On top of that, I have 13 clients to let know I'll be leaving in two months, and will possibly have to spend time training new therapists. Ending my self-sustaining job. Packing-- what do you pack for 2 years in rural Africa!?! My truck to think of, setting up my cat, Chica Bella, with a new home, and every thing else that goes with getting ready to move to a new country and have no communication for two years. People to say "see you later" to. AND GOING AWAY PARTIES TO THROW! ;)
But I'm thankful to take breaks from it all and be able to sit and document all that I'm going through- the overwhelming emotions that have been surging through my body the last day and a half, imagining what my life is going to be like. And you know what? Instead of freaking out, the more I read about it, the more excited I become. So I thought I'd share some more information with you all about what I'll be doing.
So if you didn't watch the video of me opening my little blue Peace Corps package, and you haven't caught on to where I'm going yet- I'll be in Zambia. It is a Health Program, and my job title is Community Health Development Extensionist. I go to staging on July 17, 2012, and will depart the U.S. for Kabulonga, Lusaka, Zambia, Africa on July 19, 2012. After three months of training with my fellow PCT's (Peace Corps Trainees), those of us staying will swear in on October 6, 2012 (my 23rd birthday [yes, I'm only 22]). My dates of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer would be Oct. 6, 2012- Oct. 5, 2014, but that's subject to change (depending on if the world ends in Dec??).
My project is to assist Rural Zambians in being health and empowered to promote appropriate and sustainable strategies that mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS and malaria, improve food security and address other local health priorities. I am the fourth group of volunteers that will be working on this project- so I will be coming on to an already developed/developing project. A lot of it will be skills transfer, leading by living in a healthy lifestyle, teaching and meeting with different groups of people in villages all around, out in the fields, or with young children.
My coverage area will be roughly 20km, and I will be given an all-terrain bicycle as my main transportation (it's either that or walking! no public transportation.. unless I tame a zebra or something). I will be posted in a remote village, but will be working ~20k+ to and from my job sites each day. English is spoken in Zambia, but I will be out in remote areas where they speak their village languages.
I will be living in a village earthen house with a thatched roof, lit by kerosene lamps or candles. I will cook my meals over a wood or charcoal fire. I will need to carry my water from as far as 30 minutes away by foot, and will need to treat and filter it. I may be 100km from the next PCV. Transportation to the capitol city could take 1-2 days, and I will be traveling on trucks carrying livestock or produce, or hitching rides in the missionary vehicles.
I will be eating, primarily, nshima (cornmeal porridge), cabbage, and kapenta (dried fish), as well as other staple foods like local leaf sauces and smoked fish. Fruits such as mangoes, guavas, and especially bananas, can be found commonly everywhere, but mangoes are seasonal; vegetable variety is generally good, but can be seasonally difficult, and meat is not readily available for Volunteers while at their site. I will be able to plant my own vegetable garden- which will allow me to help teach about healthy living to the people of my village/community.
They have told me that I must be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on me as a Volunteer. I will be developing relationships with local people who might die during my service. A lot of people where I will be living will have HIV/AIDS, but I will also be seeing malaria and malnutrition, and may possibly encounter motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence and corporal punishment. Having to see all this and, of course, maintain my own emotional strength so that I can continue to be of positive service in my community.
Now: the part that I really want to share. They sent me some stories from volunteers that have served where I will be, and I'd like to share one that I really liked.
Upon arriving in Zambia on June 17, 2007, I knew that my life would never be the same. I had accepted my assignment to become a Peace Corps Zambia Volunteer with both excitement and anxiety, knowing that I had the motivation to work hard but feeling nervous about the physical and mental challenges of living in rural Africa. However, once I stepped off the plane and inhaled my first breath of Zambian air, I felt that I had made the right decision. Something told me that all of the difficulties I would face would be worthwhile, and after spending a year and a half in this beautiful, mysterious country, I can say that my initial instinct was correct. I could not have imagined a more fulfilling, enriching, or worthwhile experience than serving as a Peace Corps Zambia Volunteer.
I reside in one of the most rural villages in the country, well over 1,00 km from the capital Lusaka and a solid day's travel from the provincial capital, where the nearest supermarket stands. My house is a modest structure made of mud brick and a grass thatched roof, and I cook over charcoal and bathe out of a bucket. I usually ride my bicycle between 20 and 60 km in a day to get to my meetings and do my shopping, and I run all of my meetings using the local language, as few people near me speak any English. I read by candlelight, wake up with the sun, and often come back to my hut at night, exhausted from a full day. When I leave my village, I do so through a combination of cycling and hitch-hiking, usually meeting some of the most kind and interesting people I have ever encountered along the way.
My service has been full of emotional ups and downs, with the "ups" being some of the happiest moments in my life, while the "downs" being some of the most saddest and frustrating. I've biked long distances in the pouring rain arriving covered in mud only to find out that no one had showed up to my meeting; I've sat next to a mother writhing in pain as she wailed in mourning over the loss of her child; I've witnessed firsthand the ravaging effects that HIV and malaria can have on a community; and I've lived surrounded by some of the worst hunger, malnutrition, disease, and poverty in the world. But I've also held a woman's hand as she cried for joy when she found out she was HIV negative; I've stayed up all night dancing in sacred traditional ceremonies where women celebrate their upcoming marriages; I've seen night skies with more stars than I knew existed, beautiful sunrises explode over vast flood plains, and huge waterfalls crash through dense foliage to land on pristine, untouched ponds; and I've organized events where hundreds of people received health education, were tested for HIV, learned skills to improve their food security, and became empowered to help themselves.
Joining the Peace Corps is a big decision to make, but it will probably be the greatest thing to happen in your life. The things I've seen, the people I've met, and the lessons I've learned have shaped who I've become throughout this experience, and I know I'll return to America a more perceptive and well-rounded citizen. As an avid lover of everything this country has to offer, let me be the first to welcome you to Zambia and to the toughest job you'll ever love.
So yea, I think "pretty stoked" explains how I feel right now.