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.