Highlight Reel: November 2017

Double feature! In the interest of catching myself up, I’m posting a photo dump and highlight reel on the same day [waits for applause]. Thanks for being patient with me!

Cute and Flirty: I recently bought three ducks, and currently have two (the travel to my house from their farm was sadly too traumatic for one of them). I absolutely adore them! They live in a little pen between my house and garden, and I just love watching them waddle around. Are they as entertaining as chickens? Nah, but they’re more chill and don’t eat all the seeds I plant. Pictures coming soon!

Something I learned from my community: I attended a Food Preservation workshop in late November, and while I was finding a counterpart my host mom decided to show me her own Food Preservation techniques. One of my favorites was how to preserve extra mafu (leafy greens), which I have a huge problem with. With onion greens, she hangs them up to dry, and once they’re browned, she pounds them, adds salt, and you’ve got yourself some delicious onion powder! It’s amazing, simple, and delicious! Why am I here again?!

Something my community learned from me: During Grassroots Soccer with my Grade 5s, I decided to add some LGBT sensitization into the mix. I was nervous, because the existence of queer people in Zambia is adamantly denied in rural areas, much less gay rights. But, during a session about gender roles, we were discussing the difference between gender and sex, and I saw a window. We defined “sex” as “male or female” and gender as “man or woman.” Then, we talked about babies who are born with both male and female genitalia, and added “intersex” to our definition of sex, meaning both male and female. Then, we added “transgender” to the definition of gender, and I explained that while “inter” means “together,” “trans” means “going from one thing to another” (thanks mom for teaching me vocabulary from classical roots!). Then, when we went into gender roles, I explained that while gender is an identity, gender roles can change depending on culture, and I explained that in some American cultures you can still be a man or woman if you date people of the same sex. I was really proud of how respectful both my Zambian counterparts and my kids were during the lesson, and it led to a lot of questions about gender norms in different cultures (ex: the difference between men wearing skirts/kilts/etc., men performing in drag, and males identifying as women). It made me really happy to share that part of myself in a subtle way, and has motivated me to do more of this kind of work!

Shower Insights: I’ve been thinking a lot about what I joined Peace Corps for and what I originally wanted to get out of service. I noticed recently that I’m a lot angrier and reactionary than I used to be (I’m sure a couple people will laugh at that), and I don’t think that’s helping myself or my community. So, I’ve decided to check in with myself every month and ask myself “am I being the kind of person I wanted to be here? Am I doing the kinds of work I wanted to do? If not, is there anything I can do to change that? If I can’t change it, is it beneficial to me or my community to stay in Zambia?” When I tell people this, many get worried, but it’s been really helpful to assess where I am and where I want to be. And I think, because of it, I’m moving forward in a way I’ll be happy with looking back.

Something That Didn’t Totally Fail: I am finally done teaching Grassroots Soccer to my basic school’s Grade 5 class! We taught the program with the 5Bs this month, and I think it’s safe to say that having a class every weekday for two months was a little too much to for my two voluntary counterparts (who are both in college). Fortunately, the deputy headmaster filled in when needed, and the kids learned a lot. Phew!

Hero of the Month: Latrice Royale for providing a beautiful visual example of drag queens and blowing the minds of my kids!

Villain of the Month: Army ants! They took over my garden and I couldn’t weed anything without being swarmed and bit. These things will kill any animal and when they enter people’s homes people just move out until the ants have hunted everything. Bugs Life lied to me!


Highlight Reel: October 2017 

I’m back at it again with the white Vans! Wait, that’s not a thing people joke about anymore? Vine isn’t even a website now?? I’m gonna be highly out of touch when I get back so would appreciate a “two year wrap up” song/PowerPoint combo a la Liz Lemon when Avery Jessup returned from North Korea. Wait, 30 Rock isn’t on Netflix anymore?! Jesus. 

Cute and Flirty: Comfort, a little boy across the street has been coming over to my house to color for the past week or so. He’s two, so he’s only slightly better at Lunda than me, and it’s perfect! Two is just such a cute age and we sit and color for a bit before I walk him back to him mom. It’s adorable and I love it.

