It All Begins At Home

So. I am sitting here in our Northern provincial house, only two and a half weeks in, overcoming something in the realm of intestinal
parasite/infection.

As such, I’ve recently been looking back at my first blog post. In it, I made a reference to the beauty of having the foresight of unpredictability, without knowing what it was like to actually reflect upon it. As I’ve sauntered into even newer territory these past few weeks, I’ve been able to see this newly acquired reflection put to good use. As the wonderful Wendell Berry says, “A baffled mind is a mind well employed,” and I have a feeling that my mind shall not lay idle for these next few years!

And so, nevertheless, it’s been officially two and a half weeks since I have been thrust into a new, ever expanding journey of self discovery, cultural realization, and mutual assimilation, into a place that I inherently did not belong to, but am beginning the process of belonging. Two weeks ago, I moved into my village area of Mfungwe, Luwingu District, in Northern Province as a 3rd generation volunteer.
I am located right off of a main road, so I am cooed to sleep by cars going by to the neighboring city of Nsombo (20 kilometers from my site), which is nestled right on Lake Bangweulu, and I wake up to the sound of mine and my family’s four goats in the morning, asking the only way they know to be let out of their pin. I have farmland and the African bush on either side of me. The sun rises behind my house, above the fog,
through the fields of corn, and it sets through the outdoor kitchen my host father, Ba Mwango, and I built last week, as the smoke from my brazier cuts through the beams of diminishing sunlight. All in all, where I am, is exactly where I need to be.

Yet, before I get going on my transition to individual site, there have been a few big things that, due to my lack of blogging, have not been acknowledged!

So, big surprise, we all made it! We all swore in as official U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers! Pre-Service Training turned out to be whirlwind nestled in time, as it seemed to eventually pass us by seemingly just as quickly as we arrived. All of our training in conservation agriculture/agroforestry, and individual language seemed to pay off (big thanks to the amazing trainers!) as we all additionally passed our exams!

(For those of you who do not know, our work as LIFE volunteers in the village will consist of being a Forestry Extension Agents. However, our work will be comprised of aiding in conservation farming methods, increasing food security, increased income activities, animal husbandry, (some) fish farming, and communal nutrition, as well as HIV and Malaria education/prevention. We will work closely with farmers and community members to work towards a future in which any abstraction of self reliance is met with new techniques and a change of mindset.)

So, as hearts grew fonder with waning time, the final week before our departure to posting (individual site placement) we all ventured to Lusaka to have a few days of last minute paperwork and fun. Evenings were spent by the pool, casual adult beverage(s) in hand, enjoying the remaining company of the wonderful friends that were made over the past three months, eyeing to the future of when our next adventure would be. As the week sped by, we said our three-month goodbyes and hopped onto a cruiser, darting 14 hours North to our new home.

The transition, for me, from daily interactions with my good friends and established communities, to a brand new setting full of new people and new work, was quite daunting and, need I say it, scary! Especially when these new things are situated some 50 kilometers into the Zambian bush from the nearest city. However, this is where my life has led me thus far, and I know that Peace Corps has adequately trained us in our capacity to live out our new lives.

So, down a bumpy, dusty, two hour long road from Luwingu BOMA, with all of my belongings stuffed into our car, I finally reached the place that I can call home for the next two years. I’ve never lived in a place this long since my senior year of High School!

Upon arrival, my host parents, Ba Mary and Ba Mwango, greeted me with open arms and contagious smiles. Starting from the first day, I eat lunch and dinner with them every day
(upon their graious request, even, not from my lack of cooking skills), and I couldn’t be happier to have such a pair of rock star host parents. For mostly every meal,
we eat cassava nshima, usually some type of small fish (kapenta or small brim), and sweet potato leaves or pumpkin leaves mixed in oil, onions, and tomatoes. I’m beginning to hanker for it every day! Ba Mary was the first woman council-person at the Luwingu District level, and she still works with/heads community development programs, and local NGO’s. Ba Mwango worked as a supervisor in the copper mines from 1964-1989 (right around the time when he met Ba Mary), and at 77 years old, is still as nimble and hard working as they come. Just last week, we spent four days in the bush, cutting down trees for my kitchen nsaka, and for every one that I chopped, he cut down two! Both of my parents know English very well due to their previous occupations, so we both need to remind each other to speak in Bemba so that I don’t run out of things to say.

