Monday, July 9, 2007


I'm currently in mansa on my way back from 4th of July vacation in Livingstone which was good times all around. A big group of pcv's were down there for a few days, all but one of whom was from my intake. so, I got to see some old friends from training for the first time in a while which is always nice.

The highlights of the trip for me were the lunar rainbow and the whitewater rafting. one evening we went down to Victoria Falls to see the rainbow that appears for a few days during every full moon; during the day there's always a rainbow as the falls throw up so much mist, and we were lucky enough to be down there when the moon was bright enough to create a rainbow as well. The rainbow looked like a gray version of a regular rainbow except it was incredibly long, it emerged from the mist in the gorge and traveled all the way up the face of the falls until it curved up and over the lip. The gorge is deep enough and the mist so thick that you couldn't see the rainbow all the way to the bottom, it simply disappeared into gray mist far below. Pretty neat sight, something I didn't realize existed.

The rafting was intense, the Zambezi is one of the best rivers in the world for it. We could only run the second half of the river as the water volume was too heavy for us to shoot the first series of rapids, but the second half was plenty. I've done some rafting in Maine but there were spots on the Zambezi where the water was bigger than anything I'd ever been in before--in fact, there are spots where people go surfing on the waves that are created. At the beginning of one rapids (appropriately dubbed 'the washer machine') we dropped into a big hole which made the wall of white water in front of us appear even larger than it was. I was in the front of the raft and when we hit the raft simply stopped, skewed into the air at about a 45 degree angle, then slid off down the side of the water wall and got completely buried. The guy sitting across from me came flying across the raft and knocked me out into the water. I've grown up around water, am a strong swimmer and was wearing a life jacket and helmet, but as I was getting sucked down through the rapids I experienced several moments of "deep concern" (a guy in the raft with me said I looked scared when I first popped up, but I corrected his misperception). There's one general, down-stream current to the river but there's also a cacophony of other, smaller currents flowing every which way-when you're in the middle of it it's incredibly disorienting. I was surfacing long enough to grab a quick half-breath before I'd get smacked in the face by another wave, spun around and then taken under again. I was finally spit out at the far end of the rapids and floated about in a pool until a kayaker retrieved my bedraggled self and ferried me over to another raft. Once they'd pulled me in I lay on the bottom trying to project an air of nonchalance, an effort hindered by my loud gasping for air and clearly waterlogged state. It was amazing just how massively powerful the rapids were, I'd never experienced anything like it before.

One of my next door neighbors got some batteries for her radio recently and has been playing it full-blast; the kids I hang out with have now taken up dancing as one of their main pastimes. 4 or 5 of them, ranging in ages from probably 3-6, will wander into my yard and start a spontaneous dance party, it's high comedy. Bellies bulging forward and torn shorts flapping around their spindly legs, they crouch bowl-legged and begin slowly, like they're underwater, shimmying their hips and waving their arms back and forth. They're still so young that they aren't able to dance as rapidly or as fluidly as adults, so they mostly resemble small, black old men tottering about the yard. These dancing interludes are quickly becoming the highlight of my days.

I've started a gardening project and seed multiplication program with the smallest and poorest village I work with, called Chifwesa. About 50 people live in the village, their huts scattered throughout the bush, some of them very isolated. I've grown to enjoy more and more visiting them as the people are incredible; the last time I was there 3 different families presented me with armfuls of sweet potatoes and groundnuts. This type of generosity is typical in all villages but more pronounced for whatever reason in this one. Yet I cringe when I see them disappear right before I leave because I know that they're going to get me food to take or to eat there. It is difficult for me as I don't need the food and they very much do. A few times I've even tried sneaking away or leaving abruptly so I wouldn't have to take their food, but every time they make a determined effort to give me something. If someone from their family hasn't already gotten me something the man will tell me to wait while he hustles out to his field and digs up some sweet potatoes or groundnuts for me.

So why don't I simply refuse? Part of it is that it's a custom, a show of respect. But the bigger reason is the pride it gives them. Poverty is largely a corrosive attack on people's dignity; when they present me with a gift that I express appreciation for, it is dignity-confirming--they have something of value that even I, an obscenely wealthy (by their standards) white foreigner enjoys. When I thank them profusely (my gratitude is always genuine; given the circumstances those handfuls of groundnuts and sweet potatoes are absolutely some of the nicest gifts I've ever been given) I can see their faces glow with pride. Accepting their gifts with gratitude and humility may well be one of the most important things I do over here to mitigate the effects of poverty. So I invariably end up biking away from Chifwesa deeply, deeply humbled, ashamed of my own selfishness, and filled with admiration for these people's generosity. I undergo the same experience when I attend church and watch a stream of people move forward to make an offering. The sums themselves are tiny, but taken as a percentage of their income I'd be willing to bet it would shame most people in the west who consider themselves charitable. These villagers are generous in the midst of their need, they give from their want, and it is sometimes staggering to watch.

Well, I've rambled on for long enough, I hope you are all well and enjoyed your 4th of july holiday.