Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Year In

So I'm alive! If my blog were a movie character, it would be that guy in Monty Python who they try to put on the back of the wagon who keeps yelling "I'm not dead yet."

There's a lot that has happened since October, so I'll try my best to give some brief updates.  For Thanksgiving, we had provincials where all the volunteers in Eastern province came together and cooked a huge meal with turkey, potatoes, stuffing - all the usual Thanksgiving goodness - with a few hours of meetings mixed in there.

For Christmas, I went to Tanzania with a bunch of volunteers.  We spent Christmas in Stone Town on Zanzibar, an island of the coast of Tanzania, and New Years in the north on Nungwi Beach.  It was quite possibly the most beautiful place I've ever been.  I just put pictures on facebook so you can check those out.  It was the perfect vacation, filled with plenty of beaches and lobster.

I've been in my village for a year next week and I've been in country now for 14 months.  In February, I helped train the new education volunteers and I just helped to post them to their own villages.  Its weird to think about the fact that I was in their place a year ago.  Its gone by so fast.

We finished the first term of the school year at the beginning of April and don't start up again until May 7th so over the break I went to Cape Maclear in Malawi with a group of friends.  Unfortunately, the President of Malawi passed away while we were there and Peace Corps decided it would be best if we came back to Zambia.  There's been no violence, but the country is pretty unstable economically at the moment and there are crazy fuel shortages so it seemed possible there would be riots at the time. It was a nice vacation, even if it only lasted four days.

Other than that, I'm just spending time in the village over the break.  I've been doing monthly workshops for the HIV/AIDS support groups in my catchment area at the clinic.  Last month we did an overview of HIV - how it's transmitted, prevention, treatment, behavior change.  This month we're going to discuss group management to help organize the different groups so they can assess their needs and determine what they're goals are for the year.

When the next term starts, I'll be teaching Grade 7 English again.  I really loved the class last term.  A lot of the students in the class come straight from my village and three of them are even in my host family so it's nice to have more of a personal relationship with them in and out of the classroom.  I really want them to do well on their Grade 7 exams, and there is so much potential among them. In Zambia, Grade 1 - 7 is considered Basic school.  Grades 8 and 9 are considered Upper Basic, so to proceed to this next level, all the Grade 7 students have to take a nation-wide exam at the end of the year.  The exam covers all seven subjects, which they take over a week-long period so I'll hopefully be able to help them improve their English scores.

The library is also up and running at school.  We have about 200 books at the moment, and I'm trying to work with an NGO to get more donated.  The kids love it! I really hope they continue to use it and reading becomes more prevalent.  At the moment there's zero reading culture among kids in schools and in Zambia in general.

I'm also planning to start a girls club afterschool this term.  It will focused on activities and education that promote girls' empowerment in terms of helping them to recognize their abilities and the choices they have as young women.  I also want to work with the girls club to create a world map on one of the outside walls of our school.  There's a shortage of maps available to the teachers and students, so this would be a way to make world geography accessible to all the classes.

Anyway, I'll try to update again soon.
Til next time, tidzaonana.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life in the village

