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!