Something I learned from my community: Several community members have started showing me the different flora of my region, along with the different medicinal properties. The ugly weed growing from the demolished house next door? A highly nutritious leafy green! That strange, almost cactus looking tree? An anti-coagulant! And here I thought I was the one teaching them about agroforestry plants. One you start noticing this stuff you realize just how much life there is and how important and overlooked it is. It also has been a good wake up call for me as an extension agent that the solution to a problem isn’t always (or ever) introducing a new species, and that there are plenty of amazing endemic things around me if I’m just patient and listen.

Something my community learned from me: This guy just finished GRS! Me, my HIV counterpart Regan, and my translator Paddi had 27 kids graduate from the Grassroots Soccer program we started the beginning of the month with the 5th graders of my basic school’s 5A class. We tried to do a session every weekday morning, which didn’t always work out, but I am so so proud of everyone, especially my kids. We started with the second class of 5th graders at the end of this month, and you could tell by their participation that the first class had been teaching them about HIV already. Not going to lie, I got a little choked up. 

Shower Insights: I need to eat more. I absolutely hate lighting my brazier multiple times a day and thus have pretty much just been having soup packets in the morning from my thermos, some combo of fruit and peanut butter for lunch, and then cooking for dinner. I’ve feel fine, Mom! But I’m not doing great in the self esteem department, which led me to grow a mustache, but that’s another story. Anyways, I remembered that cereal is a thing, and realized I can mix baby formula in my powdered milk, and it’s changed my life. I love you, Kellogg’s™ Corn Flakes. I promise never to leave you until I get my hands on Great Grains Banana Nut Crunch.

Something That Didn’t Totally Fail: Two counterparts and I have been trying to get a bi-monthly beekeeping/Men as Partners study group going, and dang y’all getting adult men to talk about any health, much less sexual health, is really hard! But the commitment level of my counterparts has been really relieving and it’s nice having people pushing with me, even when it feels like I’m pulling teeth! We’re working through it! 

Hero(es) of the Month: [Redacted] Basic School’s Grade 5A class! So proud of you!

Villain of the Month: Time! There is never enough time in the day. Also, mortality is inevitable, but that’s a whole other level of worry. 

Highlight Reel: August & September 2017

Cute and Flirty: Mr. Business has an oral fixation, and it’s a problem. It started off with him trying to suckle at my host family’s (younger) kitten, which was all kinds of disturbing, but since she’s gone (Mwenzi isn’t dead! She’s just living with my beekeeping counterpart now) he is still at it! My bedroom blanket, my towel, the mesh insides of my athletic shorts pocket, he can’t be satisfied. I feel like it’s because kittens are generally separated too early from their mothers here, but homeboy’s gotta get it together if we’re going to snuggle! 

Something I learned from my community: That, for every bummer interaction, there are two great interactions. I had a moment where, after an extremely uncomfortable and confusing conversation about my veranda construction in Lunda, I rage ate a whole pack of strawberry flavor and stress cry in my house. It’s hard to tell if you’re getting ripped off or not when you’re not great at talking about anything but field crops… but I got ripped off. But seriously, in the time since then I have had so many favors done for me I couldn’t even dream about in the states. My house looks beautiful thanks to two next-door neighbors building me a duck pen and cementing my foundation. My friend neighbor straight up gave me all his pumpkin seeds when I casually said I wanted to find and buy some. On a similar note, me joking about how dirty my bike was lead to an acquaintance using his minimal grease to clean my chain. And man, the sheer amount of pineapples and cassava meal I have received since coming to Ikelenge. I don’t think I’ll ever live in such a communal place again, and that makes me sad. 

Something my community learned from me: I’m gonna use this section to brag on my counterparts. Regan, (who came to Peace Corps HIV workshop) and I are co-leading Grassroots Soccer with the Grade 5s at my local basic school (basic: grades K-9), along with Paddi, one of my other counterparts. Rodgers K. (who came to North-Western Province’s Men as Partners training) is gearing up to work with George (who came to Feed the Future‘s beekeeping workshop) to pair beekeeping with HIV/gender education for adult men.  And Pethias, Gilpin, and Precious (my crew for Camp TREE) beat me to the punch and are starting an environmental club at the school! Did I directly teach this material to them? Well, some, but mostly no. But it warms my heart to see how much connecting people to educational resources makes a difference and motivates people to be changemakers in their communities! I’m a big fan of Peace Corps’ emphasis capacity building, and I think this illustrates how much it can work. My peeps rock 🤘🏻

Shower Insights: My sister sent me a care package a bit ago containing, amongst other things, a camp solar shower. I foolishly forgot to use it for almost all of cold season, but finally got around to it in August and wow. It was probably the most luxurious thing that I have ever done in my whole life. I feel like no one will understand in the states, but it was just lovely and I’m not saying that because my showers sucked before (they were pretty cold, though). Also, that thing is five gallons and it was a really nice bath; we really take water availability for granted in America and squander a lot of it!

