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