Saturday, August 11, 2012

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.

1 comment:

  1. Ben. I'm glad you're getting the hang of things now. I like your writing style. Keep it up. I'll come back often to check on your progress. BTW, I think Mai Thai will go out off business without you.