Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You can’t see the light, only what it touches

I left my village one month ago and have now returned to the continental plate of my birth.

But first I’d like to share with you the video my brother made after visiting me. He did an amazing job on it and I’m very grateful that he took the time to visit, take videos and then put them together. The song you’ll hear is one that was wildly popular during the world cup and at the end of the video my brother, Jonathan, is dancing to the song as my brother, Tanner, was recording. Here is the video.

The last month was crazy in Zambia. About one week after posting that last blog, we were informed that we would be sent home 3 weeks early due to the uncertainty of the Zambian Presidential elections (which were actually held today). So I was quite busy wrapping things up. Running around to my different farmers and groups, I realized how much potential the future holds for the area. There is still much to be learned and much to be taught. I wish the next volunteer, Alyssa, all the best. I’m jealous she gets to spend 2 years with that wonderful family and community…but mostly the family.

Saying goodbye to my village was hard and saying goodbye to my family was even harder. I am so blessed to have been placed in such a caring and hardworking environment. Zambians sometimes get a bad rap for being “lazy” and it can definitely be applied in some cases. But from what I’ve seen, if they truly want something, they work so hard for it. Especially when it comes to their loved ones. My father once rode his bicycle 4 hours one way into Malawi to get a special herb when his daughter was sick. Say what you want about traditional healers and their medicine, I was touched by the dedication he had in helping his daughter heal. What’s even more humbling is that I know he would have done the same for me. It is this kind of honest love I will miss.

But there are things in Zambia I’m quite happy to be away from. In previous blogs I mentioned the bittersweetness, the love-hate relationship I had with Zambia. Well, it didn’t get any better toward the end as I said goodbyes and inched closer to Lusaka and its airport. There are wonderful pieces of Zambia that I missed before I even stepped on the plane. There are other things from which I’m thankful to be an ocean away.

The goodbyes were especially difficult because there were so many in so many different places, it was like I was saying goodbye for 3 or 4 weeks solid; the village, friends and counterparts in Lundazi, friends and volunteers in Chipata, more friends and staff and my entire intake in Lusaka. There are some incredible people I got to know along the way. The volunteer culture was a very difficult one to say goodbye to. Sure, we’ll still have the chance to meet up in America, but it will be different. Regardless, I wish them all well, those still in Zambia and those who have moved on. Thanks for being there to share all the good times and the bad, the joys and the heartaches and all the ridiculousness in between.

The future of Zambia is a bright one as many global entities are beginning to focus on it with renewed interest in the natural resources it has buried in its soil. Copper has always been their main export, but lately there has been an increase in discoveries of gold, uranium and semi-precious stones. As I left, I even heard they are sending out gas and oil search parties. All well and good it can seem. Especially if you think of how rich the country might become and how much it could benefit the people. But I’m not so sure. I worry for the people and their rich cultural identities. Already in place is a quite corrupt political system – top to bottom. Of course it’s not bad as some other African countries, but it’s still pretty frustrating. From my modest observations, most, if not all, of the mining companies already come from other countries (China, South Africa, Australia, etc.). Of course, there is a tax on the copper, but a lot of it goes unaccounted for into a select few pockets. I’m by no means an expert and I’m not trying to make a stand or pick any fights. I’d love to see Zambia off the “third world” list. I even noticed a change in two years as well and talking with my Agogo, she can remember when people wore animal skins. In her lifetime, there are now cell phones in villages. That took white cultures hundreds of years to achieve. But I urge that as you develop Zambia, remember who you are as a culture. You have many rich cultural heritages. You are a peaceful people and you know it, everyone knows it. However, I have felt a certain tension growing stronger over my two years there. Though you have been swept aside in the past due to the lack of infrastructure, as you build those roads and bring in more investments and developers, remember your brothers and sisters living in the bush. Remember where you came from and develop in a uniquely Zambian way. Stand together as your first president taught you, “One Zambia, One Nation.” You have so many endearing qualities that make you strong as a people and as a country. No wonder Peace Corps Zambia has the highest rate in the world of volunteers choosing to extend for an extra year.

Zambia, my teacher and home for two years, thanks for the good times and the bad. Thanks for beating me down and providing for the lowest moments of my life. You never failed to put me in difficult situations. It forced me outside of myself. It forced the growth of what I hope is interior strength. Thank you for the hard lessons. Thank you for your beautiful landscape and beautiful people. Thank you for the absurd moments and the humorous grammatical and/or spelling mistakes on 70% of your signs/slogans. Thank you for the situations and occurrences that forced me to question myself, my expectations and my culture. I never would’ve made it without the love and support of my Zam-fam. In this I count my family in the village and my volunteer friends. I can’t wait to embrace you again. Family and friends in America, I appreciate all the love and confidence you gave me through your support.

