Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Bug's Life (and other pictures)

Ants stealing Bagheera's kapenta.
Friendly frog.
Millipede Bagheera and I played with.
What a meal!
Very upset chameleon.
Double digging my garden.

Another Day in Paradise

I said it before, that this place is beautiful, but it just keeps getting better. Before, during the dry season it was clear blue skies everyday. Now that the rainy season is underway, enormous, puffy, billowing clouds scatter the horizon. Some days are even cooler with the addition of rains and clouds, making it more comfortable to work. Everything has started growing and Mabote is blanketed with a carpet of bright green grass. New birds and songs arise each week. Mangoes ripen and fall from the trees making a loud “thump” in the middle of the night. The large clouds make sunsets more colorful, and as it gets darker, lightning and thunder scatter the night sky. When the clouds clear, thousands of stars come out that make my jaw drop.

December 12, 2012

I've been wanting to put up a post of a typical day, like I did back in PST living with my host family during training. Whenever I do, I feel like not only would I be making up a day, but watering down all the unique parts of each day into a more boring version of them all. That is, until today. I feel like taking one day and explaining it in more detail will give you a better picture of what my days are like than some generalization I make up. So here goes.

I woke up a bit early, something like 5:15, not sure why. I wanted to get to Lubwe for fruits and veggies and go before it gets hot. So I got out of bed, slipped into my tropicals (flip flops) and headed outside to walk around my hut and take a look at my plants. All but one of my watermelons had sprouted so I was pleased with that, then I went to inspect my rows of pigeon pea I planted as a bit of a walkway to my cimbusu (outhouse). I went back inside for breakfast which ended up being peanut butter. I had forgotten I planned on having corn flakes.

I went back outside and planted some marigolds inside the two rows of pigeon pea. I feel like this may be a little extravagant for an outhouse. Then I went over to my mango tree to find what may have dropped overnight, adding those to my growing collection of mangos I have ripening on my drying rack (I've got about 25 right now). I ate a few of the good ones, then began setting up for my trip to Lubwe.

I headed for Lubwe on my new Peace Corps issued bike. These things are snazzy, except they weren't at all built for us. First, they have a new type of braking system we don't know how to repair, and second, cannot support the racks given to us by Peace Corps. So luckily our driver who also deals with the bikes in Luapula went to one of the welders in Mansa and rigged a new, stronger, bike rack which now holds a basket I bought in Chongwe to carry the cat I got in Mansa from another Volunteer to my hut.

So I get to Lubwe and buy my usual things – tomatoes, onions, lettuce, ground nuts (peanuts I roast and eat like candy), amabuns (rolls), and a frozen orange Fanta I couldn't pass up. I would have gotten an avocado, but already gotten one for free from a guy who also sells these neat hand carved knives I use for weeding in my garden. I saw his avocados one day and asked “Ni shinga?” (How Much?) “Oh oh, not for sale.” But a moment later he grabbed 2 of his 3 and gave them to me for free. I had met him once before when I was looking at the knives. I asked how much for the “umwele” (knife). He pleased to hear my speak Bemba and told me I was speaking “true Bemba from Northern Province.” I asked what they called them here. His reply, “Simply, knife.”

So I make it back to my hut and decide it's cool enough to do some work in my garden. The living fence of zazamina has been planted, and looks terrible because all the leaves have died and turned brown. I've been assured everything is okay and it will grow fast soon soon.

So I mark off two rows of 1 meter wide beds I will double dig – a method I learned from the LIFE volunteer manual handbook. Basically double digging is digging double the usual depth to help with drainage and lets the roots grow deep instead of wide, allowing for more plants per area. But it takes longer and is more work. Finally got it all done, just one row, before some heavy rain started up. I was glad it had missed me for the bike ride, as well as it being daylight so I could watch how the rainwater rushed past my hut so I could figure out where to dig furrows so my porch doesn't become soggy all the time.

So the rains stopped and I headed back out, planted two rows of sunflower, then started working on two furrows, hopefully that will help out a lot.

By that time I was starting to get hungry, and exited. I had been planning on this meal. I had ripe avocados, beans soaking from the night before, a tortilla recipe in the Peace Corps Zambia cookbook entitled “Where There is no Takeout”, fresh lettuce, onion, and tomato. Hmm.

So I grabbed the matchbox and a chunk of firestarter, picked up the braser, and headed for my shed where I store charcoal under a sheet of plastic. I place the firestarter in the middle of the braser, light it with a match, then start carefully piling charcoal to make a volcano shape. Once the firestarter burns out, there is a tiny hot cavern of red glowing coals, just waiting to boil me some water. So I rinse off my beans, throw in some rice, and put the pot on the braser, then headed back inside to try and roll some tortillas out with my once lost Nalgene bottle that magically turned back up during the house cleaning when we were at the Provincial House during Thanksgiving. I had lost it for about 3 months.

Took the beans/rice off the coals and began frying up the tortillas while chopping up onions and tomato, scooping out avocado, and rinsing lettuce. When it was all done I took a picture, then devoured it all. It was glorious, well worth the effort. Patrick stopped by for a while during the tortilla frying and had a look around my garden and encouraged me to plant groundnuts. I think I will.
Cleanup was the usual. I brought out a basin with soap paste in a pile on the rim, a bucket of water with a pitcher to rinse cleaned dishes. They all go on the drying rack made out of sticks by my shed that is slowly being overtaken by the mango invasion.

Afterwards I took a bucket back to clean up a bit, and to make sure I got off the bits of avocado on my ankle. The leftover avocado that I didn't eat or drop on my legs went to Amos and two other small children who were passing by. I accidentally developed a relationship with some of the neighborhood kids when I paid them to bring more bricks over from the house that was being torn down. Now they bring me mangoes from time to time. I taped up one of the bills I had paid him with a few days ago and asked him what he was going to buy with it. “Soap”

So now I'm clean, my conscious is clean, the dishes are clean, the sun is setting, the cat is going crazy, so I sit down and read on my porch. Today, “Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist” by Michael J. Fox. Surprisingly good author. Interesting take of someone with Parkinson's.

