Sunday, September 11, 2011

Perspectives of a Visitor

It was a once in a lifetime privilege for me and my family to be a guest of the Zambian people and Taylor. We met hundreds of interesting, hardworking and generous people, from the farmers in the NW Province to the street vendors in the cities- not to mention the guides and excellent cooks on safari. We thought we might lose a few pounds here but I’m afraid just the opposite has occurred; lots of new foods to try.
Farmers have a harsh, poor but good life. They are extremely generous to visitors- especially to a “Head of a Great Family”. Men eat alone in the village while children look on longingly from afar as the women and older girls serve and clean up. The men work hard too, but not usually during mealtimes. Taylor bought a goat to celebrate our arrival and it was slaughtered and cooked by the men, but that was rare. While witnessing the slaughter, Ben fainted in the bushes and was compassionately escorted by one of the Village elders to Taylor’s hut where he quickly recovered. Roasting the goat over an open dug out fire-pit was an all day affair. Many other heads of families enjoyed the feast while all the “awfuls” (kidneys, stomach, heart, scrotum)… were carefully preserved for future consumption. The most recent of those attending to have enjoyed goat was two months prior. Two young boys tended the fire and protected the meat from birds and dogs. They were “richly compensated” by Austin with a choice chunk of goat. It was delicate for Taylor to allocate the excess meat lest anyone feel slighted. He seems to have learned that convention well.
While in the village we met several of the farmers that Taylor has befriended and assisted as part of his service. They are very appreciative of some of the newer techniques that Taylor has shared with respect to beekeeping, natural fertilizing, crop rotation, forest preservation, and economizing on water. The Villagers needs are overwhelming. The solution is complicated, but to make life incrementally better is not hopeless.
One of Debbie and my most rewarding experiences on this trip was visiting the excited children in the schools. Debbie very much enjoyed handing out bright colored pencils until she was overwhelmed with demand. The children and the teachers treated us with great respect and curiosity. We felt like we were on Safari only we were the animals. We were introduced by one of the teachers as Mongoloids as they compared our facial features and skin color with theirs. Nearly all had never seen an entire white family. We were the movie-stars and they were the Paparazzi with no cameras. Austin returns to the Village (Dengwe) when we leave tomorrow to help Taylor replace the thatch on Taylor’s hut and learn and enjoy other aspects of village life. Hopefully he will post an entry as well after his longer visit. By their generosity, Taylor was concerned we were causing a minor localized recession. Were it only to be recessions in the Western world were caused by excessive generosity. Austin, as Taylor’s brother, will be accepted into the community as a working member and will not cause such a disturbance by himself.
When talking to the students in class, I asked how many aspired to leave the Village upon attaining adulthood. Only a few brave hands went up. One wanted to be a “generalist”…she meant Journalist. Another, a surgeon. Several wanted to be Pirates…which I found disturbing until I figured out after much discussion that they meant Pilot. None wanted to be miners, but that is where much of their monetary advancement is most possible.
Speaking of mining, we visited the filthy boomtown of Solwezi, where Taylor had to attend a two day conference. The streets were overflowing with people, markets were bustling with hustlers and craftspeople trying to eke out a few dollars on a good day. The largest open pit mine in Africa (copper) will be opening in six months, and many people are migrating to the region in hopes of gainful employment. There is one half-decent road through Solwezi, the rest were a dusty, bumpy adventure. Urban planning is only a dream. We experienced a slight degree of low-level racism as we were singled out as a white family with too many passengers. Taylor had offered two PC volunteers a ride on our way back to the village, and we were stopped at a police checkpoint and had to give the patrol officer a small bribe to continue whilst many extremely over-crowded pickup trucks and vans and buses and people riding on top of trucks were waived through. We were stopped again on our trip as we were accused of a traffic infraction (passing a broken down truck). We learned there is no minimum speed in Zambia, and apparently no pollution standards either. I surmise this is what it is like for many blacks and Hispanics in America even today. Many of the vehicles are in sad shape…it is especially adventurous to drive at night when so many cars and trucks drive with no lights. Those that do have lights like to show them off and greet you by flashing their brights or more often by using their turn signals to seemingly say “I see you, Do you see me?”. Turn signals are most often used for greeting or saying it is safe to pass or not. Zambia is a very friendly country on the road but for the police checkpoints. Most drivers pick up hitchhikers if there is any room in their car…or even if there isn’t!
There are two major newspapers in Zambia; The Zambian Post and the Zambia Daily Mail. Neither apologizes for its blatantly slanted political coverage. The Daily is pro-government/status-quo, the Post is pro-change/anti-government. This was also an interesting discussion item with students and others. The upcoming election will likely usher in a change, but those in power don’t often cede easily. Hopefully, things remain peaceful.
After the village experience, we embarked upon a 250 km bumpy ride to Kafue National Park across two bridge pontoons and very few people. We saw a cobra run over by a forest service truck as we backed up to take its picture. We got the picture, but it’s not too pleasing to the eye. We stayed 4 days in a nice chalet in McBride camp…no power etc., but it was pretty cushy. We saw hundreds of animals we had never seen before as we went in their truck, boat and on walking safaris. The proprietors of the camp are obsessed with Lions, and were more than a little disappointed that a few of their guests were seeing Lions and Leopards, but their own excursions of late were only turning up tracks and other tell-tale signs of their presence.
Towards the end of our trip we visited the tourist-centric town of Livingstone, where we visited the museum and saw the breathtaking Victoria Falls, and took a sunset river- cruise. It was a nice way to end the trip because we had no pressing business other than thoroughly washing the borrowed car and changing its oil and air filters. We were with only immediate family and had little to do…my idea of a vacation. However, upon reflection after returning home, the most memorable and heart-warming experiences were undoubtedly in the village. I have no regrets, but if I were to start the trip over, I would spend more time in the village and less time chasing lions, elephants, mementoes and trinkets from the urban markets and spectacular waterfalls. As a father, I am most proud of the relationships and bonds Taylor has built with his “clients” and his cohorts in such a short period of time. I hope to see some of them again someday.

