(Introducing ZamTips, little lessons I learn every day in Zambia)
Never throw anything into your trash pit that you
don't want to see the children playing with/sticking in their mouths a few hours later.
i.e. razorblades, your barf bag, moldy food, etc.
And as a Health Volunteer, I also recommend that you throw your used condoms down your latrine.
There's all this talk of the new intake of volunteers coming in a few months, and I'll no longer be one of the 'freshmen'. We're getting 6 (SIX!!!) new volunteers up in my district of Lundazi, totalling us at 23, but a whole 12 new volunteers in Eastern Province alone. But that means that a few of my volunteer neighbors that I've come to know and love will be closing out their service and heading on to new adventures elsewhere, and it makes me sad that they'll be leaving soon. My intake of health volunteers will all be reunited for the first time in 3 months, and have IST (In-Service Training) together in exactly a month, which that will mean that I'll have been in Zambia for 6 months. That's crazy for me to think about because I often think back to when I first got invited, and all the preparation I had to do to leave in such a seemingly short amount of time, and it doesn't seem that long ago. I was so stressed and excited! These last 5 months have gone so quickly, even just the last 2 in my village!
Since I'm typically horrible about keeping a journal in my village, and I usually just write letters to people instead, I've made it a point to keep track of the things I do each day in a pocketbook calendar (But I'll need a new one for 2013, and a wall calendar, too! *wink wink*). So I'll be writing this based off of memories from bullet points throughout my days. I feel like I haven't really done much in the last two months- actually, according to what Peace Corps wants me to do during my first three months, I haven't done anything- but then I look at my pocket book and I'm proud of what I've done. However, I still feel lazy and that I'm not doing enough or working that hard. Here's the last two months in review:
Thurs, Oct 11: First Day in Kamsokoto Village
My welcome to the village of Kamsokoto was a lot more extravagant than I had expected it to be. As the cruiser drove along a bumpy bush path, I could tell we were getting closer to my village at the point when all the kids we were passing looked over, jumped up, and shouted something that sounded like "She's here!," then proceeded to run after our cruiser. Our PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader), Maggie, said she wasn't going to tell me which hut was mine, as she wanted me to guess, but she didn't even need to make that threat. Posted on the outer wall of my future hut was a picture of a baby being weighed during an Under 5 Clinic, one of my future jobs, and a sign that read "You are most welcome to Kam'sokoto village, the peoples den!" I didn't have much of a chance to look at the sign or my hut from within the cruiser, because before O'bren even put the vehicle into 'park', a group of men and women stood up and began clapping, singing, and dancing while swarming the car that carried myself, Jesse (PCV), Morgan (PCV), Maggie (PCVL), our driver, and a multitude of things that I would use to make this mud hut a home. After being embraced in hugs by all of the women, shaking everyones hand at least twice, and unloading the cruiser into my hut, they sat us all on a reed mat under a ginormous mango tree that is about 10m from my front door. My host father, Prince Kamanga, then proceeded to give a speech about how happy their village and the surrounding villages were to have me, that I was free to make this my home, and that all that I do will be successful and prosper through the work of God.
As the cruiser gang was getting ready to leave so they could post Jesse at his site before dark, my host father stepped in and refused to let them go just yet, as it is Zambian culture to prepare food for a guest, and my host mom had started cooking for them already. He also claimed that if my friends left, I would be too shy and not eat lunch with my new family. I said he already knew me too well! No, I was starving, I would have eaten with anyone! It just would have been a wee bit awkward. They directed us into my hut, which they had put some short stools in and barely fit the 5 of us, and they brought in some of the most delicious chicken and sima I've had thus far.