So i'm trying to think of something entertaining thats happened since i last wrote. Its been a while. I never did find my pants. I've unwillingly given them up as a donation to the village. I ran over a snake with my bike. It was probably the most terrifying moment i've had here so far. &I have a chicken who lays eggs in my bathroom. Its a pretty hilarious scene for the villagers when i get up in the morning and go to the bathroom armed with a stick that i use to poke a squawking chicken until she inevitably flies out of the bathroom at my face. The good news is shes laid me 7 eggs. The bad news is i cant bring myself to eat something that was conceived in my bathroom. 
Hot season has started here. Theres really only 3 seasons: rainy, "cold" & hot. And as much as i think cold season is a joke, theyre not kidding around with hot season. During the day its pretty intolerable (and i say this coming from california) but at night i feel like i'm being punished for everything wrong i've done in my life. The little breeze that flowed during the day stops and the result is awful, oppressive heat. I love october in the US. I do not love october in africa. I know i'll hate rainy season more but hot season is a close second.  
Things here have been moving along. We've started term three of school. Well, by started i mean we're now more than halfway through. We're in week 8 of the term (out of 13) and its going well. I'm teaching grade 8 & 9 english again with a zambian co-teacher, Mrs. Daka. Coteaching is difficult because there isnt much in the way of a work ethic here - its difficult to get teachers to show up for school let alone take an interest in planning and teaching lessons with you - but i'm trying and i have a relatively good counterpart so we're making it work. My students are great &bear with me when i force them to use english only in class to their utter dismay &embarrassment. Most of them dont know english well and definitely dont use it at home so they hate me for it but all of the zambian ministry of education instituted exams are in english so i tell them to deal with it. &since i'm usually the one being laughed at, it provides me with some entertaining moments for a change. Like the other day, my pupils were forming sentences using the vocab words from our reading lesson. One kid had the word "invariably" which we defined as "always or without exception." He was having trouble forming a sentence but after we had gone through everyone else's, he came up with "i invariably go to the toilet!" Considering the fact that even excusing yourself to go to the bathroom is completely taboo in african culture, it was one of the more creative sentences.
Which reminds me...will someone send me an english pocket dictionary? Defining words off the top of my head for 9th graders makes me feel like i'm studying for the gre. They could all be wrong.
Other than that, i've started an afterschool english reading &writing program for my grade 8s that i'm hoping to turn into a library program at the school. We review basic english structure, grammer, punctuation, etc and they do practice exercises and then the kids get to read for the rest of the time. They really love it. To say theyre over zealous when it comes to picking out which books to read would be an understatement. My parents are going to be sending me books theyve collected to use for the program, so if you have any old kids books lying around that you want to donate, feel free. The kids would love it.
Travelling while school was out was great. Victoria falls and lake malawi are both beautiful places. Our next break is in december so over the christmas &new years holiday a group of us are planning to go to zanzibar - an island off the coast of tanzania. I'm so excited! All i'm going to do is swim and eat lobster. &they apparently have a really popular moonlight beach party for new years, so i may take a break from eating lobster to go to that.
Anyway, thats about it. Its weird that I've been here for just about 9 months, which means I'm 1/3 of the way through my service. It doesnt feel like it at all. Even in a place where time virtually doesnt exist, it still feels like its moving too fast. Then again, i do still have 18 more months to enjoy all the chickens in my chimbudzi, roadkill snakes and thieving children i can manage.       

Monday, July 11, 2011

Zamlish & the mystery of the traveling pants

Nothing too exciting has happened since i last wrote. School is coming to an end in less than a month but since each grade takes end of term exams for the last two weeks of the term and preparing for the taking of end of term exams takes up the two weeks before that, teaching for the term unofficially ended last week. Theres nothing new taught from here, they just review the previous term's exam. So i had my last  lesson for the term on friday. For the past few weeks, I've been teaching english to 8th graders with the deputy head (similar to a vice-principal) of my school, Mrs. Tembo. Its been great but i have to speak reallllllly slow and even then half the class doesnt understand my accent. I've taken to speaking "zamlish" where i unintentionally adopt a zambian accent and clap my hands together for emphasis in the zambian way which just makes me look silly and leads me to believe that most of my students think i'm a freak.

Other than that i've been starting to work with the hiv/aids support groups in my area (theres 22, the reality of aids in africa) figuring out how to register the groups so they can be recognized by the government and receive funding and also coming up with income generating activities based on the interests and talents of the people in the group. Most of the groups farm and use the food communally or sell it and use the profits to take care of the members of the group if they get sick or need money but they all want to expand into doing other things too. & i think theres also a real interest in learning to read and write in english since thats something that can help them get ahead so i'm hoping to start an adult literacy group with them.

Once the term officially ends though, i get to do some traveling. I'm planning to head to victoria falls and malawi! Its been great here but after being in a dry, dry village for 6 months, all i want is to be surrounded by beaches and water. And hopefully some lions and elephants. Plus tierney is coming to visit so i've got to show her the sites!  

