Tuesday, September 30, 2014

And in the blink of an eye...

It was over.

The last few weeks of my service in the Peace Corps and saying goodbye to the people and area that has been my family and home for the last two years flew by. I was busy with so many things to do that I never really had time to process everything that was happening. I was running (biking) all over the place trying to finish up meetings and projects and tell everyone that I'd been working with that I was leaving. I delivered all of my books that I had accumulated in my hut, full of teaching manuals, health lessons, english learning, information on conservation farming techniques, etc. to the local school where I've run a few clubs. I gave all of my health talk posters that I've made in the last two years, along with boxes of condoms, wooden penis models, anatomy books, and health manuals to my clinic and all of the health volunteers so that they could continue working and teaching just like I trained them to do in my health workshop last November. I was finishing up my World Map Project at the school, which took many long hours in the hot sun. I had to oversee the purchasing and delivery of materials and the beginning of construction stages  for the Health Clinic that we helped raise money to build. And I was also planning a traditional village wedding ceremony. On top of all that, I had to finish final reports, type up a summary of my service, disperse papers throughout the district and province, get things signed, get rid of things and pack up my entire hut. Lastly, I had to say goodbye to my best friend, Jones, and my best bud, Chewbacca.
Working on the World Map
All the supplies purchased from the gofundme fundraiser in the storage room to build the clinic!
Broke ground to start laying the foundation of the clinic!! Standing here acting like I know what I'm talking about...

Saying goodbye in Zambia isn't really what you'd expect it to be like. I think as Americans, we expect goodbyes to be sentimental. To them, they just wave goodbye then go back to cooking food or working in the field. It was quick and painless, which made it easier to not process what was happening. But I also had a lot to look forward to in the coming months, so my mind was set on the future a bit and less on being present in it all.

I rang out on Sept 5th. That consisted of going up to a tire rim with a metal rod and hitting it. Then Peace Corps gives you a hug, a handshake, and a Peace Corps pin. That's it, thanks for two years. You are no longer our responsibility, so go check out of your hotel room and be on your way.
All packed up (with too much stuff) and ready to go!
Pulling out the nice shirt to help us get a hitchhike.

So thats what we did. I stood around for 2 pictures, hugged a few people that I am sad to see go, then went and packed up my bags and hit the road. Literally, within the next hour, we were standing on a street corner with all of our bags, trying to hitch-hike up the country. After waiting for 4 hours or so, some little guy named Chris from Tanzania picked us up for a ride. We got to where we were staying that night around 11 pm, then woke up early the next morning and hit the road hitchhiking again. Met up with a friend in Lundazi, and continued our hitchhike over into Malawi and to Nkhata Bay.
The view from my pillow in our bungalow on Lake Malawi. Best way to wake up in the morning.

Chinteche Beach, Lake Malawi
We spent 2 nights there, then started hitching down the lake. Stopped off at a cool backpackers in Chinteche and spent the night camping on the sand. We walked into the local village and found a family that would let us eat dinner with them for a couple dollars. Ended up sitting on their porch while they fed us cassava sima and fried fresh fish and being entertained by the little kids laughing with us on the porch. Back at the backpackers we found out that there was a large Overland truck (the ones that people pay thousands of dollars to go on safari across Africa and all they do is sit in comfy seats and get driven from game park to game park) that was heading the same way as us in the morning. Everyone said we wouldn't be able to hitch a ride with them because of liability reasons, but we happened to convince the guy. So the next morning at 6 am, we loaded up into their truck with crazy stares from all the fancy rich white people wondering why these dirty campers were getting in their tour. It was a wonderful, comfortable ride with a lot of leg room as we headed further down the lake. 
Chinteche Beach, Lake Malawi, Malawi.
That was the beginning of our backpacking trip over the next 9 weeks in Africa. We have slept camping in the sand on countless beaches or cliff-sides throughout Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa. In Swaziland we slept on the forest ground under monkeys in the mountains near the Queens palace. We've had an actual bed about 4 different nights, otherwise we're on the sand or dirt or grass or even astroturf of every place we go.
Astroturf on the roof of a backpackers in the city center of Maputo, Mozambique.
Hitchhiking is the way to travel around most places here. We've met some really cool, really interesting, and really crazy people along the way. We've gotten rides in the backs of canters full of pcv pipes that fly around and cut into your legs, in the beds of pick-up trucks full of vegetables, a guy with $1,000,000 in his car and a license to kill, brand new hilux's, shitty little beaters, and, as mentioned, Overland Safari trucks. We've been stuffed into mini-buses where you have full grown adults sitting on your lap and on the back because they've put way too many people in the car, and we've had wind blow through our hair riding around in personal tuk-tuk motorbike taxis.
Hitching in the back of pick-up trucks through the mountains of Northwestern Mozambique.
Local bus transport with babies and adults in your lap.
Hitching with babies in your lap and no seat belt on the rim of a truck bed.
Motorcycle Taxis.
In Mozambique we stopped over for a few days and did our scuba-diving certification in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It was an amazing experience, and from everyone we talk to I hear that we were extremely lucky to see all we did during our course dives. Being able to swim in a natural aquarium is magnificent. Despite a panic attack that I had when I inhaled a bunch of sea water 15m down, it was such a cool thing. We swam with whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and saw manta rays, octopus, and many more underwater creatures. I can't wait to dive off of Zanzibar Island with some sea turtles!
Tofo Beach, Inhambane, Mozambique.
Whale Shark Selfie! Tofo, Mozambique
There was awesome fresh fish markets throughout the beaches in Mozambique. We would go down and buy from the fisherman and have someone cook it for us right then. Really cheap and really amazing!!
Fresh Calamari and lobsters!
In Mozambique we met a guy from South Africa named Dave who is helping to run a backpackers in Swaziland. We were planning to go through there, but were talking about cutting Swaziland out of our trip and just heading straight to South Africa. Dave not only talked us into coming and staying at his backpackers, but he had a vehicle and wanted company on the drive back to Swaziland (okay, that was a big factor). Swaziland was a really cool little country (Kingdom, under Monarch rule of a King), and I feel like it's a hidden gem in this part of Africa that most people skip when traveling through. It was such a sweet, chill place. The people were amazing everywhere we went, and the surrounding scenery was beautiful. Swaziland really has its stuff together. While we were there, Dave took us out on about a 3 hour hike up the top of Shieba's Breast. It was a beautiful, and tough at times, hike, but it was a perfect serene place to have a picnic lunch atop a rock overlooking valleys roaming with wild animals. After coming back down, we went and swam in some natural hot springs. 