When I look back at my work, I am mostly content with what I accomplished in 2 years: farmers met, ponds dug, fish stocked, management techniques taught, harvests completed, HIV/AIDS information given, games played, church benches built, women’s groups formed, buyer-to-farmer connections made, computer and cell phone lessons given, explanation after explanation of American culture delivered, faculty for patience increased, questions asked, knowledge gained, friendships made, countless marriage requests denied, catcalls ignored, awesome hitches appreciated, cultural techniques learned and somewhat mastered (shelling maize and groundnuts, pounding peanut butter, carrying water on head, etc), frustration of development work realized, countless hours of alone time endured, Zambian bush survived, love lost, love found, love given and received beyond preconceived capacity.

It might not look like much on paper, but Zambia taught me to value what is beyond the words (and that any paper is only just toilet paper in the end). Words are the guides that point to what is beyond the paper and ink. Peace Corps was the vessel to guide me beyond myself. And beyond myself I found a community and that community taught me what hard work and perseverance through frustration can bring. The long days that turned to fast weeks of being alone became my guide to discovering what’s within myself. And within myself I found serenity and a respect for humanity and the inseparable dance it has with the world.

This will be my last blog post, for I’m no longer in the Fetus of Africa. I’m now an infant in North America. Readjusting has been relatively easy so far. I feel I’m in the honeymoon stage of it since everything is still shiny and exciting. There are definite lapses though. One of Marcey’s friends explained to me the other day as I ate my first hotdog that one of the difficulties of the readjustment phase is the inability to predict the outcome of an action/situation. I’ve found this to be true thus far. I had a brief internal breakdown the other day as I tried to decide whether or not to cross a patch of grass in front of a big government building. In Zambia, it would’ve been weirder for me to walk around it. But I was so uncertain of what would happen if I did walk on it that I did a double take and then walked around it…only to watch someone else cut across it ten steps later. I feel like I stand too close to people in lines, pick my nose too much in public, and look like an idiot stutter-stepping off escalators. Even though I love the lack of people staring at me, I’m still way too self-conscious. I’ve noticed people go to a lot of uncomfortable trouble contorting themselves so as to not touch bodies or belongings on public transport.

But I’m enjoying the freedom of dress and the ability to ride a comfortably smooth road bike around on good paved roads/sidewalks. Oh sidewalks! What a nice concept. I’ve tripped several times on their evenness. America can be such a wonderland. Pizza and Dr. Pepper is still about the greatest food combo I’ve come across.

Yet, this still feels like a vacation from Zambia, though the realization that I don’t have a return ticket is slowly sinking in. Bear with me these next few months up until possibly the end of my life. Zambia certainly did not refrain from sinking its claws in, deeply. With a few minor scars, a couple extra years, and a freshly (though probably not completely) healed bone, I return with a whole spectrum of memories, lasting friendships, a Zambian family, and a better understanding of my small part in the interconnectedness of many into a whole.

If Zambia taught me anything, it was to just take situations as they come. Whether the journey is far or the stay is near, the ups and downs will always be there, along with the usual curve ball.

And if life has taught me anything thus far, it is that truth is the greatest and most difficult quest of all.

And in closing, I’ll leave you with something the Beatles have taught me:

“And to see you’re really only very small

And life flows on within you and without you”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It all will fall, fall right into place

Well, here we go. In less than 2 months, I’ll be officially pulled from the village. However, the time could be shorter, but no one is sure because the national elections have yet to be announced.

Otherwise, things are good. I’m heading to the village tomorrow! This is going to be a difficult time as I tell my loved ones here good-bye. Goodbyes to my family here are getting harder and harder. It made me really sad when my sister, Heather and I left the village. I guess I’ve been thinking more and more about what happens when I leave. Each goodbye is closer and closer to the last goodbye. At least it will only be the last goodbye of my service for I am determined to keep in touch.

However, I am VERY excited to come home though and see all my loved ones on the eastern side of the Atlantic.

So how about some quick updates from 2011:

Between my brother’s visit and my younger sister’s visit I had some interesting experiences. I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that I broke my foot at the end of January. I was put in a cast for 3 weeks, then had 2 weeks to strengthen the foot to the point of not needing a crutch for support, and then was sent back to the village.

So right after breaking the foot, I was stuck in Lusaka for the first few weeks. That was good and bad. Bad because I couldn’t walk. Good because I got to “explore” and get to know Lusaka better. I think a lot of volunteers end up disliking Lusaka because it is a big dirty city that’s too expensive for our volunteer budget. I found it to be a very interesting side of Zambian culture. I made lots of wonderful friends, who were nice enough to get me out and keep me from going completely stir-crazy.

So then the village was nice and slow as always. I succeeded in transporting 300+ fish to my best farmer's pond! We’ve got another new batch of volunteers in Lundazi…including a new neighbor for me! Her name is Colleen and she’s a Georgia peach like Cherie. So now I’m surrounded on both sides. J I’ve been a terrible neighbor though because I’ve been cashing in on my last vacation days and haven’t been around lately. And with those vacation days I went to Zanzibar…twice.

The first time was over the Easter holidays. I went with my good friends Cherie and Julie. It was a riot of a good time. Sorry for not detailing it in this blog post, but I'm kinda tired.

