Sunday, August 26, 2012


Some of the RAPpers at a fish pond.

The dusty road I no longer take. The bushes shouldn't be red.

Development is hard work.

Chongwe Market, selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables.

New path I take to class every day.

Site Placement!

Last Monday we got our site placements! I'll be living in Mabote, Luapula Province. It is somewhere on the western shore of Lake Bangweulu. Luapula and is one of the wetter parts of Zambia, known for many waterfalls. Being a wetland, it is also known for it's birds, something like 400+ species. Needless to say, I'm very exited. It was pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. I will say, however, that I was almost hoping to be placed in Central Province where the Lala tribe lives, so I could say that I was living in Lalaland for 2 years. I'm also pretty sure that everyone is happy with their placement, and I haven't met a current volunteer yet that hasn't said their Province and site is the best.

I will be second generation, which means I will be replacing a current volunteer who was the first person to be located at the site. I have spoken briefly with him and he says he has loved his site and there are many good farmers eager to work with him. To find it on a map, try looking for Lubwe, Luapula Province, Zambia. Apparently I'll be about 10 miles from there.

I hear Mansa, the provincial capital is roughly 9 hours from Lusaka, not bad. Could be a lot worse. My site from Mansa shouldn't be more than an hour from there, but I'm still not sure exactly where that is. We will find out soon enough; our second site visit is in 2 weeks.

Basically we've all just gotten a boost of motivation. We were super motivated after getting back from first site visit where we got to see actual Zambia, not the fancy motel with outdoor bar and cheap beers we had been staying at. We were craving to start speaking the local languages, and exited to start training and living in our homestays. A month later we weren't feeling the same. Many of us have gotten sick with diarrhea, slight fevers, hunger, homesickness, etc. We bike everywhere which is starting to wear a lot of us out. Plus we get a new shot every week. The latest was Hep A, which I think made about half of us feel sick for a few days, then this week was the flu shot. Then we had our first language exams, which were all oral and quite stressful. I managed a 4.9/5, so I'm feeling competent, but it was still a lot of work. Basically, Africa is starting to take its toll.

But now we have our site placement and can really start daydreaming about what we want to do, what we are going to cook, how big our gardens will be, who our closest volunteer neighbors will be, etc. It is motivating to know we are half way done with training and progress is being made. We are comfortable getting around, we know each other a lot better, we can say some things in the local languages, and we don't feel so new and confused.

It is funny how after 5 weeks there was a huge switch in the conversations we have. Before, we would talk about ourselves, our backgrounds, sports and olympics, science, rumors we've heard about Zambia and volunteers (like the guy who burnt down his cimbusu (outhouse)), and just whatever. Now I will have at least one serious conversation specifically about American food a day. We're craving it now. It's bad.

Also for Luapula, there are 4 RAP volunteers heading there, and 8 from the CHIP group. Overall there are about 40 total Volunteers in the province.

August 14th  2012
Each volunteer gets a medkit, but what's inside?

Prenatal Vitamins (caused a lot of confusion with the guys. There's no estrogen, it's just a vitamin)
Acetaminophen – pain reliever
Ibuprofen – more pain reliever
Antacid – for heartburn
Nasal Decongestant
Upset Stomach /Antidiarrheal
Anti Ich Cream (maximum)
Antibiotic cream
Eye drops
Lip Balm
Emergency Water Purification Tablets
Sore Throat Lozenges
Hydrocortisone Cream
Antiseptic Solution
Antifungal Cream
More Antidiarrheal pills
First Aid Booklet
Oral Rehydration Salts
Malaria Self Test
Malaria Prevention Pills
Malaria Treatment Pills
Skin Infection Pills
Nausea Pills
Insect Repellent

I've used 16 of these already. Hah. But I will admit the seriousness and professionalism of the medical staff for Peace Corps is great. They are on call 24/7 for us. Anyone who gets a fever gets a trip into Lusaka for a checkup. If it's really bad they will even fly you to South Africa for more treatment. Our safety is number one. Each week we get more training on how to be healthy and what to do and look out for if we start feeling sick and getting symptoms. At the end of our service we will be tested for pretty much any possible thing you can catch here, and even treated for things we may or may not have. An example of how they go out of their way? I was feeling pretty sick today and called medical who asked about my symptoms and whatnot. They prescribed a medication I did not have in my medkit and drove it to my homestay to hand it to me personally. I'm feeling much better now.

