Highlight Reel: September 2018

Cute and flirty: My friend Sam came to visit me in Ikelenge all the way from Kasempa! For those not up to date on their Zambian geography, Kasempa District is in the heart of the Kaonde region of North-western Province, and it’s a huge pain getting from one region to another (hence why I have never been and probably never will be further into the Kaonde area than Solwezi). We chilled, watched The Princess and the Frog with my host family, and had a picnic at the source of the Zambezi River, which is located in my district but which I have never been to before. What is cuter than that? Nothing.

Something I learned from my community: I went to Chisemwa Cha Lunda at the end of September, which literally translates to “Lunda Culture” and is (you guessed it) a cultural festival for the Lunda tribe held in the Kanong’esha Chiefdom. The festival didn’t go… quite as I’d hoped it would go (aka I missed a lot of the cultural performances, which was the whole reason I went), but still a memorable experience! Lunda and Luvali culture is very rich, vibrant, beautiful, and not appreciated or preserved nearly enough.

Something my community learned from me: I’ve officially launched a new workshop series with a women’s group I work with! It’s very haphazardly modeled after Wangari Maathai’s incredible “Green Belt Movement” in Kenya, although if you know anything about that you’ll know I could never come anywhere close to that. Essentially, I’m going to hold three meetings going over three different cycles (the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and the carbon cycle), and through that we’ll go over why trees are vital to those cycles. If a woman has come to two out of the three meetings, she gets x amount of assorted tree seeds from me. Then I check up with those women after three months, and they get 50 ng’wee (think 50 cents) per live seedling in her nursery. We had the first meeting (the water cycle) at the beginning of the month, and I’m hoping to do nitrogen cycle sometime in October! I’m also thinking about offering 1 kwacha (think $1 for reference) per indigenous seedling as an incentive for the women to collect native trees, but I’m not sure yet!

Shower insights: You know how sometimes you just get so used to something that you’re only critical towards it? That was how I was feeling about my service. And then I went and saw the source of the Zambezi, and it just hit me that, you know what? I have lived her for over a year, and there is still so much to discover in this little district. And so much beauty, and it was such a powerful and uplifting realization. Thanks, Zambezi River!

Hero of the month: The women’s group I work with! They have made my service infinitely more rewarding, are always motivated, always show up, and always inspire me.

Villain of the Month: [Redacted]

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Highlight Reel: August 2018

Cute and flirty: Kind of sad entry, but Ikelenge Crew is gone! Sid completed her two years, and Jacqs is moving on to bigger and better things as the new provincial leader in Central Province. Also, the extension volunteer in our district wrapped up his time as well. So it’s just little old me in Ikelenge now! Why is this cute and flirty? Because I got to spend some quality time with my besties in Solwezi before they left the province for good, and Sid and Jacqs dancing epitomize cute and flirty, respectively 😉

Something I learned from my community: Did you know that if your chickens have stomach and/or intestinal worms, you can cure them by feeding them papaya seeds? Well, now you do! Just give them roughly three to five seeds per day until you start seeing dead worms in their feces. Us westerners have a tendency to crap on traditional medicines (and rightly so with rhino horns), but I find it so fascinating!

Something my community learned from me: At the end of August I attended Camp GLOW 2018, and thank goodness I was not the director this year! Hashtag never again. This year I led sessions on nutrition and substance abuse. The nutrition lesson was so much fun; I led a food group game outside, and afterwards my friend Ashley did a cooking demo for banana bread. In Zambia, everyone is taught three food groups (Go: carbohydrates, Grow: proteins, and Glow: vitamins/minerals) and banana bread has all three of those. Plus, it’s delicious and a good IGA (income generating activity)! The substance abuse activity was less fun and ran pretty long, but I’ve grown very passionate about this issue, and addiction isn’t something that is properly explained or widely understood. Did I already mention I didn’t have to right the grant or direct the camp?

Shower Insights: Remember how I complained about how cold it was in May-June? I’m reaping what I sewed. It is so freaking hot right now. Like, I’ll be in a terrible mood and I’ll have to ask myself “am I actually upset/stressed or am I just over heated?” Then I’ll take a bath and yup! It’s the heat. Instantly feel better. Come on rain!

