…

    Sounds, looks exciting!