July 27, 2009
I've closed a chapter of my life- my Peace Corps service ended on
Friday July 24. It's a crazy thing to be done; I wanted to be a
Peace Corps Volunteer for so long, and I've loved my time here in
Zambia. It's something that I'll always carry with me, and I'd like
to thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers, mail, Clif bars, and
moral support. It's hard to know how to begin to describe the
experience, but I'll be happy to talk about it and try to give you an
glimpse of village life in Zambia! I'm now an RPCV- a Returned Peace
Corps Volunteer- although technically I won't return until the 31.
Looking forward, I'm very happy to tell you all that I have a game
plan for my life! I have accepted a research assistantship at
Michigan Technological University; I'll be working towards an MSc in
Forestry, researching sustainable biofuels harvesting and
silviculture. I'm really excited about this opportunity, and am
busily planning my move to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
I'll be starting this fall, which means that I'll only be in Kingston
for about 3 weeks before I head West. If we don't cross paths, I'll
be back in New York for Christmas for sure, and possibly for
I don't have a phone yet, but I'll call some of you and e-mail others
once I've got one. E-mail remains an excellent way to get in touch
Mushale bwino bonse,
Stay well, all.
July 4, 2009
My time in Peace Corps is rapidly drawing to a close, and yet I find I'm continually learning more and more. Teaching has been a really amazing experience- frustrating and very rewarding. It's good practice for life in America, because I'm back on a concrete schedule. I get up each morning, cook my breakfast (I have a hotplate in my one working outlet... pretty snazzy), and have to head out the door to start the school day. I'm teaching one 11th grade biology class, which meets 4 days a week. There's about 55 girls in the class, although the number of girls who actually attend seems to vary day to day. I also have one 10th grade physics class, which only meets twice a week, with 30 girls in it. The 11th graders are a really great group... the 10th graders still seem a little unsure what to make of being in high school, and having an American as their teacher.
Teaching can be challenging, because the resources are very limited. I was issued a box of chalk and 4 pens. No eraser, so I've learned that you can use pretty much anything as a chalkboard eraser. Crumpled scraps of paper work rather well; my bare hand suffices when I can't find scrap paper. I have the only textbook in the class. I was always confused about why the kids at the school in my village seemed to do nothing but copy down paragraphs of notes. Now I understand that, since they don't have textbooks, the notes they put in their notebooks are their ONLY record of information. So I too write paragraphs of notes on the board for my classes to copy down.
I'm also having some fun introducing practices from American schooling. The most significant cross-cultural introduction has been the role of Jeopardy games in review sessions. I've given my bio class two tests, and both times I held a review session before the test in which we played Jeopardy. I prefaced that with "If we were in America, you guys would have begged me to do this... so I'm going to teach you how to play Jeopardy!"
Other ways I've passed time include giving typing lessons (there are, thanks to some donor group, 4 working computers at the school). I've taught groups of students and some teachers. Part of the way through my series of lessons I discovered that the girls didn't know the names for their different fingers, so when I was saying "Use your pinky to hit Enter" they had NO CLUE what I was saying!! I've since corrected that by teaching them the names of all their fingers!
So that's Zambia. I've only got a few more days of teaching, and then I'll spend some time in Mansa finishing up reporting before going to Lusaka to start the Close of Service process.
I will be landing in the United States of AMERICA on July 31, 2009, which is less than 4 weeks from today. So far my schedule involves "eat salad", "get contact lenses", and "follow my mom around like a baby duckling". I still have no definite plans, so I'll be in Kingston for some few weeks; I'd love to see anyone who's around!
Happy Independence Day, everyone!
May 16, 2009
This will be one of my last updates from this side of the ocean, because my time in Zambia is drawing to a close! I last sent out an e-mail in January, when I was looking at a few more months in my village. Now I’m looking back at the time when I was living there, and almost two months have gone by since I moved out of my happy little mud hut! It was a lot harder to leave than I thought it would be, which is one of the reasons why I haven’t written about it yet. I spent the month before I left counting down the days and then about a week before my last day I realized I actually didn’t want the days to go by, and I was perfectly content and would have been glad to go back and relive a lot of my village days.
