Sunday, June 25, 2006


sorry my communication has been so poor, things are extremely busy and the only chance i have to use the internet is on sundays when we come into kitwe. i am currently staying in the village of chankalamo, which is about a 30 minute bike ride from the training station in mwekera where we have classes about 3 times a week. the other three days we have our classes right in the village or one of the neighboring ones.

i'm in a homestay right now, which means i'm living with a bemba family in chankalamo. i have my own hut which is nice as some of the volunteers live in the actual houses with the family, which i guess is pretty awkward. the houses are tiny, my little hut is just a tad smaller than the family's house that holds anywhere from 5-7 people. the family is extremely nice and very excited about having me stay with them; the father speaks pretty good english but the mother speaks just about none, nor do the children.

i eat all my meals with the family except for lunch on thursdays and sundays. zambians are extremely hospitable people, and so do everything in their power to make their guests, which means me in this case, as comfortable as possible. i eat my meals with whichever male family member is around, and occasionally with the mother if there are no males available. they do not allow children to eat with the guests for fear they would do something embarassing; they apologize if i drop something, and once the mother was very embarassed when she served herself first from a particular dish because she thought i was done with it. the food is not bad, i had to choke down a chicken gizzard one night given to me as the honored guest, but fortunately we eat by candlelight so i didn't really have to look at it. usually the meal consists of rice, nshima, and a couple of steamed vegetables and once in a while some meat. nshima is a thick, paste-like entree made by boiling ground maize that everyone eats in zambia as it is very filling and extremely easy to make. it is pretty much completely tasteless and pure starch, but it is handy to use as a masking agent for something gross you're trying to eat. i've several times had to pile nshima on something that was particularly unpalatable, but that's rare. as i said, the food is mostly good.

the weather has been very nice, usually in the mid 80's during the day. there is literally no chance of it raining until the rainy season, which doesn't start for a couple of more months. it gets surprisingly cool during the evenings, i sleep underneath a blanket and with socks on and i'm still chilly sometimes when i wake up. the family provides bathing water twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening; my mother doesn't realize that i haven't built up the same level of tolerance to extreme heat that zambians have (i've seen them move coals around with their fingers, pick up metal pots that have just been used on the cooking fire with their hands and carry them into the house, and other such craziness), so the bath water is inevitably scorching. i always end up hanging out in my bathing shelter waiting for the water to cool until i work up the courage to start using it.

i haven't been sick at all yet, which i'm very grateful for. i've had several friends get pretty sick, one of the guys in my program named brad ate kapenta, a sardine-like fish, for lunch several days back. he then hopped on his bike and only made it a couple of kilometers down the road before he got badly ill. we've also inducted the inaugural member of the 'oops, i crapped my pants club,' which happened last week. apparently there's a pcv up in luapula province where i'll be stationed who is a five-time member, so the guy in our group has some catching up to do.

there has been one kid who already got malaria, even though we're on a malaria prophylaxis called mefloquine it can still sneak through. he's fine now, there are apparently some really good drugs that will kill it quickly once it's been diagnosed. we had a class on malaria, and the crux of the issue is that you don't want any part of it. essentially the parasites attack your red blood cells and end up shattering them, leaving your veins full of "minestrone soup," as the trainer put it. it was right about then that the kid next to me passed out cold, spilling his water bottle all over the place. after he was revived he explained he didn't do well with blood discussions, and that maybe the trainer could just give him a pamphlet or something. so i give him credit for a witty response to the situation. anyways, in order to test for malaria you have to do a blood slide; in order to practice, we had to lance our fingers and put blood on a microscope slide. that was my least favorite part of training so far. the trainer explained that when pricking your finger you need to do it "with intent," which translates into no pussy-footing around, just jab the thing into your finger. it was a little nerve-wracking, but i eventually got some blood flowing.

we've lost four trainees out of the group so far, it's been sad to see them go. one of them was a retired fellow who was my roommate in johannesburg and philadelphia; he was a really nice guy and very popular, so that was upsetting. but for the most part spirits are high, we're getting so much information crammed into us that it has been very hard to process so far.

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