Swoosh! Rustle! Crack! Thud!
Nature’s gold has fallen down.
Thank you, mango tree.
Swoosh! Rustle! Crack! Thud!
Nature’s gold has fallen down.
Thank you, mango tree.
What a day. Although waiting 3 hours for people to arrive at the Kifuwe NHC Meeting and skipping lunch altogether was a bit frustrating, I was very happy and satisfied with today’s outcomes. At the meeting, Kifuwe NHC members elected a new Executive Committee, along with finalizing their constitution. It looks like they’re heading in the right direction, which is great news. After the meeting, I headed straight to the clinic to begin our first PS Ishiko program, a recuperation program for malnourished children, with Lubilo NHC and IYCF members. We enrolled 4 children and their mothers into the program yesterday, and today, cooking demonstrations, health education, and active feeding began. Today’s recipe was for Eggtastic, an egg scramble with rape leaves, tomatoes, and onions served as a side relish with nshima. The NHC and IYCF members were a little unorganized and discombobulated today since it was their first crack at it without my direct involvement, but by the end of the session, everyone was clear and on the same page on how sessions should be for the next 10 days. As the mothers were feeding their children, I watched the NHC and IYCF members smiled proudly at a job well done. The children gobbled up the food, and the mothers seemed happy and grateful to be there. There was a moment in time when I took all of this in that reminded me not to sweat the little things that frustrate me, to breathe more, and to be more present, instead of always trying to look ahead or worry about what’s to come. I realized that at the end of the day, if what needed to be done gets done, then everything’s okay, everything’s fine. And if it doesn’t get done, then either there’s another day, time, way, etc. to get it done or maybe it’s God’s way of saying that something else should be done instead.
Finally, a day off. The first rain of the season came and went last night and made watering my pigeon pea trees a whole lot easier this morning. I spent the day cleaning up my hut and organizing paperwork as James as Gabriel helped with washing dishes. These two boys are so helpful around the house. Almost every day, after I make breakfast for them, the boys help me with morning chores around the house in exchange for kwacha that goes directly into a savings jar devoted to new shoes for school. The boys currently go to school barefooted. We’ve grown really close to each other; if this is what it feels like to be a father one day, I can’t wait to be one in the future. I know I’m going to be a crying mess when I have to say goodbye to them. In other news, the heat is starting to become unbearable, increasing the number of cold, mid-day bucket baths. On the bright side, this will be my last hot season in country. In the world of Pokemon Go, I caught a Kabuto from lighting an incense, but I’ve run out of things to do – no eggs, no incense, no pokeballs. Sad.
A new Moleskin accompanied Starbucks, beef jerky, and a few must-reads among other exciting gifts from Jack and Andrew in a care package I picked up today. The package came at a perfect time. I needed a new journal and pens and the cravings for some real coffee and the new Harry Potter book needed to stop. As if the goodies weren’t enough, I got a little emotional reading Jack’s letter. It was really nice to receive news that Jack was accepted into AmeriCorps and that he was doing well. Jack is among a few friends who I’m always rooting for, always holding my breath and waiting to hear of amazing things that will happen to them because they, of all people, deserve it. I forget sometimes how much I miss my family and friends back home. It’s a little unbelievable that I’ll be seeing them in less than a year. I’m really excited to go home next August, but there’s still so much more I want to accomplish here in my village before that day comes.
… greetings are very important.
There are countless greetings for every time of the day: early morning, morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night, late night. And greetings just aren’t limited to the time of day, either. There’s just about a greeting for every action here in Zambia. If you’re working, there’s a greeting for it. Studying? There’s a greeting for that. Eating a mango? Greet away. Sitting around doing absolutely nothing? We’ve got a greeting for that, as well. Greetings are particularly important when addressing an elder or someone of high status, like a Chief, Senior Headman, or Headman. But, wait, there’s more!
Here in Northwestern Province, we’ve got hand gestures to go along with all those greetings! When greeting someone, you should shake that person’s hand, clap twice, and shake their hand a second time. If you are greeting an elder or someone of high status, a drop of one’s knee should be added to the shake-double clap-shake combo. And accompanying the dropped knee and the shake-double clap-shake, you should support your shaking hand with your other free hand, grasped firmly on your forearm.
When riding a bicycle and passing someone, you should greet them with the appropriate greeting for that time of day, while placing your right hand over your heart. And if you are passing an elder or someone of high status while riding a bicycle, you should get off your bicycle and greet them the way you would greet an elder, as previously described.
And I’ve saved the best for last, folks. When greeting a Paramount Chief or Chief of Chiefs, you’ll find yourself getting down on all fours, laying down, feet pointing away from the Paramount Chief or Chief of Chiefs, and rolling back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Just like nap time!
