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.

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Highlight Reel: January 2018

2 years ago, Nick visited me in Thailand and I had him guest blog for me about our trip together. Today he is returning the “favor” as I, Carissa, write his highlight reel for him. He has asked me to post the pictures separately, so don’t worry, there is more to come.

Cute and flirty:  When Nick was first taking geography in high school he told me about this pool on top of Victoria Falls. He said that during a certain season, the water was low enough that people could sit in the pool and look over the edge. I’m not sure exactly how it started, but we made a plan to one day go on a trip through Central Africa. Our plan back then was a tad over-zealous but this past month we did actually get to see parts of it through. #dreamsreallydocometrue

Something Ilearned from Nick’s community: I got to learn about so many things! Here’s a few highlights…

  1. Traditional Zambian beekeeping methods from George…. Bee hives are placed inside of logs which are then elevated off the ground and almost entirely sealed to keep out predators (like honey badgers!)
  2. How to make pineapple wine from Nick’s host mom… It’s a good way to cut down on food waste too! You just use pineapples that are starting to go bad, dice ‘em up, boil them with sugar, and then put them in a bucket to sit for a few weeks.
  3. New gardening techniques from Nick and Kelsi
  4. That there is a kind of leaf that tastes like strawberries
  5. I also learned, from camping near a river, that hippo calls sound like a giant is sneezing

Something Nick’s community learned from me: I made Thai food for Nick’s host family and not only did they eat it all, his host mom asked for the recipes.

Shower insights: If you are someone who read my blog when I was in Thailand you probably know this already BUT wow! I LOVE bucket showers!

Something that didn’t totally fail: Nick and I weren’t really sure what we should expect to see during our safari time in Botswana. Since most of the big animals disappear into the bush during rainy season, we prepared to see mostly birds. But the sun was shining down on us (literally and figuratively) and we ended up seeing two prides of lions, over 100 elephants, an African fox, countless impalas, 10+ giraffes, ostriches, wildebeest, zebras, flamingos, warthogs, hippos, a couple kinds of hornbills, baboons, vervet monkeys, etc. So many animals!

Hero of the month: It’s hard to pick a hero when so many people were so nice and thoughtful and kind.

Villain of the month: Nick lined up a taxi driver to pick us up and take me to the airport on my last day in Zambia. It was kind of a hassle to arrange, from what I gathered, and we were pushing it a little close to the time limit with how late we were leaving. So the taxi driver pulls up and we climb into his car. About 200 feet into our trip to the airport the car stops moving. There were some ruts in the road right there so Nick asked if we should get out and push the car; assuming the car was stuck. Nope. Dude had run out of gas. And he wanted us to just sit there and wait while his friend went to the gas station. At least I got a little exercise in during the ensuing scramble to get to the airport on time.

Since this is me as a guest on Nick’s blog, am I allowed to name Donald Trump as the other villain of the month for calling African countries “shithole countries?” Very enlightened and diplomatic guy, that one.

Highlight Reel: December 2017

Cute and Flirty: This month, I co-directed Camp GLOW for the Lundas! While at camp, in between sleep deprivation and emotional turmoil, I de-stressed by dancing with the kids. As far as I know, people in Zambia aren’t very aware that I don’t dance like a typical dude, but I think I was extra femme for this camp! Either way, I got a lot of compliments on my dancing (I think more for my enthusiasm than my actual skills).

Something I learned from my community:That people like me! They really like me! I had been very unsure of this, but we had a praise wall at GLOW and I got some very sweet messages in my box. It’s nice to hear from people that they see you trying! I was very touched.

Something my community learned from me:At GLOW (yes, all I did this month was GLOW) I led a mentor session on facilitation skills, and group sessions on alcohol abuse and goal setting/future planning. I’m probably most proud of the facilitation skills session out of anything I did in the whole camp, because it was so visible that mentors took it to heart and were practicing those skills with the girls. My alcohol abuse and future planning sessions all incorporated a small group component, and the mentors slayed in regards to facilitating discussions and encouraging participation!

Shower Insights:I made the difficult decision to leave CAT Crew, the HIV committee in was a part of since August. Essentially, I’ve been out of my site a ton, and I just felt like I wasn’t adequately able to do both roles (of committee member and volunteer) well. So I’m gone! Which (tying it back) I guess gives me more time to shower at my site, or at least attempt to repair it before it inevitable collapses into my toilet.

Something That Didn’t Totally Fail: A good friend and I co-directed the Lunda volunteers’ Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) this year! I for some reason thought that it would be fun to write the grant for and co-direct a camp, and I was wrong! That was definitively the most stressful thing I’ve done in Peace Corps, if not my whole life. Case and point, I went from smoking an occasional cigarette to blowing through two packs in two days and then weaning myself off through mass amounts of coffee (which I almost never drink normally). But you know what? The girls and mentors got a lot out of it, and I’m really proud of them! I’m also so grateful to Steph for running an awesome camp spite of me!

Hero of the Month:Mr. Business for holding down the fort and killing those mice while I’ve been away.

Villain of the Month:The Peace Corps assigned dentist who keeps telling me that a recent dental issue can be fixed with buying a new toothbrush. I have bought four different toothbrushes lady, it ain’t that.

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. 
BONUS:
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!