We've traveled overland since Sept 5th, and recently picked up our own rental car when we reached Durban, South Africa. It's been so great to drive, even if its on the opposite side of the road and car than what we're used to in America. We've taken a few days to drive down along the Wild Coast, the Sunshine Coast, the Garden Route, the Whale Route, and so forth into Cape Town.

Did a wine tour in the beautiful wine area of Stellenbosch. And tonight we fly to Arusha, Tanzania.

Stellenbosch Wine Tour, South Africa
Table Mountain in the background. 
The overland route we've taken starting on Sept 5th. 
So here we continue, with the next phase of my blog being my travels through Africa, post-Peace Corps. Hopefully as we see more internet access along the way, we will be able to update about our travels more. We have met really cool people from all over the world, and are getting to experience and learn really fascinating. It's been a great trip so far, and we still have over a month left!! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A letter to the new intake.

Congratulations on being accepted into Peace Corps, and even more, to Peace Corps Zambia. My name is Caitlin, and I’m a volunteer in Lundazi, Eastern Province, working under the Community Health Improvement Project (CHIP). I’ve now been in country for 22 months, making me the intake which yours will be replacing, and meaning that exactly two years ago, I was in the same exact place you are now. It’s been a crazy ride, it’s absolutely flown by, and as slowly as time seems to tick through the days here, I can’t believe how quickly the days do turn to weeks and then months, to years. If you’re anything like me, serving in the Peace Corps has been a dream of yours and you’ve no doubt jumped through many hoops, stressed out a bit, and gave up other opportunities to get to where you are now- about a month or so away from leaving and embarking on this journey to the mysterious land of Africa. Maybe you second guess if you can really do this for two years- leave behind your family, friends, pets, job, car, flat screen tv, toilet, and other luxuries (yes, a toilet is a luxury!). I know I had doubts. That’s okay, that’s normal. Its good to sit down and assess if this is really right for you. Those things need to be considered because Peace Corps, and definitely Peace Corps Zambia, isn’t right for everyone. I’ll be honest, you definitely are going to miss out on a lot back home. Your first Christmas or Birthday alone in a foreign country might be really difficult. You’ll miss out on weddings, friends giving birth, and even funerals. You’ll miss concerts, parties, and just being able to hang out with friends whenever and wherever. You’ll miss out on strawberry margaritas with salted rims, on a hot summer day by the pool. You’ll miss being able to hop in your car and just drive- drive till you get tired, or run out of gas, or the road no longer runs smooth (and, trust me, roads will never run smooth here). I get it, you’re giving up a lot. But you’re going to gain so much more.
            Think of all the life you’ll get to live, all the things you’ll get to see, do, experience. All of the stories you’ll have to tell. Your friends back home won’t have those stories, those experiences. This is such a unique adventure, jump in and take the risk! Things back home will continue on as they always have; your life is going to change completely. And man is that the truth. When you return, even if it's for a short visit during your service, you will see how, while your world has drastically transformed, a lot of the life you left behind hasn't. You'll have a hard time fitting in again. You'll have a hard time relating to people. You'll have a hard time accepting that everyone seems so selfish, or naiive, or careless and wasteful. It's a really hard culture shock, but it's something that will make you a much better equipped person to deal with the world as it becomes smaller each day. You'll be ready to understand and embrace the changes in the world; you'll be able to care and relate more to how others suffer; you'll be able to live life more passionately, go with the flow, and problem solve with MacGyver-tenacity.
            Maybe you’re a female, like me, and your parents are absolutely terrified of you going to live in Africa, like mine probably were. I get that that’s a rational fear, but in America, we have such a negative, dark view of Africa being a dangerous continent, and it’s really not. There are definitely some countries here that might not be the safest, but people don’t just walk around attacking others, or passing out AIDs. Anything can happen to anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. Ironically, I feel so much safer here than I would in most places back home. Zambia is rated in the Top 5 Friendliest countries; Zambian people are exceptionally warm and welcoming. This place has so quickly stolen my heart, the land has swiftly become my home, and the people briskly and indubitably have come to be my family.
            Safety and Security is Peace Corps biggest concern for us, and they do an excellent job of ensuring that, as much as they can. Their responses to concerns are timely and done in a really supportive manner. In the village, not only will PC have come and assessed your site and how safe that area is, but no doubt your community members will be there to look out for you and protect you to no end. I feel safe enough in my area to be out after dark and go running by myself down bushpaths I've never explored. I’ve never had anyone bother me at my hut, but my host family and I have all set up boundaries that people are aware of and respect. Village men know that if they’ve been drinking, they’re not allowed anywhere near me or my hut, and they honor that. The people here will help you; they will protect you. And if your village isn't the right fit for you, Peace Corps will step in and do all that they can to help you feel more comfortable, if not move you somewhere else.
            If it gives you and your parents peace of mind, take a self-defense class. I took Women’s Self-Defense and Street Tactics prior to coming, and its one of the best things I could have done for myself and my life, regardless of coming to Zambia. It’s something I highly recommend for all women of any age. It’s important to know how to protect yourself and keep a calm mind in the midst of chaos. I also carry a knife on me a lot, mostly when I’m traveling. Not because I feel the need to use it here, but better safe than sorry, right? Plus, knives are super handy. You never know when you’ll need to slice a mango, or cut some rope, or kill a chicken. Either way, do what you need to do to feel safe and comfortable, and assure your parents that you’re going to be fine. Other suggestions that helped my parents cope was to have them attend Parent Nights that PC and RPCV’s offered, to listen to other parents accounts of how they dealt with their child being in PC. Or, have them read other volunteers blogs. Reading Zam blogs really helped me prepare for what my life might look like here! 
          But aside from all the reading and all the preparing that you can do at home, my best advice is to jump right in. Let this experience be your experience, not any one elses. Don't try to shape it off of how your childhood babysitters' daughters' friends' cousins' experience was in Uzbekistan. Or what you read on some silly blog (like this one..). What you put into this is what you get out of it, like so many things in life. If you have an open mind and a positive attitude, and are ready for anything (and seriously, I mean ANYTHING), then you're going to do great here. Embrace Murpheys Law, because in Zambia, if things can go wrong, they most likely will go wrong. But that's okay, because it always ends up being an adventure. And you will always grow in more ways than one as a person because of it. You will learn things here that you never thought could be possible; that you were never really interested in, or ever saw having an interest in. I went from Silicon Valley girl to farmer and chicken-rearer within a year.. and I'm not even an Ag Volunteer! You will accomplish many great things. You will learn a new language, plus a few phrases in about 10 other African tribal languages. You will learn that the most basic of health care, making splints out of sticks or whatever you have around, actually works, and while fancy Western medicine and technology can be extremely convenient and helpful, it's possible to have a healthy and safe child delivery on the mud floor of a hut by candlelight. You will be able to come up with solutions to almost every problem imaginable, like mending your shoe with a piece of old bike tire tube and a fire, or using dirt from the ground to wash your pots when you're out of soap, or how to make pizza from scratch over a small fire.... The lists go on.
         You're going to sleep under the blanket of a million stars you never knew existed. You're going to have your entire night lit by the brightest, biggest moon you've ever seen, and realize that a few nights out of every month, you don't even need a flashlight to get around outside. You will witness the most astounding sunrises, along with the even more breathtaking sunsets which span across a seemingly never-ending sky. You're going to sit around the fires of your village at night, laughing with people who are so purely, truly happy. Who will sing you songs, feed you, offer you everything they have even when they don't have anything. You will be engrossed in a culture and a people so beautiful and rich that you forget that there is inhumanity in the world. You're going to travel throughout Zambia and many parts of Africa and find that it is a place that could never be explained with the right words or pictures, it's just something that everyone has to experience. Because it's so different. And it's so electric and full of life and love.