So now I lie here on my bed again, wearing my hand out as I write this be candlelight. In a few minutes I'll roll out my yoga mat and work out a bit and try to stretch my back out. It's been getting sore on me from all the biking. I'll take a look at the rig I set up to hopefully grow a small avocado tree. I'd dunked a pit in an old peanut butter jar. Internet said it takes about 2-6 weeks to sprout. I've got about 80 weeks left so I should be good. I'll brush my teeth, fill up my water bottle, top off the water filter, kick off my tropicals, curl up, close my eyes and drift to sleep listening to insects and the rolling thunder off in the distance.

Sendamenipo Mukwai (Good Night)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

First Rains, First Impressions, and First Reflections

November 11th, 2012

It's weird reflecting on how I've changed over these past 4 months. I remember waiting in the airport in New York, but it feels like years ago. I was a different person back then. I was exited, nervous, alone, but surrounded by people like me. I had a limited understanding of the world, how things are, and what real problems really are. I hadn't fully understood how well I had it back in the States. Back then, I didn't know what language I would be speaking everyday, where I would be living, or who my friends would be.

Life here is difficult, but not in the ways I expected. Right now I lay in bed writing this by the light of a candle I bought in bulk in Mansa before being posted, aided by a solar lantern provided by Peace Corps upon our arrival to Zambia. I set the lantern out all day so I could write and read tonight. I just brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth with filtered water I pumped from a well earlier today and carried it back about 100 yards so I could have water for dishes and bathing this evening. I made food from scratch that I bought and paid for speaking in Bemba in Samfya boma and Lubwe, a 2.5 hour and 30 minute bike ride, respectively. I cooked it over a brazer of lit coals I purchased from my counterpart to help pay for his son's examinations at school.

I never expected these things when preparing to live here. Sure, I knew I'd be biking everywhere and living without electricity, so I packed solar panels and multitools, but never imagined deeply enough about what it would be like to live this way. I especially didn't imagine what it would be like to be used to living this way. For the most part I have completely forgotten about the conveniences of electricity. Sure, I still joke that someone should fix the air conditioner when the temperature inside my hut tips over 90, but even this I'm getting used to. When it gets down to about 75, I'm COLD!

Although I'm speaking Bemba better everyday, my English is suffering. Whenever we speak to Zambians, we have to use simple sentences and short words, just like they have to do for us when speaking Bemba. So many PCV's, myself included, have taken to repeating words instead of using better words. For instance, instead of saying “enormous” we just say “big big”. This expands itself into all different types of words. My vocabulary now includes “soon soon” “fast fast” “sure sure” (pronounced “shore”) “what what?” “far far” and “now now” (goose goose?)

But Bemba is coming along fairly well, though I long for the days I can have a meaningful conversation with my neighbors. Mabote is a relatively less educated village compared to some of the other Volunteer's villages I've visited. So, unlike Volunteers who live near big schools and many people speak English, only a few people in my village can push past “hello” “good” and “okay”. Bemba does come naturally to me sometimes, so I'm glad for that. I occasionally dream in Bemba too. Greetings are a big part of Zambian culture, you must greet everyone. For instance, if you walk up to someone selling vegetables by the road or in the market and ask how much they cost, usually you won't get a friendly response. But, when you ask them how they are, then the price, you get a much better response. My greetings are coming along well, and I can greet people in several different ways throughout the day, much to the excitement of my neighbors. I can tell they are glad to hear me say anything at all, and no one seems annoyed I can't speak better than I do.

My Hut

When I first arrived at my hut for second site visit about 6 weeks ago, my first impression was how small it was. I've got the smallest hut of anyone I know. Most have several rooms and even a hallway. My hut is about 4 x 4 meters. But, although it is small, I love the location, being on the edge of a small village, facing evening sunsets to the west, overlooking a dambo, and a lot of land for me to play with. So, in this past month I have added a porch that runs the length of the hut including a bench to sit on where I cut veggies, pet the cat, etc. The insaka normally used to cook and entertain guests has now been converted into a shed. I bought all the bricks to a hut they were tearing down across the street/bush path, paid some kids to bring them over to build up the walls, then got the carpenter's son to install a door. Now my hut is a bit more spacious and I don't have to back my bike into my hut every night. With the leftover bricks I plan to make an oven for breads and cookies, a grill for those rare occasions I find meat, and a carcoal burner to turn discarded corn cobs into charcoal. I'll probably also spruce up my compost area to organize it a bit and keep the goats and chickens out, as well as construct a hen house and roosting area. Perhaps I'll be ambitious enough to make a brick path to my cimbusu (outhouse) so I don't have to walk through mud when it rains.

I've dug a small nursery for a few crops and am currently removing stumps from an area where I will be making a 6 x 10 meter garden with a living fence of zazamina, soon to be planted when the next rains come. I've found a few banana trees that aren't growing much under a mango tree amongst some thorn bushes, so I hope to transplant them to a better location soon. Mangos are growing bigger in the trees, and some have started to ripen.

Rainy hot season started about a week and a half ago, turning everything into soup for a couple days. It's been dry since then, but each night the winds tease me with the feeling more rain is to come and drop the temperature just a little. Grass and small seedlings have popped up everywhere, making it difficult to tell what I planted in my nursery. Bugs give me a nice symphony at night while I go to sleep, and birds alert me when it's time to wake. Life is simple.


I look a little different than I did 4 months ago. I'm tan, darker than I've ever been. I'm thin, lost about 40 pounds. The pants I brought fall right off me, so I wear elastic running shorts everyday. I'm fit, I bike everywhere, 2 marathons in one day sometimes, over gravel. I beard is long, haven't trimmed much since I came to Zambia. I'm bruised, cut, and scarred. I have blisters on my hands and permanent dirt under my fingernails.

