” … Down in Africaaaaa”

Well, folks, it looks like my dismal track record with cell phones has followed me to Sub-Saharan Africa. My phone decided to cease all charging capabilities last week, and since then, I have been without phone. Apologies for missed messages and calls! Hoping I’ll be able to fix it soon, and I’ll update everyone once it is.

In other news, guess who came strolling through the village today? Dark clouds, Strong Wind, Thunder, and Lightning! A true Fantastic 4 of sorts. The first rain of the season; my first rainy day here in Zambia. Cue Toto, and let’s danceeeee!

I noticed the first signs of the rain amidst washing dishes outside around 15:00. As if on cue, as I laid my last tupperware container on my outdoor dish rack, in came the thunder and lightning. My cat, Porkchop, accompanied me back into the house, where I began preparations for supper. The wind picked up and the thunder and lighting seemed to inch closer and closer for the next two hours, as I boiled some eggs and cooked up some soya pieces with tomato and onion in my kinzanza (outdoor kitchen). The trickling finally came when I was enjoying my eggs and soya. My door propped open, I watched as the drops multiplied in number. Twenty minutes later, putting away my dirty dishes into a pile, I hear near-to blood-curdling screams coming from outside my hut. My heart sank because I know those screams all too well. GOATS. I rushed outside and sure enough, there were three goats in my kinzanza; two babies and their mother, who, in victory of finding shelter for her and her two children, looked me straight in the eye, and decided to start pooping. Yes, pooping. On my reed mat. I picked up my left sandal and threw it at her and they scattered, leaving me frustrated with a poopy reed mat. I retreated to my hut, and as I entered my front door, there was good on Porkchop, licking my dirty plates, only after hopping through all my hanging pots and knocking them all down, from largest to smallest, as if he were auditioning for the circus. My pots laid scattered all over my floor. Frustration growing.

The rain probably noticed my frustration, and the downpour began. I decided to give up on cleaning up, and sat down on my stool at my front door and watched and listening to the rain. What’s it like? Noisy, yet super calming. Takes me back to my childhood in San Jose, when the cousins and I would immediately rush home from our elementary school playground, only to listen to the heavy rainfall, grumbling thunder, and cracks of lightning, huddled closely together behind the comfort of big, soft, couch pillows. Makes me miss home a lot, but then again not many people can say they’ve fallen asleep to lullabies of Africa rainfall. Thinking I’ll be sleeping well tonight.

Advertisements

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

A compiled list of books I’ve read while serving in Zambia can be viewed here.

Previous Review

Book: Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

Finished: 09/28/15

ReviewAlice in Wonderland meets The Chronicles of Narnia set in modern-day Japan. Imagery, poetry, and science all come together to form a trifecta of trickery and revelation of the mind.

Quotes:

“But the absence of fighting or hatred or desire also means the opposites do not exist either. No joy, no communion, no love. Only where there is disillusionment and depression and sorrow does happiness arise; without the despair of loss, there is no hope.” (p.334)

“Loss was not a skill, not a measure of life.” (p.391)

“Fairness is a concept that holds true only in limited situations. Yet we want the concept to extend to everything, in and out of phase … Maybe no one finds it, or even misses it, but fairness is like love. What is given has nothing to do with what we seek.” (p.392)

A Million Little Pieces, James Frey

Here’s the first installment of book reviews on books I’ve read while serving in Zambia. A compiled list can be viewed here.

BookA Million Little Pieces, James Frey

Finished: 09/11/15

Review: Spastic, with hint of Tourette syndrome, yet inspiring and insightful on the world of addiction, loss, recovery, and resiliency.

Quotes:

“Failure is an opportunity . If you blame someone else you will never stop blaming. Fulfill your own obligations, correct your own mistakes. Do what you need to do and demand nothing of others.” (p.414)

And the 2 Years Begin!

After 3 months of Pre-Service Training (PST), 61 of us new Peace Corps volunteers finally embark on our journeys into the bush to serve the country of Zambia!

What a jam-packed, roller coaster of an experience PST was; the most intense educational experience I’ve had thus far for sure. Four hours of language training six days a week, technical training and technical community presentations on HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and maternal and child health and nutrition, cultural sensitivity training, and sessions on Peace Corps policies and procedures kept all of us extremely busy. I recall having only enough time to eat supper with my host family and sleeping promptly afterwards on the weekdays. The only leisurely time we had came on weekend afternoons when us trainees got together to share stories, destress, and create new friendships and memories together. The friendships and bonds I’ve created in PST are some of the most treasured I have in my life. I’ve met some of the most selfless, caring, funny, and overall memorable people in the world, and I will always remember the moments we’ve shared together in PST. I look forward to the many memories to come. Through hard work, patience, and support of each other, we came to the end of PST and celebrated with our host families during Cultural Day, our final day in our training town, Chongwe, and a few days before our Swearing-In Ceremony.