Tay’s dad…John

mud huts

It happens from time to time. I’ll leave a dish out and then Bam! my hut becomes a dark pit of disaster. Originally upon coming to this continent, I treated my hut much as I treated any number of living arrangements I’d had before. If I didn’t feel like doing the dishes right away, I wouldn’t and If I didn’t feel like hangin my towel, I’d throw it on the ground. However, it quickly became apparent that when living in a small dark mud hut, sloppiness swiftly snowballs into months of not being able to find a second pair of pants . It took me awhile to figure out how to keep this cave of a house organized in such a manner that I could, with reasonable certainty, walk inside and find what I was looking for with my eyes closed. It’s not a battle I have completely won. Every once in a while something will still throw me off my organizational bandwagon and things rapidly collapse into chaos. Such is the current situation. My wonderful family & dedicated readership, was here for the past month. And albeit only in my house for 3 nights as a complete unit and a few with just austin, managed to set off the organizational chain reaction that lands me here, in the midst of a heap of books, clothes, batteries and various useless cords. It’s not that the family was especially messy, it’s that they brought me a lot of stuff. 3 suitcases full in total. Effectively increasing my worldly possessions by 50% and they tended not to have memorized my blindfold proof method of organization. Anyway, there is a mouse running around and I think the mess is hampering Z’s (my cat) ability to effectively hunt. Thus, tomorrow I think I will have to dedicate entirely to the development and installment of a new organizational system—such are the hardships of my life in the peace corps.
My family was here and now they are gone. I should probably write about that. We saw the country for much of what it was, spent time being together as a family for the first time since christmas and took a lot of pictures. My dad has promised a guest blog entry so I won’t spoil all the good stories.
It’s funny how visitors have a way of putting a fresh face on a familiar place. After being here for a year and a half, things have become routine as life becomes, well, life. I feel less and less like writing this blog because the stories feel different to tell when they pertain to people you consider close friends. Back in the states I wouldn’t have felt much like writing about my daily interactions with friends and it feels a bit disrespectful at times to do it here. Having my family here however, has reminded me how damn interesting this place is to those who haven’t tried it before and because of that I figure another blog post or two, in the name of cross cultural understanding, should be forthcoming. In the meantime we’ll have to settle for a post about messy huts as my battery is on its way out and Z has come back inside looking to hunt rats, he’ll need my help—such are the hardships of my life in the peace corps :).

