I know this is long overdue and I apologize for waiting over three months to finally getting around to writing about all that has happened. I am writing this from my new home in Kawere village in Eastern Province after what I will call my first successful day since being posted. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though, I should probably talk about how I got to this point before I continue.
Before Peace Corps Zambia swears in and posts a volunteer, they must go through 3 months of intense language and technical training. The program I am in is RAP, aka Rural Aquaculture Promotion, you’ll get used to the acronyms. I was assigned the language Chinyanja shortly after arriving in country. There is something like 73 different ethnic groups in Zambia and they all have their own unique dialects. Some of the main languages are Bemba, Chinyanja and Tonga. Chinyanja is mainly spoken in the Eastern Province, so I was lucky to know almost immediately where I would be posted and that I would be first generation, unlike anyone assigned to Bemba which is spoken throughout the country.
It may come as no shock to any of you, but I am a visual learner and language is a bit of a learning curve for me…therefore learning a completely foreign language in 3 months is a bit of a stretch for me (perhaps anyone for that matter). Probably one of the biggest hurdles for me during PST (pre service training). I luckily had a wonderful teacher and group of people to struggle with. Since there were four of us, we of course dubbed ourselves the ‘Nyanja Turtles’ (Yes, we have the bandanas to prove it. I am Leonardo in case you were wondering).
My biggest hurdle to overcome so far has been being in such a school-like environment with people that did not meet my expectations of ‘Peace Corps Volunteers’ during PST. I’ve been out of college for a few years and working as a professional and before then I was homeschooled all through high school. Being thrown into a group of people just out of college (mostly) from so many different backgrounds with no say what so ever in my own schedule or ability to take care of myself has tested my character in so many ways.
PST is also a roller coaster of emotions. You feel an entire gambit of emotions in the span of a few hours, which can be extremely draining. One moment you are questioning what made you make the decision to come in the first place and the next moment you feel like this is exactly where you are meant to be. All the volunteers are kept at a rigorous pace in a completely alien environment that takes quite a bit of time to become fully accustomed to.
Especially for me the lack of independence and ability to set up my own schedule or even manage the time of all my meals was difficult. My host family during training were very sweet, but at times a bit chaotic. I think there were at least ten children that lived at my site. It was interesting at times as well because I didn’t have a mother and father taking care of me, but instead sisters who were either my age or just a few years older. Let me be honest though, my skills in the village were basically the level of toddler.
Learning how to hand wash my clothes (which I haven’t managed to do without hurting my hands, it’s either the harsh soap, or my poor ability), cook nshima (a local dish eaten at every meal, similar to grits but thicker in consistency), wash dishes, keep the bajillion bugs and spiders away, and going to the bathroom in an outhouse has been a journey. I now enjoy my handwashing and cooking. Spiders have become my allies against other bugs and are welcome in my home and my chimbudzi (bathroom) is now a dear friend thanks to the many bouts of diarrhea already (many more to come I’m sure).
Should I dare mention how many shots I’ve received here…or the amount of medical sessions I have been forced to listen to telling me about all the many diseases, parasites, skin rashes, and venomous snakes for which there is no hope for? Apparently, there is a snake called the Black Mambo that can kill you in 20 to 40 minutes…. their advice for if I am bitten, to call my parents and say my goodbyes. I’m also positive that I will get schisto at some point during my service, considering I will be working in freshwater ponds during my service…it is eminent. Fear not though, I’m sure I will survive. I also take my prophylaxis (anti-malarial) everyday, so I have that going for me.
On to happier experiences in culture and service. I’ve taught so many children to cartwheel and handstand since being here. I’ve passed my technical and language exams, language with an Intermediate-Mid. I’ve learned to tie a chitenge (a meter of fabric worn around the waist), although I refuse to wear it unless absolutely necessary. I’ve managed to lite and cook my meals on a charcoal brasier. I’ve also managed to become a proficient mountain biker through necessity, something I never thought I would be able to accomplish.
Considering I’m a bit tired, as I’m sure you are as well of reading this, I will save my experiences of being sworn in and posted to site for another time. I will try to delve into living somewhere where language is a barrier, being bored and having no idea what to do every day while at the same time finding out chores and cooking take much longer than expected, as well as cultural experiences like a girl’s coming of age ceremony, a wedding and other interesting experiences.