August 23rd 2012
Zambia History

For now I'm just going to focus on some interesting facts I've learned over these last 5 weeks. One very impressive thing about Zambia in the whole of Africa is how much it's not in the news. I'm willing to bet most people who found out I was going to Zambia had to look it up. The main reason Zambia isn't well known is because it has never been in a war. In fact, even its presidents have been relatively peaceful for African standards. Also, Zambia is quite poor, hence the presence of the Peace Corps, and has had some economic issues in the past. For example, their money, the Zambian Kwacha used to be equivalent to 1 USD. Now the exchange rate is about 5,000 Kwacha to 1 USD.

Nevertheless, although Zambia is poor in economics, it is rich in culture. Very rich in culture. There are over 70 different recognized ethnic groups, spanning roughly 13 different language groups. The government has done a great job to unify Zambia because of its differences, rather than fight because of them. For example, the Nyanjas of Eastern Province are tribal cousins of the Bembas, and historically would fight all the time. Now it's the biggest joke among Zambians. Anything goes. You can make fun of how Easterners eat rats all the time and how bad they smell. All they can do is laugh and make fun of Bembas for eating baboons. Some Easterners claim they are wise, because the wise men came from the east. But Bembas retort that at least they were wise enough to leave in the first place. In our language groups we were learning words to describe the body, and we were instructed to draw an Easterner and make them look as ugly as possible.

August 25th 2012

As you probably already know, Africa is having a terrible time with HIV and AIDS. Where I am, in Sub Saharan Africa, the percentage of the population is the worst in the world, and Zambia is right in the middle of the mess. Official numbers and statistics for how many people have it are all over the place, and rightly so, just getting to some of the areas around here are difficult to begin with. On top of that, there is such a taboo of who has it, who will admit it and who will even get tested in the first place, the numbers are approximations at best. In some areas, like in the cities and big intersections, where there is a high population of people moving about and looking for work, the percentage of those infected can reach the mid to upper 20's. So, imagine 4 people in a room. 1 has HIV. In the villages, where people travel less, and just depending on the village and their behavior, this number can drop down to about 10%. So, 1 in 10 would have it. Compare that to the United States? Roughly 1 in 200 people have HIV.

Fortunately, countries like the United States are pumping tons of money into countries like Zambia. Is it doing any good? Well, yes actually. Tens of thousands of people in Zambia have free access to anti-retroviral drugs which decrease the chance of transmitting the virus, as well as prolonging the horrible effects HIV/AIDS has on the body. Recently, there has been a decrease in the number of pregnant women in Zambia being tested at clinics, something around 29% - 24%.

HIV gives Peace Corps a unique opportunity to do some development work. Actually, something like 70 or 90% of Zambia's Peace Corps budget comes from US funds specifically for teaching about and helping with HIV awareness. So, regardless of if we are Community Health, Education, Aquaculture, or Environment volunteers, we have to incorporate HIV/AIDS into our work. Anywho, for those of us volunteers working with rural farms, working towards helping families and communities get a more balanced diet is key. Many of these farmers do not understand what a balanced diet means, and that different foods have different nutrients. In a balanced diet in these areas, many families lack protein. Especially the children. Ever see pictures of African kids with a big swollen belly? That's a disease.

Getting protein in their diet, as well as working towards a well balanced diet is most important for pregnant mothers, children, and those suffering from HIV. Development work is hard, we've heard, and getting people motivated can sometimes be the toughest part. “Positive Living” groups have been forming around the country where those infected with HIV live or work together and work as a support group for one another. We've heard these groups are easy to get motivated into working towards producing a more balanced diet with their farms. I am looking forward to not only help these people, but perhaps shatter some myths about how taboo it is to be around those infected. (In many cases, if someone is infected, they may be outcast from the community.)