1. a current problem

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cold Season

I write because I am incredibly cold. I’m quite tired but can’t sleep due to the biting wind that’s blowing through my house. I’m currently making pathetic or seductive, I’m not sure, clicking sounds at my cat Z in hopes he’ll come share his warmth. He doesn’t seem to care. It’s the heart of what is simply referred to here as Cold Season. Hope arrived yesterday when the Peace Corps land cruiser paid me a visit as I thought they were brining my sleeping bag, alas.
What have I been doing, you ask? Well, directly before this I filled out my quarterly report, where I put into an electronic form how I’ve been saving trees and fighting poverty—It was a slowish quarter. Due to circumstances, I was not in my village as much as I usually am. Instead I spent a lot of time in my provincial capital some 200km to the northeast, Solwezi.
Solwezi is an interesting town and I never write about it because it seems a separate life from the one I lead here in the village, I never write about it because a lot of it’s stories involve other peace corps volunteers and peace corps volunteers read blogs. Plus who really cares what 30some young Americans do when they get together after a stint in the bush, it’s mostly light chit chat anyway. The town, on it’s own, even without my stories, is fascinating (look it up on Wikipedia, I’ll try and edit the post). 10 years ago it was bush, now there are copper mines open and opening all around the town. And on pay day, the line at the atm takes all afternoon. There is a modern grocery store called Shoprite (think Safeway with much longer and more aggressive lines), yet you can’t buy bread there because people have worked out a scheme were they team up to buy every last loaf of bread as it comes out the oven and then sell it outside for one and a half times the price. There are now four gas stations in the town, including a BP and I’ve been stuck there for most of a day because the town was out of gas. Solwezi is a town that changes from one month to the next. It’s growing faster than any place I’ve ever lived and it’s fun to watch. (this is where I fell asleep, so here the blog ends. Mom, Dad, Austin, Ben, bring a jacket and I’ll see you soon) .

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

hungry hungry hippo

Every time I turn on my computer to write this blog I have to wait for it to go through its startup sequence—it takes several minutes, as I think this machine has picked up a few tropical viruses of its own since coming to Zambia— and the final part of the sequence and the part that always takes the longest, is the quixotic quest (yes I’ve studied a bit lately for the gre’s) for the wireless network.
Now I’m sitting here in my mud hut. It’s dark except for my last candle, quiet except for the crickets and I’m thinking to myself “good god, my computer would save a lot of time and precious battery power if it would just give up its search for the wireless internet”. The nearest router is some 40km bike ride through the African bush. Its feed comes through a rickety satellite dish, it rarely works and I’m sure they turn it off at night anyhow to save on power.
Well, there was a window into exactly what was going on in my mind as I opened up Microsoft word. Now, in more newsworthy news… There is a hippo on the loose in the village! And he has eaten some of my beans. The past few days, people have been running around trying to catch and kill a 4 ton mammal with armor skin. I was asking my nearest neighbor, mr k, whose fields I had seen were heavily damaged by the hippo, how one went about killing a hippo. No one around here is in possession of a high caliber rifle. I’ve seen the guns they go hunting with. They’re made of a lead plumbing pipe and are powered by fertilizer turned gunpowder. I thought it highly unlikely they could take down a hippo. My neighbor explained that what they do is find a place where the hippo has been coming out of the water, dig a big hole and then hope the hippo comes out of the water there again. Once in the hole, the hippo is then stabbed to death with spears.
Now at the point I’m told this I’m unsure whether this is awesome and I want to go help dig a hole, or this was awful and I should try and lead the hippo 200km back across the rivers to the national park. At the moment the course of action I’ve chosen is to do nothing—the least life threatening choice. Anyway, the hippo is still on the loose. Mr k was telling me that back in 94’ they caught and killed a hippo this way and he was put in charge of making sure every member of the village got their fair share of the hippo meat. During the dolling out process, word got round that ZAWA was on its way to look into reports of a dead hippo. Momentary chaos ensued and the meat was gone in seconds, thus mr k said he ended up with only a foot and doesn’t know how the rest of a hippo tastes. It’s too bad.
Last weekend I got K10,000,000 deposited in my account for a grant I wrote to fund a beekeeping workshop. I went to collect and spend the money in town and felt much like a winner of the toys r us prize they used to (still do?) give where you got to run around the store for like a minute and throw as many toys as you could into your cart. Only in my situation, the toys were dried fish and flour instead of lego’s and mega wheels and my toy shop a bustling open air market. Sometimes I do feel like I’ve won something just by being here.
As a result of this shopping spree I ended up with a lot of stuff including an 8ft pit saw. Getting it all back to my village, some 200km away, on a bus was a bit of a trick. My flour still hasn’t made it as it got dropped at the turnoff due to a baggage swap but everything else did. And as soon as the bus dropped me outside my village with my pile of stuff and nothing but arms to carry, the sky opens up. It was possibly the heaviest rain of the year, I mean the bus driver had me come back on the bus and wait several awkward minutes before finally realizing it wasn’t going to stop all night and telling me I could get off now. There I was, yesterday, standing at the side of the road with my pile of new things. Luckily some brave souls from the market saw me and my predicament and rushed over to help carry my things to their shelter.
Things are good this side and I hope the same is true where ever you are.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pat Came