November 15th, 2012


Bagheera is my kitten. Not really a cat person, but here in Zambia they serve quite a few purposes, mainly in the form of pest control. Although he is still a kitten, I'm glad he is already earning his keep. It's been about 5 weeks here, so he is about 15 weeks old and has already gotten 2 confirmed mouse kills, about a half dozen lizards, many many crickets and wall spiders, one pathetic attempt at a rooster, and most of my toes. He has now been weened from his litter box, much to my relief, and enters and exits the hut through a window. I don't feed him as much anymore because most days he will kill something. In his spare time he sleeps, runs around my hut like a maniac, and climbs trees or stalks chickens/goats/kids. He is a little skinny, but I say he's scrappy and aerodynamic. He's quite a mongrel. But he also helps keep me company. Living in the vill for over a month now has shown me a new level of loneliness and homesickness. Having a cat that tries to sit on my hands while I'm reading, breaking my new Zambia mug the first day at site, or trying to eat the food off my plate does help pass the lonely times I encounter.

Sneak Peek into my Journal

October 31st 2012

Today begins rainy season. I figured the first few rains would be light drizzles. I was wrong. This reminded me of a hurricane. It was incredible, everything got soaked/flooded. Luckily inside the hut stayed relatively dry except for what came in through the door. No leaks from the roof yet.

I moved inside and closed door because I was getting soaked, when I heard something outside. At first I thought it was goats going after my buckets again, but I looked out and it was a man moving the buckets I placed out in the rain to collect water, underneath my porch. Whatever.

Then he looks in the window and calls for me, then continues to preach to me about how god brought the rains and that this was holy water. I managed to say goodbye and closed the window, then the rest of the windows because he kept making his way around the hut. He kept talking to himself, this was when I was sure he wasn't just exited about the rain, but very drunk indeed.

After a while his ranting stopped, so I looked around to see where he went, only to discover my bike was also gone.

My first thoughts were that he was stealing it. I would have been more furious if I hadn't seen the man before, but he knew my name and looked somewhat familiar, plus the bike has my name on it and is much different from the Zambian bikes, so I was pretty sure I'd get it back. Nevertheless I needed to find it and get it back and make sure he and everyone else knew not to take my things.

I noticed some of my neighbors sitting outside and figured they must have seen someone ride away with my bike. So I walked there in the rain and tried to ask if they had seen it and where it was and who took it. I feel like I got my idea across, but didn't get much of an answer, so I went back home to wait out the rains.

When the rains stopped I could tell the villagers were talking about me. Pangela (one neighbor) ended up going to get my bike back while Peter (another neighbor) went to get Patrick (my counterpart). Other neighbors came to try and tell me what was going on with limited success.

After Pangela brought my bike back, the culprit came to apologize. Now I was drawing a crowd. He got on his knees and apologized, to which I thanked him for apologizing, but sternly said it was not okay to take any of my things.

Patrick came by soon after that and took control. I was actually pretty impressed with how strongly he defended me and attacked him.

He said that the man was drunk and next time to just call the police on him. He made it sound like they were taking him to be arrested, so I'm not sure how involved I'll have to be in that, but it also sounded like they wanted an excuse to get the village drunk in trouble, so maybe they found it. I also wanted to make a point that my belongings belong to me and no one can just take or borrow them. I think this has been accomplished. A win-win for everyone?

I was also very happy to see everyone get involved. I was under the impression that most people liked me being there and knew me and all, but they have only lived with me for 3 weeks and already went way out of their way to help a confused mostly helpless white guy. It makes me feel much more integrated in the community and that I now owe them something in return. I hope I can.

Two Journal Entries in One Blog Post?!?!

November 5th, 2012

Some days you can just never predict what will happen. I went to see the carpenter to ask about my triangle table this morning. I was told he was in the bush and would return at 13. I went home, ate a huge peanut butter rice mix with onions and sugary cheeky chili sauce. Realized it was just after 13, so headed back out.

Got there, and of course he still wasn't back. Some Bamayos tried to help me by explaining what they didn't know about where the carpenter was. So I sat around and waited.

His little son, probably 10 was standing around holding a bush fruit about the size of a pool ball. I had tried to talk to him when he first came out but he was too shy to talk. I acted out us throwing the “ball” back and forth to each other, and a game soon began. Some little girls came by to watch, but ran away when I tried to get them in the game. Typically genders and age groups don't interact in games. The Bamayos couldn't help but laugh at us play. Another little boy came by, and we began switching from rolling to kicking the ball back and forth. When one of the Bamayos walked by, I invited her to roll it with us. Everyone got a kick out of that! Then the little girls returned, not having the confidence that if Bamayo could play, they could as well. Now we had a crowd. Kids coming from every direction, which turned into a soccer game of keep away until the carpenter finally arrived. I even got him to kick the ball once. It was funny to see the expression on his face returning home to see his front yard stocked full of crazed boys, giggling girls, embarrassed women, and a crazy white kid who started the mess.

Turns out the table that I ordered a month ago and was supposed to be done last Wednesday, delivered last Saturday, won't be done til this Thursday. Welcome to Africa.

(Later that day)

Bagheera took off across the yard, grabbed a lizard in his mouth, ran back in the house to play with it, and let it loose. Now I have a lizard of unknown injuries somewhere hiding amongst all my things. Ugh. Gotta hand it to the little bugger, yesterday he got stung twice by a wasp he finally ate.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

First Month (In Pictures!)

Hammock Area


My Hut

Cimbusu and Nursery

Happy Zambian Independence Day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Introducing Bagheera (with pictures)

In this corner: Lightweight champion holding a win over a roll of toilet paper..
And in this corner: Had a few bites of my tomatoes
Finish Him!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Swearing in and Moving Pictures

I wanted to write an entry for how I have changed over these last 3 months. But, it's been a little crazy trying to move up to Luapula and deal with shopping, immigration, banks, packing, freaking out, etc. So, I haven't forgotten about it, and I'll be working on it while I sit in my hut trying to decide what I'm going to do for the day. In the meantime, here are some pictures of swearing in and moving up country. Enjoy, and I'll be back at Thanksgiving.

We still fit 2 more people in the back.
Forget anything?

Zambia 2012 RAP
12 Land Cruisers with trailers
Got a picture with the fanciest people
at swear in, BaSakota and BaCatherine.

