Community Entry

IMG_20190702_092649.jpg

Again, I’ve waited a long time before attempting to write another post…patience might have to be accepted in this case. I believe where I left off from my last post was promising to describe my experiences of swearing in, being posted and some more unique cultural experience. I’ll do my best to do justice to my experiences over a few simple words.

Finishing training felt like such a relief, except for the scary feeling that nothing was about to prepare me for what was to come. Before being posted to site, you spend a few days shopping because it will be one of the few opportunities for a cruiser coming directly to your site. Normally, you must walk, bike or if lucky taxi to your village. It is extremely nerve-wracking trying to imagine all the things you will need in the village to survive. I took this challenge as an opportunity to minimize and be economical with my things and learn to live with less. The next scary task was taking it all to my site, hoping I didn’t forget anything because I would be in the village for three months. I can’t begin to describe the feeling I had when watching the cruiser leave me alone with my family.

IMG_20190712_112032.jpg

As much as Peace Corps try to prepare you for language, nothing prepares you to suddenly be living somewhere where no one understands you and you don’t understand them. In my case, it’s even a bit more extreme as a volunteer because in order to streamline training I was taught a generic form of the language spoken in the major cities…but in my village they speak a dialect that is similar in structure but has an extremely different vocabulary. When the cruiser left me with my family, I could hardly understand a word that was spoken to me. They could piece together what I was trying to say, but I was always left lost and confused.

I’ve slowly been getting better at local language, but there were and still are many days that leave me in tears from the frustration and constant teasing from family and villagers. I learned to find the sympathetic listeners to spend my time with and to ignore the teasing. Instead I just speak as much as I can even if it is poorly spoken. The women in my family are amazing and spend a lot of time with me sitting and interacting, therefore have been a great help in language. They have also been wonderful at including me in traditional ceremonies and events in the village. I’ve been to one wedding so far and three different girls coming of age ceremonies. The later being far more fascinating.

When a girl comes of age in the village, she spends an entire month in a dark room not being allowed to speak or leave. This is taken as a time for women to pass along knowledge of how to behave as a woman and future wife. Men are strictly forbidden from interreacting in these ceremonies. The ceremony that I was allowed to participate has been the dancing later in the evening.

The first time I was taken to a ceremony I had no idea where I was going or what I was about to do. We walked up to a hut that had loud drumming and I was instructed to clap before being allowed to enter. The room was completely full of women, mostly undressed from the waist up. The women all screamed and yelled excitedly when they saw me. I was shown where the girl was sitting. She was only wearing a skirt and her head was bent down as she sat with her legs spread wide on the floor. She is not allowed to speak or respond to anyone during this time.

All the women took turns dancing in front of the girl. First on the floor in front of her and then standing. I wish I could describe better the amazing amount of hip action these women achieve, but it’s unbelievable. As I was sitting and watching, suddenly one of the women drumming yells at me exclaiming ‘akazi!?’ (meaning woman). Without warning she reaches down before I have time react and grabs one of my breasts.  I was wearing pants and my hair was pulled back in a pony tail and I apparently appeared like a man at first glance. Once she realized I was indeed a woman, the yelling and excited screaming continued. I was even allowed to attempt dancing in front of the girl, which got a lot of laughs and smiles.

IMG_20190825_153347.jpg

Peace Corps service is very self-driven. You are completely responsible for setting your own schedule and making sure work is found and completed. So far in my first couple months I’ve been focusing on creating a healthy routine and getting the hang of the lifestyle here. I’m getting better and better at lighting and cooking on my charcoal brazier. Today I made two trips to the borehole to fetch water with a 20L bucket on my head (the little girls no longer feel the need to help anymore, although the little kids still love to carry my empty buckets for me). I now have friends in the marketplace and in the boma (town). I’ve visited most of the surrounding villages in my catchment area.

IMG_20190818_121451.jpg

The hardest part of my routine is learning to do nothing…I’ve never spent so much time just sitting on a mat doing absolutely nothing. It’s a good chance to practice language, but it’s hard for my motivated and anxious personality to get used to. I’m also pretty sure that my family thinks I nap and sleep most of the day. Since all relaxation time is usually spent around others, they find it unusual when I say I’m going to my room to read and relax alone.

Going to the boma in and of itself is a huge learning experience. The amount of attention I get for being a muzungu (white person) is sometimes overwhelming. Wherever I bike into town the children yell ‘muzungu’ and/or ‘how are you’. In the boma people constantly come up to me and ask for money or follow me. The sexual harassment is especially tiresome. I get marriage proposals constantly. Men constantly call me sweetie or the like to me. Most of the time I can laugh it off and make a joke, but sometimes it’s very upsetting.

The gender roles in Zambia are clearly defined. The women all wear chitenge (a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist), or skirts. The thighs are considered an extremely erogenous zone and showing them is deemed inappropriate. Women and men both have tasks that specifically placed on gender. Men fetch firewood, while women tap water. The men sit on chairs and women are expected to sit on the floor.

00002IMG_00002_BURST20190802153833.jpg

The differences are more apparent to me when I have had male volunteers visit my site. I am generally treated as a special guest, but when male guests come, I am treated a bit differently. Most men don’t ask for my name and generally refer all conversation to the male volunteer. Even when I respond to a question, they sometimes refer the conversation back to the other volunteer. It’s going to take some time to break the stereotypes, but I’ve been slowly trying to do my part. Maybe I’m too forceful for the change, but I make my male friends always help me with ‘female’ designated tasks like sweeping, fetching water, and cooking. While I always try to participate in ‘male’ designated roles.

I feel that I have so much more I could say, but I might leave it for another post. I’m almost done with my 3 months of community entry now and have had a lot of growth happen in even this short period. I can’t imagine myself after 2 years here. My next post I’ll try to go over more in my village and possibly work I’m trying to accomplish. By the time I get around to posting again I will have most likely just returned from In Service Training in the capital as well as a fun trip through Tanzania by train and a week lying on a beach in Zanzibar with a few friends.

Pre Service Training

IMG_20190518_163633.jpg

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.

IMG-20190618-WA0017.jpg

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.

IMG-20190616-WA0004.jpg

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.

Harvesting

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.

IMG-20190428-WA0011.jpg

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.

Preparing to Leave

There are only so many times you can pack and unpack a bag before deciding you have everything you need right? I’m set to leave in just over 5 days. My nerves are shot, my emotions are high and I’m as excited as one would expect.

People keep asking me why I wanted to join the Peace Corps. I’ll be honest, it had nothing to do with a silly notion that my experience in one village was going to change the world. If anything my reasonings are completely selfish. I want to see another part of the world, live a different lifestyle, meet new and interesting people, learn new skills and languages, and finally, I want to be changed by the experience.

I’ve learned a while ago that you can help anyone just by being aware and willing. There is always someone right beside you that needs a helping hand. So do I need to travel halfway across the globe to help someone, probably not, but what an experience it will be.

LRM_EXPORT_317046307517824_20190327_105130171.jpg