The second time I went with my sister Heather when she visited. I should begin the story with her arrival in Lusaka. I had a guy stand at the entrance through which the passengers first walk into as they enter the terminal and hold a sign that read “Rabid Bird” (her nickname…well, it’s actually Birdy, but you know…). My good friend Steve, had helped me pick her from the airport and we immediately headed down to the lower Zambezi river, a ways past Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba. We hung out a bit on the river, checked out the ginormous dam at Lake Kariba, saw some incredible baobab trees, and then headed back to Lusaka for some fun at a local Afrikaaner bar.

Next, we visited my village and had some enjoyable memories there, including playing on cotton bales, rambling around the bush, and briefly (surprisingly) meeting my chief. Here's Bird with one of my moms and some village kids.

Then, we went back to Lusaka, along with my fellow volunteer and Lundazite, Dan. We played with some juvenile lions. One of them playfully jumped on Bird’s back and was quite powerful about it, but Bird stood her ground.

Finally, we were on our way to Tanzania. All along in Zambia, we had been fortunate in having fast, reliable, and easy rides all around. So of course on our way to the catch the train that would take us out of Zambia, our car broke down 20 km from the train station! What?! Luckily we hitched a ride and made it with a bit of time to spare. Once at the train station we met up with my friend Nick and embarked on a very colorful journey through the Zambian countryside, crossing the border to Tanzania, witnessing some breathtaking mountainous expanses, and ending up in Dar Es Salaam. The train ride was rickety and got pretty darn cold at night, but was a fun way to travel nonetheless.

So after the train we took a ferry to Zanzibar! We stayed in some bungalows on the eastern side of the island. The sand there is unlike any sand I’ve ever seen or felt. The consistency is of flour and it becomes blinding white in the midday sun. We were located on the edge of a village right beside a fish market. So everyday we got to watch the fishermen sail out in their dhow boats and then come in with the tide, tie up, and sell their fish right on the beach. The seafood we ate there was absolutely incredible. Everything just exploded with flavor!

One day, Nick and I went SCUBA diving and Bird went snorkeling. It was a lot of fun and there were lots of colorful fish. I personally think the Caribbean has greater diversity in coral, invertebrate, and plant life. However, I saw greater diversity and size in the fish species at Zanzibar. I also got to see a dolphin! The three of us went snorkeling together another day and were taken to some random sand bars that only appear during low tide. I will never forget the pure white of the sand. It was as if the hourglass of time had broken and spilled its contents into warm turquoise and blue waters.

It was sad to see my sister leave, but I’m so grateful she was able to come in the first place. Each of my siblings got to see different things, including myself at different stages of this crazy experience. Birdy, I appreciate your sacrifice, your humor, your patience and your resilience in handling rough situations here. You had it pretty easy in regards to travel though. J

I think often of that night we stood together, small as the specks of sand oozing between our toes and looked up at the stars, equally as small, silently filling the darkness, filling our thoughts, pushing their energy, pulling ours. And we talked and laughed and pondered and chased tiny crabs that zipped into the salty waves and watched the fullness of the moon appear, watched as it consumed numerous stars in it’s path and revealed the cracks in the lapping waves over which we jumped, our minds filled with nothing of ourselves and ourselves filled with nothing but our hearts as our feet melted into the sand, that was melting into the water, melting into the stars.

Friday, June 10, 2011

when you see we're all one

Heh….so I wrote over half of this blog several months ago and I sincerely apologize for the delay in finishing and posting it. This is a brief (and quite inadequate, I realize) account of my adventures with my brother. Ironically, my sister, Heather, is here with me now. I’ll try not to wait so long to put up stories of what’s going on now…

My brother, Tanner, arrived in Lusaka the week of Christmas. It was so exciting to see him walk out of the terminal! He came walking out with video camera device in hand, with which he took hours of beautiful footage while here. We stayed the next day in Lusaka and wandered around neighborhood streets catching up.

We tried hitching to Chipata but ended up taking a bus after waiting for 2 hours at one place. Transport at the beginning of his trip was terribly frustrating. We took the bus up to Lundazi: had to wait 3 hours in the bus station and then the bus took 6 freakin hours! We arrived in Lundazi well after dark. I honestly have never been so upset at traveling here. If I had a car it would have taken 3 hours. I miss having my own personal mode of transportation.

So we made it to the village on Christmas day, after stopping to help pull a car out of a ditch. The weather was sunny and hot with a breeze. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all. My village family killed a pig for the occasion and Tanner had brought gifts for the village. It was a happy fun day. We also got to witness some traditional dancers putting on a show.