In other news,  i seem to have involved my village in what feels like a murder mystery. Or a pants mystery.  It all began with a little boy from the neighboring village stealing my solar charger. His parents, upon seeing this odd contraption that they certainly had not given their son, rightly assumed that it must belong to the crazy muzungu and it was therefore recovered before i'd even realized it was lost. 

Then strikes the bafa thief. Some enterprising villager, who obviously did not stop to think of the impact their actions would have on our inevitable & soon to be increasingly unfortunate daily encounters, stole everything i use to bathe out of my bafa bathing shelter. Seeing as i'm 50km from town & cant easily remedy this situation, i will soon smell worse than the goats &i hope the thief will be seriously regretting his decision.

Then theres my pants. I did a small load of laundry this morning and left it hanging on my clothesline while i went to school (obviously not the brightest idea i realize in light of recent events). Surprisingly everything was still there when i came home. I know this because i only washed 5 things and i moved them all along the line to be in the sun. I went inside to make lunch and an hour later i look out to find there are now only four items on the line. My pants have gone missing. Its been windy here so thinking its the wind i search my compound. No pants. I then go tell my amai because after the bafa incident and my solar charger, i'm starting to realize someone is intentionally stealing my crap knowing i wont do anything about it. So my amai and my neighbor john come over to assess the situation. After looking around for a few minutes hoping the pants will turn up, john, who has suddenly turned into one of the hardy boys, calls us over to show us a trail of little shoe prints leading up to the place where my pants had been, then away from it & out the entrance of my fence. They conclude these footprints are too small to be mine or my amai's and most likely that of a girl since the boys around here never wear shoes. Luckily, my village as a whole is really great and has happily taken on the role of prince charming, hunting down a pants-stealing little-footed cinderella. Hey, if the shoe fits...  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Village life, chinamwali & rat wars

I'm officially a peace corps volunteer living in the village! I've been in kanyelele for a little over a month now - we got posted to our sites on april 27th. I love my village - my aspiring rap-star headman, the ridiculously excited children screaming "jesska, jesska" everywhere, my overly concerned neighbors that yell at me for not sweeping my front yard (its a dirt yard, i have trouble seeing the point of trying to keep a dirt yard clean), the 8lbs of nsima i eat breakfast lunch and dinner; i love all of it.
We're in week 5 of school now (in zambia the terms run jan-mar, may-july, sept-nov; april, august, & december are the term breaks). I havent started co-teaching yet, right now i'm going around to the 11 schools in my district spending a couple days at each introducing myself, meeting the teachers and observing classes. Theres nothing like going to a new school and being gawked at by 300 students, who stand open-mouthed mid-chewing of their bananas or sucarcane gaping at what is quite possibly the first muzungu they've ever seen. When they finally work up enough courage, they'll stand waving at me and screaming "hi how are you" (the only english the little ones know) until their arms fall off and their voices are hoarse.

The other day was a holiday (african independence day?), so having the day off from school, i decided to go with my amai to the clinic for the weighing of the under 5 year olds. My amai has 2 children under 5 - sonire, who's 4 and augustine (who knew that was a popular zambian name) who was born 5 days before i got to the village (my amai really was pregnant!). Quite possibly the most hilarious thing i've ever seen, this program, put on once a month at rural health clinics around zambia by the ministry of health to keep track of the health and nutrition of young children in the villages, involves stringing a small scale from a tree with a hook on the end. Mothers come and place their newborns in a cloth sack with leg holes that dangles from the end of the hook. Most children are screaming (what kid wants to be dangling from a giant metal hook?). The older kids, who are too big to fit in the cloth sack, are simply picked up and told to grab onto the hook, leaving them suspended in the air, twirling in circles around the rope while their mothers chase after them trying to read the scale. The community health worker who was there volunteered me to run this program for him each month.

