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!