On a lighter note, 2 things that remind me I'm a very long way from home:
First – Have you ever heard of Occam's Razor? It's the idea or parsimony, that the simplest explanation is most likely correct. A good example might be that it's easier to explain the motion of the planets in the solar system if the sun is in the middle. Then, all the planets move around in almost perfect circles. If the earth were in the middle, for instance, the sun would have a circular orbit, but all the other planets wouldn't follow such a simple pattern. Difficult for a physicist to explain. Again, the simplest explanation is more likely correct.

The famous example is if you hear hoof beats, think horses. It could be zebras, but what are the odds...

Except, if you're living in Africa.

Second – When you're growing up in the US, your mother always gets on you to finish you plate at dinner. Why? Because there are starving kids in Africa, right? Actually here, if you finish your plate, it's almost like an insult to the cook, suggesting you are still hungry. Leaving a little behind shows you are satisfied with the amount you were given and you are in fact full.

Here’s a link to see where I currently live. Across from the Agriculture Showgrounds.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Farmer we met on our first site visit in Central Province, and
5 of his 12 kids. Loving the little girl in the middle.

My hut and bathing shelter on the right. Notice there is no door.

Sitting outside my hut. A chicken strolls by.

Peace Corps tan lines.

Getting In The Groove

Just to note on the last entry, the bags that were lost were found and returned.

            For the last few weeks I've been writing blog entries in a notebook here in my hut at my homestay for training. These are now being put into my computer, but alas, no internet. They will stay here until I find wifi. Sorry for the strain of thought going, bare with me. The dates at the top are the date it was written. Some will be updated later on when I learn more stuff or when new stuff gets old, and most have a heading. The heading is to direct my focus, and I challenge any readers to comment and list suggestions for new topics. Dig deep, think hard, let me know what you want to know about the culture, the traditions, how I get around, what I do everyday, what I'm thinking, etc.

I apologize for the length of this entry, but I'm sure you can handle it. It might be quite a while till I get more internets.

July 28th 2012
            My smell has been pretty bad lately because of inconsistent bucket baths. At the hotel we were staying at, oddly enough, sometimes only had boiling hot water (which I accidentally poured over my head once). Now that I'm in my homestay, I'll be getting regular warm bucket baths every evening and my odor will subside.
            The smell of the land is dusty and smokey. We joked that this was the best place to live in the world because it kinda smells like a barbeque all the time. But, since it is the dry season and a lot of fires get out of hand from unsustainable slash and burn agriculture, smoke lingers in most areas and fires are very common. Most days on our way to classes we'll pass fires burning with no one watching them or trying to put them out.

            Shima (or “ubwali” in Bemba) is the favorite food in Zambia. It is described as a cornmeal porridge you eat with your hands. It is served with relish, which can be anything from a delicious cabbage tomato mix (yes, I said delicious cabbage) to baked beans. Overall meat is expensive and hard to come by. Chickens are plentiful here, but they are sometimes only used like a bank savings account. What we prescribe to help with protein consumption in place of actual meat is things like peanut butter, beans, and soya (kinda like tofu with meat flavoring, also delicious). Peanut butter here, even the cheap stuff, is the best I've had in my whole life. But alas, there isn't really any milk to help wash it down.

            The body of the dead is almost always buried near their home. For the first few days everyone is sad, but that all changes when the body is buried. Once buried, the house of the deceased must be cleansed. To cleanse a house, friends and family gather to sing and dance to make sure the ghost does not stay. To be even more sure, a family member will sometimes take the name of the dead for a day, and everyone, including children, will address him or her by the name of the dead. Before HIV/AIDS, the brother of the deceased would take widow and family. Since it is hard to tell who is infected in these areas, plus with the taboo of someone knowing you're infected, today usually just a gift will be given.