I’ve been in Zambia over a year. My existence here has become normalized in my mind. I guess you could say I’ve found my niche in this country and constructed a comfort zone which tends to make one less in awe of the goings on around them or at least of their absurdity. Riding my bike through rural Africa, arguing in kikaonde over a $0.05 price difference for tomatoes with a women along a wooded dirt path, or trying to avoid a zebra that’s grazing on the fairway of the 9th hole of the mine golf club don’t seem quite so novel these days and thus harder to get myself amped up enough in order to write about them. However, as my mom pointed out the other day, she is still immensely interested in my life here. So am I, and if for no other reason than to please my mom and to personally reflect on my current life situation, here is the 12th installment of the blog. I’m averaging almost a post a month…. Not bad in my opinion.
I had a visitor. His name is Pat, ch ch—A good friend and former house mate from college. Pat is currently teaching English in Korea at a robot high school. His visit happened to correlate with a music festival happening on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. I hitched down to Lusaka, to pick Pat up, on the back of a truck carrying an estimated 5,000 avocados. You might be thinking to yourself that riding on top of avocados for 13 hours sounds tasty, it was. You also might be thinking it would be a bad idea for the avocados to have people on top of them, it is. There were bags of ripe avocados and bags of green ones. People were being instructed as to which bags were suitable for sitting. However about 4 hours outside Lusaka, the skies opened up and an old, stinky, oily tarp was pulled out and stretched across us passengers in the back. Through the ordeal, my friend Katherine, whom I was traveling with ended up on a comfortable soft bed of ripe avocados and had effectively made a lot of guacamole by the time we reached Lusaka. We managed to get to a guest house without having to purchase 200 avocados, but it was slightly awkward and guilt inducing, however putting people on top of avocados in order to make extra cash comes with its hazards I guess.
Pat reached Lusaka the next day and following a couple days in Lusaka where I was trying to finish and submit a grant proposal, we were off to Tanzania. We hitched a couple free rides up to Kapiri where there is another peace corps office/bunkhouse and then caught the train from there to Dar es Salem the next day. The train took a bit over two days to reach, but was a pretty luxurious way to travel. For about $25 we got first class tickets which got us our own compartment and bed. The train went through a large game reserve after crossing the border into Tanzania. Pat got to see giraffes, elephants, wildebeests and a hyena, which helped to alleviate my guilt for not taking him on a safari. The music festival on Zanzibar was held in an old fort in Stone Town and was a lot of fun. Unfortunately my camera is broken, otherwise I’d post some pictures of white sandy beaches and fort packed full of concert goers to make you all jealous.
Due to my poor reading and planning skills, Pat only was able to spend one night in my village. I wish it could have been longer as I was planning of putting him in charge of the literacy club for a bit, but travel is often measured in days and weeks here as oppose to hours and minutes and thus I think we spent about half of Pat’s time in Africa on some sort of transport—an experience in it’s self.
I’m back in the village now, trying to get my gumption up to bike into town. I told the forestry department I’d come meet them today. I wanted to finish this blog before I left so I could post it. I guess it’s done when I say it is. Done.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Off The Road