Something That Didn’t Totally Fail: In the week between IST and other trainings where I was back at site, my neighboring health volunteer Sid and I ran a joint workshop at my local basic school. I notified all my headmen, in the hopes of getting a decent crowd, but got very nervous about it being too big when my villages headman sent callers out the night before! I shouldn’t have been worried because only 23 people showed up, but 23 is actually a pretty good turnout for a workshop and everyone was very motivated. I went over different forms of compost as a supplement to commercial fertilizer, and addressed soil nutrients (ideally, you feed your soil, and your soil feeds your crops; compost feeds your soil, whereas commercial fertilizer just feeds your crops). Then Sid segued into human nutrition, and we did some fun energizers to keep people awake (it was held in the evening)! Also, a water buffalo wandered out of a semi-nearby game reserve and it was a huge deal and we stopped for a bit to go try and find it. All in all, good experience!

Hero of the Month(s): My counterparts for being amazingly motivated and supportive! 

Villain of the Month(s): The termites now living in my ceiling beams. No poison can dissuade them! But seriously, how much poison does a kid have to slap onto their ceiling to catch a break around here?? 

Highlight Reel: Community Entry 

During the first three months of service, volunteers aren’t allowed to leave their site/district, barring any health/security emergencies or provincial meetings. As it turns out, we did have a bi-annual provincial meeting in the middle of community entry; however, due to some issues with the construction of my house, I had only been at site for two weeks and didn’t have much to update. So, going along with the thread of PST, this Highlight Reel covers three months, May through July.

Cute and Flirty: Whenever I walk anywhere, little kids like to run to the road and scream “Chindeliiiiiiiiiiiii!”, which means “foreigner.” And it always makes me feel like I’m a WWE wrestler entering the ring! It is a significantly less exhilarating experience with tweens, but that’s middle schoolers for ya. The akamamas have recently been laying down the law on calling my by name recently. That’s probably good for the kids to learn, because being labeled as a foreigner is dehumanizing in every country (hard side eye at you, America). But the kids still run to the street yelling some variation of “Chindeli!” or “Nicki!” and I still feel like a WWE wrestler.
Something I learned from my community: on my second day at site, my host mother kindly told me to go out into the field and pick a pineapple to eat (to clarify: I live on a pineapple farm). I went out, and randomly picked one that looked roughly the right size. When I brought it back, everyone laughed and said “it’s not ripe!” They then gave me what I thought were instructions to only pick the red ones. Which was WEIRD, because they’re bright red when they first bloom and then turn green, but I was like “ok who am I to question the color cycle of pineapple growth.” So I pick the reddest pineapple I can get, come back, and proudly present it to my host father. He disappointedly shook his head and muttered “you don’t know anything about pineapples.”
Something my community learned from me: Not exactly my community, but I went in June to a weekend-long agriculture workshop at a health volunteer’s site in my district. I did a session about composting and double digging, which I think went pretty well for my first time (it helped that there was a translator there!) and I got to help out with the crop and livestock sessions afterwards, which were led by government officials. The whole experience gave me a lot of insights and ideas about how to run workshops, and hopefully that community got valuable information. I also got to learn more about fish farming from my other neighbor (an aquaculture volunteer), and was able to do some pond visits in my community as a result! 
Shower Insights: I’ve kind of always had this idea that speaking a second language is like buttering bread: fluid motions, little resistance, and a satisfying reward at the end. But, in reality, speaking a second language is more like someone spilling a big bag of sky blue marbles on the floor and telling you to find the one that’s cerulean. And then, once you finally find it, realizing you don’t know how to play marbles. 
Something That Didn’t Totally Fail: I have had 8 meetings with 8 villages in my catchment! Pretty much, I just explain who I am and what Peace Corps is, how I want to work on projects the community wants, answer any questions, and then do a needs assessment activity to gauge topical interest from different groups within the village (usually men and women but also youths depending on the size of the meeting). I’ve intentionally organized them independently with local headmen, and haven’t set an interpreter, because I want to be viewed as a direct line of contact and also want to practice my Chilunda. Sometimes (every time) my comprehension really screws up the vibe of the Q&A part, and oftentimes (every time) the community doesn’t understand my activity instructions right away, but it’s fun to problem solve on the fly and it’s honestly been the best part of my community entry so far. 
Well, that was embarrassing: I have been making an effort to attend local churches in order to introduce myself to the community and show respect for important community institutions. I went to one church, and everything was pretty casual, every day attire. Cool! The next week, I went to the next church down the road. I was late waking up but, knowing the dress code of the last church, just threw on my sandals, my week-old pants, and my baseball hat, and headed out the door expecting the same as last week. The only way to describe how I felt during that service is to quote the Scissor Sisters: “so I show up at the club, looking like a drowned, harassed rat.” Every man was wearing a black, three piece suit, all the woman had matching chitenge, and an usher kindly (but earnestly) asked me to please remove my hat during service. My mom refers to my hair as “alfalfa hair” when not combed, so I felt really confident standing in front of the congregation at the end of service to introduce myself! 