(A quick note on cultural traditions – some of these traditions could be widespread throughout southern Africa, or localized to one tribe or region. For this case, I don't know how widespread these traditions are, but I'll try to be specific when I can)

            Overall, Zambians regard respect very highly. Things like how you dress shows how much you respect the people around you. When first arriving at my homestay, the children came into the living room area where we eat (generally Zambians eat outdoors, my homestay is an exception), his children came in one by one, and got on their knees to introduce themselves and meet me.
            What I love is how greetings with other adults are conducted. To shake hands you begin with a normal shake, switch the angle of your thumbs so you clench palms by wrapping your thumbs, then move back to a normal shake. It's kinda cool. The older the person, the better. This includes slow clapping accompanied with bowing at the knees, extending the handshake, as well as holding your right elbow with your left hand. Kinda makes me feel like I'm 8,000 miles away from home. Not to mention all this is done in the local language, in my case Bemba. I had the opportunity to meet with a 78 year old man and the greetings and goodbyes were all increased. He said that one of the other trainees looked like Muhammad Ali (despite being caucasian), and was quite impressed to hear that I came from the city Muhammad Ali lives.

July 29th 2012
Making a difference already
            I know that some people have problems with the intentions and ideas of the Peace Corps. I will most likely return to this subject often as I learn more about the Peace Corps, and experience first hand what it is like. In some ways it may look like the US is just being arrogant and trying to force the American way on the lives of poor and underdeveloped areas. I'm sure there have been volunteers that have abused the power and opportunities they were given and taken their role too far. However, for the majority of volunteers, at least in Zambia where we are so removed from our American culture, I do not think this abuse of power takes place. The culture of Zambia is incredibly rich, and although globalization is taking place all over the world, I'm not concerned anymore that my presence is going to make any difference than their radio or internet cafes scattered across the country. Additionally, from day one we have been given classes introducing us to the Zambian culture so that we can better integrate ourselves into our communities later on. Without integration and respect from our neighbors, which can only be done by following their cultural norms and speaking their language, we cannot give advice and expect positive change. Our safety and security will also be compromised unless we are viewed more equal.
            We are not here to force the American way of life on natives. Far from it. Every country where Peace Corps has a presence has specifically requested volunteers and has worked with the US government to attain skilled workers. Additionally, each village where a volunteer lives has applied to host a volunteer and supplied houses, often building new ones with American specifications like size, proximity to a water source, safe area, accessible by land rover in case of emergency, etc. However, Peace Corps volunteers live poor and are primarily a resource of knowledge, not a cash machine.
            For the most part, any volunteer is simply hoping to help improve the lives of their neighbors (unless they are in the education sector, I suppose). Things in the US that we take for granted sometimes don't exist here or are not even known about or practiced. There are things like methods of purifying water, sleeping under mosquito nets, practicing safe sex and birth control, cleaning their fruits and vegetables before eating, growing and eating a balanced diet, and knowing the signs of different illnesses.
            This is where the Peace Corps is already making a difference, and we haven't even made it to our posts. The families we are living with have applied to volunteer to host an American (they are paid to feed us and house us, etc.), and are trained before we get here. The training includes things like how to help us learn the language and culture, but also how to help us with basic needs, like clean, boiled water, showers, a balanced diet, place to hang our mosquito net and sleep, etc.
            After hosting an American, many families report adopting some of these behaviors. These behaviors directly effect their health and well being, allowing these families to perhaps spend less money traveling to and from a clinic if one of their children gets sick from malnourishment, and more money paying for their children's education.

July 30th 2012
            The way in which anyone here uses water depends on the source. Typically water is either drawn from a stream/furrow or pumped or drawn from a well. Tap water pretty much only exists in the cities. So far the water I have seen is relatively clear. This does not mean it's clean and free of bacteria and viruses, but it feels better to wash your face with clear water than muddy water.
            In emergencies, when you need clean water fast, iodine tablets have been provided. However, long term use of iodine has led some volunteers to have thyroid problems. For typical drinking water, it generally takes some planning ahead. Here at the homestay, we get a bucket of boiled water that we pour through ceramic candles which work like a fine filter. Just boiling the water is fine, but once it goes through the filter it tastes fresh and clean. Before the filter it kinda tastes like dirt (I know from experience). Once we are at our post we will move to another method, or variations of it. We will pull our water from whatever water source is nearest, filter it through the ceramic candles we used before, but instead of boiling it, we will use chlorine drops. A bottle of chlorine drops that will last several months costs 1,000 Zambian kwatca = 20 US cents.