When Peace Corps pulled away and left me there with my new village, I didn't feel lonely or afraid. Everyone was so welcoming, that I immediately felt at home. The kids came to see me, and I couldn't stop smiling. I went with my host mother, named Agnes but who I just call Bamama, to the shallow well, washed out my Jerry cans with soap and sand (they once held cooking oil) and proceeded to try and carry 20L of water back on my head. I made it about 200 yards before I had to take it off, and the iwe (my 9 y/o sister) came and carried it back for me. (I later learned how to tell them, in short, that I have a weak neck. I explain to some people that I broke my neck a few years ago so it is not strong, and that in America we don't put heavy things on our heads, to which they were astonished...I also don't fetch my own water anymore because the women say I am too weak, but sometimes they give me their 5L bucket and I carry it on my head, balancing it with one hand- they laugh and clap.) I spent the rest of my first day setting up my bed, making some shelves out of wire and string, and starting to unpack and put nails into my mud walls to hold my pots. I went for a walk around sunset with my host father to a nearby village looking for a bag of charcoal for me to purchase, and I sat on a ton of different Zambians' front stoops, shaking many hands and introducing myself: "Mwatandala uli? Zina lane ndine Caitlin. Cait-linnnn. Enya, Cateliné. Cateliné Kamanga. (pause for laughter over my Zambian surname) Nkhukala ku Kamsokoto, kwene ndine wa ku Amerika, calo ca California. Ndine wojipereka mu Peace Corps, na ndine kuno chifukwa nizamusambila pavya umoyo na chitukuko. Nikukumba kugula malasha."- How is your evening? My name is Caitlin. Cait-linnnn. Yes, Cateliné (Zambians cannot say Caitlin). Cateliné Kamanga. I stay in Kamsokoto, but I am from America, the province California. I am a volunteer with Peace Corps, and I am here because I will be teaching about health and development. I want to buy charcoal.
Although no one was selling charcoal, because they all cut down trees and cook over burning logs, a boy knew where a small bag of charcoal scraps were, and he gave it to me for free. It was perfect for getting through the first two days until I could venture further out to find a larger bag. We returned to my village, and while my water for my bath boiled on my now-lit brazier, I brought out my soccer ball and started kicking it around with the kids. Which brings me to:
Having trouble making friends in your new village?
Bring out a real soccer ball; the kids who once ran from you, crying,
will now run towards you, laughing.
Fri, Oct 12: Lessons LearnedI woke up around 5 and began unpacking the rest of my kitchen and bedroom stuff, trying to nest. I realized that my mosquito net got lost somewhere in the move across the country. I hung millie meal sacks above my bed to keep bugs, dust, and twigs from the thatch roof above from falling on me while I sleep. I made tuna for lunch, which I dont particularly care for, but I wanted to clean out the tuna can so I could nail it to the wall and use it as a candle holder. I've eaten a lot of tuna to be able to light up each room of my hut. As I was busy nesting, one of the village women came and knocked on my open door. She pointed to a reed mat under the mango tree where women were starting to convene, and told me they'd like to sit with me. I made the mistake of telling her that I was "busy, busy". I instantly felt bad and stopped what I was doing, then went and joined the women that came to see me, and sat and laughed and misunderstood language with them. Which is:
You should never be too busy to take a few moments
to sit, be present with, and get to know someone,
even if you can't understand each other.
Sat, Oct 13: "Meeting the Chief"
I woke up at 6, and Badada and I got on our bikes around 6:45. We rode ~20km out to a sub-BOMA, called Mwase. Brooks, another PC volunteer, lives in Mwase, which I found out after the fact. I was thinking this was where the Chief stayed, until we pulled up to a Police post, got off our bikes, and went inside. As we sat there on a cement bench along the innerwall of a hot and stuffy room, I tried to pick up as much as I could from the conversation my host father was having with the police man, who was perched up at a raised wooden desk, almost like a judge presiding over a courtroom. I heard him mention a few things that I recognized were about me, so I assumed he was sort of registering me with the local police, so they would look out for me, as well as know why I was there. A few weeks later he informed me that he was actually checking up on some matter that had happened prior to my being there, and the visit really didn't have much to do with me at all. After we left the police station, I followed my Badada a bit further into town, then into someones yard. He had to stop in and see the owner of Dunavant, a fertilizer company, and pick up money from his last harvest. Then we got on our bikes yet again, and started back on the road towards our village! After a while I finally asked "where to now?" and he said to Kapichila, where the Chief lives. Kapichila is only a few kilometers from my village, so I didn't understand why he dragged me all the way to Mwase with him, but I appreciate now that he just wanted to show me around. When we got to Kapichila, we went straight to my clinic. There happened to be a meeting, so he had me go into a room and sit down with all these Zambians. The meeting lasted more than long enough, and I know this because I fell asleep sitting up. Probably wasn't the best impression for my first meeting at the clinic, but I had no idea I'd even be going to the clinic that day, and was exhausted from trying to get settled and adjusted to my new life and surroundings. Also from the long bike ride. However, USAID was in attendance of the meeting, and presented the idea of SMAGs groups. I also presented my little introduction in Tumbuka, and was able to meet all of the representatives from the 7 different NHCs (Neighborhood Health Committee) in my catchment area. Other highlights of my day included but are not limited to: Was given a free chitenge, got +1 marriage proposal, took a nap (told my village I was reading the whole time), fed a stray cat some sima, discovered scorpion spiders in my hut, decided I'd definitely need to get a cat fast, made soya that was way too salty so I ended up throwing it in the chimbuzi (big mistake, I think it molded down there and made the smell worse), and figured out that I need to learn how to 1) cook on a brazier, and 2) cook for only one person. But...the chimbuzi part just reminded me of my:
Don't bring anything of value with you into the chimbuzi,
it's likely to fall into the hole of no return. Then every time you use the chimbuzi,
you'll be reminded of how you're pooping on your precious Raybans
or peeing on your once treasured iPhone.