A compiled list of books I’ve read while serving in Zambia can be viewed here.
Book: The Unheard, Josh Swiller
Review: Great memoir. Super relevant. One thing’s for sure: things haven’t changed much since the 90’s when it comes to serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia.
“Africa: this strange, wounded animal. Africa: where it was so easy to reimagine yourself. Africa: where death—and laughter—is never far. The Mununga villagers buried children like dogs bury bones, but when you got past that you saw that they laughed more and worried less than any group of people you’d ever hope to meet.” (p.128)
“Sometimes, even when you don’t expect it, you just shake stuff off and move on.” (p.162)
“… I wondered what part of ourselves is formed from our communication with others and what part is untouched by it. And where could one find the untouched part? Because it seemed like the untouched part might be able to make sense of the ways things played out, while the touched part was completely at their mercy.” (p.216)
“It struck me that maybe this was what I had come to Africa to learn: not to save lives, not to exchange cultures, not to understand deafness or escape deafness or embrace deafness—just to be grateful for each moment.” (p.251)
Sometimes when you push past your comfort zones, amazing things can happen. I never knew how to sew, nor did I ever imagine myself learning how to sew back in the states. It was something that was out of sight, out of mind. And when I needed something sewn or a quick patch on something? The routine was simple: call Mom, let her know I needed her sewing magic, and viola! Instant fix. Like I said, out of sight, out of mind.
But when you’re living in a mud hut in the deep in the bushes of Africa, access to Mom’s sewing magic (among many other comforts of American life) isn’t readily available, and in order to maintain clothes that don’t look like they’ve just survived a world war, you find yourself nose-deep in books like “Stitch ‘n Bitch” by Debbie Stoller.
Learning how to sew was a slow and steady process, fully equipped with pinpricks and entanglements in thread or yarn, but eventually, with the help of neighboring Peace Corps Volunteer (and sewing extraordinaire), Kat, I came out alive, mastering a mean back stitch, among other techniques.
I knew learning something like this couldn’t be kept a secret, and I knew just the people I wanted to share these new skills with. So with a new sewing kit, four meters of new kitenge, and a brand new attitude towards sewing, I set off one Friday morning to meet the women of Yamakwakwa Women’s Club.
What took me two weeks to learn, these women got in 15 minutes. Before I knew it, everyone was weaving away, as if in a competition for the Guinness World Record for fastest back stitcher. Not wanting to fall behind, I took off my shoes, found a comfortable spot on the bamboo reed mat, and joined the race.
After an enjoyable four hours together, eight new drawstring bags were made! The women were super excited after everyone finished, not only because they learned a new skill or made a new drawstring bag, but because they accomplished something together as a group that could improve their lives and the lives of their families. Moving forward, the women of Yamakwakwa Women’s Club want to produce these drawstring bags and sell them in the market for money that will help put food on the table.
One of the best things about living within the very communities I work with is the opportunity to see growth as it happens in real time. This is very true of Chalimbana Youth Network, a group of 20 young men and women, some of whom came to me during the very first month of service at my site and told me that they wanted to establish a space for them to learn and gain skills for their future. They chimed in sync that learning beyond the classroom or even beyond the village was something that couldn’t be grasped. Family obligations, delivering newborn babies, cultivating fields, herding cattle, building huts… the list continues. These inherited (and often times inescapable) responsibilities didn’t allow them to venture far from home to obtain what they truly desired: continued education, training, and advancement. Their passion for learning motivated me to create tailored lesson plans and trainings, and within two weeks, we starting learning together as the Chalimbana Youth Network.
It is now almost March 2016, 6 months since we first met, and I’m happy to share that the Chalimbana Youth Network has grown in more ways than one. Yes, the size of the group grew from 6 to 20 members, but the real magic and growth lies within the confidence and self-efficacy of these young men and women. In just 6 months time, they’ve learned how to organize and mobilize as a community based organization, how to create and write a constitution, and how to apply for and open up a bank account. Most recently, they received an introduction to small business, where income-generating activities were shared and some best practices for small businesses were discussed, including how to create and interpret a budget.
Last Friday, February 19, 2016, I rolled up my lesson plans and flip-chart paper, hopped on my bike, and headed to meet the members of Chalimbana Youth Network, second guessing what I had planned for the day. I thought, “It’s only been a week since you taught them budgeting. How are they going to get into small groups, create a business plan, and propose a budget?” I learned quick never to second guess this group ever again.
Sixteen members were present that day, splitting themselves into groups of four. I gave them the assignment and instructions and when I called them all back after an hour of planning and teamwork, I found myself listening to very organized presentations on four specific small business proposals: 1) Poultry Cooperative, 2) Garden and Produce Business, 3) Charcoal Business, and 4) Baked Goods. And their budgets and balance sheets? Flawless***.