Already, I’ve had great opportunities to meet the folks I’m living with. Every Sunday, I’ve visited a different church, and almost every day for a week, my host mother and I visited two different villages a day, where we would both give our schpeels about why I am here and what that means at a community level (mostly it was just my host mom talking, as my Bemba becomes lightly exhausted after about two minutes of trying to fumble my way around sentences). It has been so good to meet and greet the different communities, and hear what they are excited about starting!

Yet, as I transition, I’ve realized some things.

In my life, I’ve had thousands of opportunities to know individuals really well, seemingly existing outside of any cultural parameters or communal setups really different
from my own, but this is the first experience I am having to really, truly, get to know a community as a whole, and all it entails. In order to really know the individuals I am befriending, working and living with, I must truly know the community and cultural constructs under which they live; under which I am now living. For I know that if some stranger was coming to live with me, it we make me full of joy and humility if they wanted to know why I am, so that they could better understand who I am. I am just now beginning to realize what that looks like on my end, and how the process will in turn be reciprocal.

I wake up every day, baffled and amazed at the hospitality of my community members, and their liveliness as well. I see it from gifts of groundnuts, from people coming to kindly greet me at my house, and yes, even from the kids running behind my bike screaming “what is your name?” and “how are you, how are you?” even after I make it known to them how I am and return the question. All of it makes me grin from ear to ear, and as an outsider coming in, when people try to get to know me for who I am, too, it makes everything all the more worth while.

All of this is not to say this isn’t a hard transition. This very well may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the hardest things I will ever do. This service will pick at you emotionally, physically, and psychologically, from seeming loneliness and isolation, trying to live up to expectations, and cultural differences. But in that struggle lies the answer. The answer is situated in the community. We as volunteers are here as a resource for the community, and they are here as a resource for us.

The more you give up of yourself and your ego, and give in to the graciousness of human-kind and the people in your community, the easier everything will become. At least,
that’s the conclusion I’ve come to over the past two weeks. My feet are planted where they are, and so I better make sure I’m not wearing the wrong shoes for the
journey. While I am situated where I am, and cannot change that, I can always change how I feel about where I am, and my readiness to move forward. All of it starts from
simple roots.

Whenever I thank my host mom and dad for everything they are doing for me, my host dad always looks at me and says “you know Jack (that’s what they call me),
generosity starts at home.” And with those words I move forward, thinking of all the places that are home to me in my life, and the people I love and miss so dearly. I’ve
found that it should be that love and longing that pushes me to find that same thing where I am. For without that, without having a solid place to call home, I’ll
have missed the first step in giving myself to those around me.

Poem: Rejuvenation 

Renew my posture, old song, 

so that I may be able to sing the tune I do not know. 

Allow my steps, new earth,

To guide me forward so that I step not on the seeds I sow.

Open me up, bold eyes,

So that my work is not where it should not be.

Renew my heart, oh God, 

So that having one day more is the grandeur and beauty I see.

In mine own way, due Time,

Make sure my my arms have something for which to yearn.

Yet make it so, heart of mine,

So that I forevermore find humble paths on which to learn.

Seize my body, good Spirit

So that all my bones will hear the music you are playing with ease,

Allow me to be free, be open

So that I dance to your will, as the cherry blossom cradles outward as if to beckon for the breeze. 

Month 1

(Disclaimer, this was done from my phone. Please dismiss any grammatical errors. Thanxx)
I keep trying to think of some poetic first line for my first blog post in Zambia, but the metaphors and allusions don’t quite seem to cut it . Usually, in common dialogue, this type of place, and this type of scenario, would be the topic of comparison for contrast. So, since I don’t quite have anything in my life to compare this time to, I will simply lay out my experience thus far (which has been pretty dang awesome).

It’s rainy season here. My boots already look like theyre 30 years old, my glasses are duct taped, and my beards coming in. Point blank, Zambia has been absolutely amazing. Don’t mistake that for there being no hardships or irritants. Those come, I quickly experienced, as a bundled package with signing up.Nevertheless, this time is the most alive, alert, and oriented I have felt in a very long time, no matter how hard this process is breaking me. 

To start with, the landscape of this country is absolutely breathtaking, and the people are even more wondorous. Upon arrival (after a 16 hour plane ride), my colleagues and I were welcomed at the Lusaka airport with a brigade of Peace Corps officials. We booked it to customs and were on a heated, sweaty, overly-excited bus to our first destinstion: The Barn Motel, right outside if Lusaka. Little did we know how nice it was going to be! All meals were provided, there was an infinity pool, and we even had two tea breaks a day. Unfortunately, I certainly became too comfortable in that setting (as we would soon be cast out of it, like tossing a turkey into a wolf pack *gobble gobble*). During the day, we had safety and security debriefings, more medical examinations, and they were always followed by more seminars on various topics to help better establish us in this new country and culture. 