(*disclaimer- I own neither of these, what I dropped down my chimbuzi is more embarrassing*)
Sunday, Oct 14: First Time in a Church in Zambia
Church with Prince. I went with him at 10 am. I wore a white & gray shirt with a white skirt, and he worse an all white suit with a red tie- the dressing that they wear to church to signify being cleaned by the blood of Christ. We rode our bikes into the village of Kapichila, through the secondary school, and to a little white, open aired building. There were women sitting on the ground on the reed mat out front, and men sitting on benches or the hill side. Of course me being a muzungu, I get offered a seat on the bench with the men. There was already a service going on inside, so I guessed we were all waiting for the next one. My host father just kinda said "You sit here," then walked away. I observed people coming up to the ushers at the door and, just before getting to their plastic grocery collection bags, the church-goers would bend down and pick up a stick from the ground, then drop it into the 2nd ushers bag. Then they would sit down outside. After about 30 minutes, the girl next to me told me to come with her. She took me into a room attached to the church, filled with broken school desks, and Zambians around my age. Some of the guys in the corner spoke English, so I went over to sit and talk with them. I asked them what the man at the front door was doing collecting sticks, and he said thats the way they count how many people come to each service. Then the guys went through their regular Zambian series of questions: What's your name, where do you come from, are you married (followed by 'I will make you my wife'), what is your church? I can get through the first two without getting much of a hassle, but the church thing is a huge one to them. I can't sit there and explain what I do or don't believe, because they just argue with me and don't like what I have to say. Then they say "But you're white, it was you that brought religion to our country, and then you go back home and dont practice it?" ... I just tell them that my church is out doors, in the nature.
.....Well that led to the church taking their entire next service outside, under a huge tree, so I could have my church in the nature. There were about 200 people there under that tree, the women off on one side sitting on reed mats on the ground, and the men sitting on the school desks. And me, sitting on a school desk. Then there was the Bishop, in his robe, sitting in a comfy chair at a table in front of everyone. The service started off with a group of women getting up and singing and dancing, and then a prayer, and a lot more singing and dancing by different women or children. Then they came over to me and said that the Bishop would like to know who I was. So, I got up and stood on the table (even though everyone could see me, I kinda stick out like a sore thumb here), looked out at everyone, and shouted "Monire, bose!"- Welcome, all! To that, everyone burst out in laughter. First of all, they think it's hilarious when a white person speaks Tumbuka, because they don't expect it at all. Second of all, I put on quite an outlandish performance, in broken Tumbuka. When I was done, all the women yodelled for me, their form of celebration, instead of clapping. Then there was some more singing and dancing, and a very long sermon. The thing went on for about 4 hours, and I was getting tired and hungry. In fact, I dozed off a few times during, even though I was trying to listen to all of the Tumbuka and decipher what he was preaching about. I'm surprised how much of it I [think I] understood. It was a good experience, I'm just not going to make it a regular thing to go to church here. I do, however, want to go to all the different churches/religions that are here and experience them all. It's also a great way to see a lot of people from different villages that I might not have been to at once, and them getting to know who I am and why I'm there. They also like me more for going to their church ;)
At church, I got 5 marriage proposals, some by men looking to make me their 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th wifey. I told them I must marry an American. The most clever response I got to that was "You are a Tumbuka from California, you should marry a Tumbuka from Zambia." To which I said that there were not enough cows in this country to afford my dowery. Without missing a beat, he countered, "How many do you require? And then how many donkeys, pigs, horses, and goats as well?" Done.