Other than that i've been spending most of my time at school. My zonal center school, chingazi basic school, is awesome. The head teacher, my supervisor, miss banda has been great and extremely involved and excited to have me there. Being the zonal center, its a lot more together than any of the other 10 schools in my zone. Chingazi has 15 teachers in comparison to the 5 or at most 6 that are at most other schools, who are somehow supposed to manage teaching anywhere from 7-9 grades total. I love chingazi - its a well run school (as far as zambian schools go) with a really involved head teacher and a great staff, but i'm also looking forward to working with some of the other schools in the zone that seem to need more help. I'm going to try to rotate to a new school each term, so ideally i'll be able to work at 5 different schools over the course of 2 years. But as i'm learning, lots of things sound great in theory but dont always work out the way you planned in practice.
The things i see as important - like education, women's rights, time -  they're just not as important to people here. Which isnt to say people here have the wrong priorities and i have the right ones. In a country where the average life expectancy is 40 years old, its more important to be in the fields picking groundnuts to feed the family than going to school or accepting traditional gender roles because there are more fundamental day to day worries than changing them. Finding a place for education is still extremely important and the only way zambians can advance and find a way out of the bush, but its just figuring out what projects my community really wants to work on involving education and helping them take the initiative towards achieving them. Too often people just throw money at them and projects fail because the community has no investment to work toward something thats been developed without their input or needs in mind which doesnt do anyone any good.
Anyway, on a lighter note, after being here a few weeks, my host family decided it was time to introduce me to chinamwali. Chinamwali is a traditional ceremony that marks a girl's transition into adulthood. This used to mean a girl was confined to her house for a few weeks, maybe a month, while the old women of the village visited her nightly to teach her about being a woman. This practice has mostly been stopped because zambians realized that as soon as a girl found these things out, she immediately wanted to go and try them out for herself, which led to lots of pregnancies, but apparently thats not the case in my village. They still practice confinement and i got to go to one of the nightly ceremonies. Not knowing what to expect, i unwittingly walked into a dark hut with about 40 of the old women in my village singing & sitting in a circle on the floor around a young girl who was only half-dresssed. It reminded me of a game of duck duck goose and the girl was the mush pot. Being the second guest of honor, i got to sit next to the half-naked girl as the women of the village took turns performing. I feel like i hadnt really experienced zambia until i had a group of old ladies - gray-haired, toothless - dance in front of me in a manner that would have made shakira proud.

Lastly, i officially have rats. I think its because its getting into the cold season. I havent slept in 3 nights because of their silly rat games in my roof and last night i finally saw two of them. I yelled at them for being in my house and then managed to beat them out with a broom. Dad, you would be proud. Although after looking up the word mbeywa in my dictionary, i realized my host family has been eating mice the past few nights so thats always a solution (i didnt eat the mice myself. As a rule, I tend to stay away from foods that still have fur on them when offered to me). Its crazy the things you get used to here. Gotta love living in the bush...  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Site Visit & the zoo!

So a lot has happened since my last update. I have less than a week left of training before i'm sworn in as a volunteer! Up to now, we've just been seen as trainees. I just took my final language oral exam so all thats left now is hoping peace corps considers me competent enough in nyanja to send me off to my village. At this point, i'm very ready to be done with training. Our entire life has been scheduled out for us and extremely stressful and packed for the past 2 1/2 months so i'll be glad to make my own schedule and get started on the actual work in my village.

I got to visit my site for a week two weeks ago and its awesome! The best part about eastern province is there are sunflowers EVERYWHERE! I love sunflowers so i was pretty happy. I spent the week running around like a crazy person trying to meet as many people as possible and tell them a little about what i'll be doing there the next two years, which besides working at the schools, really depends on whatever my community wants me to help them with. Whether that means starting womens groups, working on hiv/aids education, IGAs, grant writing, adult literacy...half of the job will be figuring out what my community needs and trying to help them make that happen. From the look of it, i'll be pretty busy.

My village is called kanyelele. (i know i said it was chingazi but thats actually just the name of my school).
When i first arrived, the entire village (thats not an exaggeration)  was crowded into my front yard anxiously waiting to greet me.  They started singing songs in nyanja with my name in them and dancing around me until it started raining and we all crowded into my insaka (gazebo). It was unlike any welcome i've ever experienced. I didnt feel like i deserved to be the center of so much attention but it really made me feel wanted and at home. They were all just so excited to have me there.

