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.