The next few days in the village were spent showing Tanner my day-to-day routine and a bit about my work. I introduced him to lots of my friends. We even tried to see the hippos that live near me. As we were walking up to the lake, an earth-shattering gun blast scared the stuffing out of me. It was the first gun I’d heard fired in a year and a half and we were out in the bush. I went into slight panic mode wondering who was shooting at what and why. It didn’t make sense until a ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) man in uniform walked out from some reeds by the water’s edge with an AK47. He was shooting at the hippos to scare them, because 2 days prior the mama hippo had killed a cow. She had been trying to attack a drunk man but a cow was in the way so she killed it instead (and this was about 3 weeks after the same hippo actually killed a man from the nearby village). So ZAWA’s answer to the cries for help from the people was to fire shots in the direction of the hippo in hopes of scaring it into not killing anymore. There are 3 hippos total in the lake and they virtually destroy villagers livelihood every year. These hippos aren't even native to the area. They only came from Malawi a few years ago after the people decided to construct a lake there to help irrigate crops and now the people are even worse off. All I’m saying is that 2 of those hippos would feed my entire chiefdom. J

Speaking of chiefdoms, I took my brother to meet the chief. As for an update on him…I'll follow the old adage of "saying nothing at all." To which Peace Corps adds: especially on the internet. So if you’re super interested in that aspect of the culture, find me when I get back, and I’d love to enlighten you on my experiences. I will say that the chief did give us a chicken. That was nice.

Here's Tanner helping my family weed in their maize field:

After the village we headed down to Livingstone to explore Vic Falls. This time of year was great because the water level was down and we could walk across the top of the falls. We walked over the rocks to a small natural pool called Angels Armchair, where we could swim up to the very edge of the falls and look over! It was astonishing!

We celebrated new years there and had a rowdy time. Then, we also went on a walking safari where we saw giraffes, wildebeest, zebra, etc. But the best was the white rhino! I’ve now seen the “Big Five” (elephant, leopard, lion, water buffalo, and rhino). I’m not even sure how to describe the majestically powerful nature of the machines we call rhinos. It was one of the most intense experiences I’ve had with wildlife here. We got within 8 meters (24 feet for y’all in Amerca)!

Tanner, thank you for all the wonderful memories and amazing adventures and the great sacrifice it took to come visit and for putting up with me when I gibber-gabbered and complained about all the frustrating things here. You helped lift my spirit and see the beauty that I had forgotten through the clouds of frustration. I love you so much! And I’m sorry I made you miss your flight…apparently the airport is the one place in Zambia that actually runs on time…most of the time. J

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Where you invest your love, you invest your life

Hope everyone had nice holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, MLK and groundhog day and all the others since I last wrote. I trust they came and went as everyday comes and goes, in 24 hours. The passage of time since my last blog post was deliberate. Actually, it was only supposed to be for one month. A conversation with my mom prompted me to take a month off and away from correspondence. The provincial house for me had changed from sanctuary to a place of worry and stress that I communicate as much as possible in the short time I was allowed there. The fast/free internet had become a curse as much as blessing. And after all, in the long run, what does it really matter? So, I decided to not write a blog for a month and limit correspondence. Well, it was such a relief that I extended it until now and might do it again. There’s so much that filled the days of these last 3 months. I’ll only highlight them here.

In October (after last blog), I was counted in Zambia’s census! And I got to see the World Series! I had to stay up until midnight or 1 for it to start. No big deal unless you’re used to going to bed around 8. It made me feel weird to see the ballpark at Arlington and Texas skies. There was a twinge of homesickness at seeing something familiar, but also something different that I can’t quite describe that made me fearful of the distance I’ve removed myself from some aspects of that culture. And at the same time it made me really excited to know that someday I’ll be able to go to a baseball game again with my family!

Sometime in November I went to Lake Malawi with 3 amazing ladies (Cherie, Julie, and Allison). We had a blast together and the lake was calm and relaxing. I swam everyday, learned how to play a local game called “Bao,” and got to see the “smoke clouds” of mating termites that swarm in the sky over the lake once a year (this phenomenon is featured on the Freshwater episode of Planet Earth). Later that month, I traveled to Lusaka to get my retainer returned to its proper place. The dentist was very gentle and after I told her from where my doctor thought the retainer had fallen, she chuckled throughout.

In December, Gooey sana had 2 babies! Neither are deformed and I counted to make sure they had the normal number of toes for kitties. A bishop from Zambia was just appointed to Cardinal within the Catholic Church. His name is Cardinal Mazombwe. I think they said he was the first from sub-Saharan Africa. He is from Eastern Province so he traveled around the area saying mass. I got to attend his mass in Lundazi and it was quite beautiful. The people were so excited and gave him many gifts including: 7 goats, 15 chickens, bags and bags of mealie meal (cornmeal) and sugar.

Just before Christmas, my brother, Tanner came for a visit! His visit was so special that I am going to write a separate blog post just for it.

So after he left in January, I stuck around in Lusaka and helped conduct the first week of In-Service Training for the group that is one year behind mine. It was fun and that group has some interesting characters. I really enjoyed seeing other trainers from my group who also came down to help.

On a subsequent trip to Lusaka, I tripped and fractured a bone in my right foot. So I’m currently laid up in Lusaka for a week or so. I’ll hopefully move to the Chipata house later this week, but can’t go to the village until my foot is healed. And Cherie was here with Malaria so it was nice to have someone else around to talk to while confined to the couch. But she has returned to our home district.