          And aside from the Zambian family that you will surely have a tearful time leaving after two years, you're going to gain a Peace Corps family as well. The volunteers that you meet in Philly before you fly out will be your backbone and support through the first 3 challenging months of training (just get through it!!!), and they'll be there standing with you at the end when you ring that final bell, and collect your Pin of Service. The volunteers that are in your Province, of all programs, will be your lifeline and your teachers throughout your service. And the volunteers that are in your district, your closest neighbors, will likely become your closest friends- as you'll get to bike to eachothers sites, camp together and share all your joys and frustrations of life at your hut. The Lusaka staff, another extension of family, is amazing, sweet, and knowledgeable. You will always be able to reach out to them, and they will provide for you, sustain you, encourage and console you throughout your 27 months here.
So cheers to you, CHIP '14. You are about to embark on the odyssey of a life time. I hope that you enjoy it and come to love this country as much as so many of us have and do. Because once Africa is in your heart and pumps in your blood, it will be a part of you for your entire life. 

It was the best of times... it was the worst of times...

These last few months have been emotionally difficult for me, in different areas of my life. When we were in our Pre-Service Training of Peace Corps, they told us how this experience would be an emotional roller-coaster, full of our highest highs and our lowest lows. They said how difficult it would be at times to cope; I pretty much laughed it off. I’m typically a happy-go-lucky person, really easy to please, and hard to upset. I make the best out of what is given to me, and I try to always look at the bright side of things. I had no idea that this flurry of uncontrollable emotions was going to hit me during my last 6 months of service. I’ve become so emotional lately –maybe it’s my hormones going crazy- but literally everything makes me cry. When my best friend got engaged, and then married, I bawled my eyes out. When I read a book about a Holocaust survivor, I tear up. Watching people hug in greeting or goodbye at the airport brings ever-flowing tears to my eyes. Thinking about my service ending…well…nothing upsets me more, or more often.

Walking around town today in my provincial capital, I realized a few things. One: that I look at this place a whole different way now. I try and soak it all up, because I know that very shortly, I will be leaving here.. I’m consciously trying to remember the sites, the colors, the smells, the people. Two, I feel completely at ease and in my element here. No longer do I ask other PCVs to head to town with me, so that I don’t have to go alone (only to split the cost of an outrageously priced $2 taxi). While company is always nice, I feel comfortable alone. I feel like it is also my home, no longer that I am a stranger in a foreign land. I know my way around, and if I don’t, I have no reservations in stopping and asking someone where something is. I don’t feel out of place, I don’t feel like a fool. I’m so settled that it’s not even strange to me that I’m hearing conversations in a foreign language. It’s no longer strange to me that I’m greeting random people, in another language. It doesn’t even phase me when I switch between 4 different languages as different people greet me in 4 different languages. It all comes and flows out naturally, it’s not something that I have to think about. This place is in my blood. This place is my home. This is what feels natural to me. There are no more surprises.