My host family in the village is the headman's family (every village has a headman who's supposed to oversee village happenings, resolve conflicts, etc.). Hes a funny guy - pretty sure he idolizes jay-z because he walks around with a big puffy black parka in 90 degree weather blasting zampop on his cell phone. His family is awesome though. He has 5 really adorable children with another one on the way (at least i think theres another one on the way...its impolite in zambian culture to ask a woman if shes pregnant, so i'm not positive, but i'm pretty sure his wife is about to pop).  Anyway, theyre great and theyre last name in nyanja is njobvu, which means elephant, so by association, i am now Ms. Elephant.

On one of my visits to a neighboring village, the headman decided to give me a (live) chicken as a housewarming gift. I obviously didnt know what to do with it and planned on setting it free later once it got dark, but our schedule for the day involved cycling to a ridiculous amount of other villages so the teacher who was showing me around suggested i put it in my hut until we got back. Not knowing what else to do he helped me to tie the feet together and put him in a corner of my living room. Eight hours later after biking all over the zambian bush, i came home to a very angry chicken who had broken free from his restraints and shit all over my house out of spite. Having no idea how to round up a chicken, i made a futile effort to chase him out until a little boy took pity on me and retired the squaking chicken to my seperate cooking shelter. There is nothing more humbling than coming to zambia and realizing small children are stronger and smarter than you and basically more capable in every way. I later managed to get even with the chicken by having my amai cook him for dinner. I feel only a little remorse. Village chicken is really good.

I also had a visit from the chief while i was at site. Another volunteer, alex, my closest peace corps neighbor, lives right by the chief of our district. After meeting alex and finding out there were two new volunteers in his chiefdom, the chief decided they'd hop in his car and drive to my site together. So as i'm standing in my front yard washing my extremely dirty bike, who pulls up but the chief in his mercedes with alex and introduces himself by asking me if i've had a chance yet to read a copy of his 5 year development plan. It was a trip.
All in all, the site visit was great. My hut is lovely. Well really, i have two! One is my main house with a living room and bedroom and the other one i'm planning on using for cooking and storing food.

Now i'm back in chongwe til tuesday when we move to a hostel in lusaka for a few nights til swear in. Then friday we all go off to our provinces! Can't wait.

Here are some pictures from our trip to the Zambian zoo.  Unfortunately, there aren't really animals roaming all over Africa as I had so romantically pictured - most of them are restricted to game parks.  The place we went to - Munda Wanga, which means our field - was just a small zoo with really inadequate chain link fences, which despite adding a little excitement, was slightly terrifying.  But i'll definitely be going to the game parks while I'm here and petting some lions.

I still can't download pictures on facebook, so the few I have on my phone will have to do for now...

He was having a good hair day.



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hello from Zamland!

Muli Bwanji everyone!  The past few weeks have been crazy!  We finally got our site placements!  I will be spending the next two years in Chipata, Eastern province in the village of Chingazi.  Google it!  Well, google Chipata - I don't think you'll find Chingazi on a map.  But the village is only 45 km from Chipata, the provincial capital, where they have pretty much everything I could need - two huge grocery stores, hardware stores, furniture stores, etc.  It's pretty crazy how modernized some places in the middle-of-nowhere Zambia are.  I updated my address on my contacts page though, so check that out in case you want to send me anything (like candy!).

My site is a first generation site, which means it's a brand new site and theres never been a volunteer in that village before.  I'll be the first muzungu (white person) many of my villagers have ever seen!  Let alone talked to or interacted with.  The school I'll mainly be working at - Chingazi Basic School, the main zonal center school for the area - has grades 1 - 9 and about 600 pupils.   Although that's the main school I'll be at, there are 11 schools total in my district that I'll be working with.  The idea is to rotate co-teaching at as many schools as possible so we're able to reach  the greatest amount of people, but in reality, I'll probably only work at 3-4 schools in my two years, due to distance (my farthest schools are 10-16 km, which wouldn't be realistic to bike to everyday).  To reach those schools, I'll still do visits, classroom monitoring, and workshops with the teachers, but the hope is the work I put into the zonal center school - Chingazi Basic - will trickle out to the other community schools in the zone.  That's the hope anyway...

