Sunday, December 24, 2006

Chawama Christmas

merry christmas and a happy new year to all! hope you're having a great time with friends and family and that the credit card company hasn't been compelled to repossess your house. i'm currently in namibia--for the geography nuts out there, you must realize that a large part of this country is covered with the sands of the namib desert. so, here you have a boy born and raised in maine spending christmas in the middle of a desert...very strange. but, i'm having a wonderful time and will hopefully write a much longer update when i get the chance. topics that will be covered: bungi jumping off victoria falls bridge, skydiving over the namib desert, and having to take a valium to steady my nerves after said adventures...just kidding, mom (about the valium part). again, merry christmas and a happy new year!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


i'm not going to tell much of a story this time, instead i thought i would write about a lot of random little facts and incidents i experience on practically a daily basis. these little things aren't very important on their own, but when taken all together they add up to what is now my life...enjoy (or just delete this email if you think it's going to be boring).

i have a cellphone and i can get enough coverage to receive text messages in the mornings or evenings if i patiently stand on a certain rock about half a kilometer from muyembe while holding the phone up in the air.

i have to walk through tall grass every day to reach my garden. i am curious to see what is going to happen first: either i'm going to be bitten by a snake, develop eye strain searching the grass for the critters, or finally have a heart attack the next time a frog, mouse, or other tiny creature rustles the grass next to me as i walk by.

most pcv's don't go out of their houses in the middle of the night, myself included. africa can be scary in the dark, so most of us keep little buckets by our beds in case nature calls during the "wee" hours (hahahaha).

i start a brazier every morning to cook my oatmeal, usually by piling dry grass on top of the charcoal and lighting it. i'll then spend 15 minutes blowing on the tiny ember i get going until i nearly pass out, and swinging the brazier back and forth by its handle. i usually give up and dump large amounts of kerosene all over the charcoal...that works great.

the malaria prophylaxis we take is called mefloquine, the side effects it induces that i've heard pcv's complain about are as follows: hallucinations, insomnia, depression, mood swings, loss of appetite, loss of hair, and extremely vivid dreams. many scientists question whether mefloquine is effective after 3 consecutive months of taking it.

malaria kills more people every year than AIDS, the vast majority of which are in sub-saharan africa.

my daily attire in the village rarely changes: cargo shorts, chaco sandals, t-shirt, wide brimmed hat, belt, leatherman, and a carabiner clipped to a waterbottle. i usually wear the same outfit for at least a week in a row.

i have some sort of low-grade stomach sickness about 50% of the time.

on any given day i will usually spend 5 or 6 hours reading and working in my garden; sometimes it's longer.

traditionally, male pcv's lose 15 lbs and females gain 15. the currently popular theory on the discrepancy is that females don't metabolize carbohydrates as well as men, and since the staple food here is a pure carbohydrate (nshima), that leads to the weight gain.

my scruffiness often attracts comment from zambians; i have been referred to as "jesus," "ja man," and my personal favorite, "lion of judah."

i try to burn all my trash on my brazier in the morning; if i throw it in my trash pit the neighborhood kids will raid it and take most of it, which is the experience a lot of pcv's have at their sites.

kids are everywhere in the village, everywhere. i think most women of age to bear children in muyembe either have a newly-born infant or are pregnant. there are a lot of unwed mothers in my village, and zambian law provides no recourse against deadbeat dads.

i hate goats with all that i am. they make the most awful noises you have ever heard, and it's usually when i'm trying to take a nap. sometimes when i'm inside my hut a group of them will hang out on my porch bleating and blatting their fool heads off until i come charging out to chase them off, vowing to kill them all if i ever get the chance to do it undetected.

mangoes are now in season, and they are hands-down the most common fruit here. there are so many that large amounts of them rot on the ground because the people can't eat them fast enough...that's saying something with so many hungry people around.

it is now the hunger season, when farmers are working the hardest but have the least to eat; most families are now eating one meal a day.

belief in witchcraft is almost universal in luapula and other parts of zambia. even educated zambians who will laugh at such beliefs will instantly seek a hex cure or an amulet from a witch doctor if something inexplicable happens--no one young is ever believed to have died of natural causes, it is always the result of witchraft, a superstition that has led to many nasty incidents.

hitchhiking is one of the most interesting things you can do in zambia. you don't stick out your thumb, you flap your arm up and down and the driver will almost always pull over. some haggling over price may then occur, but most likely you'll soon be on your way although you may be perched on the back of a flatbed truck with bags of maize all around.

mushrooms are in season, so a lot of villagers go out into the bush to collect them and then cook them up...i don't like them all that much, but i've been eating a lot lately. villagers will eat an amazing array of vegetables/leaves that we would never dream of touching: cassava leaves, pumpkin leaves, and a bunch of native bush vegetables i've never heard of.

some of you have asked about religion/christianity over here, a question i haven't addressed yet mostly because i still haven't figured it out. zambia is one of the most christianized countries in africa; practically everyone goes to church, and pcv's have any number of stories about villagers trying to convert them. yet from what i've observed, culture will invariably trump religion; rwanda was estimated to be 80% christian right before the genocide erupted. i think zambian christianity is of a comparable quality and depth to that of what rwanda had.

well, that's it for now, i'll probably do another installment of minutiae somewhere down the line. i hope you all are well