I have now crossed into “The Year I Come Home.” My last official day as a Peace Corps Volunteer is September 24. Less than 8 months. The mixed emotions about this can be overwhelming sometimes. The more I love this place, the more I hate it. The more I want to go home, the more I want to stay here. The more memories, good or bad, you collect in a place, the more you feel tied to and connected to it somehow. But then, can’t that sometimes just be sentimentality? Which has its purpose, but shouldn’t be allowed to dictate your decisions. I know I said in a previous post that it is to the prairie I belong, and I’m not denying the deep connection I have to straight horizons, constant breezes, and vast open spaces, but I realize now that though I can make a home, I do not belong to a place any more than it belongs to me. I’m not downplaying the unique qualities or the importance of place, for there is an inextricable link between who you are as a person and the place where you are, I’m just saying that I will not be bound because of a place, be it here or there. I can love and work and play and be myself in any place so long as it is truth I am following.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Let it take away all of the darkness

After I wrote that last blog, I stayed in the village for 6 weeks! All the chickens in my village died from a disease. The guineas lived though...and decided to roost on my roof and right behind my house. I haven't needed an alarm clock in weeks! I baked Idah a birthday cake! I also taught her how to bake one herself. My family enjoyed it very much. I think my father gets to move back home to the village anytime this month. His contract work with Cargill will end soon and then the whole family will be together again!

Fish farming work has increased to a satisfactory level. During those weeks, I conducted site surveys, pond staking, and pond construction. I also experienced my first pond harvest! It was fun and frustrating. People were in good spirits but trying to get assistance from the Department of Fisheries was like pulling teeth. They finally came through 2 hours late with a net that we no longer needed. Oh well. The pond got harvested and my farmers went home with delicious fish to fill their babies’ bellies. Success!

At the beginning of September, Peace Corps sent 3 newbies (new volunteers in training) to my village for a site visit. 9 total came to Lundazi for visits. 3 to my village, 3 to Cherie’s village, and 3 to Ryan’s (my ex-nearest neighbor) village. The 3 to Ryan’s were/are the 3 newest editions to the Lundazi family!!! My 3 visitors, Clara, Chuck, and Jim stayed at my village for about 4 days. I took them around to visit fish farmers and they helped stake a pond for my wonderful friend, Thole. We had a pretty fun time around the village and I think my villagers got a kick outta them as well. They were especially impressed by the brightly colored kanyumbas (small houses…which really were their tents) that they brought with them.

On our last day, I arranged to hire Thole’s oxcart to take us the 8 km to Ryan’s village. The oxcart ride was hilarious! It took us over 2 hours. We looked ridiculous and everyone that passed us laughed. Once at Ryan’s (now Mahdi has replaced him as my neighbor in that village), we met up with most of the Lundazi crew and the 9 newbies that were visiting volunteers in the area. We had a village party complete with dancing, a hair cutting, alcohol, and a bonfire/campfire! For the first time in Africa, I slept outside under the stars (no tent…only a blanket). It wasn’t scary at all, but I don’t think I’d do it during rainy season with all the freaky bugs.

Soon after, Idah and I went on an adventure to find Spider. I’m gonna skip the details of the “finding” part of the adventure because they are overshadowed by the actual adventure that is the person. Spider Lusale is a man of my parent’s age who is filled with more spirit than I’ve seen in most. As Idah and I passed one end of his village, where most of the people were dulling their consciousness with village brew, Spider was hard at work, bent over his 80+ year-old hand-crank lathe. Of course, another man was cranking/spinning the lathe. I soon was to find out that the lathe had first belonged to the father of Spider. His father is also the one who taught him (beginning in 1974) to create such beautiful carvings. He almost immediately became one of my most favorite people I’ve ever met. He was welcoming, enthusiastic, and engaging. His presence was comforting and his personality encouraging. He was honest about his struggles yet not once did he try to cheat me on price; which, by the way, fell way short of truly reflecting the value of his work and creative ability. $5 for a pair of candlesticks. $5 for a pair of goblet/chalices. I even was able to order a complete chess set for $12.

The process and machinery is all hand and manpower. The way he described it was a tree in between two ball bearings. A roughly whittled piece of tree is stuck on the outer end and the inner tree is spun with a rope that is looped around several times. Spider would then use different shapes and sizes of wedges to cut into the tree. When the carving was finished, the pieces would be sanded and varnished. When I inquired about the lack of varnish inside the sugar bowls, Spider warned me to never put water inside because “it will go into the tree and push out.” I enjoyed how even when he was referring to the finished pieces he would still call them trees…never wood. It was a beautiful way to express his relationship with his art. He never forgot its living form, its true nature.

I passed my one-year anniversary of moving to my village on October 1. Then, 2 days after that I jumped on a Peace Corps cruiser and went to Lusaka with all the other fantastic people from my intake. It was time for our Mid-term conference. The “conference” consisted of basically medical and dental formalities mixed in with sessions where we discussed what’s happening at our sites, how we feel about our service, what challenges and successes have we experienced, etc. I think I’ve sprinkled my other blogs with answers to these questions and I don’t feel like talking about it right now. So I’ll leave it at that. I will say that it was really nice to see everyone from my intake again. January was the last time we were all together in one place. Change and growth are fascinating phenomena to observe.

