- Rain means that all the sticks and grass around your house will be wet, leaving you to crawl to your host parents every meal like a loser asking to heat your coals in their fire.
- Rain, interestingly, is the swarming season for many insects. This leads means that, sensing your presence as you draw water, a dense cloud of flies will rise up apocalyptically to engulf your head. On a more day-to-day struggle, this means you’ll wake up to winged termites on every vertical surface of your home, and go to bed to non-winged termites on every horizontal surface of your home (it also means I’m hella good at catching termites with my hands, mashing them up, and feeding it to my ducks. Worth the structural damage? No.).
- Rain clouds the sun, rendering your small solar panels ineffective and your phone dead. Nice in the theory of disconnecting, poor for the practice of keeping to schedules and appointments.
- Rain makes you nostalgic for places you’ve never been or things you’ve never done, like eating a gourmet vending machine sandwich after walking through the streets of Takamatsu. You’ll be sad for about an hour, but crave smoked salmon for days.
- Rain makes you lazy and sluggish in the morning, and creates mud on the road (and thus on your tires) as you bike sluggishly to school in the morning.
- Despite all these things, you still love being tucked under your blanket, reading a book while the rain pounds on your tin roof.
In response to the neo-nazi demonstrations and subsequent terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, Peace Corps volunteers spanning across many countries decided to create collages, made up of portraits of us holding signs supporting equality, questioning complacency, and/or condemning racism. This was deliberately done as a “by individual volunteers” action, and didn’t use any “official” Peace Corps tags or criticize any government figures. Purely coming together to denounce hate and ignorance in our world as we work to build peace and understanding globally.
Despite this, Washington deemed the pictures to be too controversial, and they have since been removed from social media as of early September. There were some absolutely great collections from various countries, and it was very disappointing to see them removed.
So, here was my contribution to the collage. You can decide for yourselves if it’s too controversial *shrugs*
About two weeks ago, I attended a beekeeping workshop in Eastern Province! I’ll show some pics of the hives in my next photo dump, but I thought I’d walk through the tour of a factory we went to!
Prior to entering: Wash your hands and put on your hair nets!
Step One: Sampling of the honey and testing for moisture content and sugar content. Honey with a moisture content above 21% is rejected and sent for wax processing. Good quality honey is added up in batches of 320 kg.
Step Three: Straining of the honey on PVC gauze filters and then using a Honey Spinner.
Step Four: Honey re-settles for approximately 14 days, and is then “skimmed” (pictured below) and filtered through a calico cloth.
Step Five: Piston filling into bottles.
Step Six: Bottle capping and labeling.
There are a lot of things I expected out of service, and being out of my village for two months was not one of them. But, if being a PCV teaches you nothing else, it is to expect absolutely nothing and roll with it. I shouldn’t be surprised, as almost every single volunteer I met during training told me “you’re going to be out of your site a ton,” to which I internally scoffed and judged them.
But the thing is, they were right. I was gone for three weeks in August for IST (a training held after your first three months at site) and intentionally did a short vacation (customary after IST) in order to get back to site quickly but also behold some of the wildlife I naively thought would be everywhere. Despite that, I was in my community a grand total of one week before zipping off Camp TREE, immediately followed by a ToT (training of trainers) on engaging adult men on HIV education, immediately followed by a beekeeping workshop, immediately followed by a CAT (Combating AIDS together) Crew (our HIV committee) meeting. Life is crazy, I’m tired, and I need to brush up on my Chilunda.
What have I learned from this? One, I overcommit to any job I work at, and will always be stressed forever. Two, this will probably continue throughout the year, as I’m leaving in two weeks to plan a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World; can you tell Peace Corps likes acronyms?) camp I’m co-leading, and I don’t even want to think about November right now. Three, because of this I have to make my work count while I’m at site, which means (surprise!) overcommitting and cramming as much as possible into the space I have.
I’m actually really excited to be so busy, and the amazing projects (led largely by amazing counterparts) coming up wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t been gone, but that does come with a bit of guilt for not being where I feel I need to and should be. I know the stuff out of site is important, but dang I just want to get stuff planted in my permagarden and watch my ducks (oh, right: I redid my garden as a permagarden demo and am buying ducks. A lot has happened and I’ve been bad about updating this blog).
Anyways, Mom (my sole viewership), I’m sure you can tell by this point that this post is more for me to declutter my mind than it is to update you. I will try to upload pictures (the bane of my blogging existence) soon!
xoxo Gossip Girl
Early on in PST, my volunteer intake gathered around to discuss how things were going in our home-stays. To my host family, volunteers were old news, and as a result I was a bit spoiled in regards to cultural whiplash. However, a female volunteer expressed being uncomfortable that her host family had discussed how many cows to sell her for, announcing that they would sell her for five. Hearing the prospect of being sold, in tandem with some pretty pushy assertion of gender expectations, this was reasonably a cause for discomfort. However, come to find out, in the Tonga majority area of western Central Province, using cattle as a bride price isn’t an uncommon practice, much as engagement rings are common in western culture. Cattle are also often used as banks, so what her host family was trying to say was essentially “you look like a million bucks.” And so the train of cultural misunderstanding left the station, the hydra of languages reared its heads, and I, distracted by trying to come up with a snappy blog post title, began to mix metaphors.
