TED Talk: How Trees Talk to Each Other

Dating back until at least middle school, I have wished I could see time lapse footage of root movement in a forest. Specifically, when my dad told me we couldn’t plant a Weeping Willow in our backyard because of their knack for finding water pipes and bursting them, it just seemed to me that trees weren’t nearly as static as we think they are. This thought was later built upon when I took an ecology and evolution summer class in college, and my professor explained that the trees are constantly fighting one another for sunlight, albeit so slowly that humans do not perceive it without something like time lapse.

So, these ideas had been on my radar for some time. However, when my sister sent me this video just prior to my departure, it blew my mind. It was exciting and magical, while tragically hopeless and sad about what we have destroyed.


If you found this interesting, there is a very interesting book that takes this topic from another interpretation: that the fungi (closer in DNA to animals than plants) is actually farming/herding the trees. It is called Mycelium Running, and while I have been unable to find a copy in Zambia I have heard a lot of great things about it from an impassioned fellow volunteer.


What To Do When Kids Call Me “Chindeli”

  • Should I screech my bike to a halt and step towards the side to the road, so as to terrify the children while retaining the excuse of “oh, I was just going to go talk to them!”
  • Should I replace the word “chindeli” with the more amicable sounding “boss”? After all, it’s widely used and recognizable to their ears.
  • Although, that would simply be replacing one racial moniker for a more privileged one, wouldn’t it? Because “boss” did historically refer to white colonists, leaving black Zambians with the subservient “boy.”
  • Do I continue trying to teach “what is your name,” a phrase that grated my nerves in Chipembi, as an alternative to “chindeli, how are you?!”
  • Are the two really that different? Is it simply the frequency that makes me grit my teeth and mutter “these fuuuuucking bra- little blessings”?
  • Do I turn a cold shoulder and hope they understand my waspish passive aggression?
  • Or do I simply turn, plaster a (hopefully minimally) annoyed smile on my face, and wave as if to say “yes, it is I: chindeli. Behold my magnificent sunburn!”

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!


Photo Dump: Everywhere But Ikelenge

I have a crapton of catching up to do! Sorry for the absence of updates, which has turned my blog into a glorified Goodreads account. Enjoy these pictures from August and September!


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. 

When Life Gives You Lemons, Squeeze Them In Your Eyes to Give You an Excuse for Crying 

Sometimes life gets overwhelming and you feel like a volcano about to erupt or, in my case, a deadly pyroclastic flow. Through the haze of it all the ash (yes, I am going to milk this metaphor for all it’s worth) it can be hard to see everything else around you. In these times, it’s nice when friends remind you to take a step back a reasses from afar. Today, I spent my day painting all my furniture a calming blue and charged my iPod just enough to play some tunes. It was nice, even though I got blue paint on two of my favorite articles of clothing. 

I really miss Steven Universe, one of my favorite shows, and so it was nice when this song popped up. And I feel like my iPod is trying to tell me I need to be more mindful. 

Touring a Zambian Honey Factory 

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. Buckets of honey in corners allocated to 1) unsorted, 2) high quality, and 3) low quality and/or high moisture

Step Two: Good quality batch is warmed in a water bath at 40-45 degrees Celsius for five hours.The hot water bath used to liquefy honey comb and sort impurities.

Step Three: Straining of the honey on PVC gauze filters and then using a Honey Spinner.Three factory workers posing in front of the honey strainer
Step Four: Honey re-settles for approximately 14 days, and is then “skimmed” (pictured below) and filtered through a calico cloth. The quality assurance manager explaining the skimming process
Step Five: Piston filling into bottles.Piston pumping the honey from a storage container into bottles
Step Six: Bottle capping and labeling. Rows of honey ready for distribution

For high