Well, after it was all over I hitched back to Chipata. Once there, I piddled around a few days and caught up with some Chipata friends. The day I was going to head up to Lundazi, I was all packed up, about to throw my bag over my shoulder and walk out the door, when I decided to eat an apple. And it was a delicious apple. When I was finished I stood in the doorway to the living room and told some people good-bye as I picked at the pieces of apple that were stuck in the bottom permanent retainer on my teeth. All of a sudden the retainer popped off! I thought, “Well, crap” and got my phone to call medical in Lusaka. It happened to be Columbus Day and the office was closed, so my only choice was to call the emergency medical number, which goes to either one of the nurses or the doctor. I got the doctor: our new doctor from the Congo. We exchanged pleasantries and then I got down to telling him the events that just happened. Now, the wide-world of orthodontics is not as wide-spread as one might imagine in sub-saharan Africa. So the doc and I had a funny conversation as we tried to sort out what had happened.

First, we established that something had come off:
Me: my bottom permanent retainer popped off
Doc: so your IUD has come out? You should come in so we can put it back.
Me: what?! No, the bottom retainer on my teeth. It has come off.
Doc: what?

So then, we cleared up what a retainer was:
Me: sometimes people have braces when they are younger and when the braces come off a piece of metal is permanently glued on the teeth to keep them straight. It’s called a retainer. It is a small piece of metal wire. This is what has come off
Doc: It has fallen out of your uterus?
Me: *smack forehead*

So finally, I elaborated on the commonly accepted locale of said retainer:
Me: No! Mouth! My mouth! It came out of my mouth. The piece of metal was stuck to my teeth and it has come off.
Doc: Oooooooh. Hm, you have to come in for that tomorrow.
Me: Really? Tomorrow? To Lusaka?
Doc: Yes. We must put it back.

So Tuesday morning, bright and early and still not really sure that doc knew exactly what had come out from exactly where, I boarded a bus for Lusaka. The weather has gotten extremely hot (October is the hottest month) and the ride down was less than comfortable. Needless to say, it was a wasted trip because 1) a retainer coming off is not an emergency and 2) dentists in Africa are quite similar to those in America in that it is very difficult to schedule an appointment on short notice. So I trekked that entire way to Lusaka, back to where I had just come from 3 days earlier, to schedule an appointment for next month. And it’s with a dentist. All she’ll probably be able to do is take the cement/glue stuff off my teeth. At least I timed the appointment so that I get a cruiser ride down. And Peace Corps will pay for it.

I return to the village tomorrow. I plan to stay there for 5 weeks. So you might hear from me around Thanksgiving time…maybe.

Sleep well and wake even better.

Remember to balance and forget to worry.

Oh, and my family and some others in the village always tell me when I leave to greet those at home and those I meet. So I greet you on behalf of my loved ones here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What lies ahead I have no way of knowing

I started writing this last month, but just wasn’t able to post it. I’ve got 2 big issues to talk about and then maybe some little ones to throw in. First, my adventure hitting the Zambian hotspots. Second, an examination of one year.

So last month (July in case you have forgotten as I tend to do from time to time), I got to dabble in the tourist life. Now, unless your only mode of cross-country transportation is by plane and you stay in the moderately pricey accommodations and you avoid villages, you will be forced to experience what Zambia is proud to offer as “The Real Africa”. It does not leave you with that blissfully-ignorant I’m-just-here-to-pamper-myself taste in your mouth. In fact, you usually end up with a mouthful of dust, a mindful of frustration, and a heartful of severe contrasts. My trip with Oliver was brilliantly successful, especially in how things just always happened to work out. Mostly this came down to transportation situations; barely making it to the Lusaka bus station to catch our lift to Livingstone, a successful plane landing in terrifying turbulence, catching a hitch from a generous Lutheran who ended up driving out of his way to deliver us at the doorstep of our safari camp. I must thank Oli for his humor and good nature when situations were potentially frustrating. Our ride from Lundazi to Chipata was in the back of a canter, sitting on bags of maize, the sun scorching our skin, battling the awful road while following a huge truck carrying loads of cotton kicking up exorbitant amounts of dust.

Allow me to start at the beginning of the adventure. I picked up Oli in Lusaka and we headed down to Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders). The falls were beautiful. There was a lot of mist being thrown up which partially obscured the view, but we got to walk across a bridge through the thick of it over to a plateau that seemed to receive perpetual rain. We went on a booze cruise one evening and met a croc named Duncan. Later, with the help of my good friend whiskey, I was able to charm our taxi driver into charging us ½ the fare by utilizing my previously untapped ability to conjure up a conversation in Nyanja (a Zambian language in which I have received zero training).