As many of you know, I haven’t been in Zambia for the past month, but rather off seeing the world. It just so happens that much of the world, for me, exists in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. I was home for Christmas and came to realize through conversation with family and friends that a lot more people read this blog than I originally thought. So, I’m feeling a bit guilty about leaving my readership hanging. There are several blog posts I’ve began over the past few months that I never finished or published so perhaps I’ll post a “lost posts post” (make sense?). Either way, let’s play catch up.
After a great Christmas/new years at home, which needn’t be explained because many of you were a part of it, I hopped on a flight back to Africa. I flew into joburg, got in around 5pm and rushed to the central bus station in hopes of catching the last bus to Lesotho where I was meeting up with a couple of friends—one a peace corps volunteer and another just visiting. Upon arriving at the station I was confronted with the reality that there was no bus leaving for Lesotho that evening and that I’d have to find a place to sleep. I’m usually a bit short on cash these days, but joburg is not a place to spend the night on the street, so I splurged on what I think amounted to, what they call in asia, a love hotel. The first room I was assigned had bedding strewn about and somebody’s abandoned nshima dinner sitting in the corner. I was tired and thought about just crawling into the used bed and perhaps picking at the forgotten food but the idea of the absent minded restless sleeper coming back at 2 in the morning prompted me to exchange rooms.
Anyway, I considered my night spent in joburg as a tactical retreat from my travel plans and the next morning I was up early in hopes of making it to Lesotho and finding Kali and Brittany. The small issue was that I had no phone and the number Kali had sent me for her phone was not working, thus I figured I’d just show up in the capital city, where they said they would be, and attempt to track them down. I mean, you’ve seen Lesotho on a map, it’s small, so how hard could it be to find two white girls who also happen to be looking for me? Well… I took a mini bus to the border and then crossed, took a taxi to the hotel I knew they had been staying the day before, only to find they had checked out earlier that morning and hadn’t left tell of where they would be headed. At this point I thought I might just be having a solo Lesotho vacation. However, I made it to an internet cafĂ©, where I found kali had left a note for me indicating I should meet them outside a grocery store that afternoon. I found them.
Lesotho is a beautiful mountain country where most of the villages are built at the base or part way up the side of the mountains, I think in order to protect them from the wind. I spent much of my time traveling around, and a mean around as the country is a circle, Lesotho visiting various peace corps volunteers with Kali and Brittany. I found most of the volunteers in Lesotho have gas stoves, which is a huge quality of life improvement over sticks and charcoal, in my opinion. I also found volunteer moral there to be a bit low. There was recently a volunteer murdered in the capital city. From what I can tell he was well loved and his death has had a huge impact on the volunteer community as a whole, especially those that came to Lesotho at the same time, such as Kali and many of her friends I visited. It’s not really my place to comment on the current situation as I’m an outsider and saying too much will probably get me in trouble, but the support volunteers seem to be receiving from peace corps has been coming from the shape up or ship out mentality and as a result their numbers have dropped by about a third due to volunteers quitting or being administratively separated. This aside, my trip was a lot of fun and I even ended up saving a girls life by giving her the Heimlich maneuver after she choked on a large mint. Who knew that people really pulled that move in real life?
Following Lesotho, I hopped back on a bus to joburg where I had to, once again, try to track down a girl in an unfamiliar city, sans phone. Only this time I had never met her—I figured I couldn’t fail. Again I had the address of where she was staying so I figured I’d just saunter up to the front desk and they’d direct me to her. However, upon inquiring, I was told there was no record of such a guest at the hotel and that perhaps I had the name wrong. I wanted to meet up with this lady because she would be flying to Zambia with me the next day, where she was going to work at a clinic in my province as she’s a registered nurse back in the states. Also she had said I could stay in her hotel room and bum the ride she had arranged from the airport. Given the incentives, I decided not to give up on finding her too easily. I managed to finagle free internet from the hotel and proceeded to facebook stalk the girl. I found I had the name right and that the message she had sent me in fact did indicate she would be staying at this hotel. I went back to the front desk and asked them if they were sure that she wasn’t here. And the lady I asked this time said “oh yes of course, she just left”.
I was hungry so I decided I’d pull a stake out from the nando’s across the way from the hotel. How hard could it be to spot a 20 something white girl I’d never met? As I sat there intently (creeply?) watching every young Caucasian lady pass by as I dined on a chicken burger and beer, I came to realized I hadn’t done a sufficient job facebook stalking this girl. I couldn’t even remember whether her hair was blonde or black. I had also chosen a seat in the back of the restaurant so as not to appear too creepy when scoping out those passing by. I had several hunches that I wanted to act on and approach but my location meant I would have to abandon my dinner and chase them down the corridor. So I resigned myself to finishing dinner and then walking back to the hotel. As luck would have it, there was a young lady in the lobby who made eye contact with me, we pointed, laughed and proceed to go out to second dinner. The rest of my trip was pretty uneventful except for me missing my flight the next day.
I’m back in my village now, waiting out a rain storm before I can go get my sweet potatoes planted. Yesterday I spent in the boma where I met with the business association who got a large grant to start up a commercial honey project. I’m excited to be working with them as they have the resources and the initial drive that could help take the honey business here to the next level. Also I got the chance to taste the beer I brewed (thanks Rox) before I left and it’s highly drinkable. I brewed it in a container that used to carry gasoline so there is a slight petrol aroma to it, but I think that adds to the complexity and unique experience… plus it’s the only beer in town. I also found a pretty sweet mountain yesterday about an hour from my front door. I got some good photos of the surrounding landscape in which I live but as you may or may not have noticed, my photos have become a bit messed up both on the internet and here on my computer. So next time I have electricity and internet I’ll try to fix that and get some new ones up. Happy 2011!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Back in the saddle again: A bad place to be with horrible diarrhea