I’m no longer in the designing-of-projects-and-programs-at-site mood, I’m more in the mood to just sit and be. To be with the people of my village, my kids, my students, my staff, my counterparts, my friends, my family. And as much as I feel like there’s still so much more that I could do and want to do, I realize that I don’t have enough time to get involved in a lot of things anymore. I realize that time is probably better spent, and more meaningfully spent, if I just be present. If I sit and have sima and speak Tumbuka with the only people I’ll ever be able to realistically sit and eat sima and speak Tumbuka with again.

I’m no longer as adamant about improving my hut and adding to it, but rather in taking it down and starting to give all of my things away. I want to leave here with nothing more than a backpack on my back, a facebook full of pictures, and a lifetime full of memories. It’s insane how easy it is to detach myself from worldly goods, as now I know that I can live and prosper with nothing. I prepare now to pass instruments, information, and tools on to my replacement volunteer, rather than prepare personal trappings to make for an easier time on myself. 

Getting ready to leave this awe-inspiring, timeless place is bittersweet. I think I was very fortunate to have been in Lusaka as the last group of volunteers that precedes my intake rang a bell, signifying the end of their service in Zambia. It was really heart breaking, but also eye opening. Seeing their camaraderie as they hugged each other congratulations and good bye- people whom have been on this roller coaster with them for the last 27 months- really touched my heart. It made me think about how I’m not really close with many people in my own intake, but rather those of other groups. It made me think how I wish I were closer with my intake, as we should be a family, being together in Philly on July 17, 2012, up until this date in Zambia. It made me feel sad, as they all sat there and reminisced, because it made me reminisce too. It made me realize how much I shouldn't take for granted over the next few months; how I need to embrace and cherish every last bit. This has been the quickest two years of my life. This has been the best two years of my life. I can’t believe how quickly it’s winding down; how soon I’m going to have to be saying my good byes as well. I don’t want this to end. I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat. How can I walk away from all of this? This is tearing me apart inside, even as I sit here writing this, with 4.5 months left to go. I can’t believe I have to say goodbye to what has become my home, my family, my life, my heart. I’m not ready for this to be over, and I have no idea how I’m going to survive it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013.. And that's a wrap.

One of Peace Corps famous catchphrases is "PC: The Toughest Job You'll ever love. This is definitely a job that I love, but it's not that tough. Sure, people show up late to meetings (or not at all), they rarely follow through with projects, they learn one thing and do the opposite,  and they demand money for volunteering, but the work isn't tough. Maybe its the living in a different culture that's supposed to be tough, but if so, then I really lucked out with the village and country I was placed in, because I really love where I live. Perhaps it's the living conditions...a lot of people back home would find this way of life unmanageable or impossible, but, again, I find joy in the simple lifestyle that a mud hut without electricity or running water encourages. There are definitely challenges and frustrations here, and those might be different than what I've known back home, but that doesn't make life here tough, it makes life interesting. I am constantly being forced to think on my toes, be creative, and to have more patience than I have ever known. Because of this job, I will be better suited to deal with anything that comes my way in the future.

In my future home, I will never become too worked up about a leaky roof; a flooded house; a soaked bed; moldy clothes; children soaked in their own urine or other children's urine; cockroach, termite, spider, flying insect, or ant (biting or non) infestations; power outages; broken air conditioners or water heaters, because I'll have dealt with all of these things on a daily basis for over 2 years. No gas stove? No problem! I now know how to build a fine and cook just about any meal imaginable over it, including loaves of bread and cakes. I'll have no problem walking for many miles or biking for even more if the gas prices get too high. I'll be able to budget, live on a dime, and grow my own food. Being without a phone, computer, or internet for days on end wouldn't bother me, should there be an apocalypse. If I'm stranded in nature, I'll have the courage and
know-how to kill, skin, gut, and preserve an animal. I'll also always be able to tell the time, down to the half-hour, just by looking towards the sky at the sun. I'll look at weevils in my food as an extra source of protein. I could probably build my own house out of local materials; in fact, I can build almost anything out of almost everything. I'll be able to enjoy the world and all that it has to offer; to appreciate the earth and all that it gives, including death, because death is a part of the beautiful cycle of life. I'll be able to survive, in any condition, anywhere in the world. All because I took a chance at "the toughest job I'll ever love," I am a stronger, more understanding, more compassionate, and happier person than I ever was before.