However, as we became all too comfortable in our lavish set up, it was time to move on to Chipembi to begin our pre-service training. To become a full time volunteer, you need to essentially “graduate” from pre service training and swear in. We found out the day before our departure what language we were assigned, giving us a better indication of where we will eventually be placed. I am thrilled to say that I was placed in Bemba, although that language is not indicative of where I will be placed, as over 40% of the country speaks it (which I find to be pretty rad). But, therein lies the fun and excitement for when I do find out my province! (Which should be in about a week)

So, as we arrived to Chipembi, which is about 1 and 1/2 hours from Lusaka, we were once again greeted by a host of trainers, both techinal and linguistic. From departing Lusaka to our entry into Chipembi, I have never felt more blind, excited, and thrilled with my lack of information and knowlegde. We were, by happenstance, newcomers. Chipembi is home to the College of Agriculture (where we are doing our conservation farming training), and so the community is used to Peace Corps members, while for us, this was something entirely new. 

After a few introductions, it was time to go to our new host families, with whom we will be living for 3 months. I, along with 7 other volunteers, hopped into a land cruiser that took us into unknown African Bush territory. We didn’t know who was being dropped off where, or for that matter, where we even were. I was second to be dropped off. 

New home of reference=Suse village. 

As I was left, I was greeted by who I now know is my host grandmother, my brother, and my host cousins (although I thought they all were my bros at first, which is fine, because they act like it anyways). My bamaayo(mom) came from Lusaka later that evening from grocery shoppig, and greeted me in such a way that I really knew I was right where I needed to be. She is a farmer of maize, pumpkin, rape, and cabbage, and is a rock solid lady. She is tough as nails and has been through a lot in her life, and even so, she is so hospitable and welcoming. 

I’ll go ahead and get down to the routines of living here (which are awesome and comtemplative).

Accommodations 

I have a hut (ng’anda), a toilet hut (ichimbusi), and an outdoor bathing area (grass stitched together/I have misplaced the Bemba name..), and my bamaayo boils my bathing water to the perfect temperature. We cook in an outdoor kitchen (insaka), and the food we have is as equally new to me as it is tasty.

Food we eat

We eat chibwabwa, which is pumpkin leaves (my personal favorite), lepu, or rape, which is also very good, and ubwali, often called nshima, which is hardened, ground, corn pourage. Ubwali is the main dish, and everything else is considered a relish. Additionally, we eat soya (soy made to resemble meat) and occasionally some sort of meat. My favorite thing I’ve eaten thus far is a bush meat called “impombo” which is a daika (I don’t  know if that is the right spelling, and I don’t know what it looks like not cooked and delicious). 

Daily Schedule

I usually wake up at 5:30, bathe, clean, eat, and do some remaining homework/study Bemba. Around 7:20, I depart for my day. Depending on the day, we have language in the morning from 8-12:15, and technical/agroforestry training in the afternoon from 2-5:30. It is about 4 kilometres into Chipembi, and only about 1 or 2 to the neighboring village of Chikonkoto, where we have language training with our teacher, Ba George (“ba” is like sir or madam, simply indicating respect). After morning language, we bike home for a quick lunch, and book it down the hill to Chipembi for tech training. I’ve learned a lot about consevation farming and agroforestry techniques for this region thus far, and we’ve definitely been able to put them to good practice, learning our new trade step by step. In the evening I bike home (about 40 minutes), bathe again, cook/eat, clean dishes with the family, and plummet into my bed around 8:30 or 9. Coffee keeps me alive, and my bed is my bff. Sundays, then, are our days off. I go with my host family to the Pentecostal church down the path, of which my host aunt it the preacher. The music is fantastic, and the preacher relays half of the information to me in English. After church, I usually bike into Chipembi to the centre, and study/sleep /chat, etcetera. 

One of my good friends who is a returned Peace Corps volunteer told me that pre-service training is like taking a sip from a fire hydrant, and man was he right. With home chores, transportation to and from lessons, schooling, learning a new, tough language, cooking, eating, studying, trying to find time for sleeping, and having to assimilate into a brand new culture, one ralerly finds time to know which way is up. 