Cultural Day was a day for volunteers to show gratitude and give thanks to the families who hosted us for the past 3 months by preparing a full American-style buffet brunch for them to enjoy. This included shopping, prepping, cooking, and serving 150 people. A bit stressful of a morning, yes, but the few hours that followed preparation were among the most special moments of training, for sure. The menu? Fruit salad, Greek pasta salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, pasta and marinara, chicken and veggie kabobs, hot dogs, shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches, taco and nacho bar, chips and guacamole, peanut butter chicken with rice, brownies, ice cream, and soda. Excessive? Yes. American? Of course. Cultural Day ended with a gift exchange and an ocean of tears, featuring yours truly. Saying goodbye to my host family was exactly like saying goodbye to family and friends only 3 months prior. You think it’s over once you board the plane? Nope, you get to do it again 3 months later, future Peace Corps Trainees! Complete crying mess, but who cares.

The Northwest Province Crew

(Kara, Hunter, Sami, Me, MarMar)

IMG_20150901_00164535

The fellas. One Zam, One Dad.

(Rob, Louis, Hunter, Matt, Me)

IMG_20150827_009845

Following Cultural Day, we were reunited with the rest of our volunteer intake in the other project, Rural Education Development (RED) volunteers. A few days in the capital city, Lusaka, proved to be super fun and memorable. We ended our short-lived reunion with the long-awaited Swearing-In Ceremony on Friday, August 28th.

Swearing-In Ceremony at the U.S. Ambassador’s home was really nice. Volunteers in cultural garb, our teachers and trainers smiling proudly in their seats, speeches galore, including one from yours truly in Kikaonde (a local Zambian language I learned and will be using in my village), and a reception lunch buffet of burgers, mac and cheese, quiche, chicken drumsticks, cupcakes, cookies, and soda. Oh, did I mention pictures up the wazoo? Yup. That.

The Northwest Province Crew … again.

IMG_20150901_00164715

The fellas… again.

IMG-20150916-WA003

My girls, minus Jane. She was sick.

(Claudia, Me, Cori, Becca)

IMG_20150901_00165235

The final stretch before the grand homecoming to our villages is what’s called Posting. As volunteers say goodbye to each other with hugs and tears, cruisers and trucks are loaded with bags, suitcases, bikes, and things you’ve probably would never imagine you would travel with. Volunteers travel to their Provincial Houses in their respective provincial teams. What are Provincial Houses? Glorified fraternity or sorority houses, basically. Only cleaner, safer, and more comfortable. The travel to the Northwest Provincial House took 15 hours (5 hours longer than expected), but we were welcomed with open arms and a taco bar dinner. Posting lasts a handful of jam-packed days of shopping and prepping for our move into our thatched-roof huts in the bushes of Zambia. Stressful? Yes. Fun? Similarly, yes. We even got a chance to visit waterfalls!

Mutanda Falls. Super fun.

IMG_20150901_00103231

As I sit here in a filled-to-capacity cruiser, equipped with my 8″ double mattress, 5 ZamBags (huge woven plastic bags manufactured for travel and storage filled with whatever the hell you can fit in them), a couple of 50-pound suitcases, a couple of Zambian reed mats, among a crap load of other things, I feel two emotions: anxiety and excitement. I guess it’s a good combo, but at times throughout the past few days, it’s made me also feel uncomfortable. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but I know the next 3 months (Community Entry is the official Peace Corps terminology) will be an important time for me to define the next 2 years of my life. If there’s someone out there that wouldn’t be anxious and excited if they were in my shoes, kudos to you. You’re probably Superman or Superwoman.

To my family and friends back home, I miss you tremendously. More than you know. Little random moments I have here and there in Zambia remind me of you, and that’s when I really do miss you so very much. I hope all is well, and that you are all happy and healthy. Please do write me! Send me things! My new address is:

Mike Nguyen (PCV)
Peace Corps Zambia
P.O. Box 110264
Solwezi, Zambia

To my fellow new Peace Corps Volunteers, good luck to you! I’m only a WhatsApp message or ZamPage away if you need me. Can’t wait to share stories with you at In-Service Training (IST)!

To future Peace Corps Trainees, this is probably one of the most exciting and scary moments of your life. Take it by the horns and never let go! I promise I won’t if you won’t.

And to everyone else, stay tuned! My laptop has finally crashed on me, so updates will be few and far in between, but I promise, they’ll be worthwhile.

If you need me, I’ll be in the bush somewhere in the Mufumbwe district of Northwestern Province in Zambia. Take care of one another and be well!