Sadly, the days did continue to go by, and suddenly it was my last day in my village! I had a little party with the children in my area- when we started there were 12 of them, by the time the gathering was over there were 23 kids in my yard. We roasted corn and peanuts (maize and groundnuts!), and had some carrots from my garden. I think they really enjoyed it, and I did my best to treat them as adults; we all sat on stools and a reed mat rather than just sitting in the dirt. It was really strange to say goodbye to all those kids- I gave away the deck of cards we had played with, and all my tennis balls, and all the rest of the candy I’d been bribing them with. That was rather a madhouse, because kids I didn’t even recognize began appearing from all sides as soon as I was preparing to give way things. I ended up drawing a large semicircle in front of my house, and told them to stand on the other side. Then I called kids up one by one (therefore insuring that my favorite ones, the ones who were the best company and the biggest help, got first dibs) and had them pick a treat- a ball OR cards OR colored pencils OR a lollipop.
Then the next morning I sat in front of my house with all my belongings piled around me and Gretchen keeping me company. Ba Reuben and Ba Sincala, two of my favorite Zambians, came out of their ways to say goodbye, which was wonderful. Brows, in a wonderful display of wisdom and God’s providence, had headed up to Ba Reuben’s house on his own the day before, sparing me from having to bike over there with him in tow and say goodbye.
Then a Land Cruiser showed up, and with the immediate appearance of 14 children, we quickly loaded my stuff up and left.
Fortunately I didn’t go far; only 10 km down the road is my new place. I have a few rooms on the compound of the girls high school where I’ll be teaching at starting on Monday.
Right about now, you’re probably thinking “Wait, she left her village in March and she’s starting teaching on Monday? What’s she been doing?!!?” The answer is, I’ve been doing many fun things. I spent 3 weeks in Greece and Hungary with my sister; I spent 3 days in one of Zambia’s national parks; I spent a week helping at an orphanage, and I’ve spent the last week at my Close of Service Conference. This is the big workshop where Peace Corps tries to prepare us for returning to the US. Sessions covered things like “What to do when you freak out in the cheese aisle” and Networking; all in all, very useful. Peace Corps Zambia also goes above and beyond to make the Conference a memorable experience; it’s partially a reward for our service in extremely rural areas. So we stayed two nights at a beautiful lodge, with buffets of kudu and lechwe steak, dessert at every meal, game drives, and a cheese factory!
I also recently had the immense privilege of naming Ba Reuben and Ba Beatrice’s new baby boy. He was born at the end of April, and I went out to visit him and his parents and 7 big brothers and sisters about a week after his birth. Traditionally children aren’t named until their umbilical cords fall off, so he was okay without a name until I made it out to meet him. But now, he is Jonah Kang’ombe, and he’s adorable!
I was also able to talk with my replacement, a guy named Grayson who’s been in his new village for almost 3 weeks now. It’s a very strange thing to bike up to “my house” and find that someone else lives there now!! He’s very fresh and excited (and CLEAN!) and I’m glad to have passed on my place to someone who seems like he’ll do well there.
So my list of fabulous memories made here in Zambia is continuing to grow. I expect my time at this school to be a really interesting experience. Most of my fellow Volunteers are wrapping up their last months by finishing up remaining projects; I’m starting something brand new! Monday morning at 8 AM, I’m supposed to be teaching a lesson on digestion…
Important dates: My last day of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer will be July 24. I expect to be flying back to New York on August 7!!! I don’t know for sure what I’ll be doing with myself, but the plan certainly begins with about two weeks with my family and whoever else is around. If you’ll be in the Kingston area and want to get together, send me an e-mail!
January 15, 2009
My vacation is over and I'm heading back to my village today- Ba Reuben has called me a few times, so I know there are more baby rabbits waiting for me. I'm hoping some of them are the offspring of the females I've loaned out- he's new to the cell phone thing and thus our conversations can be somewhat unclear (though he speaks nice and loud!)
My trip to Namibia was phenomenal. Namibia is significantly more developed than Zambia, something I attribute to the fact that the country only gained independence in 1990 or 91, and to its diamond mines. Regardless, it was a pretty crazy transition at the border crossing- the muddy patch in front of Zambia's unpainted office buildings, and Namibia's paved parking lot with lines on it, the chaotic crowd at Zambia's counter (and they stamped my passport as having exited 24 December 2014, and then corrected it in pen) versus the air-conditioning and people standing in line at the counter in Namibia.
I traveled with another girl from my province- together we rode the bus to Windhoek, 21 hours from Livingstone in Zambia. From Windhoek we went to the desert park, an expanse of red dunes that was so beautiful it looked fake. I think the Microsoft Windows desktop background of a giant red sand dune was taken in the Namib desert. We climbed some dunes and saw ostriches!!!
