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.