We flew from Lusaka to Chipata to save time. It was an interesting flight. There were seats for 6 passengers only. I had flown on a similar sized plane a few times before, but Oli had not. I was quite comfortable during take-off and Oli was not. By the time we were going in for a landing Oli was excited and I was not. I was freaked out by the turbulence and thought we were going to land short of the tiny tarmac run-way. But here I am writing to you.

The village was really fun. I had been given a small chicken when Marcey visited and by this time he was good and fat so we decided to eat him. However, mama was out in the fields and Idah didn’t know/want to kill the chicken sooo I had to step up to the plate (or chopping block…which was actually just the dirt ground under a tree). So I stepped on his wings, grabbed his head and proceeded to saw at his throat (knives are very dull here). Lots of blood came out and he went limp and that was that. I stepped off him, grabbed his legs and was carrying him over to Idah when he went crazy, flapping his wings and I dropped him. There were a lot of feathers, dust, gurgling noises and at one point he flopped his half sawed-off neck over my foot. Somehow I snapped out of my shock, pinned him again and finished the job. I must say he was delicious later that night.

After a relaxing Beatles and Burritos time back in Chipata we traversed our way to the valley for a chance to view the famous creatures of Africa in South Luangwa National Park. As I’ve experienced a peek into the local side of culture, heritage, history, development, and environmental issues, I failed to be the ideal tourist here thanks to the bittersweet complexities of human need and environmental strain with a little politics thrown in (is anything without?). Regardless of how I defined myself, the beasts were magnificent, the birds beautiful, the company delightful, and the experience sublime. My favorite animal (and the one I wanted most to see) was the giraffe. During the day we also saw: lions, elephants, hippos (in and out of the water), crocs (not the footwear), zebras, puku, impala, water buffalo, water buck, birds and birds, etc.

The game drive at night was interesting. We drank beers by the river as the sun sank beneath the smoky horizon. Then, they popped on the spotlight and we took off down dirt paths. It almost felt like I was back on the ranch driving around late at night to catch a glimpse of the shining eyes of raccoons, possums, owls, or coyotes. Only here we saw hyenas, lions, a civet, grazing hippos, and a leopard stalking impala. Once the leopard was spotted, 4 other vehicles drove up with their spotlights and the leopard lost its dinner. This I didn’t like so much. However, I guess the night drives are justified by the park closing at 8:00pm so that only 2 hours of the animals’ night are interrupted. Pristine environment competing against the desires of the curious human…in addition to the country’s need for the almighty dollar. At times I felt like we weren’t justified in our intrusion of the wild animals’ habitat. However, without the conservation money the tourism brings in, which funds the national park, a vast majority of the creatures would have been hunted down by now (so how “pristine” would have the ecosystem had actually been even without tourists?). But then this also conflicts with the health of the local people who have depended on these bush animals meat for centuries. Oh the complexities of the earth and its inhabitants.

No less are the complexities within the mind. My happy feelings towards this place/lifestyle suffered a minor blow when coming back from Germany. Hitting my one-year mark has taken me down another peg or two. Sorry if this next bit is a downer, I just want to be honest. How else can I expect understanding when I return to you? And its not that I'm unhappy either. Its just that the new car smell has worn off. I still enjoy the vehicle and the places it takes me and the things it shows me and the perpetual bend ahead that sustains the mystery.

When reflecting on the last year, I’ve come to realize the greatest sacrifice was/is the relationships I had with every person I knew before stepping onto that plane in DFW. With the free and decent internet now available at the provincial house, I have been able to begin reconnecting with some of you beautiful people. In fact, one of my dear friends asked me the other day if it helps or hurts being able to talk to and know what people are doing back home. I think it’s a mixture of both. It makes those relationships seem to have been somewhat maintained, but it also brings into better focus the massive distance between us. And not just the physical distance. I can find out about events in a persons life, but truly knowing a person requires more than just facts. People change: attitudes, beliefs, habits, preferences. I know I've changed just as everyone else has. Though, I don’t think I will realize the extent of it until I’m plopped back down into Texas (that faraway magical land of donuts and Dr. Pepper), back into the culture from which my own attitudes, beliefs, habits, and preferences were first developed. I’m already apprehensive about that transition and I’ve still got a year to go.

When I look at the one year I have remaining in Zambia it feels like so long. But when I look at the year I’ve just lived it feels like it happened so fast. I miss home and I long to be there, but I know once I am I will miss this place and certain things about this life. So I think it would be best to continue to immerse myself in the experiences and the life to be lived here while I’m here. Aware of it or not, with every decision in life there is an inevitable sacrifice.

Now, it’s story time:

On my way back to the village last month, I attended a 3 year-olds birthday party. Nobody in my village celebrates birthdays. However, I was in Chipata. My guess is they have more access to western culture and therefore regard birthday celebrations as a “sign-of-development.” The Zambian spin on certain customs familiar to you and me are pretty funny. Blue and pink toilet paper was used as crepe paper. My favorite Zambianized custom was the contents of the goodie-bags. In our culture, children find candy and cheap plastic toys. In Zambian culture one finds a small package of biscuits, 2 potatoes and a piece of chicken.