August 2nd 2012
            All the RAP trainees are now living in Chongwe District in the Province of Lusaka. While we are here for the 11 weeks, we live with a host family who feeds us and lets us stay in either a hut or room in their house. The family must be able to speak the language the trainee is learning so they can more completely immerse themselves in the language and culture, learning it faster. I am learning Bemba, but we have trainees in RAP learning Tonga (Southern Province), Nyanja (Eastern Province), Kaonde and Lunda (Northwestern Province) and Mambwe (Northern Province). The Bemba speakers don't know what province we'll be sent to since it is more widespread and is spoken in Central, Northern, and Luapula provinces. It's also spoken in the Cobberbelt and Lusaka Provinces, but Peace Corps isn't working in Copperbelt and new volunteers don't work in Lusaka. So, overall, Bemba is the most useful language in Zambia besides English. (I've heard we'll know our site placement in 2 weeks!)
            My host father, or Bataata, speaks English fairly well and has been a great help in teaching me practical things around the compound. My host mother, or Bamaayo, speaks only Bemba to my knowledge. Most days we get some sort of language homework to take back and work on with our family. My host parents have 9 children in all, but it is a mess to try and figure out who lives here and who doesn't. I think about 3-4 have moved out. It gets confusing since Zambians believe in a very extended family where our American labels of things like brother and cousin are blurred. So, for instance, all male cousins may call all the uncles Dad, or Bataata. Those cousins may call each other brother, or Bandume. Even the name Bataata can be used to address any upstanding older male, which just makes things more confusing. Same for Bamaayo. So, on any given day there could be a dozen children running around making excuses to walk by my door and look in at the muzungu (white person).
            The compound is made up of about 10 individual huts. There is no one hut everyone lives in, and the living room is outside. Some huts store supplies or food, and others have beds. I just found out the other day that 100 chickens live in one of them, and there are 3 goofy looking big eared pigs too. Most huts have a thatched roof that gets replaced about every other year depending on how bad the rains were. My hut has a tin roof, which is pretty flashy for Zambians. It is fine for the homestay, but at our posts we won't have tin roofs because we don't want to give the impression of being wealthy. We don't get paid much to live here, and our primary job is to be a resource, not give handouts. Plus, having houses like everyone else helps us integrate into the community and stand out less.
            Back to the homestay, my hosts have an indoor eating area for guests (again, fancy for Zambians – not typical). Inside, they have a radio and TV powered by solar panels that have charged a car battery. (Note, when I get to my village, there will be no TV's) On special occasions my Bataata will turn on the TV and watch music videos. Yesterday we watched (and by “we watched” I mean he turned on the TV and put in the DVD without my input) some 90's boy band music videos.  A few other volunteers have TV's in their homestays. One in my language group has gotten into an Italian soap opera with his host family and watches it every day. Another has been watching something like Desperate Housewives and Zambia's Got Talent. I will also note that most other trainees are incredibly jealous that we get to watch anything on a television.