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving, Zam Style

back down in mansa for a peace corps activity that finished up on friday, then we had a huge thanksgiving dinner yesterday evening with every pcv from luapula there except one, along with two volunteers from a canadian ngo that operates up in my district, kawambwa, and two pcv's from other provinces...basically, there were a ton of people and it was nuts. i am happy to report, however, that despite being separated from an american thanksgiving by thousands of miles, i was able to eat myself to the brink of stupor. so, the evening was a wild success in that respect.

things have been going well at my site, i've found myself spending a lot of time on soybean trainings which i didn't expect but which is wonderful. on tuesday i am going to be in the kala refugee camp giving a training on soybean nutrition/cultivation, and will be following up with them several times after the training--i expect i will be visiting there fairly regularly. in the next several weeks my agricultural officer and i will be visiting a lot of farmers out at their fields to give them some direction in the use of the seeds and fertilizer some of them were given from an organization known as programme against malnutrition (pam). the inputs were distributed only to households that harbor orphans, so this is a real chance for some of these families to get ahead a bit and simbaya (ag. officer) and i are planning on keeping close tabs on the farmers to make sure they take advantage of the opportunity.

there was some excitement in my village several weeks ago, muyembe's chief was offically recognized in a ceremony in kazembe by the paramount bemba chief, mwatta kazembe. the chief and an entourage that i was invited to join but declined traveled to kazembe for the first half of the ceremony and then back to muyembe for the last half. i followed the sounds of the drums and singing over to the chief's new "palace" (basically just a bigger mud house), and arrived with plans to remain as incognito as possible in the back of the crowd. i had been warned that i would probably be expected to dance during the ceremony, a situation i wanted to avoid if at all possible for my own sake (and the villagers', for that matter). i found a friend standing behind the crowd of people and joined him, but i still had a good view of the square of people that had gathered with the chief and his retainers forming one side while several hundred villagers comprised the other three. i had just congratulated myself on being able to slip mostly undetected into a favorable vantage point when the drumming stopped and one of the chief's retainers walked across the open dancing area and motioned me forward. my heart flip-flopped and i broke into an instant sweat; i slowly followed the retainer towards the chief, all the while racking my brain for a graceful way to extricate myself from what was shaping up to be a potentially epic, embarassing moment: namely, me dancing solo in front of hundreds of my villagers. fortunately that was not what was expected of me; as it turns out, i was merely placed in the chair directly to the chief's right. so, there i sat, next to a zambian chief and his retinue, helping preside over a ceremony honoring the chief's newly-validated position. i cast about in my mind for any relevant experience i may have had in the past that i could use as a guide to how i should conduct myself, but surprisingly nothing sprang to mind. i decided a grave/dignified look would be appropriate to the moment, yet i wanted to also exude a benevolent and fun-loving vibe as well. things were starting to get confusing so i decided to simply adopt the deer-in-the-headlights look which is what i normally wear about the village anyways. i was able to wait out the rest of the ceremony without being compelled to dance, so the look ended up serving me well.

here's the latest in your friendly africa news. somalia is currently in the grips of a civil war as a provisional government tries to fight off a hard-line islamist army that is slowly but surely gobbling up the country. hundreds of thousands of somalis are fleeing. the fighting in the darfur region of the sudan has spilled over into neighboring chad, with reports of the same janjaweed arab militias that are murdering, raping, and looting their way across darfur now plying their trade in the areas of chad bordering the sudan. there have been similar reports from the central african republic, the government of which has called for its people to "mobilize" to fight the threat, whatever that may mean. the loser of the recent elections held in the d.r.c., jean pierre bemba, has declared that he will not accept the outcome, even though it seems clear he was beaten handily and has failed to produce any evidence of foul play. given the fact that this is the country that has only in the last couple of years partially emerged from a civil war that claimed about 4 million lives, i don't think there are words strong enough to condemn bemba's actions. he is clearly willing to allow the civil war to continue and intensify to its old levels in order to support his crass power grab...4 million people!!!! it is absolutely beyong my capacity to understand how a man who claims to care about his people would flirt with re-invigorating the most costly war in terms of lives since WWII. bemba appears willing to send the d.r.c. spiralling back into the abyss, all so he can claim power.

about a week and a half ago i was sitting in my hut when some things began falling from the roof. upon inspection i realized they were termites, very small larvae, grubbish-looking things that squished when i began stepping on them; apparently they had been living in my roof and for some reason had all chosen the same moment to drop down. after shaking out several that had fallen down my shirt i put on a hat to keep them from getting into my hair. as i sat on a chair and watched them fall and begin crawling about, and as i heard them plop onto the floor, my desk, my dishes, etc., i realized that the experience ranked very high on my "this-is-disgusting" list. the list is being constantly revised but the falling termites catapulted to the near top of it almost instantly, and i suspect will stay there for a while.

i hope you are all well and thoroughly enjoyed turkey day--i certainly did, although there were no turkeys to be had so we had to be satisfied with chicken, duck, and rabbit...i guess things could have been worse.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pig Roast

i am back down in mansa for a couple of days, my work permit has finally come in so i picked it up this morning--only a couple of months late, not bad.