I wanted to write an entry for how I have changed over these last 3 months. But, it's been a little crazy trying to move up to Luapula and deal with shopping, immigration, banks, packing, freaking out, etc. So, I haven't forgotten about it, and I'll be working on it while I sit in my hut trying to decide what I'm going to do for the day. In the meantime, here are some pictures of swearing in and moving up country.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The List

Peace Corps is not so great in giving suggestions for what to actually pack and what you actually need. Plus, whenever you hear from a current volunteer that you can buy pretty much anything here, it's hard to believe. For the most part, you can get a lot of stuff here, and mostly keep in mind while packing, to pack things you can't live without. If it's a certain type of snack, pack a lot. If you have to have books, stock up the kindle. If it's a hammock, make sure you leave room for it. Also think about sustainability, like solar battery chargers. Packing was probably one of the most stressful things for me besides saying  goodbye those last few days. I searched high and low for a good packing list but could never find a really good one. Here it is. This is literally everything I packed, and whether or not it was a good choice. Remember, this is for Zambia and may not work as well if you are heading to another country. Also remember I'm a guy, so the bathroom supplies and clothes might need to be adapted for women. I also stuffed some extra spaces with power bars and candy, mostly still waiting til I get to my actual site.

The List:

For Travel
compression straps - pack some, they are handy
2 – 32 oz nalgene water bottles - I almost always have one within a few feet of me
small dry bag - two words: Victoria Falls
inflatable neck pillow - made the 15 hour flight a lot better
earplugs - ditto, also helps drown out the roosters at 2:30 AM
sleepy eye mask thing - good to have for the flight
sunglasses - you'll need them, but I recommend cheap ones. You can't have nice things here
2 person tent - I plan on camping a lot, so it was necessary
fleece sleeping bag - lightweight and about the size of a football, very nice
sleeping pad rocks bruise
2 – 20L dry bags - great for packing for the flight
1 – 40 L dry bag - seriously these things are great. Go to Walmart and get some cheap ones
2 compression bags - they will be used
poncho - for the 6 month rainy season, maybe?
TSA approved combination locks - get several, I suggest combination so you don't have to carry keys for 2 years

2 med size duffel bags - army surplus quality – durable and not at all flashy
1 large size duffel bag - REI type
1 shoulder bag - for carry on
VISA debit card - VISA works here, some others don't. Look into it.
About $200 in USD bills - Try to get bills from 2006 or later, it's complicated so if you can just bring new bills.

Camera Supplies
Pelican case - might have trouble with TSA, but useful and can be locked
good zoom camera - for safaris and whatnot
point and shoot camera - for everyday whatnot
full backup set of rechargeable batteries - not sure if I trust the battery brands here small battery tester might come in handy, but it's cheap and might not work as great as it should
Small Camera Bag - for everyday travel
Larger Camera Bag - for safaris and other travel
camera lens cleaner cloth - duh
lens cleaner fluid duh
small tripod - it's very small

Solar stuff and gadgets
Goal Zero: - Goal Zero has great customer service, PC discount, and a lot of other volunteers have/use their products. It's also one of the only chargers that can charge 4 batteries at once, both AA and AAA.

Guide 10 plus
Nomad 7
10 led lamp
Rockout speaker

mp3 player – 8G - load it up and bring it – plus we share a lot of music too
several flash drives to back up pics - easier than buying and packing an external drive
2 sets of headphones - you'll break or lose one
headphone splitter - haven't used it yet, but I can still see where it would be useful
US to UK plug converter - get one
Kindle - can be a little pricy, but the battery life is great and you'll read a lot of books here
battery charger - debatable if you have the Goal Zero charger
small binoculars - great for a birdwatcher in the African wetlands!
2 headlamps with AAA batteries - I don't use them all the time, but they are really helpful when traveling around without candles

Crank lantern - PC gave us solar lanterns that work really well, then I broke it
crank flashlight - I use it constantly, especially at night
netbook - most volunteers brought some sort of laptop. The provincial house only has a computer and a half
digital watch - good to have

Bath Supplies
one week's worth of toiletries - unless you want name brand stuff, you can get it here
toothbrush  w/ travel case - definitely get one
floss - unwaxed in medkit, but can find at big stores, pack a lot
toothpaste - you can get colgate and aquafresh here
small bottle listerine - not essential, but I like to use it from time to time
shampoo there is a good variety here, but can get pricy
soap w/ travel case - very useful
pumice stone - you can get them here for a dollar
razor - they have a few name brands here
shaving cream - just bring enough for the first few weeks
comb - bring it
scissors - versatile, bring a pair
small tissue packet - I just use toilet paper...
advil - pain meds in medkit, not really useful unless you need on flight
lip balm - in medkit, unless you need some on the flight
deodorant - name brands are expensive here, but I've found decent ones
small container of hand sanitizer - I've heard you can get that relatively cheap around here
pre moistened toilet paper - just in case
sunscreen spf 70 - in medkit
OFF! Deep woods 25% deet - in medkit
camping mirror - broke on the flight, can buy here anyway
fingernail kit - duh
small sewing kit - used it the first week
couple dozen Q-tips - expensive here

10 pack of bungee cords - at least bring a few
zip ties - haven't used them yet, but they are cheap, I'd bring some
hammock with straps and carabiners - made my hut a paradise, highly recommended
3.5inch pocket knife - I use this a lot
leatherman – one old and one new - I use these a lot
swiss army knife - I use this a lot
fire starter kit - matches are super cheap here, or bring a lighter
bike repair kit - they give you everything you need for a bike, except saddlebags, it's you're call. I plan on making a crate and strapping it down with bungee cords

duct tape - useful
small super absorbant camping rag - I can find a lot of uses for this
durable working gloves - haven't used them yet, but they are small and useful
cheap carabiners - bring a handful, you'll use them somewhere, somehow

Odds and Ends
2 photo books (one for me, one for show) - I'd recommend, but one is probably just fine
passport cover book - nice to have
2 travel books of Zambia - definitely bring, also get a good map of zambia, Peace Corps hasn't given us any yet

address book of family, etc. - and back it up everywhere
Frisbee - good to have, Zambians can't get them to work though
deck of cards - nice to have when you are bored
soccer ball - bring some needles to pump too, or buy here
spork – just in case - you can buy utensils here, and they're cheap
vegetable peeler - should have brought an orange peeler too
bike coily chain thing - I can see myself using it sometime
combination lock - haven't seen combination locks, just key locks
double size fitted sheet - typical size bed here, fitted sheets hard to find
double size sheets - PC supplies you with some, but I like having extras
journal - highly recommended
Sriracha hot sauce - Send me more!