Hero of the month: Podcasts! For keeping me distracted enough to keep gardening and thus take fewer breaks.

Villain of the Month: The goats that ate the avocado tree I’d lovingly raised from a seed. Twice! They waited for it to regenerate and ate it again. They subsequently got trapped in my duck pen and broke the fence in panic, but I’m less mad about that.

Highlight Reel: July 2018

Cute and flirty: Jacqs and Sid (my Peace Corps neighbors and subsequent besties) are both leaving the district in search of greener pastures soon. I’m a little bit kabit sad, but we went out in style! Sid, Jacqs, and George all came to my house, and we made a huge southern food feast for my host family! We went all out. Like, slaughtered, butchered, and fried two chickens, made sweet tea, mac n’ cheese, and collard greens, the works. All on my little charcoal brazier. Yes, I may not have had the upper body strength to humanely kill the chicken (don’t worry, George did it; the chicken didn’t feel anything); yes, I may have had a mild panic attack once I realized I had no idea how to guy a chicken or where it’s bike duct was; yes, I forgot to put bread crumbs on to the mac n’ cheese. But it was all worth it! And super fun.

Something I learned from my community: I had the opportunity to interview my counterpart George’s parents for a survey through World Wildlife Fund regarding climate change crowd sourcing. Essentially, WWF wants to hear from people in rural areas about how they’re noticing and being affected by climate change. It was really interesting speaking to elders in the community about how much has changed since they were young. Increased wind, increased temperature extremes during cold and hot season and massively increased rainfall in the rainy season, increased seasonal variability, all things I had seen on throughout my time here but not on the scale of a lifetime. It was honestly pretty disturbing and very immediate, as all those changes can be detrimental to an agriculture based community.

Something my community learned from me: A fellow volunteer wrote a RUMP grant for volunteers to implement in their communities and I was one of those volunteers! What is RUMP? Reusable menstrual pads. Most women in rural Zambia don’t have access to products like diva cups, pads, or tampons, and (like most of the world) periods are very stigmatized and not spoken about. Did you know that studies have shown 3 in 10 girls aren’t told about periods until they actually get one? For such a normal process! Crazy. Anyways, the grant provided absorbent cloth, chitenge fabric, needles, threads, and buttons to make pads that can be changed and washed, and they are really neat! It was a really fun project; I got to demonstrate how bad I am at sewing, everyone (including myself) had a good laugh at me trying to talk about periods and menstrual health in broken Chilunda with no translator, and I gained so much respect for the women in my community and how selfless and resilient they are. As Michael Scott would say, win-win-win!

Shower insights: I think it’s finally happened. I think I’m tired of eating pasta, powdered milk, ketchup, and soya for dinner every night. It has gotten old. Will I stop? Probably not; it takes zero time and effort to make! But I have had a recurring dream about salad, so get ready America. Also, I eat so much peanut butter that I honestly can’t tell if it actually tastes like anything anymore?

Something that didn’t totally fail: The Kasisi Agricultural Training happened this month! Thanks to everyone’s donations, Annikki and I were able to send 21 counterparts down to Lusaka Province for a 5-day training on sustainable agriculture and conservation farming. They learned in depth about minimum tillage, composting (microflora ftw!), crop diversification, green manures, and integrated pest management! Also, thanks to an outpouring of support, not only were we able to be fully funded, we even had leftover money for all the trainees to purchase seeds and seedlings while in Lusaka. This is a big deal, as many seeds are unavailable in our neck of the woods.

The travel day was a little chaotic, as we ran into some trouble pulling out the funds in Mwinilunga (see the villain of the Month), but we managed to get enough money pulled out in Mwinilunga and I made a surprise trip to Solwezi, sprinted to the ATM to pull out the rest, and then sprinted back to hand it over to my counterpart just before the bus pulled out for Lusaka. Nothing says “Peace Corps grants” like unforeseen complications and extra adrenaline! Anyways, very happy for everyone who went and grateful to everyone who made it happen.

Hero of the month: Everyone who donated to my grant, shared my social media posts, or otherwise supported my efforts. I’m so incredibly proud to be surrounded by such supportive people in my life, and Annikki’s and my counterparts are so appreciative for your sponsorship.