Well September has come to a close. By the time I post this it will probably be well into October, but one thing’s for sure, it’s hot now and it will be hotter then. September has been an interesting month. I turned 24 at which point my friend told me I was entering a very unlucky year according to the Shinto calendar. He wasn’t quite done with his unlucky years, but decided he would pass on his charm anyhow, as I probably needed it more than he did. His dog promptly died a week later (R.I.P. Muchima) and he contracted malaria soon thereafter. I fashion myself a man of rationality, but I’ve been keeping the charm with me nonetheless.
I guess charms can’t protect against everything— my dog, Lukatasio, died last week as well. There are quite a few theories going around the village as to the cause of death, but my theory is that it’s somehow connected to the rabies shot I gave him a few days before he died. Anyhow, he’s passed on and I was/am sad, but it’s funny how quickly you get over something like the death of a dog when no one around you cares about dogs the same way we do in the states.
Ha, ok well I was trying to make this blog post the positive follow up to my last one but I guess it’s off to a bad start. Work is going well here. I’m working with a local bee keeping group to try and boost their productivity and gain access to markets. Our bigger plan is to organize the groups within the district so that they can process, package and sell in such a way that they get their honey out of Kasempa where it currently sells for about $1.50 a liter. This project suffered some setbacks as I had to go to Solwezi last week due to “medical issues” which caused some missed meetings. But I’m back now and pacheche pacheche (bit by bit) we’re making progress.
As it turns out, I left Solwezi for my village just in time. The Peace Corps bunk house/office was robbed at gunpoint the day after I left. No one was hurt, but the house was full of new volunteers waiting to get posted to their sights, so it was a bit of a rude welcome to the province. It’s something that I guess could happen anywhere and I have felt safer in Solwezi than I feel in places like Chicago, New York or even Tacoma. But again Solwezi is much smaller and a dynamic area with all the mines and close proximity to the DRC so I guess the small town feel can be deceptive.