1 pair boots
1 pair cheap tennis shoes
1 pair good sandals - you'll wear these a lot
1 pair five finger shoes - Zambians love to ask about them

3 pairs shorts                                                  
1 pair jeans                                                     
1 pair dress pants
2 pair fishing zip off pants - I wear these all the time
2 long sleeve fishing shirts - will come in handy come cold season
1 pair swimming trunks - for swimming                                     
2 dress shirts (polo) - for pretending to look dressy
1 button up dress shirt - maybe should have brought 1 more, but not necessary
5 pairs socks - they were white
3 tshirts - used clothes are cheap here, so don't bring a 2 year supply of shirts
1 belt                                                              
1 long sleeve shirt - cold season gets cold
1 zip up hoodie - cold season mornings get even colder
towel - I use a chitenge (cloth used for everything here) to dry after bucket baths, but having a real towel is nice too. Also, real towels are super expensive here

underwear - I'd suggest packing some
6 bandanas - more useful than I imagined
knee brace - I got a bad knee, I kneed this.

orange peeler - the oranges here are delicious but hidden in the thickest peel we've ever fought
running shoes - you might just want to go for a run
luggage with wheels - my luggage only weighed about 80 lbs, but it was all on my hands and shoulders, one of those on wheels would have made the trip much easier

sharpie marker - meant to pack it and forgot. Label most of your things.
Tie - meant to pack one and forgot, doesn't take up space, might as well
favorite board game - settlers of catan is way popular here
Ziplock bag - I didn't bring many, but you can pack with some to use later on
bike odometer - to see how far you've gone/fast you ride

Unless you have a specific phone you want to bring, and can get it unlocked, don't bring a phone. When you get here you will be taken to get phones. Talk to current volunteers about what phones they have, what features they like and use, and how much they cost. Bring about $100 USD for a phone. I use the Samsung Chat, which allows for basic internet stuff, and can hold 2 sim cards. I mostly use Gmail and Facebook, and search for random things on Google. It texts and calls and has a qwerty keyboard. Don't worry about service plans, there are 3 here to get, with different coverage areas. It is cheap to get a number and add talk time. When I was told not to worry about it, I did anyway. So I'll tell you again. Don't worry about it.

I didn't bring much dress clothes cause... It's Africa? I should have packed at least another dress shirt, probably short sleeve, as well as some more dress pants. My fishing pants have worked well for me, especially since they are thin and breeze helps cool me off. I haven't worn my shorts much because what they did not tell us before leaving was that we are supposed to dress nicely all throughout training. Right now I'm wearing my fishing pants, sandals, and a t-shirt, and I'm considered dressed nicely. However, if I was wearing shorts, I would not be dressed professionally.

For the women... wearing chitenges is standard. They wrap around your waist like a dress. As far as shirts go, you can wear tank tops and whatnot (I think they'd like you to stay away from spaghetti straps), but regular t-shirts are probably the easiest. Dresses are fine. Several of the girls here don't like wearing the chitenges, so they must wear long pants, capris, or dresses. Zambian culture does not allow showing knee or thigh. You'd be considered a prostitute. Those that don't mind wearing chitenges, typically wear leggings underneath so they can hike the chitenge up and still ride a bike.

You can also get clothes made here and they are quite inexpensive. I bought a chitenge for 6 bucks and had it custom made into a shirt for another 6. Keep that in mind for swearing in. It's a lot more fun when everyone is wearing African clothes.

Weight loss/gain:
The best explanation for weight gain or loss in Zambia, where guys tend to lose weight and women tend to gain weight, is because of the new diet we pretty much have no control over. Shima is corn and thus is high in carbs. So, when we're biking all day, men, with typically more muscle, use up all the carbs and lose weight. Women on the other hand, with less muscle mass, store more of the energy, and gain weight. Each person is different, some of the guys are gaining weight, while some of the girls are losing weight. It all depends. I will say if you're a bigger guy, pack some smaller clothes so you can fit into them later. I ended up losing a lot of weight right away, but I wouldn't have considered myself big to begin with. So, now my clothes swallow me, but it's manageable since I can just wear a belt or get cheap used clothes around town. Women, don't worry. Even the women here that have said they gained weigh, no one can tell. It's not drastic unless you're a bigger man. Just something to think about when packing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Path/Bridge across the dambo

Lake Bangweulu

Me, on a bridge in the Dambo near my hut.

One of the paths near my hut.

Bangweulu wetlands

Sunrise over Lake Bangweulu

The road to Mansa.

Tiger, at my homestay really knows how to relax.


September 19th, 2012

Samfya Beach

Second site visit is going great. We met some local fish farmers, staked a pond at a new pond site, and taught a group of fish farmers about fingerling transport in Bemba. We hung out, fetched water, and made some great American meals. But, since we were in Mansa and only an hour away from the beach...
Hired a taxi, stuffed ourselves into a tiny car with all our luggage, and all 6 of us, plus another passenger and the driver, headed off to Samfya Beach. Good thing it was only an hour. Most of the volunteers, when they have a beach craving, stay at a place called Kwacha Waterfront Lodge, where we camped on the beach for about $3 a night. The scenery is amazing, the water was clear and cool, and we stayed up late playing cards, drinking, and eating at the lodge. At night there were still fishermen on the water who had lit lanterns, so the horizon was filled with twinkling spots of light. The stars were spectacular as always. We had to get up early because we thought our driver was coming at 7 to pick us up, so we were able to catch the sunrise over Lake Bangweulu for the day we would be seeing our sites for the first time. We had to keep reminding ourselves we were still in Africa, and not some beach resort in the Caribbean.

Of course the driver didn't leave Mansa until 7am anyway, so we ate some breakfast sausage and got even more nervous
about what was in store for us for the rest of the day.