the last couple of days all the guys in luapula province except for two have been up at my nearest pcv neighbor's house in kani village; it was the venue for manfest '06, the first of its kind in zambia. it came about because shawn, the pcv located in kani, began digging a massive hole in his front yard underneath a termite mound as an energy/frustration release. he then invited all the guys up for a couple of days to help dig and engage in general manliness, which more or less was what happened. i won't bore you with all the details, but it was a great time; some of the highlights included various rules we implemented governing our conduct, such as "absolutely no bathing allowed," and "you must eat at least two huge pork sandwiches," etc. we baked a pig using a pit filled with charcoal, and it was delicious. one of the interesting experiences i fairly often have in the village is viewing the entire process of food--i watch it grow, get harvested, cooked, and then eaten; or, as in the case of the pig, i watch it get slaughtered, butchered, cooked, and then eaten. WARNING: THE NEXT COUPLE OF SENTENCES DESCRIBE A PIG KILLING, PLEASE SKIP DOWN TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON"T WANT TO READ ABOUT THIS.

i was busy tending the fire when ryan told me the slaughtering was about to happen, which i didn't want to miss. i rounded the corner of the hut and richard was carrying the pig which had been bound with strips of chitenge material, and it was making a terrible racket and struggling. richard finally had to place it on the ground and shawn strode up with a hoe handle and bashed it right between the eyes which temporarily stunned it. richard held it down while shawn began sawing at its throat with a knife, which was a little slow but better than most slaughters i've seen/heard about. when it was over we hung it up and began cleaning it, something no one had ever done before on a pig or even seen done. shawn mistakenly thought i knew something about the subject so i stood by and offered helpful tips like "um, i dunno, cut there maybe?" and "ah, i think that's the liver, wait, no, the spleen...hold up, do pigs have spleens?" i did a little cutting and we finally got it mostly cleaned and de-bristled, which proved to be the most laborious part of the entire procedure. so, we declared manfest '06 a wild success and stipulated that everyone had to take baths at the guesthouse we spent the night in last night in kawambwa since we all had to share a bed with someone else. the weekend was a lot of fun and a great stress-reliever.

one moment i want to mention is when we were all sitting around in the nsaka. shawn dumped out a lot of the trash in trash pit and started a small fire to burn it, the accepted procedure for getting rid of trash since there's no such thing as trash removal in zambia. two little girls from the next house over came and started rooting through the trash and both ended up leaving with an armload of empty jelly cans, super maheu drink bottles, etc. we started laughing at their tenacity as we watched, and then travis said "y'know, we laugh, but just think..." that thought hung in the air for a while, and i reflected for a moment on it and realized a couple of things: that scene was not strange or jarring for any of us as it's something we witness routinely, or at least something similar to it; it may seem callous of us to have laughed although it wasn't malicious laughter, but i've already concluded that laughter is one of a series of defenses we raise in order to protect ourselves from the suffering that is common-place over here. if we didn't have those defenses and instead had to bear the undiluted brunt of daily tragedy it would paralyze us and we would be totally ineffective. and finally, we as westerners were moved to sadness by the scene and what it meant, but those little girls were not in the least. they went away laughing and smiling, arms full of new toys. i still haven't fully drawn my own conclusions about what that means, so i won't comment on it.

a girl from my program who's been in luapula for about a year and three months was just medically separated; when pcv's go home or are sent home it is always upsetting, not just because people are usually losing a friend but also because fellow pcv's are essentially the only emotional support we have in zambia. when a pcv goes home early it shakes that support system a bit. but, none of us blamed her, the breaking point came after her house was robbed for the third time a couple of weeks ago. she spoke with peace corps personnel in lusaka and they made the decision to medically separate her because of the emotional complications that arise from having something like that happen to you.

i've been hearing more stories about a particular zambian political figure. apparently he espouses expelling certain foreigners from zambia; i heard a rumor that he even specifically mentioned the peace corps in an interview, saying how the white people with long hair, shorts, and dirty t-shirts weren't helpful and should go. my first thought upon hearing that was that he must have personally seen some pcv's, because his description was pretty much spot-on as, at least for the guys, the long hair, shorts and dirty t-shirts are practically a uniform. this was a rumor so who knows if there's any truth to it; i also would be very surprised if the politician were able to rally any support for a p.c. eviction as americans are generally very well liked here.

life in muyembe is fine, i am trying to get mushroom cultivation/preservation off the ground, and i am planning on being busy with some green manure crops in the next couple of months since the farmers will start planting maize once the rains set in a couple of weeks. i just realized this is unbearably long so i'll cut it off now. sorry for the length, thanks for all the communications i've been receiving. i hope you all are healthy and happy

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Things That Slither/Waddle

i guess the big news coming out of zambia recently is that the presidential elections have come and gone, largely without incident. there were a few riots in lusaka, kitwe, and ndola, but for the most part things were peaceful as was expected. i was a bit chagrined to learn that the zam elections hadn't really cracked the u.s. news cycle--it was a huge deal here in zambia of course, and even across africa as a lot of people watched closely to see if zambia's reputation for peaceful elections would remain intact. fortunately it did, zambia has way too many problems already to add violence to the mix.

we were in standfast mode for about 10 days, which means all pcv's were confined to their villages and not allowed to travel. things were very slow in muyembe during that time, even by village standards, as most people were preoccupied with the elections and not interested in doing much other than listening to the radio or discussing the latest developments. so, i did a lot of small projects around my hut, worked on my garden, read, wrote, and listened to the bbc to get updates on the election. there was some controversy as the leading opposition candidate, michael sata, accused the incumbent, levy mwanawasa, of stealing the election, but all the election monitors have declared it legitimate and honest. there are some who have their doubts still but the point is moot since mwanawasa has been sworn in already for his second term.