Villain of the Month: The ATM in Mwinilunga that said it couldn’t complete my transactions, but then told my bank account that it had. RIP money.

Highlight Reel: June 2018

Cute and flirty: I’ve started watching movies with my host family sometimes, which in and of itself has been pretty cute. I’m trying to avoid any movies that glorify gun violence, but I guess sword violence is somehow ok because the first movie we watched was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We’ve also watched Black Panther, A Bug’s Life, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the first 30 seconds of The Lion King before I was asked to put something else on, and… Moana. Oh my gosh Moana. I had seen Moana before (I arrived in NWP right as it took the volunteer community by storm), but I hadn’t appreciated it until I watched it with my host family. In Moana, people have thatched roofs, they wear the equivalent of chitenge, they play the drums, they fish, they have darker skin tones and broad noses, and at no point in the movie is that ever looked down upon. It’s celebrated, and their culture is celebrated. Future and Ketty were literally dancing for the whole movie, and even the family members who don’t speak English told me “that was a really nice story” when we were done. It’s easily one of my favorite movies now.

Something I learned from my community: Mario (my host brother) taught me how to make bricks! It was actually pretty easy, theoretically. You dig next to a termite mound, because termites love building mounds out of pure clay, then you dump a ton of water on it until it’s mid, then you plop the mud into a mould and let it sundry. Easy, right? No. Mario works really fast and I was messing up the water-to-clay ratio on the bricks, so they were either too dry/sticky and would break off or too wet and would turn into a blob. I then tried to be the one digging/carrying the clay, but I kept slipping in the mud. Mario was super patient, but I think we were both read for me to knock off after about an hour and a half of that.

Something my community learned from me: Ok so I actually did do real work in June, but none of that is as weird and concerning cool as my doll project! It all started with me wanting to teach the girls how to make corn husk dolls for themselves, since boys often make toy cars but I don’t see girls with very many toys. So, I had the kids collect maize husks (hard to do in a community where we don’t actually grow that much maize) in exchange for sweeties. Then I invited all the girls in my village over and we made the dolls! It was super cute. Then things spiraled a bit out of control. I’d been hoarding all of this cardboard because, when you’re forced to confront how much trash you create on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis, you try to up-cycle more. But the thing was that I hadn’t actually done anything with the cardboard. Sooooo whenever I’m bored I sit in my house, listen to podcasts, and make paper dolls. I’m eventually gonna give the paper dolls away to the kids, I swear!

Shower insights: What’s my go-to shower song right now? “Screwed” by Janelle Monet feat. Zoë Kravitz. It’s dope.

Hero of the Month: Jacqs, for being my bud and making me food when I’m frustrated and having goofy/nerdy conversation with me!

Villain of the Month: My body, for giving up on me and making me double-dragon for the second time in my service.

Highlight Reel: May 2018

Cute and flirty: My Peace Corps baby turns one this month! Baby Ketty was born within a week of me moving to Ikelenge District, and she isn’t so little anymore. She’s a full-blown toddler and it is so wild to me how quickly these kiddos grow up.

Something I learned from my community: Dust devils are thought to be apparitions of ghosts in folklore! But it’s super chill and no one is bothered by it. It’s like magical realism but in real life, and I love it. Also, there’s an old story about a woman (I don’t quite know if she’s a goddess or some other mythical creature) who sleeps by one of the rivers in my district. When she wakes up and decides to shift to the other river, she makes the ground shake by her movement. Earthquakes don’t really happen here, so she’s been sleeping for a while. I have always loved mythology, whether it be Egyptian, Greek, Celtic or what-have-you, so it was very cool to learn some old Lunda mythology and folklore!

Something community learned from me: Third camp of my service, Camp BRAVE (Boys Respecting and Valuing Everyone), formerly Camp ELITE (???), and BROS (Boys Respecting Others and Self) in other areas, happened in my province this month. I finally got to take my good friend Paddy, along with two wonderful Grade 6 boys I taught GRS to back in November 2017. I didn’t run this camp, but I did teach sessions on facilitation skills, power and privilege, and gender based violence. I feel a little silly sitting on my high horse talking about sexual assault when America also has a long way to go in that regard, but we had some very meaningful talks about it and I think we all left thinking more critically about something that is very pervasive in our societies. I was also very proud of the boys being able to identify privilege. These kids deserve a lot more than they receive and I’m passionate about giving them the ability to advocate for themselves and recognize injustices.