September 20th, 2012


Out of the 4 RAPpers heading to Luapula in our intake, I was to be the first stop. The road from Samfya north to Lubwe is simply breathtaking. The road hugs the western shore of Lake Bangweulu, the water is blue and the enormous wetland fields of tall green grass spotted with families fishing in the shallow water on the other side of the road is too much for words. After passing Lubwe, we turned off onto a smaller bush path. Down, down, down a dusty dirt road with nothing but trees and cassava fields for miles. Suddenly the trees cleared a bit and a little tiny community of just over 100 people emerged. We were in Mabote village, my home. The cruiser turned off the "main" road just a bit and parked next to a tiny white hut with a grass roof. My counterpart, BaPatrick was close behind with a key to let me in.
I entered to see three tiny rooms: a sitting area, a bedroom taken up mostly by a bed, and a smaller kitchen area. I exited the hut to grab my luggage and things, hitting my head on the overhanging grass that is my roof, to see dozens of villagers crowding around the newcomers. They all were coming up to greet me in Bemba, and a group began to sing some sort of welcome song. It was simply incredible how they welcomed a complete stranger. After the initial greetings, and after some goodbyes to the other trainees, the driver, and our second site hosts who were along for the ride, I was on my own... but far from alone.

BaPatrick is a great host and invited me to my insaka (remember the gazebo thing?) to sit with what I suspect is the fish farming group I'll soon become very familiar with. It feels like I've been here for so long, but I'm writing this only 4 hours after arriving. We sat in the insaka for some time until an older man and woman brought some roasted ground nuts (locally grown peanuts!) and cassava root. Like I've said before, the ground nuts are amazing here. The cassava root? It was roasted and quite possibly the driest thing I've ever eaten. There isn't much taste, and has a strange but not bad texture. It's very soft. I think it would be great dipped in butter. (I'd think anything dipped in butter would be great, I haven't had any for um, how long has it been, 10 weeks?)

BaPatrick then took me to see the well pump for the village and natural spring (dug out of an old ant hill, so I guess not natural at all) just down from my house on the edge of a beautiful dambo area (wetland, it'll be more like a river in the rainy season). Across a field is the fenced in area where the farming group has 20 ponds, and are getting ready to start a breeding pond to supply the area with fingerlings (called utwaana twe sabi, in bemba – literally translates to "baby fish"). We came back to my hut where I spent some time hanging my mosquito net and lying on my bed, exhausted. Then from outside, "Odi" (knock knock), I had to be polite, "Calibu" (Welcome, come in), lunch was ready. Shima and fish. Not bad. The villagers are told they are supposed to feed me for these first few days. I brought a gift of saladi (cooking oil) for the cooks, but I have no idea who is making my food.

Looking around my hut I have my insaka, where I will, and am apparently currently hosting visitors (yeah, there's like 6 guys sitting our there right now as I sit on my bed and scribble this). I have a ulusasa (grass bathing shelter), a cimbusu (outhouse, where they said they will make me a door because of the goats. I was unaware that goats could be a problem for outhouses, but recently I have heard they like to go in there and stand around, so I guess I'll take a free door), and a drying rack for dishes (a stand made of branches like a grid). It looks like my house is at a "Y" in the paths, but I have yet to see much traffic (or kids for that matter, jackpot!) I also have several trees just across from my hut arranged in a sort of circle which will be perfect to hang my hammock. There are several fields around that may or may not be currently used which apparently I can use to start a garden/demonstration plot.
When I mentioned to BaPatrick I had a lot of seeds I wanted to plant I think he said something regarding that I could give them to him or someone else to plant for me. I'll just have to show him I can make a garden on my own. I've heard many

Zambians think Americans are delicate and incapable of doing things ourselves. When we were walking to the fenced in ponds, I noticed they were moving sticks out of the way so I wouldn't trip. I would have been upset and argue that I could in fact walk over sticks, but I almost tripped later on, so maybe they have a point.

Anyway, I'll end here because my hand hurts from writing and I think some anonymous village women have prepared my bath water.

Turns out they even laid fresh leaves on the ground for me so my feet wouldn't get dirty. I felt like a princess.
September 21st, 2012

Visit Continued

Last night BaPatrick took me on a walk to see the carpenter. We started out back the way the cruiser had come to drop me off, and turned off onto another bush path shortcut. Along the way he tried to teach me words of things he saw and things people said. I met Mabote's headman and I watched one of his younger daughters try to play with a duck that was not too happy about the situation.

Fun fact: Mabote comes from the word amabote which is a chopped boiled pot of cassava. Makes sense, these people love cassava. Some varieties take three years to grow, and they are everywhere up here.

After one crazy day, I slept like a baby and work up to a village already booming with life. BaPatrick met me just before breakfast arrived. Ground nuts and cassava again. We discussed of what to do today and decided to head out to see the surrounding villages. Turns out this was a 3 hour walk from about 10 – 1. It got a little hot in the sun. But, I did get to meet a lot of people who I think are still convinced I'm the older volunteer, John, who is also about my height and also has a beard, but most importantly is white which pretty much makes us twins out here in the African bush. After our walk we returned home to nice refreshing warm water and lunch of shima and fish, again. BaPatrick started to get on my nerves this time. Apparently they want me to be really fat, so when I don't stuff my face with bland cornmeal porridge 3 times a day, I'm considered starving. While I was eating he kept asking me if I ate shima. He would even tell me to continue eating while my mouth was full, and after I told him I was finished and full he said he did not believe me and picked up another fish and told me to eat. I understand he is my host for these days, and if I'm hungry he isn't doing his job, but keeping the situation humorous was beginning to come to an end. I'll just have to make sure he knows that when I move into the village, I make my own food.

The food wasn't all bad. Like I said, the ground nuts are amazing, and although the roasted cassava root is dry, is not bad. On our walk today, BaPatrick pointed out some fruit trees with small little-bit-bigger-than-a-grape-sized-peach-looking-bush-fruit called impundu. When we visited his house, his daughter was pounding the fruit into a pulp, later to be cooked down and thickened with dried ground (you guessed it) cassava root to make a porridge. She brought it over to my house later when she was done so I could try some. It was delicious. Kinda tasted like a mild jelly, but runny and in soup form. Apparently they do the same thing with mangoes. I ordered a pot when the mangoes are ready.

