Sunday, August 26, 2012

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.

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