i traveled down to mansa yesterday with 3 other pcv's, but before we came down we spent a day and night at a volunteer's house in mwense district. during the afternoon on thursday we decided to go swimming in a local waterhole, a glorious event as it was actually deep enough to plunge in over my head. the water was cloudy and according to katie, the pcv who lives there, the villagers said there were snakes that hung out by the water. but, we kept our eyes open and didn't see anything that required me to run screaming out of the water. we got out and had walked 15 or 20 yards with me bringing up the rear, cleaning my glasses with my head down when i heard a loud crashing/rustling noise. i looked up to see the tall grass that edged the waterhole shaking violently as a large something that i couldn't see rushed through towards the water. brette and katie had frozen in front of me, and i noticed the latter's mouth was gaping open. "what was that?" i asked. "that," said brette, "was a crocodile." naturally, i was interested to learn if a crocodile had truly been hanging out on the edge of the waterhole we had been swimming in for about 15 minutes; we talked about it longer and they were both positive that what they had seen was indeed a croc that was probably 4 or 5 feet long. we decided taking an alternate route back to katie's hut was in order, and the trip back was made in stunned silence, broken only by the occasional "you've got to be kidding," and "that was crazy."

we told the story to some village boys who wandered up, and they told us that what we had seen was actually a large monitor lizard. but, brette and katie still think it was a crocodile as they got a good look at it, and pointed out that it doesn't seem likely monitor lizards get as large as what they'd seen.

my other animal story comes from my friend travis. he was bathing several days ago and something was itching on his back. he reached for a small mirror he keeps hung up in his bathing shelter to check it out--he happened to glance up right before he grabbed the mirror and saw a snake placidly resting on the top edge of it. he said later that at that moment he was torn: he couldn't decide whether to simply abandon all dignity and run from his bathing shelter stark naked in a bid to save his life, or attempt to get dressed before running out and hope the snake wasn't feeling particularly aggressive. he decided his life wasn't in imminent danger and managed to get his shorts on before bolting to find his neighbor who came over and bludgeoned the thing to death. according to the neighbor the snake was a black mamba, but they can be difficult to identify so the jury is still out on that one. travis said he then walked back to his hut and felt in some ways as if he had cheated death, seeing as only moments before he had nearly placed his hand on a black mamba (which are extremely bad-tempered), and that he should commemorate the moment. so he sat down, got out a spoon and ate a kilogram of raw sugar to "celebrate life," as he put it. soon after he felt sick of course, but he doesn't regret it.

transport can be hairy in zambia, but usually provides fodder for a lot of good stories later. on our way down to mansa we were absolutely crammed into a large bus that was already over-filled. travis ended up standing in the aisle with several other people, brette and katie sat up front in the bus door/driver's area, while i sat on a wooden locker behind the partition that separates the driver from the rest of the bus. a lady with a young child sat next to me, and the child proceeded to kick me in the thigh throughout the trip. riding that far up front is neat though as you have a good view of the road and can watch pedestrians, cyclists, and goats scatter before the bus' approach. of course, i was also able to scrutinize the cracks that spider-webbed across the entire length of the large front window, and had a clear view of the dashboard area that housed the odometer, speedometer, etc.; it was somewhat disconcerting to observe a red light that spelled "STOP" blinking there for the duration of our trip.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


i'm in mansa for provincial meetings and i decided to bite the bullet and pay for some internet time at the local internet cafe so i could get out an update.

i've been at my site for a little over a month now, there are ups and downs but over all i would say that things are going well. i am somewhat busy--very busy actually when compared with what i am supposed to be doing for the first 3 months at my village. i am currently working with a woman's group that is interested in starting a small shop in muyembe, the proceeds of which would benefit the local OVC (orphans and vulnerable children). there are also plans in the works to help a few other women's groups with some income generating activities, such as soya bean production, sunflower seed oil production, and perhaps some small animal husbandry. i will also be traveling to the nearby refugee camp in the next couple of weeks to offer my assistance; the camp is called kala and is run by world vision and unhcr, it harbors those who have fled the long-running war in the democratic republic of congo. perhaps the project i am most excited about though is working with a missionary couple who are building an orphanage for double orphans in kazembe (children who have lost one parent are considered orphans in zambia; those who have lost both, double orphans). they want the orphanage to be self-sufficient, so i will be helping them plan a large garden, perhaps do some small animal husbandry, and probably plent of soya activities as well with them. there is a desperate need for orphanages, especially well-run ones, in zambia; most orphans are taken in by relatives or even a neighbor, but they constitute a large burden on families that are already struggling to feed their own children. plus, many babies are abandoned--the kazembe orphange will be trying to take in abandoned infants primarily.

life in a zambian village is strange, as you can imagine. i am a constant source of amazement and amusement for the many, many children running about muyembe; they will often come into my yard and simply stare at me as i sit reading on the front stoop. most of them have distended bellies that are a sign of malnutrition, runny noses and a hacking cough that is indicative of internal parasites. but, like children anywhere they run about playing, laughing and fighting, although there is no doubt that their lives are difficult.