2013 saw many successes, joys and opportunity for growth,  along with a few failures and life lessons. In January, shortly after shaving off my entire head of hair, a S.A. truck driver took me to an abandoned parking lot against my will, and I found that I have the ability to maintain a calm, sound mind in a moment of panic, and get myself safely out of a potentially dangerous situation. In February I started a girl's club at a school which, with its successes throughout the year, has now been recognized by the Deputy Head and the Department Education Board for playing a part in reducing pregnancy rates and encouraging girls to stay in school. In March I traveled to Malawi for the first time and achieved my scuba diving certificate. April was dedicated to all things Malaria, and although one of my good friends and counterparts sadly passed away to cerebral malaria, I was recognized in May for doing the most education and prevention work out of all Peace Corps Volunteers in Africa during the month of April. In May I also conquered a 125 mile bike ride in a day, started a boys club, and my best friend came to visit. Emily and I traveled to Livingstone where we saw Victoria Falls, played with lion cubs, rode elephants, walked lions, ran cheetahs, booze cruised with hippos, rafted the Zambezi River with crocodiles, and had tea with zebras and monkeys at sunset. She biked 23 km to my village where she worked with me, plotted in the killing of a chicken for dinner, played with little African children, learned some Tumbuka, and complained about the poor internet coverage and lack of Wi-Fi ;) At the end of her visit we relaxed on the lake in Malawi. In July and August, Peace Corps flew me to South Africa to be pampered before, during, and after a wrist surgery, while back in Zambia my fallen-apart hut was being rebuilt. In October I celebrated my 24th birthday in my village with friends, re-dedicated myself as a volunteer as I entered into my second and final year of service, and then I took off to Namibia. There I climbed sand dunes, camped in the desert, drank delicious German beer at Oktoberfest, and drove alongside numerous wild animals. I ate kudu, ostrich, crocodile, springbok, oryx, and zebra. Upon return to Zambia, we swam in the Devils Pool on the top edge of Victoria Falls as the sun set. In November, with the help of Steve, I put on a weeklong health training workshop in my community, the results of which I am extremely proud of. I celebrated Thanksgiving surrounded by over 40 other volunteers, including my best-friend-turned-boyfriend, all of whom have become an even larger extension of my ever-growing family around the world. In December I was chosen to co-facilitate an HIV workshop for other PCVs and their Zambian counterparts; I started raising laying hens; and a counterpart of mine and I were recognized on multiple radio stations and in a magazine interview for all of the HIV work we've done together. I spent Christmas lakeside in Malawian paradise with some amazing people; the only way it could have been more perfect is if my family was there, too (its hard to be away during the holidays).

In 2013 I stayed fairly healthy (aside from meningitis, a staph infection, a broken wrist, stomach ulcers, and the probable shistosomiasis or other parasites and bacterias floating around inside of me). I learned a foreign language well enough to be able to have a conversation, teach, and write a full letter in it. Two baby girls were named after me, Acaity and Caitilinni. I got to name a baby boy, Reptar Phiri (...Phiri means mountain). All 3 of those children are destined for greatness. I grew my first ever garden. I read over 60 books. I taught village kids, school students, adults, elders, men, women, headmen, chiefs, strangers. I learned even more from them. I played, danced, laughed, cried, hurt, rejoiced. I rejoiced more than I hurt. I laughed until I cried.I grew. I became better.

2014 appears to be another year of adventure, happiness, hard work, and change. This month, I am doing to grant-writing workshops and will be working with two different health committees on securing grants and starting huge projects. One of them is digging deep wells in an area where there is very little water supply and a high number of water-caused illnesses, including typhoid. The other project is to construct and stock a health post in a community too far from a clinic, resulting in high numbers of preventable deaths such as from malaria and maternal death. In February I'll get to explore Tanzania and Zanzibar at a 4 day music festival on the beach with Steve. In March my parents come to visit, in June/July two of my cousins come to visit, and in August another good friend treks out to explore Zambia with me. In April I return to California for my best friends wedding (!!!!). And on September 5, 2014, I ring a bell that signifies the completion of my Peace Corps services in Zambia. Who knows what else, who knows what's next.

Thanks for tuning in, and cheers to 2014 ♡

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pink Monkey spark notes

So apparently some people are pretty upset that I've been neglecting my blog for a long time (people seriously still read this thing??). I guess that all started when I typed up about 4 blog entries and they all got deleted, regardless of me hitting the 'save' button periodically. It also might have to do with the fact that when I get access to a computer now, my time seems to be consumed with writing grants, updating my resume, researching masters programs and jobs, trying to figure out what comes next, and reading the latest tabloids and viewing Miley Cyrus' most recent trashy half-nude photo shoots... because lets be honest, keeping up with someone else's trainwreck of a lifestyle is much more exciting than writing about my mundane day-to-day life living in a rural African village, right??

But I guess since I did my 'one year in Africa' updates a lot has actually happened, some of which is noteworthy. So I'll give you the cliff notes here and now, and possibly will eventually get around to writing more.

My service got shortened by one month. That means instead of serving 27 months, my contract is now 26 months. Instead of 'ringing out' on Oct 5, 2014, I'll close my service on Sept. 5, 2014. This applies to our entire health intake that I flew in with, not just me specifically.

I turned 24. We had a camp-out in my village. Killed two chickens and a goat. There was also a lot of drinking. A game of soccer. A ton of fun. And a whole lot of deliciousness.

I wrote my first ever grant!! A small one, for $2, 500 , but it was submitted with the incorrect budget sheet so I now have a couple thousand more dollars sitting in my bank account than I know what to do with. This is the richest I've ever appeared. Accidentally not spending it will be a struggle... no wonder corruption is so...easy.

I attended a week long workshop in Chipata with my host father. It's called PEPFAR and is all about HIV/AIDS which I feel as though I'm pretty much an expert on by now. I then got selected to travel to Lusaka in December and co-teach the same workshop. So I'm really excited about that!

I just had my mid-service conference. Basically a few days in the capital to do dental and medical check ups, meet with our superiors and discuss successes and challenges that have occurred in the last year. We also rededicated ourselves to our second and final year of service. While I was at the office I met with the woman who manages 3rd year extension volunteers, and we discussed different job opportunities for me if I want to stick around a little longer.