Flash forward to the present day (July 19th, 2017), and miscommunication has only increased. As shown with the example of the five cows, communication is extremely multifaceted and complex, and we often take this for granted within our own cultural norms. Metaphorical show of hands, how many of you have gotten frustrated at a non-native English speaker’s inability to communicate to you, or even been frustrated at the cultural ineptitude of people from different areas in the states (cough, people standing on the walking side of the escalator in the metro)? Can’t they just learn? Coming from the opposite perspective, yes, we can, but chovu chovu (slowly). Communication has so many components: culture, language, social status, education, etc., it can be hard to navigate!
For example, I’ve been doing door-to-door surveys in an attempt to meet everyone in my community and feel out what things people think are most important. The time of day I conduct this has had the unexpected bonus of familiarizing me more with the village women, who were largely non-participatory during my community meetings. In one particular village, I’ve also been trying to scope out a counterpart to take with me to beekeeping workshop in September. The plan was to add a question in about learning to farm honey, gauge interest, and then see how much experience they had with bees (I knew there weren’t many beekeeper in my area, but sometimes people “hunt” for honey by harvesting from wild hives). Sounded simple enough.
Wrong. Almost every time I asked the added question “would you like to learn about farming honey?” I would get a weird look and a “nehi mwani” (no thanks). Keep in mind that people generally say yes to every question I ask about wanting to learn out of politeness (not great for quantitative data, but it opens up conversations). I started to get really confused, because honey is a great supplemental income and people love sweet stuff. So, I started prying, and kept getting the answer “kosi” (there are none). What?! I have seen bees in my village and know from a volunteer up the road that there have been swarms! Why do they think there are no bees? “Mulong’a nyitondu kosi” (because there are no trees). This is even more confusing, because we’re not in the woods, but this particular village isn’t short on trees, and I know for a fact that quite a few are preferred honeybee forage.
I eventually went home to my host dad to ask him in English, and got the same response: “we don’t have.” Being comfortable enough to argue with him, I said “no, you definitely do have!” But here’s the kicker, when I rephrased and used the word “mpuka” (bee) in lieu of “wuchi” (honey), I got a totally different response from him. Yes, bees usually swarm at the beginning of the rainy season, there used to be a wild hive down the road, and he’d be very interested in learning more about building a box. And, when I learned that, I went back to survey the rest of the village using the “mpuka” and got the same level of interest as my host dad, identifying a counterpart right away.
Why was it so critical to talk about bees instead of honey? I have no freaking idea! But, I did realize a few other things. First, when talking to women, the answer was always no, because beekeeping is considered a male profession. By using the pronoun “enu” (you, which I meant as plural but can also be singular) it seemed to direct towards individuals instead of the whole household, so they said no due to that cultural norm. Second, the level of understanding of the environment is completely different than mine*. My area is largely considered not to have good trees, due to the larger prevalence of trees elsewhere in the district, and has even been used for reasoning as to why there are no wild animals here (hint: it most certainly is not). There was also an added level of misunderstanding from me in their answers, in that “kosi” could also mean “I don’t have,” depending on the sentence structure, meaning that they don’t currently keep bees, which I may have missed mulong’a nahoshang’a chilunda chanti chanti (because I suck at conversational Chilunda).
So, what started out as a disheartening experience (I was considering dropping out of the workshop), became a great learning experience for me, and is honestly the main reason I’m doing the GD survey at all. I’ve been able to pick up much better on the social dynamics of my villages, I’ve picked up some handy vocabulary, and I have figured out how to reword things to get the answers I need.
For instance, I had the question “what do you like about your village?” which was super confusing to everyone and usually resulted in talking about livestock. After some trial and error, I found that explaining that I was because Peace Corps saw something in them, and how much I wanted to work with them, then asking them if they agreed before blindsiding them with “why?” I got some great responses. Aid and development work focuses on the negative so much, sometimes it’s important to explain “no, you’re doing good stuff, I want to know what it is!”
Am I the master of communication now? No; just the other day I accidentally implied that I would be starting a school at my house and was greeted the next afternoon with 20 kids while I was outside washing my underwear. But, I’m getting there! Chovu chovu.
*This isn’t to imply that people in my community aren’t aware of environmental issues. Climate change isn’t just some far-off thing to them; it’s present in their lives. That being said, the type of awareness is different, and the lense with which natural resources are viewed is different.
- Having a man or woman excitedly tell me the plans for their farm.
- The peacefulness of getting drinking water from a natural spring and hearing the wind blow through the trees.
- Inflecting a joke the right way during a meeting and making everyone laugh.
- The first few bites of a ripe, fresh-from-the-fields pineapple.
- Being surprised by a sky full of stars at night while going outside to pee.
- The persistent loneliness that comes with moving to a new place.
- Careless insults thrown by inebriated men (or presumably sober adolescents)
- Having to give up on speaking local language mid-conversation and feeling deflated.
- The rush of jealously, quickly followed by guilt, when hearing from a fellow volunteer who is doing really well.
- The sound of mice crawling through a backpack just as the lights go off.