Tuesday, October 2, 2012


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.


  1. One REALLY yummy way to eat cassava root is to boil it until it becomes tender like a boiled potato, then separate it into wedges and fry it, if you can get your hands on some oil. Better than any french fries ;-)

  2. I'll have to try that. Cassava seems like it has good potential.