Later we walked around my house and discussed how to go about adding a big porch onto the front of my house, where to put a garden and chicken coop, and where best to stand to get a phone signal. I'm still not sure about any of these.

After dinner BaPatrick and I, as well as a few neighbors sat around while they spoke Bemba and kept asking me what I was thinking about while staring off in the distance at some trees. I don't think they believed me when I said, "nothing." My crank flashlight was a huge hit though, and they "cranking to charge the battery" doesn't translate into Bemba very well.

All in all, this visit has been a blast. The drive up here is incredible, and as I mentioned earlier, Lake Bangweulu is beautiful. My jaw dropped for the 45 minute journey north of Samfya, with the lake, the tall green grass, and villages with big trees. I can't believe I'm going to be living in a place this beautiful.
September 24th, 2012

Luapula Provincial House

So I'm just going to mention a few things about the Peace Corps provincial house in Mansa, Luapula. Each province has their own house since Zambia is so rural. It's rare for Peace Corps to have more than one office. So we're lucky. It has a guard 24/7 and barbed wire around a big wall. We are safe. It's a little overkill, but still a nice little American oasis. Inside is a few offices in one building where the driver works and some of the other staff, as well as living quarters for the volunteer who runs the house. The other building I can best describe if you imagine a bunch of hippies built and renovated a frat house. It has 4 or 5 rooms with bunk beds, a huge kitchen, a dining room that opens up to a TV room, a computer/office room (with wireless if there's power), and an outdoor porch area to also hang out in. There is also a ginormous collection of books and DVD's where you can take one leave one.

This is where I began to notice the culture of the volunteers. I love it. Everyone is friendly and exited to be in a place where they can speak English, watch movies, make food, and live with electricity (when it's on). Each night everyone who is staying at the house makes dinner together, from scratch. One of the nights, when the power was off, we were working on making a Mexican dinner. We rolled dough, chopped salsa, and fried chips, etc. Everything went from raw form to delicious. The power even came back on so we didn't have to work entirely from charcoal. Everyone pitched in and helped, there were about 10 of us.
Just hanging out with these people is great. I've mentioned how impressed I am with everyone in our intake, and it has continued with every current volunteer I've met so far. Everyone is genuine, friendly, funny and lighthearted, and just laughs at crazy situations we get in (like cooking for 10 people without electricity). We sat around after dinner and told goofy stories of the other trainees and volunteers, like how the Northwest Province group had 4 flat tires on their way to their provincial house for site visit (they also have the longest drive, the roads are awful up there). It was just great hanging out and relaxing for a while in the middle of this crazy intense training we are in.

One highlight of the stay at the house is hanging out after getting back from our individual sites. It was incredibly hot that day and everyone had their feet kicking around in a kiddie pool. I sat in a hammock for a while and out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the coolest birds I've ever seen fly through the mango and lemon trees in the backyard. A pennant winged nightjar. Look it up.

September 27th 2012

Back in Kentucky, Peace Corps had a picnic for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and those of us in the application/nomination process. I was able to meet with a fellow nominee that is scheduled for Sub-Saharan Africa, fisheries, leaving February 2013. That pretty much means Zambia. So, she's asked a few questions about training and life as a volunteer thus far. As training comes to a close, I'll try and knock these out before a whole new experience starts up... again.

What is your favorite part of the day?
Sleeping. I'm exhausted most of the time. I love to be able to lay down and pass right out. But that's not a very exiting answer. What I like most about these days, especially as they come to a close is hanging out with all the other trainees. We have come quite close over the last few months, and just being able to sit around and enjoy each others company gives us all a good feeling.

I'd also like to add the random times I get hit with a reminder that I'm actually in Africa. Like right now, I'm writing this on my computer with a rapidly draining battery at 11pm at night (wayyyy past my bedtime). Across the street this morning a neighbor of mine died. I didn't know him, but a funeral is currently taking place. I can hear a large group of what I'm guessing is men and women singing mourning songs. It's been going on for hours now, and although sad, is really beautiful. Zambians can sing. Other times it hits me when we're stuffed in the back of a land cruiser barreling down the tarmac while I look out the window at the picturesque landscape that is Africa. Another good one was when I was getting up for the first day in my new village of Mabote, just listening to the sounds of village life as the sun rose across the African sky.

Biggest disappointment so far?

I think I'm going to mention this in another blog post or so, but I guess I might consider the food as a disappointment. Some of the trainees and volunteers I have talked to like the Zambian foods. Although I do like some, I typically don't like eating meals unless they remind me in some way of food I used to eat back in the states. Plus, the way training is and the setup with the homestays, you can't really make your own food. My suggestion would be right away to tell your host family what you like and don't like. Perhaps tell them you like fresh fruits like apples and oranges for breakfast. It's better to set the ground rules early, than later. Also, keep in mind they get paid a decent amount per day to host you, they can afford to feed you really well and still pocket some of the cash. But then again, Peace Corps is all about integration. Buckle down and eat some shima! I can't wait to cook my own food again.

What do I wish I had brought that I didn't?

I'm making a master list of everything that I brought, why, and suggestions for things I should have brought. Should be updated soon soon.

Biggest challenge thus far?

Before I left I thought not having power was going to be a big challenge. It's not. I forget all the time. We came back to the provincial house in Luapula last week. It took me about 3 hours before I realized we didn't have power in the whole city (actually someone said something that brought it to my attention). Although, for the first few weeks I kept going for the light switch in my hut.

I can't really put my finger on one thing that has challenged me any more than any other one thing. I think it's challenging because I haven't experienced the types of things I deal with on a daily basis all together like I have here in training. Eating new foods, getting sick all the time, insane weight loss, homesickness, isolation, learning a new language, constant attention, confusion, frustration, etc. We've all experienced these things separately, but when have you crammed them all into 11 weeks? Don't let this discourage you. It's challenging, but already rewarding. Just keep thinking positively, find the things you enjoy, and enjoy life.

What's language training like? Are the teachers Zambian or American? What about group size?