Other highlights include but are not limited to: 5km walk with Badada, this time in a successful scrounge for a large bag of coal (cost=15,000 kwacha = $3), taking a nap (you'll see this is a reoccurring thing), talking to Bamama ku Amerika (!), having peaches from a can for dinner, sawing into my thumb while cutting said peach can, hammering my finger while nailing said can to the wall, and gaining a new candle holder. :)
Mon, Oct 15: My Day of Rest
After waking up and reading for a while, I spent a good hour sweeping out my entire hut, which I've come to the conclusion, will never be clean, considering I live in a house made of dirt and grass. (Though now, this is an pastime activity that I really enjoy doing, I sweep my hut about 6 times a day, and "deep clean" every other day.) I then ventured down my promenade of village huts to one at the end of my row, where all the women were sitting and husking corn. I spent the better part of my morning husking and shelling dried maize with the women, as Badada had gone into town and wouldn't be taking me around to meet with the surrounding Village Headmen. We sat on the ground buried in and surrounded by piles of corn husks. As I pulled back the silks and ear wings, to find out what was inside, each ear of corn being a bit different than the last. Some had pale while kernels, some were tinted red or purple, or were a light shade of yellow. In some, the kernels were packed tightly together; in others, generously placed or half eaten by bugs. Sometimes I'd pull the layers back and white dust would fall to coat my hands, leaving just an empty husk with no corn to be seen. I've never harvested food before, I guess I didn't expect to see so much differentiation in field maize here. As we worked, the young girls would take a few husks, shell them, and roast the kernels over an open fire. After we had taken all the ear wings off the ears, it was time to shell them all. To do this quickly by hand, you would clear one husk of its kernels with your palm, then use that now-bare husk to knock the kernels off of another by rubbing it up and down against the unshelled maize. This quickly dried out my hands and rubbed my skin raw, leaving me with many invisible fiberglass-like cuts along my fingers and palms. But the time I spent sitting with the women, laughing, singing, and working with my hands, is something I hope to not soon forget, and something I hope to do more with them other the years. These are the moments that make me less lonely, and these are the moments they, too, will remember after I end service- that I stayed with them, learned from them, became part of their village, their community, their family.
Other mentionable events of the day were but are not limited to: holding a 6 week old baby named Bornface; getting pooped on by Bornface.
Tues, Oct 16: Mental Health Day
My 6th day in the village was Mental Health Day at the clinic. Again, this was a huge meeting held out by the school under some large trees. There must have been 300+ people there, including school children, mothers with their babies, elders, drama groups, the Chief of Kapichila, and officials from the Ministry of Health and District Health Office, of which I sort of work under. The Chief was sitting in his throne (an overstuffed chair) with some of his Group Headmen and guards alongside. The theme of Mental Health Day, and their focus for the next year, is on Depression. They spoke about what that is, and the drama group from the secondary school performed a few skits. There was also traditional drumming, dancing, and song, along with two adorable little boys who were dressed up and did traditional story dances. I really wish I had my camera. At the end, I got to meet some of the Health workers, then was quickly whisked away by my host father so we could go eat sima.
One Week Anniversary in my Vil
I've attended one village meeting: the first SMAGs meeting for a NHC. When USAID (United States Agency for International Development) came to my clinic and presented the idea of safe motherhood, all of the neighborhood health committees got together to have their initial meetings and decide who would get to go to the big SMAGs training in January. SMAGs stands for Safe Motherhood Action Groups, and it's made up of a group of volunteers from clusters of villages (neighborhoods) and they are responsible for different health priorities involving safe motherhood in their areas, because a lot of times people are far from the clinic and aren't educated. Some things they teach about are warning signs during pregnancy, family planning, PMTCT- Preventing Mother To Child Transfer (For HIV+ Mothers), the importance of delivering at a clinic with trained midwives, the importance of ante-natal care, nutrition, and general education about safe motherhood. Too many mothers lose their babies or die while giving birth here. This is something that I was trained on to co-facilitate in my village, so I came to the meeting with books. The meeting was in Mapala, about 8km from where I live. [Back then, that felt like a long ride out to there, now it feels so short]. We met, again, under a large tree in a school yard. Prince and I were the first ones there, it was supposed to start at 8am. Then came another woman, around 9. A few more slowly trickled in, and we started the meeting with 8 people, around 10 am. Everything was in Tumbuka, I was completely lost, so I zoned out. Especially because they spent the first 30 minutes arguing about the minutes of the meeting and in what order they should do things. Then, they argued for over an hour about who would be Chairperson, Vice-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. So I started sketching things in the SMAGs books I had brought along, and then they asked me what they were. I told them "Oh I've been trained in this stuff, I have training manuals that I can help you with," and I head the expression that I've now heard every single day from my host father: "We are so blessed that you are here."