Monday, February 18, 2013

Holidays and Happenings.

Muli Uli!
      I’ve now entered the 3rd stage of my service. I have completed Community Entry, a time in which I was supposed to immerse into my community and not leave my village. I feel like I did a good bit of immersing and improving of my Tumbuka, and now I’m happy to be in the phase of which is my actual service. I’m also now free to take vacation and have visitors, which I’m stoked about. Here’s an update of the last few months:
      I’ve spent holidays away from home before, but I’m pretty sure this last Christmas was the first one that I’ve spent without my family. I don’t think I realized that at the time, but I do remember it being a bit difficult to go through the day. First of all, it definitely didn’t feel like Christmas here. I don’t have stores, malls, or car radios constantly playing cheerful holiday music. In my area, there definitely weren’t any Christmas decorations up. There was no going to pick out a tree, no lights to hang. And it was about 100 degrees! On Christmas Eve I went to a nearby village to see a man who raises chickens. I wanted to buy two, and I heard that they were sold in Chigona, which is a village about 9km away. When I rode my bike there with my friend Joe who was visiting, everyone we asked about chickens was absolutely wasted. I really dislike dealing with drunk Zambians, and avoid it at all costs if possible, but I had promised my village I would bring chickens for Christmas so I felt I had to follow through. First off, everyone was pointing me in different directions on where to find the chicken man. Then the guy was gone, but I was dealing with his brother. I was asking everyone for someone that spoke English, because I wanted to bargain for the chickens. Instead, I had a bunch of drunk men grabbing my arms and ignoring me, but only talking to Joe. He kept telling them that I was the one they needed to speak to, I was the one that was speaking to them in Tumbuka, but they wouldn’t give me the time of day because I am a woman. I finally just grabbed some chickens, paid them the outrageous price they were asking, and stormed out. That’s the first time that a Zambian has pissed me off since being here, and I’m usually really easy going and accepting of how I’m treated.
      On Christmas morning I woke up and Joe and I each killed one chicken over the trash pit in my back yard. Apparently there are different methods to chicken killing, and Zambians do not appreciate it if you just chop off the head and let the chicken run away. But when they kill animals for food here, they lay them to bleed in a certain way and do it in a humane and least messy way.

My chicken and Joe's, who did not let his bleed out correctly and cleanly :)