I finally got my cast removed! After something like 11 or 12 weeks in it.. Idk, I can't count. But my wrist seems to be healed from the surgery, it's just stiff and really sore, and hard to move. I had 3 physical therapy sessions and will do more whenever I'm within Lusaka.

We did some construction at my hut. I now  have a brand new brick bathing shelter with a cement floor instead of a dirt one. It's super nice. Other new additions include an extremely large porch, and chicken house so I can finally get my laying hens!

I took two girls from a nearby school that I teach at to Chipata for a one week overnight camp, Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Although I got pretty sick from all the meat we were fed, and although the week was extremely exhausting, we had a blast. The days were filled with sessions ranging from sex education, healthy relationships, women's health, communication skills, goal setting, leadership, confidence and more, and accompanied by games, sports, arts and crafts, cooking, movies, night time chats, and a talent show. The girls also learned about HIV and had the opportunity to get tested, and learned how to properly use condoms.

I started doing pre-school with my brother Jones. He absolutely loves it especially because he gets two candies at the end of the lessons (which are really gummy vitamins). Because the families in my village are too poor to send their children to elementary school, Jones is already a lot further along than his 7 year old brother. He's my prodigy. I also teach him English and sign language. Which means among the useful signs to know (the alphabet and 'I love you') I taught him the shocker. You're welcome, ladies.

Well that is all that I have time for right now (because I like to pretend I'm really busy)... so until next time!

Monday, August 26, 2013

30 Day Blog Challenge

Saw my little cousin post this blog challenge on the igram, and since ive wanted to do a picture blog/pic-a-day type of thing, so I guess Ill do this! Just to add some direction to my picture posting :)

So the first day is a pic of myself and a description of my day. Im horrible at taking selfies, esp on an awkward phone, but at least part of myself made it into the photo. But thats me sitting on the side of the road by myself. Its about 90 degrees out and around 1130 am. So I guess that means that at this point in my day I cant really give a description of my full day. Maybe ill update later.

I never set an alarm in this country, unless theres something i absolutely have to be up for at a certain time. Id rather rely on a natural, healthy, cirdadium rhythm. They say if you spend only a week out in nature with no technology or stress waking you up, its enough to reset your whole rhytm again. Im pretty sure that mine is reset by now! I love waking up to the sun creeping in my windows, but I usually go to bed shortly after it sets so I have an ample amount of sleep time anyways. I typically wake up naturally from 530-630, although since Ive been in town I've been staying up late and pushing a 645 wake up.

Today my only goal was to get up before 7, pack my things, start heading into town by 730, run some errands, and be on the road by 1030 to hitch back to Lundazi. I didnt quite make that goal, but its okay. I had a lot more packing and cleaning and gathering of things at the house than I originally thought, and I spent a good, enjoyable amount of time sipping my coffee and chatting with our house mama, Ester. She's the sweetest.

I started walking along the road to hitch to town at 9. Many cars sped past me without even a glance im my direction at my outreached hand, nor a signal of communication. Usually they will flash their highbeams if theyre not going to stop, shake their hand from side to side to say they have no room for another person, or move their finger in a circle to communicate that they are "just within," meaning they arent heading into town or traveling a far distance. But, nothing from no one. Oh well. Its probably because Im a gangster.

When I had mostly walked the ~5km from our house into town, an Indian-Zambian man (not sure how to call them) pulled over to drive me the rest of the way in. Its always surprising to me meeting Indians and Europeans that were born and raised here in Zambia, making them full Zambians,  and then hearing them bust out the local language, even though they still have their ancestoral accents. But I guess that makes sense as to why and how surprised Zambians get when I speak local language to them.

In town I first went to print out some 26 pictures from camp. One of the Zambianisms Ive picked up here, which really annoys me, is the inability to 'cue.' Zambians do not know how to form a line and/or keep order. Doesnt matter how long you've been waiting, everyone will come in, step right in front of you, and go about their business. So, seeing a long line at the photo printer and me being on a time crunch, I decided to walk straight up to the front of the line and hand the man my USB. One thing I am is efficient. One thing (most) Zambians are not is efficient. They will stand there for hours at the computer going through which few out of the 10000s of random pictures on their SD cards they want printed, then of course they'll want them printed in doubles, or all different sizes. If you give a mouse a cookie.

So I handed the man my USB and said "theres only one folder, 26 pictures. I want them all printed l, all 4x6. Heres 52 kwacha, Ill be back in 30 minutes to pick them up." And walked out. Boom, efficient, see? Things dont have to be so complicated.

I then headed next door to purchase a new phone for my host father. They had a sign out front that read "genuine, authentic cell phones." I went to the display cases, told them I wanted the cheapest phone they had that contained a certain charge port, so I can charge his phone on my solar. They started showing me blackberrys and other touch screen smart phones, running for 800-1200 kwacha. Im wanting to only spend 50-100 kwacha. Close, but no. So I start looking at the cheap phones. The guy says, "oh, you dont want those. They are fakes, made by the Chinese." Genuine, authentic phones, eh?? But I bought Prince a phone.

Next I walked over to the local grocery store/cafe. The other place I needed to go was closed, but thats okay because Id rather not spend money, as I am trying to save wherever I can to go to Namibia in October. I got a delicious cappicino, and sat with some non-peace corps American friends who are out here working or doing studies. Its pretty cool how completely different all of our experiences are out here, even though we all live in the same small country.

When my coffee was thouroughly enjoyed, I ventured to the ATM so I can afford to hitch home today l. The first two were down. I went across the street. Those ATMs were down as well. The ATM security guard sitting outside the bank with his loaded AK-47 told me all the machines in town were down. Of course.