Then we hitchhiked to the coast, catching a lift with a very friendly German couple who dropped us at our guest house. It was great to see the Atlantic Ocean from the other side, and we went sandboarding (like snow boarding, but on sand dunes!). Then back to Windhoek for a few days of seeing some historic old buildings. My personal favorite was a beautiful marble church, situated at the intersection Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe streets!! I also enjoyed the surreal treat of Kentucky Fried Chicken with a chocolate milkshake.
After returning to Livingstone, I visited a Peace Corps friend for a few days at her site in the Southern Province (between Livingstone and Lusaka). It was really interesting to compare her village life to mine- she lives amongst the Tonga people, and they approach life very differently than the Bembas do. The Tongas have a reputation for being very hardworking, and it shows. Most of my villagers don't have any kind of housing for their goats, and the Tongas have constructed huge corrals, raised houses, and paddocks. They also keep a lot of cattle, and I got to milk a cow!!
I've spent a few days in Mansa regaining my bearings, and now I return to the village. I've only got a few months left there, because I'm leaving my village at the beginning of April. Peace Corps has changed when new volunteers arrived and thus I'm being ousted from my site at that time; I'll spend the last few months of my service teaching at a local high school.
So I'm going to start wrapping things up in my village. I'm hoping to do some work at the school, and teach all my rabbit-keeping farmers to apply the manure to their fields and gardens. I also managed to obtain cuttings to propogate an improved cassava variety, one that grows faster and larger, so I'm going to work with the Ministry of Agriculture to facilitate some lessons on growing the improved cassava. I think it'll be a good few months!
Hope you are all doing well, and those of you in the Northeast are enjoying the delightfully snowy winter.
December 24, 2008
Hello everyone! Merry Christmas from Livingstone, Zambia, home of Victoria Falls!
September 29, 2008
I wanted to give you a brief update about my magnificent safari adventure. I returned yesterday from my visit to Zambia's Eastern province, home of South Luangwa National Park. Gretchen and I spent two days there and they were some of the best days I have spent in Zambia.
We left Chipata, the provincial capital (a beautiful, hilly city that reminded me somehow of Spokane), and sat on the side of a dirt road for 5 hours trying to get a hitch to Mfuwe, a small town outside of the park. Finally our ride arrived, in the form of a white man who formerly owned the camp we were heading to- marvelously auspicious, good conversation and a free ride right to the door of the campground.
Which was good, because you're not allowed to walk around that area after dark due to the number of ELEPHANTS and HIPPOS that roam the campground!!!!
I pitched my tent on a wooden platform in a tree, about 15 feet off the ground. It was a very surreal experience, waking up in that tree and seeing vervet monkeys jumping around in the branches all around me. As I was brushing my teeth, 3 elephants and a baby walked through the campground.
We went on a daytime safari drive, a twilight- night drive (equipped with a large spotlight) and a four-hour walking safari (accompanied by a our guide, and another man with a rifle!). There were animals all over the place- family groups of elephants, giraffes eating out of the tops of trees, zebras rolling in the dust to cool off, herds of various antelope species, tons of hippos floating around in small pools of water, and a family of lions including three small cubs ("small" meaning "about the size of a year-old golden retriever").
One of my favorite parts was the hippos- I had never realized just how huge those things are. They are absolutely gigantic. They come out on land at night, and look very silly running, and very at home floating in the water during the day. We saw one munching its way through a patch of floating algae, and another during the walk that had a large grey heron standing on its back. There was giant momma hippo, with a baby following closely at her tail, swimming across the pool with a big heron riding on her back!! The heron seemed to enjoy the transport, and later it caught a fish and stood on the hippo's back eating it.
Another high point was the lion family- the cubs were very active when we saw them in the evening, and looked like puppies playing together and rolling on top of each other.
There were also a lot of surreal vistas- open plains with groups of baboons, herds of buffalo in the distance, groups of impala grazing. At one point I saw two warthogs wandering around, feeding by digging up turves of grass, surrounded by baboons who were picking food out of the turves after the warthogs dug them up!
It's great to know that I have now actually seen all these animals in situ in Africa. Conservation is a slow and arduous process, but thousands of elephants, and I, appreciate its effects at Luangwa!
September 19, 2008
This is long overdue, and I apologize. I hope to make up for it but making this letter worth the wait! Last I wrote, it was June, and I was finishing up the work on the survey in which I participated.
And now it's September! I've had a great few months at my site. Ba Reuben was visiting relatives until August, and thus I dealt with the challenge of village life sans my closest friend there. I was happy to realize I'm now proficient enough in Bemba to have all the conversations I needed, even prompting some of the headmen to tell Ba Reuben upon his return that he was no longer necessary! It's great to have him back though; I laugh a lot more. And can do larger lessons, with my trusty and trustworthy interpreter by my side.
