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.