August 6th 2012
The Average Day
            Typically we have language training in the morning. I get up by 7am usually. I open the door to my hut and kinda wait around for a while. I don't really know how to ask for breakfast, or if it's culturally acceptable to demand food, so I just wait around until they tell me to eat. Breakfast is usually bread with peanut butter and, depending on they type of jam, jam. The tangelo jam has peel chunks so I've learned to avoid it. Piping hot water for tea is always ready. By 7:45 I'm on my bike to language class, something like 1-2 km away (10 minutes). Something like 12-12:30 I'm on my way back to the homestay for lunch.
            Technical training starts at 14:00 and is about 7km away down a dirt road. It takes about a half hour to ride there. I still haven't decided what side of the road to ride on. First of all, they drive on the wrong side of the road here, and second of all, pedestrians do not have the right of way. So you have to decide whether or not to play chicken with pickup trucks who refuse to scoot over into the other lane even a little, or ride with your back to oncoming traffic. Also along the way are about 100 kids who need to ask, “How are you?” because apparently that's all they learn in English class here. I've started taking a back way that is a lot more fun, less dusty, and you don't have to almost get hit my cars.
            Once I've made it to the Farmers Training Institute, we all gather in a ginormous insaka (think giant gazebo with grass roof) for lectures on malaria, safety and security, all aspects of culture, dirrhea, travelling, fish, ponds, fishponds, etc. We break for a snack, then we're back at it again until 17:00 when we are done for the day.
            After another half hour ride back home, my bath water is usually already warm for me. Bathing is done outdoors in a grass fenced kind of spiral of sorts. There is no door whatsoever. My bathroom has a similar design, no door – plus it has crotch height little windows, go figure. My bathroom, or cimbusu, was built especially for white people like me, so it has a seat. Normally there is no seat, and it's just a hole.
            After bathing I sit around and write in notepads to be turned into a blog later on, make flash cards and study Bemba, and/or read. By 18 it's almost completely dark outside, so I have started getting used to studying by candlelight. Dinner is almost always ready at 20:00 even though I don't think my host mom owns a clock. I'm called for dinner inside my host parent's house where I eat with my host dad and sometimes mom. I've wanted to eat with the host family, but I don't think I know who that is, and it's dark so I can't make out faces. Plus, I've heard the little ones have bad table manners, and since there are no tables and everyone eats with their hands, I think I'll stick to eating inside for now until I feel a little more comfortable speaking Bemba and knowing who in the heck is sitting outside peeking at me.
            Dinner has consisted shima (which I now think might just be playdo), potatoes, cabbage tomato mix, some form of meat (usually sausage or cold leftover hard as a rock chicken), soya pieces, and sometimes rice instead of shima. Our host families are paid to give us a balanced diet, this is not the typical Zambian diet.
            After dinner I try to stick around and talk to my host dad about something to feel like I'm not just there for the food. The best conversation I've had so far was describing snow. He would ask a question like, “So, when it snows, everything is wet?!” then contemplates the answer and acts like he's satisfied for a while until another question bothers him enough. “So what do all the animals do? Die?”
            After saying my good nights from dinner I'm usually quite tired. Learning a language and dealing with so much attention and biking takes quite a toll. Most of us trainees get about 9-10 hours of sleep a night and are still cranky in the mornings and yawning throughout the day. I'm usually in bed my 21:00 (9 pm) debating if it's better to sleep or try to do a few more flashcards. Sleep usually wins.

Most used lines so far – in Bemba! Try them out. I dare ya.

Nanaka, ndefwaya ukusendama. Tukamonana mialo.
I'm tired, I want to sleep. I'll see you tomorrow. (Note: in Bemba, mialo means yesterday AND tomorrow)

Mwashibukeni mukwai!
Good morning (literally it means “You have woken!”)

Endita mukwai.
(Respectful reply to above – no real translation – basically means “Yeah, duh, I know”)

Ifyakulya fyaciwama sana, natotela.
The food was very good, thank you.

Ndefwya amenshi ya kunwa.
I want water for drinking.

As far as what is going on now – August 8th 2012 – the CHIP (Community Health) group that we flew in with is now living in Chipembe, whereas all the RAP trainees are here in Chongwe. Chongwe is a small town outside of Lusaka. It has street vendors along the road selling fruits and vegetables. There is a back alley that runs behind some buildings that sells things like clothing, foods, shoes, and all sorts of random things. There are also barbers and tailors and the like. It even has a guy that pretty much dared me to eat a whole fish. Don't eat the fish. I survived, but it was rough.

Our first language exam is next Friday, they will ask us to describe out host families and families back in the US (their names, what they do for a living, and where they live). They will point to fruits and vegetables and make us name them, as well as garden tools, body parts, and classroom items. So far, I'm fairly comfortable with most of it. The grammar is the toughest part to get a hold of, but is it coming along. Most words sound the same, and most phrases are tongue twisters.