i attended a funeral the first week at village, a blind old lady i did not know died. the bell at the catholic church was rung signalling the death, and people began to slowly make their ways towards the house. i went with two of the group of young guys that i hang around with, anjiou and patrick, and we sat with the men outside the house while the women went inside to mourn. there was an absolute din coming from inside, wailing, crying and screaming, and i was extremely grateful that men are not allowed inside during these occasions. the younger men, myself included, went to dig the grave after a half hour or so, which turned out to be brutal work. the ground was hard-packed clay that would be ripped up a couple of inches or so at a time with a hoe, then dug out with a shovel. fortunately there were about 20 men there who took turns spelling each other; being able to dig seemed to be a matter of pride and most of the men would become insistent that they get to take their turn. i even took a hand for about 5 minutes; i stood in the hole up to my chest, sweat pouring down, limbs burning, lungs gasping for air, launching soil up and out of the grave, all the while trying to adopt an air of nonchalance so all the zambians clustered around watching wouldn't think the muzungu was a wimp (which they do any way, they assume i am incapable of doing any physical labor for myself; if i attempt to do so when there is a zambian around, they will try to stop me so they can do it on my behalf.) when i heaved myself out of the hole a "well done" issued from a man i didn't know in the crowd, and i sensed that they appreciated the effort--i'll admit, i relished the small sense of accomplishment i experienced when i managed not to collapse in the bottom of the grave. all told, it took about 4 hours to dig the thing.

the funeral service in the evening was short; it was preceded by a procession that snaked through the village, led by the priest and altar boys and trailed by the mourners, many of whom were singing. afterwards all went back to the mourning house and sat about for a brief while to show their respect, after which they were free to leave.

in muyembe there are several other customs governing the conduct for a funeral--i'm not sure if these are bemba traditions or are exclusive to my village. before the bell can be rung signalling the death, the chief must be informed. the family will send a small gift, a chicken, some money, etc., and tell him what has happened. he will then not eat from that point on until the body is buried, which is why the burials happen within the day. the chief is then responsible to contribute something to the funeral, although i don't believe he attended as i did not see him there. after the burial, those who were very close to the deceased will spend the night once at the house; village members not as close but who want to pay their respects will go for about an hour to sit at the house every evening for a week. if there is a surviving spouse (and this is a bemba-wide tradition), that spouse must be released by the family of the deceased before he/she can remarry. the permission is granted in some sort of ceremony that varies slightly: a white substance (maize meal, chalk, etc.) will be sprinkled on the head of the survivor, or they will wear a bracelet of white beads until it breaks, at which time they are cleansed of the deceased's spirit and are free to remarry.

perhaps my favorite time in the village is church. i will hopefully in a later email have the chance to explain more about the service, but for now i will talk about part of the offering service. specific sections of the church every week are invited to participate more fully than the other parishioners when the offering is being taken. altar boys stand at the head of the single aisle running down the center of the church while the chosen section forms a double line with women at the front. they then do a slow dance-shuffle down the aisle, swaying to the singing and drumming, to deposit their money in the waiting baskets; the women are usually more animated than the men, although usually the men do well also, shuffling rhythmically along, dipping and twisting their torsos. sometimes there is a teenage boy bringing up the rear, suffering the burden of needing to appear cool, who will only indulge in a demure slouch down the aisle. the inescapable thought i have every time i watch is that it reminds me of a conga line, although more artistically executed. i did not participate the first time my section (st. anthony's) performed, but i am planning on shaking what my momma gave me down the aisle the next time. zambians are generally boisterous, upbeat types, and it could cause a sensation when they see the muzungu joining in, however poorly.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

PCV Finally

i am currently in mansa, i also am now officially a volunteer after our graduation on monday. the graduation itself was not all that interesting, although it was nice to see my homestay family one last time. we swore an oath, apparently the same one used in the military, signed our names to the two year commitment, and were welcomed as the newest volunteers in peace corps zambia. tomorrow those of us being posted in kawambwa district are heading up to the district capital, kawambwa, where we will finish up our final shopping on thursday and friday. on saturday i am being taken to my village. i am excited that it is finally almost here, but also nervous--but, it's a beginning, and hopefully i will settle in quickly.

the training group has now split up, and it was sad to say goodbye to several of them who had become good friends but who have gone to different provinces. i will see them 3 or 4 times a year from here on out, which will certainly be strange after having seen them every day for the last nine weeks.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

You'll Need a Chitenge for That

We've made it into Kitwe for the evening, we were moved out of our homestay houses this morning and into a college campus just outside of the city where we will be staying for the next couple of days. Our graduation ceremony is on Monday at 11 am, there are going to be a variety of different speakers so the production has the potential to go for a very long time. Once we've been sworn in we will officially no longer be PCT's but PCV's...woohoo. It is exciting but also sad and a bit intimidating; sad because I will have to say goodbye to many of the friends I made during PST and will not see them for another three months when we have in-service training. It is intimidating because I will be dropped off in my village on the 19th--I will be the only white person there, I will not know a soul in the entire village and surrounding countryside, I have absolutely no activities planned to fill the day other than what I can think of to try to keep me busy, and I don't speak the language hardly at all.

With that said I have received some more news about my site from the previous volunteer and there are some reasons to be excited. Apparently there are several women's groups in the area who are interested in starting a small sewing/knitting business, as well as one that wants to learn about small animal husbandry and beekeeping. My house is supposed to be very nice, I have a Mango tree and Raspberry bush in my yard, and the old volunteer left most of his furniture there so I don't have to worry too much about furnishings. I also acquired a hammock this last week which I am thrilled about.