Chalimbana Youth Network will be continuing their learning next month with a series of workshops on grants and scholarships, allowing them to utilize their budgeting skills in a different context. The hope is that by the time I finish my service in Zambia, these young men and women will be equipped with enough knowledge to not only seek funding opportunities, but to be able to apply for (and be awarded) these grants and scholarships that can be life-changing.
One of the nice things about some Peace Corps site placements in Zambia is the clustering of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). Site clustering allows PCVs to be able to support each other, and it gives us the opportunity to collaborate on programs and projects. Although my site isn’t technically a cluster site, I do have other PCVs who live within my district.
A total of 5 PCVs live in our district, Mufumbwe. Kat, my closest neighbor, lives in the district capital, Mufumbwe, which is about 15km (roughly 9 miles) away from me. Kat is German-American and loves to sew. I visit her whenever I head into town to do market shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables and whenever I need to do some work at the Internet Cafe; this is about once or twice a month. When I spend the night at her site, we enjoy each other’s company over Cappuccinos or Vietnamese Coffee, as we cook extravagant dinners together. And by extravagant, I mean cheeseburgers.
Heading east, past Kat, is MarMar, who lives in Nyansonso, which is about 75km (roughly 47 miles) away from me. MarMar and I flew in together into Zambia, and out of our entire intake of 64 Health/Education PCVs, we were the only two in our language group, Kiikaonde. MarMar and I spent A LOT of time together during training, since it was just us two, but now that she’s so far away, I don’t see MarMar often. When I do, it’s nice to hear what she’s been up to.
And making a U-turn back west for about 140km, heading past Kat’s site and past my own site in Lubilo, you’ll find the other two PCVs living in Kashima East. Kashima East is about 45 km (roughly 28 miles) away from Lubilo. Chad and Aubrey (otherwise known as Chaubrey) are a married couple from New Hampshire; the nicest, most sincere, and querkiest couple you will ever meet in your life. Chad is an Education PCV; Aubrey, a Health PCV. Chad worked as an Adult Literacy Teacher back in the states, and Aubrey helped save lives in a hospital as a Registered Nurse. Whenever we get together, it’s always a good, memorable time, fully equipped with food, boardgames, and fun. They are both running enthusiasts, as well, so it’s nice to have them close so I can have some running buddies.
Kat and I traveled to Kashima East this past weekend to celebrate Chad’s 30th birthday, deep in the bushes of Africa! Kat brought some fresh vegetables from the market and I brought some Trader Joe’s goodies to share which were sent to me two weeks ago from my cousin back in the states. Thank you, Lynn! Love you!
Together, we rang in Chad’s dirty 30 with two pizzas, a chocolate cookie cake, snacks up the wazoo, movies, and boardgames.
We watched 21 Jump Street (super funny movie; totally missed this one when it came out back in 2012) and The Revnant (as much hype as it got, I didn’t really like it) and played Muchkin: Adventure Time (one of my new favorites) and Querkle (so fun!). We even snuck in a 15km morning run through brambles and bushes on Sunday morning. Chad and Aubrey are currently training for and running the Mt. Kilimanjaro Half-Marathon, and as many of you know, I’m training for and running the Victoria Falls Marathon in July (you can follow my training here!)
Chad, Aubrey, and Kat will all be finishing their service in August this year, so they’ll be leaving in 6 months time, and a new intake of Health/Education PCVs will be coming in when they exit. I remember the very day when I met each of these amazing PCVs, all of whom welcomed me with open arms into our district, Mufumbwe. They’ve helped me in more ways than one, showing me the ropes, answering questions and giving advice, and just simply being great, new friends. I’m so grateful for them and will miss them so much when they leave. You got big shoes to fill, incoming PCVs!
Meet the Namusanchila Youth Network! This group of young men and women wanted to extend their learning beyond the classroom, so together, we met for the first time today, and created the Namusanchila Youth Network! “Namusanchila” means “I thank you” in Kikaonde, one of the many local languages here in our catchment area.
Members of Namusanchila Youth Network are all youth, ages 15-25, who all reside within Kajilakwenda Village in the Kamabuta zone of our catchment area. They’ve voiced collective interest in acquiring entrepreneurial skills to become future businessmen and businesswomen of Zambia. “I believe these skills will help me with my future. I want to learn how to be a business owner so I can help my family,” chimed in Slyvester, who was elected today as the Network’s Secretary.
Looking forward, all members will teach and learn from one another, as well as professionals from the community. The Namusanchila Youth Network is invested in learning about various income-generating activities and learning English. And after learning and acquiring these skills, helping their community is of utmost importance to the them.
Sylvester continued, “After I become successful, I want to be able to give back to those who have helped me. It is important to be thankful always.”