But through all of the business, like I said earlier,  I am absolutely in love with it here. The people smile and wave, and I am greeted at every turn. Life here seems to be about contentment, and being happy where you are. It’s more people based, and less dramatized/scripted. I wake up in the morning and hear our chickens getting ready for the day, and leave my house knowing that whatever the day throws at me, I’m still going to be in ZAMBIA, doing work I love, being around amazing people, and trying to understand a culture that is so rich, I might truly never be able to understand it. I could have never imagined that I would be sitting in this hut, in this amazing village in Zambia, typing this blog on my phone. And for that fact alone, I consider myself one lucky son of a gun. All I need now, with the amount of thing is have on my daily plate, is to obtain a bigger stride, so that maybe, I could get in front of my daily schedule, and look at all of this beauty from another angle. 

Shalenipo Mukwai.

One, Two, Three.

The New Year is upon us, and I have a little over one month left before I take my first step towards beginning a new chapter in my life. Just as we gallantly stride into the New Year with our fresh starts, I will soon stride, humbled, onto a plane that will take me to a place I do not know, full of new friends, new beginnings, and the daunting realization of not knowing what lies next. As 2016 went rumbling out the door, I began an opened mindset of a reflective nature, thinking of where I am now, where I have been, and how ready I am for my departure.

To start off with, over the past year, I have had the great fortune of getting to know fantastic people, peers and leaders alike, that have blessed me with their perspectives of their Peace Corps service. They have told me what their time was like, they have told me what their village and neighbors were like, but most importantly, they were making it abundantly clear that my time was in no way going to be reflective of theirs.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that common, principle feelings will befall all Peace Corps volunteers, such as homesickness, adoration, at times loneliness, anxiety, humility, and boundless joy. Little did I know how much of a blessing that was, as my peers made sure I had no preconceived notions of what stepping into the sublime was like. I figure that’s the grandeur of it, though.

So as I ventured into the process of getting ready, I naturally had anxious thoughts. Will I be good enough? Am I qualified enough? Can I actually do it? As I progressed with those thoughts, I  thankfully had those friend’s voices in the back of my mind, allowing me to humble myself with the foresight and beauty of unpredictability.

Needless to say, during my preparation, both mentally and physically, I have faced most emotions one could possibly think of when pondering time away, and have been consistently confused on what I should be feeling. All of these emotions, though, have hit me at different points in the year.  As I graduated college and took on an ambitious job full of growth and renewed posture, I thought I knew how my life was going to unfold, despite the looming presence of an unpredictable two years.

But then December 14th came. Starting that day, my family and I spent days and nights in hospital rooms, awaiting the results per my mother’s sudden hospitalization.

As it turns out, she suffered nine strokes, and has a buildup of calcium in the mitral valve of her heart. This event would utterly devastate any child, as it certainly did for me, but as I am soon to leave the country for two years, this made me question every move I had made up until this point. The night after it happened, I came home and revisited my AmeriCorps application, and started looking for jobs, internships, and Masters programs here in North Carolina. My excitement became anxiety, and my anticipation started to wane. I struggled to find that spark. I didn’t know what my next step was, and this wasn’t the sort of unpredictability I had learned to be okay with. If anything, I now wanted everything to be as predictable as possible.

It wasn’t until my mother brought me in close one evening in the ICU, and with a whisper, beckoned me to stay with the plan, no matter what was to happen. She challenged me to get my “start.” I didn’t want to accept what she was telling me. How could I leave the country at a time like this? That question kept churning in my brain, as my overwhelming love and worry for mother were the only thoughts I could muster. As it turned out, those few words were the freedom from my perplexities that I didn’t know I needed. No longer is this my mission, this is the mission that my mother and family intends for me to go on. I have found depth, love and profundity in that concept, and I now know that I am embarking on a shared journey. It took so much love for my mother to say those words to me. So much so, I am entering this experience with a new, opened set of eyes.

My mother is getting stronger, God bless, and my departure date is drawing nearer.

 

As for now, I am trying to ease back into my normal routine of falling asleep. I’m trying to ease back into that unpredictability.

I lie in bed and transcend to my Zambian hut. I hop on my bike, and cycle past the garden. As I wisp through the knee high grass and caress the unknown land, I gaze up from my handlebars and wave to the neighboring man, speaking the language that I shall soon know. As these images and preconceptions will likely be a very different view than what comes from reality, I’m just going to call them my “nicotine patch” for now. My dreams are just holding me off until I get there.

So as I sit here trying to conjure the words that appease my mindset, I do so thinking of the one month left that I have to pack two years of my life into three bags.