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.


  1. How many ponds are at your village and how do you fill them? Will you be working with villagers to dig more? How far are they from your hut?

  2. There are about 45 ponds in/near my village. 20 of those are with a group I will be working closely with that have just received a grant the last volunteer applied for. They are about a 5 minute walk from my hut. I'll do a blog post about the group and the work we hope to do. They do plan on digging more, and I hope to dig a few soon to be brooding ponds so they don't have to buy fingerlings (baby fish) anymore and can sell them to other farmers as well.

    The dambos that I've mentioned are the main water source, just dig in the side of a termite hill and you have a stream. Up here in Luapula where it's really rainy, you should have a water source year round.