Shower insights: I do not remember it being this cold last cold season. It is cold. I take cold baths, usually in the evening, and it has been a struggle to motivate myself to be clean. I guess I should enjoy it while it lasts before hot season?

Hero of the Month: My friends George, Annikki, Jacqs, and Maddie for making mid service conference in Lusaka (somewhat) bearable.

Villain of the Month: PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Office) times 100. Oof! Just a complete mess. The day where I can have more say over my own medical providers can not come soon enough.

Highlight Reel: April 2018

Rainy season’s last hurrah! For most of this month I was wishing rainy season would end so I could start working more, but now that it’s slowing down I’m realizing how much I’ll miss it! Anyways, here’s some stuff that happened.

Cute and flirty: What is cuter than ducklings?! Definitely not dead ducklings. Jujubee laid nine eggs, I ate five, and three hatched (the rotten egg is sitting in my house because I’m a hoarder and think I’ll do some sort of kids education with it eventually?). One was immediately crushed by RuPaul (the daddy duck; all my ducks are named after drag queens), one died from unknown causes, and one almost drowned. The drowning survivor later went missing. The life of a duckling is perilous. But they were so cute while they lasted! Future is also super cute by saying “lusesa mwani BaNaka!” (sorry, BaNaka!) whenever he passes where we buried Baby BaNaka.

Something I learned from my community: I get a lot of flack from the ladies in my compound (Mwazie, Prudence, and Flora) about how I do laundry! Admittedly, I hate washing clothes; I’m bad at it, it takes forever, and I half-ass it. Zambian women, on the other hand, make a laundry machine look foolish (although people here still deserve laundry machines)! They’re out there wringing and scrubbing in one fluid motion while I’m completely slowly-but-surely missing stains and scrubbing a hole in my boxers. Needless to say I’m still learning!

Additionally… this month my friends Mario and Rodgers helped me propagate sugarcane from cuttings! It was super fun, and I’ve got sugarcane popping up all over the place now! And Mario spent his only day off (he works very long hours six days a week at a construction job) to walk me to the family’s woods patch and teach me about native trees. So I’ve been learning a lot from people.

Something my community learned from me: While I haven’t been having luck with workshops (people are very busy in their fields this time of year), I have had some really wonderful informal education conversations! While planting sugarcane, I had to kill a snake hidden in the grass (most snakes in Zambia are highly venomous so you don’t want to take a chance if it’s close enough to bite you) and got to do what I miss doing: teaching people about snakes. I had dinner with Silver, a neighbor of mine, and we got to talk about soil fertility and green manures. I spotted a chameleon on the road and forced all the kids hanging around my compound to sit with me while I talked about it and then re-home it. I’ve been doing semi-regular story times at my house and am trying to get kids who can read English to read Little House in the Big Woods with me. Things are great! Sticking around my community and finding your niche has really worked for me, and I plan on keeping it up for the next year.

Shower insights: I’ve heard two really good nuggets of wisdom this month: “the only person you should compare yourself to is past versions of yourself” and “you don’t have to do it well, you just have to get it done.” The former I am employing in my ongoing mission of self reflection and growth, and the latter I am applying to finishing mulching the termite mound by my house!

Something that didn’t totally fail: First, let me begin with something that did totally fail. I had wanted to do a chicken vaccination program in my village this month, because April sees a huge resurgence of Newcastles Disease every year and it can decimate a chicken population. I’d thought everyone would be on board, no problem, but no one was interested in being my counterpart for the project. So, I went to a neighboring village where I knew people were already implementing good chicken keeping practices and pitched it to local leadership. They were on board! They asked someone to be my counterpart and he worked extremely hard to get a total count of all the chickens in the village so we could get the right quantity of vaccine.