Highlight Reel: First Three Months

My sister used to do this thing called “Highlight Reel” every month while she was serving in Peace Corps Thailand, so now that Blogspot cruelly deleted her blog, I’ve decided to pretend like it was my idea.

Cute and flirty: I have a pretty sick farmer’s tan, as well as an utterly obscene Chaco tan. Ever seen pictures of yourself as a child and gone “I used to be so tan. Why don’t I get this tan anymore?” It’s because you never go outside anymore, you goon! The average American has spent half the time they’ll EVER be outside by the time they’re 18. That is insane, y’all! Explore this beautiful earth while it lasts and you too can look like you’re wearing sandals at all times.

Something I learned from my community: People are terrified of chameleons. They’re essentially the same thing as a black cat in western culture, and symbolize witchcraft. There’s even an idiom in Lunda that goes “there’s a chameleon on the eggplant bush” which means there is a witch in the village. Almost all cultures have relics of animism incorporated in there (spirit houses in Eastern Europe and Asia, Santeria in South American Catholicism, Druidism and Paganism in western Christian holidays), but there’s a lot of fear surrounding witchcraft and a lot of illnesses get attributed to it. I could go on a long diatribe about how this relates to missionaries and why I don’t support mission trips, but I’ll save that for another time. The point is, be nice to black cats and don’t fawn over chameleons in Zambia.

Something my community learned from me: Had a couple great (but very private) talks about homosexuality. Homosexuality is considered sodomy in Zambia and is a crime. This does not have deep roots in traditional culture, but rather a result of missionary influence. Again, not going to dive down that rabbit trail just yet, but you should watch God Loves Uganda if you haven’t already done so. Anyways, it was really nice to have those moments, and interesting that the conversations I had with Zambians have been far more open and productive than conversations I’ve had with Americans back home.

Shower insights: Bucket baths are awesome. AWESOME, I tell you! Our first couple days we were in a hotel and I had to wash myself squatted in a tub with shoes on, and I was prepared for the worst. But, oh boy. My thatched bathing shelter is just low enough for me to peel over at the sunset while I bathe and if it’s dark enough I can look up at the stars. It is so relaxing and I highly recommend it.

Something that didn’t totally fail: At site visit, my language group was staying with a PCV who was wrapping up his service. During this time, we had to teach a class in Lunda to a large group in the community (because I missed canvassing) and also to a small women’s group. We taught the large group about making compost, and then I did a little thing on tree pruning/shaping with the ladies. When I say I stumbled through, I mean STUMBLED. But guess what, everyone got the gist of what I said and everyone was really sweet. I suspect that our PCV host already did a composting workshop, and his host mom ran the show during my five minute pauses to remember the word “until.” But that’s the point, really. As extension agents, we’re pretty much here to facilitate a space where people in the community can grow the way they want to, and where people can lead from within the community. It was definitely a stress relief concerning language, which strangely isn’t fluent after three months like I thought it would be!