This past week we had a workshop with the supervisors from our respective schools, who will be helping us with everything from finding co-teachers to work with to introducing us to the village headmen/headwomen and chiefs.  They're usually the head or deputy head (the equivalent of a principal or vice principal) of the zonal school we'll be working with  My supervisor is Miss Jane Banda, who is the head of Chingazi Basic School.  She's great - I'm excited to have a female head, since Zambia is such a male-dominated culture, even in edicuation, a predominately femaile profession.

A funny story on Zambian culture: When we first got to the supervisor workshop, we met our Zambian counterparts and then went around the room introducing ourselves to each other.  One Zambian man stood up with his volunteer and as a way of introducing her, he said to everyone in the room (about 75 people), "I'm so glad America has sent me a fat volunteer!"  Apparently in Zambia, being told you're fat is the highest compliment a girl can receive.  It's generally seen as a sign of wealth.  The girl handled it really well, but it was still an embarassing moment.  I later had to try to explain to my supervisor how usually, telling an American girl she's fat will make her cry.   To this, she just stared at me in shock and couldn't understand how it would be taken as anything other than a compliment.   Compliment or not, I'm not looking forward to the day a Zambian tells me I'm looking very fat...

Tomorrow morning, we'll be heading out for a site visit.  Each volunteer is spending five days in their soon-to-be home villages during the work week to visit the school, meet our counterparts and the villagers, etc.  Miss Banda, my head, tried to prepare me for the extensive welcoming preparations they've made.  I'm not sure what they entail, but I'm sure they'll be big and include lots of dancing - Zambians love welcoming new people.  It's one of the many awesome parts of their culture.
I'm really excited to visit my site and see where I'm going to be spending the next two years!  And a little nervous - people here tend to see Americans as miracle workers with tons of money, which can lead to some pretty high expectations.  The whole idea of Peace Corps is to build sustainable development by helping people to improve their own lives.  All I can do is bring my skills to the table and hope that by being there and offering my help, I can give the villagers, pupils, teachers confidence in their own abilities.

Anyway, I'll try to update everyone after the site visit and I'll have some pictures to post to show you all my village and my new home/hut.  I miss you all & send lots of love from Africa!

I'm trying to post some pictures on facebook, but here's one of my host family, the Chitatus, outside their awesome pink and blue house:

And here's one of our whole Peace Corps group:


Saturday, February 26, 2011


Hello from Lusaka!  I'm at an internet cafe frantically trying to type an update, since it's been said by some that the bible has been more recently updated than my blog.  We had a cultural day today in the city and have some free time now to hang about.  I just had some thai food for lunch with some fellow was the highlight of my week!  I miss thai so much and I've only been here 3 weeks haha it's gonna be a long 2 years.

I survived my first thunderstorm last night!  I'm talking wind, pelting rain, thunder, lightning - the whole thing coming down and me lying in bed terrified that my roof is going to fall in on my head.  I woke up from a dream at 4 am in which I had been struck by lightning so I spent the next 30 minutes counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning to tell how far away they were.  I eventually fell back asleep, but let's just say it was veryyy close.  

It's beautiful and sunny now although we did have some rain in the morning.  My host family atate (father) and amai (mother) were happy to finally have some rain for their maize.  It's been really dry here for the rainy season.  

Training has been great but overwhelming.  My Nyanja (the language I'm learning - spoken in Eastern province) is coming along alright.  I've got the greetings and family descriptions down.  My amai made me flash cards the other day to use in class which was really cute.  

I can't believe we've almost been here a month! Our days right now are so scheduled - between language classes in the morning, technical (working on our co-teaching and classroom skills) in the afternoon, safety and security trainings, medical trainings (we get shots and learn about all the exciting African diseases we can get here every Wednesday...) - it's all gone by really fast and at the same time really slow.  I'm having a blast though and I love my host family - the Chitatus - and the fellow PC trainees.  

I should be finding out my actual village two weeks from Monday so I'll let everyone know.  Until then, lots of love to everyone and I miss you all!  

To give you an idea of what the Zambian "classroom" looks like...

This is Charlie (the goat) he's helping me with my Nyanja skills.