This last week was busy but fun. The trainees staying in Chankalamo village decided to have a goat roast on Thursday with all our families in order to thank them and celebrate the end of PST. I had to transport the live goat to the site of the roast several days before on Tuesday--I found out later that the best way to transport a male goat anywhere is to simply sling it across your shoulders. But, I tried walking it over, a trip highlighted by me crawling into a thorn bush in pursuit of the goat after it slipped the rope, a laughing mob of children surrounding us as I tried to drag the goat up a hill, and me being tempted to break out my Leatherman and slaughter the thing on the spot. But, I finally prevailed, and thoroughly enjoyed the goat meat several days later.

The Nyanja families attending put together a mock initiation ceremony for young girls that was extremely interesting. The highlight was a lot of dancing and laughter, although the actual ceremony is very serious business and quite the production from what I've been told by volunteers who have witnessed it. One interesting tradition that two of our female trainers exhibited for us concerns respect: before they went out to dance they approached the old women who were doing the singing and drumming and laid themselves on the ground in the fetal position at their feet and clapped three times. They then rolled over and repeated the process on their other side, then got up to dance. The gesture was met by ululating whoops of appreciation from the bamayos--apparently it is a Bemba tradition, but since they are cousins with the Nyanjas that tribe appreciates the act as well. Things started to deteriorate when I was pulled into the dancing area by a determined bamayo so that I might represent the Bembas as it was mostly Nyanjas who had been doing the dancing. I dragged Brad with me so I wouldn't be alone in my humiliation, a bamayo wrapped chitenges around our waists, and we proceeded to break out our best moves. The Bemba and Nyanja dances are slightly different, but both involve a prodigious amount of hip movements that are supposed to be fluid; I sincerely doubt whether mine were so, but I certainly gave it my all as my aching hips and legs could attest. I did hear from both our trainers who speak Bemba that I received a lot of compliments from the bamayos afterwards--I think that was probably a result of all the chibuku the women were consuming, but I'll take it. There are several pictures of Brad and myself in action, but I am hoping that they never reach the public sphere.

Sunday, August 6, 2006


this past week has been extremely busy as PST is starting to wind down. we have all of our final tests coming up, as well as some last second projects that we need to complete before we can change our acronym from PCT to PCV. on top of all that i've been selected to give the speech for the bemba LIFE group at the swearing-in ceremony, so there will be some extra work involved there as well. but, we only have a week left and then we will be heading to our villages, which i think everyone is excited about. i also found out that my village is called muyembe, and is located in kawambwa district, and is supposed to be very nice.

the big excitement of the last week was that my homestay family's house was attacked by impashi, or red ants. i woke up at about 1 a.m. on tuesday and could hear them talking out in the yard. i wondered what could be going on but fell asleep again before i could give it much more thought. when i walked outside the next morning the yard had been burned--there isn't much vegetation in the yards anyways since they intentionally keep them bare in order to be better able to see snakes, prevent their houses from getting burnt by run-away fires, and not provide a habitat for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. but what little greenery there had been was now gone, and i asked my bataata why. he explained that the red ants had attacked and then had started for my house so they had to burn the yard in order to stop them. red ants here can attack in the millions, and they bite viciously just as the ones in the states do, and there is really no way to drive them away except with fire which has some obvious drawbacks. so, my homestay family was forced to spend the entire night out in their yard while the ants took over their house. my bataata said that they saw them crawling down the walls of the house and ten minutes later the entire room was completely blanketed with's an unpleasant experience to say the least, and i'm glad i was spared it, although i felt badly for my family that couldn't sleep the entire night.

my mailing address is going to be changing once i leave here; if you are planning on sending me a letter, please send it to the new address since i will be gone from kitwe by the time any letter sent from the u.s. gets here:

Joshua Meservey
PO Box 710150
Mansa, Zambia

please remember that the envelope must say "air mail" on it or it will be put on the slow boat to china. the pc house in mansa, my provincial capital, does not currently have internet so my access to email is going to be extremely limited, if i can get it at all. i will always enjoy receiving emails, but if you write to me via snail mail i promise to write back to you--i can get your mailing addresses from the letters you send me. i may actually be getting a PO Box in kawamba, the nearest town, since i will only be in mansa about once a month. i will be sure to let everyone know the new address if i do get it; if i do, the kawambwa address will probably only be good for letters, packages would be safest going to the mansa address.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Montezuma's Revenge

well, as you probably can guess from the subject line i am no longer a member of the unbearably smug "i-haven't-been-sick-yet" club, but fortunately i'm not a member of the "oops-i-crapped-my-pants" club, as some in my group are...i was able to accelerate down the hallway towards the bathroom quick enough to avoid that particular fate. the medical officer's prognosis is that i got food poisoning from some milk i had in mansa; i'll spare you the details, but i woke up early on saturday morning and got brutally ill in the bathroom. i slept until sunday morning, waking up long enough to dash back to the bathroom, drink some oral rehydration solution and curse parmalat. i still have some lingering symptoms but am feelling better, i hope by the end of the week i'l be 100%.

my site visit to luapula province the previous week was an interesting experience, we stayed in a village where a current pcv is stationed. we participated in a soya cooking demonstration where i had to give a brief talk about the nutritional benefits of soy beans to a room full of zambian mothers; if the volume of laughter i elicited is any indicator, i was a wild success. the difficulty is that most zambians out in the villages have never heard a muzungu attempt to speak bemba, so they find it unbearably funny. the adults usually keep their laughter somewhat under control, but children absolutely dissolve when you break out a "muli shani" at them. it can be a bit disconcerting, but i've decided to use it to my advantage and simply assume that every time a zambian laughs at me it is only because of my speaking bemba, and not because of any ridiculous thing i'm doing.