Intense! So, after the first week they will divide everyone into language groups. 2-4 people is the typical size. You don't have much control over what language you speak, but you do have one time to voice your opinion after some volunteers talk about why their provinces are the best. They all have something cool to offer, and all have their challenges. I haven't met a volunteer yet who doesn't think their province is the best.
Anywho, Zambians teach the classes. We meet several times a week for 4 hours, depending on the crazy schedule they give us and what changes they make at the last minute. Bantu languages aren't developed the way the languages we're used to are, and are therefore much more of an oral language, so spelling doesn't matter as much. All the exams are oral, and a good part of each class is repeating back what you have learned. The earlier classes start with simple things like describing your family and what you ate for breakfast. Then you progress to more vocabulary so you can point out things like garden tools, kitchen supplies, etc. After that it becomes much more conversational, so you get to know the tenses and start describing what you like to do, what you did in the US, where you will be living, what you do each day of the week, etc. It's a tough schedule, but keep with it, and make sure to use the language as much as possible in your homestay. Sometimes you'll feel like you've hit a brick wall, but then something will click and you feel like you can talk again. For instance, learning the word "pantu" (because) added a lot more context to my sentences. Before, all I could say was, "I need to do my laundry tomorrow". But that quickly turned into, "I need to do my laundry tomorrow because I will be going to Luapula on saturday." Keep studying, don't fall back, and you'll do fine.

How long do you think it'll take for your community to trust and respect your suggestions?

Luckily for me I'm a second generation volunteer. There was a volunteer there for 2 years before me. He probably already dealt with a lot of the misconceptions about volunteers, so hopefully I won't have to. Nevertheless I'm sure I'll have to deal with a lot of hesitation from villagers as to how trusting they should be of me. That's why the first 3 months in the village we aren't allowed to leave our district. It's called Community Entry and we have a lot of work to do. Mainly this has nothing to do with fish farming or agriculture or anything like that. We are supposed to be gaining the respect and friendship of the community by integrating ourselves, meeting people, attending social gatherings, and becoming a villager. We are supposed to be making a seasonal calendar, a daily work schedule, maps, needs assessment, etc. to help us better understand what we can do for the community and how best to go about it. So, I can't really answer the question, other than I hope really soon.

Side effects of malaria meds?

Oh yeah! I'm on mefloquine. It's the easiest to take because you take it only once a week since the half life of the drug is like 10 days or something. The side effects effect people in different ways. Typically this manifests itself in crazy lucid dreams. Sometimes they are a bit disturbing, but my dreams rarely bother me too badly. Some people get paranoid and have problems sleeping. These effects also seem to go away after a while of taking the pills. And they are great for sharing stories. Unfortunately I haven't seen and difference in dreams for a while, they are pretty much back to normal after 10 weeks.

There are two other possible drugs you can take. One of them is doxycycline, which unfortunately you have to take once a day. It's side effect is sun sensitivity. My understanding is that they will put you on doxycycline if you have had any history of mental problems, even as simple as seeing a counselor or being on antidepressants or something like that. I don't know for sure really, but I'm guessing they don't want to give you a pill that will make you paranoid and give you insomnia if you've already had similar problems with that in the past. I'm sure there are lots of reasons, I'm just speculating.

There is one other pill that they can give you, I forget the name, only a few people take it because it costs something like $6 a pill and you also have to take it once a day. This one has no side effects.

Does it feel like I've been living in a fishbowl?

A bit, yes. We are definitely celebrities here, and we get a lot of unwanted attention. I have to come up with excuses when people ask for my phone number, refuse invitations to grab a beer in the morning, etc. Obviously you're going to stand out being white in Africa, so you just have to get used to the stares. It's strange, sometime it gets to me and stresses me out, other times it's fun and enjoyable. I guess it's all about what your outlook and attitude towards it is. I have to set boundaries. While I'm in Chongwe with tons of people and even more kids, I don't talk to kids. I don't want to be mean, but whenever I gave them any attention, they kept getting closer, to the point I couldn't walk in a straight line down the road. They also got to the point they would run out in front of my bike and I would almost run over them. In the village I'll probably be nicer to the kids, but here it is a real problem. As far as adults, it's difficult as well. I mean, everyone wants to talk to us. So, you can either talk to everyone, some, or none. In crowds I typically don't talk to people unless I need something. It's not that I'm trying to be rude to everyone, I just literally can't be polite to everyone. I've taken to having big sunglasses and headphones so maybe they think I can't hear them. If the road is deserted except for me and another person, I'll usually say hi.

What veggies do I plan to grow in my garden?

I plan on making a good garden. I'm thinking of trying to lead by example as much as possible. Many farmers use store bought fertilizers and pesticides as their only means of helping out their crops (other than watering). I'm going to try to show them how to use a compost and intercrop to save money and have a bigger harvest. So, I'll be growing some of the things they grow, to compare, as well as some stuff just for me. Tomatoes, peppers, chilies, sunflowers, corn, beans, peas, basil, pumpkin, more chilies, potatoes probably too. I'll also get some chickens for eggs.

How far is the nearest PCV to me?

I'm something like 12 kilometers from Lubwe, where my nearest PCV neighbor is. I'm hoping to meet up with her soon after arriving to get a tour of the town. Lubwe is a community set up by missionaries back in the early 1900's, I think, and is located right on the western shore of Lake Bangweulu. They have a school where I believe my language trainer attended, a decent sized hospital/clinic, where another staff member worked, a really old church, and some stores including an internet cafe type thing. It kinda has a Spanish feel to it, with the old architecture of the buildings, and being located near the water.

September 29th 2012Mail Me!

My new shipping address will be:
Ben Bowman
PO Box 710150
Mansa, Luapula, Zambia

Anything will be greatly appreciated; letters of encouragement, updates in your life, pictures, packages with chocolates and power bars, spice packets, SRIRACHA!, candy, etc.

A trick to sending things that might help it get here faster is to add "Brother" in front of my name to make it seem like religious materials and also put religious phrases on the sides. If people think it is for religious purposes, they are less likely to tamper with it. Use this address for the rest of my service. If you send to the older address I mentioned in an earlier post, it'll take even longer because it will sit in the Lusaka office until someone decides to bring it up to me.