But, when we held the meetings, there was a lot of apathy from most people and a lot of people didn’t attend. This was not good, as all the chickens in an area need to be vaccinated for it to be affective. People who attended got excited, but not enough people were attending. I tried holding three meetings, and on the third I had to make the call that it just wasn’t going to work. I was so frustrated! I thought I’d done everything right, involved local leadership, worked with a counterpart, based the project off of community feedback, all of it, involved the district’s Department of Livestock, and people just weren’t responding. It sucked.

Anyways, I got home and was really upset and after talking to my host sister Mwazie walked through the pineapple fields to the river to get some air. At this point I should mention that I’ve been trying to get kids to slash my grass for me in front of my house, in return for me paying their school fees, but the kids just haven’t gotten around to it (this isn’t laziness; people will say yes to stuff they don’t want to do because it’s considered very impolite to say no to something, and whatever subtle indicator there is in Lunda culture I have been unable to pick up on it). So a lot of things were just piling up. But, when I returned, all six of the kids I spoke to were slashing. Mwazie had talked to them for me and they realized it was important to me. And one of my neighbors came over and sat with me for a while because he’d seen me looking unhappy on the road, and we talked about chickens and life for a while. It was one of the most heartwarming moments I’ve had here and it still makes me a little emotional thinking about it.

Hero of the month: Mwazi, for keeping my head cool.

Villain(s) of the month: 1. Whichever animal ate Raven, one of my adult female ducks. Sad day.

2. Peace. Corps. Grants. Online. Ooooo if I could murder software system I would! Annikki’s and my grant is still not online, putting us a month behind on fundraising!

Highlight Reel: March 2018

Cute and flirty: It’s always about my kids! “Flirty” is dead. Featured this month are Daniel and Future, two toddlers that I’ve been spending a crazy amount of time with this past month as they’re currently staying with my host family. My bike has officially turned into those coin-operated rides in front of grocery stores that rock back and forth while children pretend to drive, we play so much “paddy cake” that they know the words in English by heart, and we loooooooooove tickles! Probably cutest of all us how obsessed they are with my cat and ducks, and they always want to help feed them.

Something I learned from my community: This section is going to have two things because I’m an idiot and did some fluffy thing about integration last month instead of the most important thing if all: I learned that I should be weeding with my hoe. Like a complete idiot, I have been weeding everything by hand because I thought uprooting the weeds would be less work long term. Incorrect. Zambian farmers had it right the whole time by hoeing the weeds along the path, and an hours-long job took about 10 minutes.

Back to this month, I’ve been mulching the termite mound by my hill to prepare for dry season, as I’d like to demo mulching as opposed to field burning as an alternative to increasing soil fertility, and I think it would be a huge ask to tell risk-averse people to do that without getting to see it first! Anyways, my hoe broke. My precious, big-ass hoe. Problem. But my good friend and host brother Mario very easily fixed it by melting plastic and dripping it into the loose parts. Worked like a charm; my hoe is as good as new! And to think that my first thought was throwing away a perfectly fixable how and buying a new one. Thanks to Mario for being the innovative handyman in my life when I’m derping and wondering where the closest Home Depot is.

Something my community learned from me: *crickets* I think this was more of a learning and setting-things-up month for me! Yup, that’s the excuse I’m going to use.

Shower insights: A dear friend recently sent me this article about being present for your friends, and I absolutely love it. It was a nice reminder for me to be more attentive to what my friends want and need from me.

Something that didn’t totally fail: Annikki and I are organizing a large-scale agricultural training at Kasisi Agricultural Training Center for 13 people in my community and 10 people in hers. My initial plan was to sent 50 people from my community, but that amounted to roughly 20,000 USD for the workshop alone so we’re not doing that! Instead, I asked the headmen from each of the 6 villages I work with to select two names (one man and one woman) and get back to me. I’m interviewing those nominees, translating them into English (god help me), and going to post them online shortly for people to sponsor! It has been a crazy process, but I’m really excited about it and you’ll be seeing a crap-ton about it on my social media shortly when I begin fundraising.

Hero of the month: Mario! For always supporting my ideas, spending time with me, and being a good friend.

Villain of the month: Grass. Specifically, the razor-sharp blades of grass that keep slicing my hands open when I try to mulch.