we finally received our site placements, i will be in kawambwa district replacing a pcv who has left. i don't know much about the site since the pcv who was there hasn't written the site description yet. i do know that there is a river very near by along with a waterfall, that the house is "cute," is about 40 km from the boma (town, in this case Kawambwa), and that the entire district forestry office was recently transferred because of a bribery scandal. but, everyone i've talked to there loves luapula province, all the pcv's i met in mansa, the provincial capital where the pc house is located, were all extremely friendly and very good about mixing me up oral rehydration solution. so, it looks like it's going to be a good site.

we've spent the last couple of days at kasisi farm, a model conservation farm started and still run by jesuit priests about 100 years ago. farmers come from around zambia to learn more sustainable, efficient farming techniques, and the custodians are also involved in a lot of experimentation with different agricultural technologies. i've certainly learned a lot, the highlights probably being how to make cheese, chutney, pickled products, and jam (my group's apple jam didn't turn out quite as envisioned...the next day people were eating it off of toothpicks). we also toured a local beekeeper's operation that included an unscheduled dash through the woods after we'd conducted a too-close examination of one of the hives; i have a hard and fast rule here, namely that when the expert starts running, i also start running. so, when i saw the agricultural agent with us on the tour darting through the trees screaming and waving her hands around her head i also began darting (but not screaming) and nearly trampled the girl in front of me. several people got stung but i wasn't one of them, so i don't regret my actions.

my other running story involves us having to evacuate a classroom the week before last in mwekera when a fire got too close. zambians have a fairly laissez-faire attitude about burning, which they do for any number of reasons but mostly to clear land. they'll often set a fire and then leave it, checking back on it every couple of hours or so. case in point: there was a fairly large fire burning next to my homestay family's hut several weeks ago and i asked my bataata if he was clearing land for some gardening. he replied that no, he had been trying to kill some red ants near the well and couldn't quite control the blaze which was now burning the immediate area. in the case of us evacuating the classroom someone was burning trash a ways away and lost control of the fire; it eventually ended about 10 feet away from the classroom after several workers at the mwekera compound strategically doused certain areas and burned firebreaks in others. a girl named tess actually had her hut burnt when a field fire ran amuck, the walls of houses are mud brick but usually the roofs are thatch, which burns very well. fortunately they were able to rescue all of her stuff before it was damaged.

i hope you all are doing well, thank you for the emails and letters as each and every one is truly appreciated. i wish i could reply personally to you all but i really can't, but do please know that i appreciate the effort.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Vendetta Anger

well, i've had a fairly full week, with a lot of interesting things going on, but also some difficult things. we've lost two more people from our group, one had to leave as his body simply hasn't been able to handle the malaria prophylaxis. he has only been sleeping for a couple of hours a night and has started getting sick, so he really didn't have many options. it was tough to see him go as he didn't want to at all, it was just that his health would no longer allow him to be here...too bad.

last week one of my friends named doug was cycling back to his homestay house and came across his homestay mother crying at a neighbor's house. apparently the husband had beaten her badly; doug cycled back to our training compound in mwekera to get help and the peace corps sent a vehicle and got the lady to a hospital. the husband was arrested, which is actually surprising as woman here, while not 2nd class citizens, are at the most 1 1/2 class citizens. domestic abuse is rarely reported and hardly ever prosecuted, and often times the wife is blamed, even by her own family, if she is beaten. i think it is pretty safe to say that the husband would not be sitting in jail right now if a westerner (doug) hadn't gotten involved. zambians are warm and friendly people, but, as with all societies, there is a dark side that is revealed occasionally.

we had a speaker several days ago who was talking about zambian culture and tribal practices. it was a very interesting talk, and at the end she spoke for about half an hour about zambian and similar society's anger. she described most western anger cycles as on a diagonal extending upwards and in a linear fashion, meaning it continues escalating until a definite resolution is reached. either there is an apology, violence and conquest, or something similar, just as long as there is a resolution. she said that the zambian anger cycle could best be described as a spiral that grows and grows, perhaps completely undetected until it explodes. an apology may not be enough to stop the cycle, as in zambia sometimes an apology is seen as an admission that a harm was indeed inflicted. there is a saying here, "there is no sorry after death," meaning the damage has already been done by the time an apology has been offered. the speaker went on to say that this same anger cycle can affect entire societies, and can build for even hundreds of years until it finally erupts--the term she used was "vendetta."

She said that vendetta is a primary reason for many ethnic and tribal conflicts, and gave as an example the current iraq war and the bosnian wars. the iraq war was declared ended more than a year ago, and by western standards it was. yet, according to the speaker, we're witnessing vendetta anger in iraq; similarly, milosevic's attempt at genocide in the balkans was vendetta anger that exploded. she mentioned in passing that she doesn't believe the vendetta anager has been addressed by either the serbs or albanians, which doesn't bode well for the future of the balkans.

she said that the only way to address vendetta after it has spiraled beyond control is through a mediator who will fairly address both sides' grievances. i didn't get a chance to ask her how you can mediate a dispute in which one side is completely implacable. how can the u.s. stop the vendetta anger of the terrorists when their grievance is our very existence and our most cherished beliefs, like equality, pluralism, freedom of religions and speech, etc.? i wish i'd had the chance to ask the question.

