(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).
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).
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.