      I then plucked and cleaned them with my amama, and helped her prepare them for cooking. I attempted to make sima in my hut, and I thought I’d be creative and put salt and pepper in while I was cooking it, but I guess that doesn’t work because my sima didn’t turn out as sima. All the women in my village have been giving me sima- cooking lessons because they knew that a man was coming to visit, and it is a womans role to cook sima for the man. I think they were a bit disappointed when I wouldn’t let them see or eat my sima, because I was embarrassed by it :)
With [most of] my Host Family in front of my hut. Prince and Agnes, Chimwemwe, Jones, and Alfredi holding Chewbacca. Christmas Day.
      We had a nice Christmas lunch of chicken and sima, everyone around my hut that wanted chicken was able to have some, and then Joe and I rode our bikes into the BOMA to have a Christmas dinner and gift exchange with all of the other volunteers in my district. There was a ton of food, from cabbage and stuffed bell peppers, to mac and cheese and deviled eggs. For desert there were cobblers, fudge, cakes, and pies. Pretty amazing that they were able to cook all this with local ingredients, and in an oven that barely fits one plate, with only two burners. We had all drawn Secret Santa names- the girl that got me made me two pot holders with aliens on them :D They’re pretty awesome. I got to talk to my family that night, and it was really hard to hear them all together. I think this is the first time I’ve really been homesick since leaving. And the fact that I hadn’t gotten a single letter, card, or box since October (and didn’t until the end of Jan) made it a little harder, almost as if I was forgotten. But I know I’m not, and I know I don’t need to get anything to know that people are thinking of me.. It was just tough being so far away from all my family and friends.
I had a pretty uneventful New Years, but it was actually quite nice. On New Years Eve, I stayed late at my clinic because a woman in our waiting mothers room went into labor in the morning. I’ve never witnessed a child birth, and I think this was a drastic labor and delivery to start with. The girl was young, 16, and having her first child. While she was laying on the table, holding her own legs up, she started screaming and crying about her right leg cramping up and having stabbing pains. Zambian women aren’t supposed to make any noise when they deliver, they usually do it silently, so the two midwives that were in the room with me were getting very upset with this girl. They kept yelling at her and telling her she was weak. When she couldn’t stop screaming, they climbed on the table and pushed their hand down over her mouth. They took two clamps, attached them on either side of her inner thigh, and twisted her skin tightly. When I asked why they did that, they said it was so she would feel pain in that area and push harder. When she continued to cry and smack her leg, they slapped her repeatedly and screamed in her face. They pointed to her stretch marks, and asked me if I knew what they were. I said “Yes, those are stretch marks, and women get them during pregnancy when their body changes and grows rapidly and stretches the skin.” They told me “No, they are marks because she must be a mischievous girl and is sleeping around.” They talked about the girl right in front of her, and laughed about it while she sat there in agony. She had a prolonged second stage of labor, and something was obviously wrong. At this point they decided that the baby wasn’t going to come easily, and she’d have to be transported to the hospital. They started filling out charts (something they should have done the minute she went into labor) making up dilations, blood pressures, and maternal and fetal heart rates for the last 11 hours, since they hadn’t recorded these throughout the day. The ambulance, a small covered wagon type thing attached to the back of a motorcycle, arrived a bit later to bring her into Lundazi Hospital. She gave birth to a baby boy a few hours later.
      I was only responsible for wiping her butt and cleaning up after she would defecate herself this time, but it was more a terrifying experience because of how I saw my midwives treat this poor girl. I certainly hope they aren’t like that with everyone, and I see definite room for improvement and areas of training for my clinic staff and volunteers. I have yet to be around for another labor and delivery, but as it’s something that I’d like to learn how to do, I hope I have more positive, smooth experiences in the future.
      That evening I was in bed and asleep by 9pm, I didn’t even try to make it until midnight. There is no drinking in my village, so there were no big dance parties like I had half expected. All was quiet until the next day, which is a large Nyao celebration. Nyao are the masked dancers that are the tradition of the Nyanja and Chewa tribes, both of which live in my area. I went to the next village over from mine, Chigadula, and it was packed with more Zambians than I’ve ever seen in such a small area. There were people everywhere selling cookies, soft drinks, chips, popcorn, etc. All the kids, both young and old, were out playing with each other or watching the Nyao circle. I’ve also never felt stared at more in my life, as when I was walking through with Prince and going to the dance circle, every single persons eyes were on me. I guess there were people that came from all over, so a lot of them didn’t know me and had no idea why I was there. The headmen offered me a seat next to them, in the Chief’s overstuffed chair. We sat right behind where all the dancers sat and awaited their turns, so I got close up looks at their feathered masks.
       I sat and watched them dance to the drums and singing for a few hours, then had a beautiful sunset walk back home with my host father. Another gorgeous, mostly calm day. And it was nice not to start this year off with a hangover :)