so anyways, sorry if i bored you with that but i thought it was very interesting and probably a profound insight. other highlights of the week included my sampling caterpillars, which were really, really gross. i also witnessed several chicken slaughterings, which were predictably gory. as part of our training we have also planted a vegetable garden, which is doing very poorly indeed. we had an embarassing session during which our tech leader went down and examined the garden, and was slightly less than enthusiastic in his assessment of our gardening skills. ah well, live and learn.

next weekend we are leaving for our site visits, i am going to be traveling to luapula province for 10 days with the other bemba speakers, so i'm not sure if i'll have email access. after i get back my shipping address is going to change as well, as i'll only have a couple of weeks left of training and then i will be posted at site where my mail will be delivered. i meant to bring the new address with me today but i of course forgot, i will try to get it out to everyone. thank you to all who have been writing, mail is undeniably the highlight of everyone's day when they receive some. i hope you all are well.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


sorry my communication has been so poor, things are extremely busy and the only chance i have to use the internet is on sundays when we come into kitwe. i am currently staying in the village of chankalamo, which is about a 30 minute bike ride from the training station in mwekera where we have classes about 3 times a week. the other three days we have our classes right in the village or one of the neighboring ones.

i'm in a homestay right now, which means i'm living with a bemba family in chankalamo. i have my own hut which is nice as some of the volunteers live in the actual houses with the family, which i guess is pretty awkward. the houses are tiny, my little hut is just a tad smaller than the family's house that holds anywhere from 5-7 people. the family is extremely nice and very excited about having me stay with them; the father speaks pretty good english but the mother speaks just about none, nor do the children.

i eat all my meals with the family except for lunch on thursdays and sundays. zambians are extremely hospitable people, and so do everything in their power to make their guests, which means me in this case, as comfortable as possible. i eat my meals with whichever male family member is around, and occasionally with the mother if there are no males available. they do not allow children to eat with the guests for fear they would do something embarassing; they apologize if i drop something, and once the mother was very embarassed when she served herself first from a particular dish because she thought i was done with it. the food is not bad, i had to choke down a chicken gizzard one night given to me as the honored guest, but fortunately we eat by candlelight so i didn't really have to look at it. usually the meal consists of rice, nshima, and a couple of steamed vegetables and once in a while some meat. nshima is a thick, paste-like entree made by boiling ground maize that everyone eats in zambia as it is very filling and extremely easy to make. it is pretty much completely tasteless and pure starch, but it is handy to use as a masking agent for something gross you're trying to eat. i've several times had to pile nshima on something that was particularly unpalatable, but that's rare. as i said, the food is mostly good.

the weather has been very nice, usually in the mid 80's during the day. there is literally no chance of it raining until the rainy season, which doesn't start for a couple of more months. it gets surprisingly cool during the evenings, i sleep underneath a blanket and with socks on and i'm still chilly sometimes when i wake up. the family provides bathing water twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening; my mother doesn't realize that i haven't built up the same level of tolerance to extreme heat that zambians have (i've seen them move coals around with their fingers, pick up metal pots that have just been used on the cooking fire with their hands and carry them into the house, and other such craziness), so the bath water is inevitably scorching. i always end up hanging out in my bathing shelter waiting for the water to cool until i work up the courage to start using it.

i haven't been sick at all yet, which i'm very grateful for. i've had several friends get pretty sick, one of the guys in my program named brad ate kapenta, a sardine-like fish, for lunch several days back. he then hopped on his bike and only made it a couple of kilometers down the road before he got badly ill. we've also inducted the inaugural member of the 'oops, i crapped my pants club,' which happened last week. apparently there's a pcv up in luapula province where i'll be stationed who is a five-time member, so the guy in our group has some catching up to do.

there has been one kid who already got malaria, even though we're on a malaria prophylaxis called mefloquine it can still sneak through. he's fine now, there are apparently some really good drugs that will kill it quickly once it's been diagnosed. we had a class on malaria, and the crux of the issue is that you don't want any part of it. essentially the parasites attack your red blood cells and end up shattering them, leaving your veins full of "minestrone soup," as the trainer put it. it was right about then that the kid next to me passed out cold, spilling his water bottle all over the place. after he was revived he explained he didn't do well with blood discussions, and that maybe the trainer could just give him a pamphlet or something. so i give him credit for a witty response to the situation. anyways, in order to test for malaria you have to do a blood slide; in order to practice, we had to lance our fingers and put blood on a microscope slide. that was my least favorite part of training so far. the trainer explained that when pricking your finger you need to do it "with intent," which translates into no pussy-footing around, just jab the thing into your finger. it was a little nerve-wracking, but i eventually got some blood flowing.

we've lost four trainees out of the group so far, it's been sad to see them go. one of them was a retired fellow who was my roommate in johannesburg and philadelphia; he was a really nice guy and very popular, so that was upsetting. but for the most part spirits are high, we're getting so much information crammed into us that it has been very hard to process so far.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Zambia Finally

well, i was able to get some (brief) internet time tonight, which was a pleasant surprise. i made it in one piece, and have spent the last two days in what is called pst, pre-service training. tomorrow we are headed up to mwekera where we will be training for 9 weeks, after which we get sworn in and are on our way to our villages. i have found out that i will be speaking bemba, which is probably the biggest language spoken in zambia, and is used primarily in luapula province which is located on the eastern side of the arm of zambia that extends to north. supposedly it is very beautiful with lots of waterfalls and mountains but no animals as they've all been killed.