I did a few "Life Skills" lessons with girls at my local basic school. We played an abstinence-focused game that was the epitome of the anti-drug epithet "Just say no!"- a bunch of us standing in lines facing each other saying "Yes!" and "No!" ("Ee! And "Awe!", actually) in varying degrees of assertiveness and giggling. For weeks afterwards, girls would pass my house and call to me "Ba Nana! Awe!" And yes, I'm still Ba Nana in the village. Except for one little boy who keeps calling me Ba Banana.
July also provided me some opportunities to explore more Zambian culture. I attended the Mutomboko Traditional Ceremony, graced this year by the chief chief, who unexpectedly arrived from the Congo in a helicopter! I also went to a traditional female initiation ceremony. That was an incomprehensible but enjoyable experience- an all-night dancing and teaching extravaganza. One helpful tip I learned, around 4 AM, was "Your in-laws are like the gall bladder of a chicken, which makes the meat taste bad if you don't remove it fast. They can make your marriage very bad if you don't deal with them correctly."
One of the most amazing experiences in my last few months had been the progress on my rabbit project. In July, I gave female rabbits to my first two farmers- a 14 year old boy, and a 32 year old man. Those two are now almost old enough to breed. This past week I gave 2 more females to farmers from another village- an 18 year old boy, and a 40ish single mom. She and her youngest daughter walked to my house in their nicest clothes, with a very clean plastic basket in which they proudly carried their rabbit home. I check on those 4 rabbits pretty frequently, and they're all being cared for well! Success!
And Jane Eyre just had 8 more children- currently still at the squirmy grub stage, but eventually will resemble mammals! The first 2 people have already identified the recipients of female offspring from their rabbits- so my next step is coaching them as they teach those farmers, in the hope of encouraging sustainability. Each recipient has to give one female rabbit to a new farmer, and teach and monitor its care and keeping.
You may have heard that the President of Zambia passed away. So far it's been very calm here. Possibly this was in part due to 21 day National Mourning period in which bars were closed down if they played secular music loudly… There will be an election at the end of October- one more exciting thing in my busy month of well-digging!
Regarding the wells project- the rock, sand, and brick work is progressing very well. Some villages are working more steadily than others, but the slow ones responded rapidly to my threats to give their wells to other villages. I'm very pleased with what's happening, and we will be buying all the material in a few weeks. The goal is to have the wells dug by the end of October, and the project all wrapped up by mid-November, which is about when rainy season gets into full swing. The headmen were really excited about a well-digger contract I typed up for them explaining the work and the expectations for the hired diggers (and I'll be really excited if they use it and no one comes to my house to ask me for extra money!)
I've been enjoying the pace of village life, as slow as it is some times. In all honestly, most of my busy days are still pretty slow, and yet at the end of most days I can't quite remember what I did in the morning. I've been a bit lax in my letter writing skills, primarily because I've been doing a lot of sewing instead of writing. I'm working on a quilt- just piecing together the top, but doing it all by hand using a pattern I drew myself. Ironing it was quite an adventure. I knew my neighbor had an iron because I'd seen her using it, but had no idea what the words for iron or ironing were. Thus, I had a very stuttering conversation, starting with "Bana Mwewa, do you have a… umm… a…" and then I pantomimed ironing, and said some things about making clothes look good, and work you do before you go to church. Somehow she figured out what I was trying to explain, and brought out her iron, which I am fairly certain Laura Ingalls Wilder must have donated to an aid organization when she cleaned out her sod house one spring. It is entirely metal, with a lid that flips up so you can put live coals inside.
So I ironed my hand-sewn quilt top with fire. I was very nervous the whole time, given that it opened up a whole new realm of possibility for burning what I was ironing. Thankfully nothing burned, and it did actually work until the coals died down and ash started flying out whenever I moved the iron around!
I'm currently in Mansa. I've spent the last few days teaching at an informal workshop for other volunteers, about farming and gardening. It was entirely our own initiative, and seemed really helpful for the health volunteers who don't have degrees from ESF! And then next week, a spontaneous safari adventure, to South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia. I'm very excited, since I haven't yet seen any of those big animals Africa is famous for. Now's dry season so it's the best season for animal viewing- they'll all be clustered around the remaining drinking water. Then, back to the village to monitor wells, and rabbits, and teach a series of lessons at 3 local schools about hunger and food security. October will be a very busy month, but that's the way I like it (though it does cut into my reading time… ).
Happy back to school, for many of you! As always thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and mail.
Mushale bwino bonse- stay well, all!