Sunset, Jan 1, 2013
      On January 5th I hit my 3 months as a volunteer. This is when Community Entry finished for me, and the next day I made my way down to the Capital, Lusaka, for In-Service Training. I caught a hitch out there with an ambulance, who was transporting a patient that was healing from a crocodile attack. He talked my ear off the entire way, but I did play cards with him for a bit, then end up giving him the stack of cards (from Monteray Bay Acquarium!), and I saw all of his gnarly scars from the attach. His legs were torn up from the croc’s tail swiping him when it knocked him into the water and locked its jaw around both his forarms. They were pretty mangled, and he showed me how he couldn’t move some of his fingers or make a fist because the tendons had been severed. We talked about the Physical Therapy he was doing, and I gave him some additional stretches and strengthening exercises. I was dropped off at Great East Hotel and reunited with everyone from my in-take for a week of trainings, workshops, and celebrations. Halfway through the week our counter-parts made their ways to our hotel for a two day workshop, in which they discussed Behavior Change, Sustainable Development, Peace Corps, and Project Design and Management. My host father, Prince, attended the workshop as my counterpart, as he is very active in our community and is a health volunteer. He was so excited to get out of the village and go to a big city, and he loved sitting in the workshops. At the end, him and I sat down and picked an area of which we’d like to start a project in our village. We decided to do Village Inspections, which is where you go hut to hut and give a score based on if they have pit latrines, dish racks, clothes lines, trash pits, gardens, etc. The main focus is on hygiene, which fits in because I’ve been waiting to do hygiene talks and build Tippy-Taps (a hand washing station that costs next to nothing to construct) and challenge my community to use them as well. However, rarely anyone in my village or the surrounding ones have pit latrines, and just use their fields as a bathroom. This is obviously not hygienic and leads to the spread of disease, so Prince and I designed a project to have villagers improve the environment around their huts while learning about disease and sanitation.
Prince Kamanga and I at Great East Hotel after our workshop.
      At the end of our training week there was an incident, and because I want to convey my whole experience while in Peace Corps Zambia, I will write about what happened. I know my family and friends read this, as well as incoming volunteers and possibly their parents, but I hope I don’t shed a light on Zambia or Africa as being ‘dangerous’. I’d rather people know about this so that they know better how to protect themselves. I was in an area of LSK that is referred to as the “dirty market”. I did not wish to be there, but that’s where I happened to be dropped off, and it’s not somewhere I would have gone alone. Yet, I was alone, and with my large travel backpack and purse. Some guys started hassling me and trying to get money. Others were harassing me verbally, or trying to grab my arms. A trucker saw this and stopped, asked me if I needed a ride. As I’ve hitched with many awesome truck drivers, I didn’t hesitate to take that way out. I told the man that I was a volunteer and could not pay, and asked if he would take me to Arcades (a mall near my hotel) for free. He said it was not a problem, and I got in. I asked him how long he’s been driving, and he said he had just gotten here from South Africa, where he lives. I asked if he knew where Arcades was, and he told me he didn’t, but would ask someone. I told him if he could get onto the main road, Great East Road, I would be able to direct him from there, but that I didn’t know my way around this side of town. He started driving in the right direction, but then began heading West. I made a mental note of this, but did not say anything because I didn’t know how the roads connected, and thought he might know better than I. After a few minutes of heading West and watching the sun creep slowly down, I asked him again if he knew where he was going. He said he did, but that he had to just pick something up at the Pick’n’Pay. I asked where that was, he said it was just near. At this point, I started to get nervous, but that was mostly because I had no talk time on my phone, so I was realizing that I couldn’t text or call anyone to let them know where I was. The driver turned down a dirt road, I asked him what he was doing. He told me he was going to park and get out to ask someone where Arcades was. Instead, he drove down this dirt road until there weren’t people around, and pulled into an empty parking lot. At this point, my stomach and heart were in my throat, my hands were sweating, and I was becoming fearful for my safety and security. I kept trying to page people on my phone, especially our Safety and Security Officer, but couldn’t get through because I had no money on it. I pulled my purse onto my lap, and slowly slid my hand down to the bottom of it, where I carry a Rajah switchblade. When he parked the car I knew this was my chance to get out. He turned to me and said “If you don’t have any money, how are you going to pay me?” I pulled my knife out of my purse, unopened, and rested it on my leg where he could see it. I told him very calmly, “I’m going to grab my bags, and get out of the car and leave. You’re going to stay here, and you’re not going to follow me.” Then I proceeded to do just that, and as I jumped down out of his cab I took off running. I rounded a corner and saw two men standing outside a car, I told them I was in trouble and needed help, and they kindly drove me to my hotel. I was really shaken up, but after talking to my friends and deciding I needed to report this, I called Peace Corps and told them what had happened. Over the next few hours I was on the phone with the Safety and Security Officer, who offered to come meet me in person, and with Medical, as well as the Crisis Victims Advocate in Washington DC. They let me stay with my friends that night, but then moved me to Peace Corps Headquarters the next day so I could meet with the Medical Staff and talk further about my "kidnapping". They offered to fly a counselor out from DC, which I declined, but I’ve had a few follow up phone calls with them. I’m extremely lucky that I was able to get out of that situation, because all I could think of was the worst possible situation happening. I worried that I would never see my friends or family again, but I got away and I’m okay. He didn’t touch me, and I don’t know what he was planning on doing, but I’m glad I didn’t have to find out. I’m thankful I had my knife on me, and I’m even more thankful that I didn’t have to use it to really protect myself. The experience affected me in a few ways- for one, it definitely stripped the confidence I had to be walking around alone here. It ruined my trust of people. These were both obvious a few days later when I had to return to my site; I felt an immense amount of anxiety about having to hitchhike again, alone, and so soon. But I did it. And I also learned a few things from this. I learned to never travel without talktime, so I linked my phone to mobile banking so that I can always call or text someone in case of an emergency. It reiterated that I should carry my knife, even though physical defense is not Peace Corps tactic. And it taught me to get more information about the people I hitch with- I had not asked this guys name, nor had I looked at his trucking company name or license plate number.  I realize this can happen to anyone, and while I wish it hadn’t happened at all, I’m glad it happened to me and not someone else. I’m glad I was able to keep a steady and calm mind and have control over the situation.
       I made it back to my site, and I’m sticking around here for as long as I can. I will travel to Serenje, in Central Province, next month for a National GLOW Meeting, but other than that, I’m trying to keep the traveling at a minimum for now if I can help it!
Oh, and I let a Zambian villager shave off all my hair.

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