I grabbed my completed pictures,  returned to the house, dropped some things, picked my bags, and got a ride out to the Lundazi turn off, which is where we hitch from. And because this is Zambia, and the police are corrupt and like money, my friend who was driving me to the turn off got pulled over and had to pay a bribe. This happens all the time. The police set up rpad blocks, stop about 85% of all the vehicles passing through, ask to see their license, tell them to pull over, then make them pay about 20 kwacha ($4) to get their licenses back. Or they just confiscate the whole car and youre stuck on the side of the road. It sucks, but its the police, so theres nothing you can do. They make out like bandits, and the taxi drivers usually lose money.

Like mine today. I payed him 35 kwacha for the ride. He stopped and pur 30 kwacha worth of gas in. Then he paid 20 kwacha in bribes to the police. Its a hard knock life.

While the driver was negociating the bribe, some 3 little boys came up to my window and started speaking to me in English. I spoke to them in their language, and they answered me in mine. I think thats pretty cool. I shared my ice water with them, gave them my lunch, and some of my chips. Then they ran off and disappeared into the bush.

I started this post when I was sitting on the road waiting to hitch. Not many cars are passing because its lunch hour. But after only 45 minutes of waiting, some truckers picked me up. Semi trucks are extremely comfortable, but they drive terribly slow. I would have rather waited for a fast ride, but I have a feeling its a slow day anyways. And its hard to turn down a free ride.

Hitching in Zambia is one of the only/most efficient ways to get around. Sure, there are large buses, but those scare me because of the way they drive. Plus theyre overcrowded and break down a lot. Hitching doesn't scare me, although I was very hesitant after my 'kidnapping' experience. But in Zambia there are the people who own cars, and the people who dont. All village Zambians stand on the road and hitch hike. All car-owning Zambians pick up the people hitching on the roadside. Sometimes they charge, sometimes they get to know you and offer a free ride. Ive been really lucky with getting good hitches and many free rides, but I also dont mind paying. Fuel here is about 8x the amount in California. Hitching is a great way to meet all types of people, to learn about their lives or Zambia, to network, and to disseminate information. In fact, some of my greatest health talks have been to people in hitches with me.

As friendly as the truck driver was, he went really slow. 40km/hr slow. Our journey ended up taking 3.5 hours instead of 2 or less, and as 
I feared, I made it into town about 1 minute too late to catch a bus back to my area. granted the bus can only take me within 7km of my village, but 
Id rather walk 7km instead of 20km.

So I was stuck in town for the night. luckily there were a few other pcvs in town as well, because theyre heading to 
Lake Malawi tomorrow, which im totally jealous of. but i need to hermit down in my village for the next month and not spend any money.

theres a new canadian guy living in the lundazi boma, working a "women in development
" program for 6 months. i got to stay the night at his place in his little sisters bed. that was a treat.

when i was on the hitch into town, we stoppes to pick up a zambian girl and her two children. as the 2yo was climbing into the truck I reached out my hand to help her in. she took it as though i wanted to shake her hand, and proceeded to ask me how my afternoon was  at 2 years old, zambian children are more polite than most americans. i picked her up and sat her next to be on the truck bed. she held onto my leg the whole ride. she was precious. 

so thats my day. now that i look at all the topics on this blog challenge, i realize 
I wont be able to do many of them. like i dont have a favorite store, because i live in a village and there are no stores. and i dont have a current favorite tv show because i dont have a tv. and do you think i own a purse
I dont know what the formatting will look like for this post on my blog, so i appologize if its all askew. this is my first time posting from my new phone, and im using the blogger app. its not allowing me to use capital letters or any special characters other than commas and periods. and that annoys the crap out of me. becauase i appreciate good grammer and proper punctuation. hopefully the next post is better.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"I may not be rich, but I am famous."

I gave my host father an English writing assignment a few months ago. This is his story, as written by him, without outside help or corrections [just a few explanations].

Meet: Prince Kamanga
"I may not be rich, but I am famous."
Written June, 2013

I am Prince Kamanga a short fat well-built man with broad shoulders, bright eyes, grey hair and brown in complexion who was born in 1967 at Kamsokoto Village, Chief Kapichila, Lundazi District, Eastern Province, Zambia, Central Africa, Africa. I am a "Tumbuka" by tribe. Full of wisdom. Very popular. My popularity has a great dignity. Respected by all ages. I have been born from a family which was very poor having farm produce only for home consumption. This means that the family had no extra produce to sell.

 I have one sister and one brother. The family had so many difficulties. Some were poverty which made the family to have famine in most of the times. And famine was also giving us a problem a lot. This was sort of an adventure. Though we were in that state we survived by the grace of God. 
I grew up just within the village. My youth was and had so many interesting agonies. I used to hunting things such as lizards, geckoes, insects, birds, rats at night. Playing futbol, singing Christian songs, dancing traditional dance called "Muganda" and creating energisers. I was also used to do fishing and playing about with my youth mates. 

I used to associate with different ages of people even strangers. Most of the youths and elderly people liked me. Just during this youth age, I learnt that life is difficult in the world at times. Above and beyond life was like that. Struggling, struggling, I grew up to the age where I am. Then time came to start school.

I started school in grade one. At school I was very brilliant that I was passing number one and two. This made the Headmaster to make me jump grade six and I was put in grade seven. In grade seven I qualified for Secondary Education with flying colours. I did, I did! I did my Primary Education at Mkomba Basic School. I went to Nyimba Secondary School. As I went there we were put in classes according to the intelligence of a pupil. I was one of the intellectuals that I was put in Class A. There were four classes of Form One. I was taking nine subjects. They were: English, Mathematics, Geography, Book-Keeping, Civics, General Science, Nyanja, and Technical Drawing. All these were my favourite subjects except Nyanja and Technical Drawing. Though Nyanja was not my favourite, I was doing good. I went up to Form Three by then at present grade ten. The school was just good. I left school in Form Three due to lack of finances.