Now, how bout a story about Gooey Sana? Two weeks ago I was sittin on my couch, holdin her on my lap all content and peaceful when my father ran in and asked if I would bring her outside quickly. I wondered what the hell was going on that a grown man would need a little cat. When I got outside with her they showed me a deep plastic bucket with a cover on it and said there was a mouse inside and they wanted me to throw Gooey in to catch it. Really? So of course I agreed. But Gooey was getting scared of being confined in my arms with all the people around and she started to squirm, even scratching my arm a little. No matter. They opened the lid and I threw her in on top of the mouse which turned out to be quite large. Everyone jumped back as Gooey hit the bottom. She shot outta there like a cannon, knocking the bucket over in my direction! The mouse darted at me and I freaked out! I backpedaled a few steps and then turned to run. But before my eyes turned I saw one of my little brothers smash the mouse with a stick. Then a dog picked it up and ran off.

And I’ll leave you with a funny bedtime story. One for the kids. So there is a guesthouse we stay at in Lundazi. It’s quaint and affordable on our budget and the staff knows us by name, well, village name. The biggest plus is that they are one of the very few that do not have a noisy bar that bumps obnoxious music all night. What they do have is a small concrete fish pond. It’s about 2x4 meters and maybe ¾ of a meter deep. Awhile back, they decided to stock this “pond” with about 300 fingerlings (juvenile fish). This is really way too many fish for starters, but it was just ok. But then, they began to neglect adding water to the “pond” for several months. Scotty, Cherie and I walked over to it the other day to find the water level had dropped to about 4 inches and all of the fish were piping (when fish gulp the air due to a lack of oxygen in the water). And it smelled like shit. Upon closer examination we realized that the smell was, in fact, coming from floating chunks of human fecal matter. Cherie pulls the garden hose over and turns the water on. A few of the employees rush over to inform us that the chlorine in the tap water will surely kill the fish (hence the reason they had neglected to add water themselves for months). But I mean REALLY? 300 piping fish in 4 inches of turd-infested water and they are worried about a small amount of chlorine killing the fish?? Come on people. And we’re not sure if Lundazi even bothers to add chlorine to the tap water.

It’s the numerous stories like these that make this place frustrating, hysterical, and endearing all at the same time.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hello ruby in the dust

Zambia since Germany. I knew I was back in Zambia when on the bus ride from Lusaka to Chipata I saw 2 herds of blue-butt monkeys playing in trees and then a little kid crapping in the ditch. I got to Chipata in time for provincials. We had some fun; dress up party and East Point Discotheque dancing. The next 3 weeks were spent in the village, during which time I started another women’s group, checked on some ponds, attended some agriculture shows, conducted HIV/AIDS sessions, worked with my local NGO and taught some women how to make onion rings. Oh and my last day there I went to a really interesting school event. All the area schools met and competed in traditional dance, choir, drama, and poetry. My sister, Idah, led the Phikamalaza choir and they won first advancing them to the District competition! She also won an individual first for best kapellmeister (thanks for that word Jim)!!!!

Readjustment back to village life was a bit slow. Can’t say it wasn’t a little mentally painful. It wasn’t the reduction of comfort and convenience that was difficult; more the loss of physical proximity to my family. It has also been a mental challenge to have tasted and been reminded of the life and lifestyle I used to have and what little regard I had for the everyday blessings. Zambia is still exciting and there are still some grand adventures to be had, yet it is not home. My head tried to make it, but my heart has overruled. It is the prairie to which I belong.

How about some cheerful news? I’m in Chipata for a workshop with the Department of Fisheries. I’m headed down to Chadiza to visit my ridiculous friend, Julie. I will celebrate the independence of my homeland along with Arianna’s birthday here at the house. Then, I’ll set off on an adventure with a friend from the island country from which my country won independence. Good thing he’s not coming a day earlier otherwise I’d be obliged to read him the Declaration of Independence. :) We are going to explore Victoria Falls, my village, and South Luangwa (the best game park in Zambia and possibly Africa). Sean, I’ll be able to fill that camera up to send back to you. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a shot of one of those blue-butt monkeys for ya! At the end of this trip, I’ll be just days from my one-year anniversary of being in Zambia. My, how time flies.

The weather here has grown chilly. This is a new word I’ve taught my village. I don’t believe it is really cold as really cold goes. They certainly think it is and I’ll admit that the nights do reach cold levels, but the days are merely chilly at times. Sometimes it still gets pretty hot even, but I guess we are somewhat close to the equator. The wind has picked up quite a bit reminding me of west Texas...there's even lots of dust to boot! If only I had my boots...

I’d like to devote the rest of this space to wish my dear sister, Marcey, a magical birthday filled with the kind of fantastical adventures I know she can find in Berlin.

I would like you to dance - Birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance - Birthday
I would like you to dance - Birthday
You say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too, yeah
You say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
I love you, Bunny!

Booboo's Mama!