Kasuku Neighborhood Health Volunteers. Prince is back row, second from the right, holding books.
While at school during the holidays I was serving at Kapichila Community Rural Health Centre on voluntary basis because I am a RedCross member. As I left school I was just staying at home doing dimba [garden/farm]. And I joined Kasuku Neighborhood Health Committee of the above mentioned Health Centre. Then I was trained as TB/HIV/AIDS Treatment Supporter by TIPEC Care International in Chipata at Pine View Hotel in 2002. I was trained as a Malaria Agent by the Ministry of Health, in Family Planning by Society For Family Health, trained as community counsellor by Care International, and Chitumbiko Home Based-Care Project. Also trained in school management because I was the Chairperson of PTA at Kasuku Community School and also trained in IGA [Income-Generating Activities] accumulation because I was once the secretary of IGA of the above mentioned school. In January 2013 I was trained in Project Design, Management, and Development, and in Behavioural Change. This training took place in Lusaka at Great East Hotel from 8-9 January organised by Peace Corps Zambia.
Prince and Caitlin at Great East Hotel, Lusaka, after a conference where Prince received project trainings. January 2013
As time passed and passed until at a certain time, I proposed love to a girl of Chinyimba Village in Chief Mwase called Agnes Ngulube. This was 1984. I got married the very year in December on Christmas Day. Certainly I paid a bride prize of three cattle. She does nothing but just involved in a very small scale of farming and caring for the family in a poor state of life. I was seventeen and she was sixteen. I have six children. Three girls and three boys. Their names are as follows: Dolica the first born aged 25 and married has two children both girls. Mercy the second born aged 22 and has two children a boy and a girl. Chimwemwe the third born aged 20 doing grade nine. Tiyese aged 15 doing grade 8. Alfred the fifth born doing grade one aged 10. And Jonesi the last born, aged 3 who is just playing with his American sister Caitline all day.

My life is not good because I lack most of the things to undertake my problems. I struggle with life in poverty. I am a very small scale farmer who produces too little to feed the family for the whole year. At times sleeping without eating any food. I have a dimba [gardem/farm] where I try to generate something but comes a few due to lack of the necessities. My financial situation is not all that good. Failing to undertake the problems of the family with the little knowledge, I have failed to achieve what could solve the family's problems. The little money I find is spent on school requirements such as fees, uniforms, stationary, and to buy food and clothes for the family. The most important things I spend money on is food and school requirements. 

Mainly, I am involved in the activities concerning health, farming, associating with different tribes and races. Some of my favourite things are farming, learning new ideas, doing dimba garden, associating with people of all ages, being in projects and co-operatives. The favourite things to teach about are health issues on different problems, to teach how to run a project. 

Some of the struggles I face in my life are poverty, famine, having no job but always working on a voluntary basis. Some people feel jealousy because I am involved in many different things and I do better than most with the little knowledge I have acquired. This voluntary work brings nothing to my life, except for obtaining knowledge from different sectors.

Living with a volunteer to me, at first it was a dream but it is a reality. It has been very good to me and the entire family. A volunteer from America!! A volunteer from America!! So good to live with a volunteer from America. It has never happened in my life before. I even fail to explain the happiness the family and I have for the volunteer to be at our midst. This will not be forgotten in our life. Her presence has brought a new concept in our family. Everyone is so so happy. I thank God for making Caitline to live in my family. This Caitline respects me as her father. Though she is young, she has respected Zambians as they are of her race. To me Caitline is not a volunteer, she is my American daughter. I respect her as I respect my African daughters. There is no difference to me. It is not a taboo that Africans had bore an American child. God has made it.
Teaching Malaria Prevention with my Zambian father, Prince.
From Caitline I have learnt a lot. Some are: I have learnt how America is and how Americans live and their culture, knowledge of doing some things new.. I do not see America differently now because what was making the difference has been united. Before I lived with one, I was thinking that Americans are hostile people. But it is not like that. Two of the proofs I have are I live with Caitline and that I have a pen-friend in America called 'Lil'.

My goals in life are to wipe out famine and poverty to live a better life and to be receiving volunteers in my family. In future I would like to build a brick house with corrugated iron sheets and to grow crops of different variety on a large scale, to run projects and to write proposals. My dreams to come reality I appeal to you, "Caitline to assist me!" And I am planning to mould bricks to build a house for the volunteers. If it is fulfilled, Caitline will be the first one to use the house.

A quote of saying: "Knock the door shall be opened to you. It is not a mistake to make a mistake but it is a mistake to repeat a mistake. The rejected stone was later taken to build the corner. A friend in need is a friend indeed."

I am a man who loves to associate with different ages, sexes, tribes, and races. A man who seeks some pieces of advice, who is eager to learn and to be corrected where I go wrong. Please Caitline, come in to lessen my problems so that my life is developed.

By myself, I have struggled, but I have failed. To tell about Zambia, Zambia is a peaceful, Christian country. Its people are very friendly. It has so many different tribes which love one another. Africa is a continent of Africans and its people are very united.

Thank you!
-Prince Phiri Kamanga
Our family on Christmas day, 2012. Prince, myself, Agnes, Chimwemwe, Alfredi, Chewbacca, Jonesi.
My family with my best friend when she came to visit the village. Prince, Emily, Chimwemwe, Jonesi Agnes, Alfredi.