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Exciting News!

I’m very excited to announce that (after much patient waiting) my grant is online! My friend and fellow PCV Annikki and I are sending 22 men and women from our respective communities to attend a wonderful 5-day agricultural training in Lusaka at the end of July! Mwinilunga and Ikelenge Districts are some of the most disinvested areas in ZambiExciting a, so this training will make a huge, immediate impact in people’s lives.

Unfortunately, Peace Corps Zambia no longer has the funds to support an agricultural grant, so we will be relying on sponsorships and goodwill from our friends and family back home to make this possible! It costs roughly $450 USD to send each person, which is an unfathomable amount in Zambia. Even a relatively small amount of support could go a long way in making a difference in people’s lives.

I’m going to be posting weekly photos of the people who are attending from both mine and Annikki’s communities, and in the mean time please feel free to like/comment/share! I really appreciate it.

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Nshindwa!

Zambia has some pretty dope fruit, specifically Northwestern Province and specifically Ikelenge District if I do say so myself (I mean, we’re the land of the pineapples!). But, some of our best fruits aren’t the deliciously sweet pineapples that come around twice a year, or the mouth watering mangoes that pop up at the beginning of rainy season. Oh no, one of the best fruits you probably haven’t heard of: nshindwa.

Other names for nshindwa are “Seed of Heaven” or “Afromum,” and there are several different varieties all over the African continent. They appear right at the end of rainy season (now!) and come from a plant closely related and resembling to ginger, a plant that I use to gauge soil quality due to its love of acidic soil. To give you an idea of what nshindwa tastes like, there’s a part in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis where two of the main characters plant a piece of toffee in the ground of the still-forming world of Narnia.

The fruit was delicious; not exactly like toffee – softer for one thing, and juicy – but like fruit which reminded one of toffee.

That is how nshindwa tastes, except with ginger instead of toffee! It was a little weird getting used to when I first tried it, because American ginger products do not have the strong flavor of actual ginger. But now I’m obsessed!

Anyways, here’s a step by step instruction on how to eat nshindwa:

Step One: Locate the Nshindwa

Step Two: Grab That Bad Boy Before the Kids See!

Step 3: Bite to Crack the Shell (Peel? IDK, the Outside Part)

Step 4: Bask in the Glory of those Seeds of Heaven

Step 5: Dig In, But Be Classy About It!

Side Note: I normally don’t look like this! This is my gardening look! Zambians normally bathe twice a day and take a lot of pride in their appearance (when they are not in the fields) and while I’m not nearly that hygienic, I do bathe every day, and try to look nice when I’m not puttering around my house!

I’m wearing my gardening clothes and covered in dirt because I’m currently trying to mulch a termite mound around my house (yes, the huge hill behind me in those photos is not even the top level of a termite mound). Termites also like acidic soil, hence the abundance of nshindwa! Below is a picture of me getting ready to bathe. I look super cute.

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“‘It’s our own fault,’ he wept. ‘We are the Guardians of the Ocean, and we didn’t guard it. Look at the Ocean, look at it! The oldest stories ever made, and look at them now. We let them rot, we abandoned them, long before this poisoning. We lost touch with our beginnings, with our roots, our Wellspring, our Source. Boring, we said, not in demand, surplus to requirements. And now, look, just look! No colour, no life, no nothing. Spoilt!”

-Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories

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!

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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. 

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Featured Video: ‘The Story of Bottled Water’

Trash services here are virtually, if not totally, non-existent in most towns and villages. I have a rubbish pit behind my house, and once that is full it’ll be covered with soil until everything breaks down. This probably worked well in the past, but the prevalence of plastic means that, when digging my garden (a former rubbish pit, I am knee deep in plastic wrappers and bottles that adamantly refuse to decompose for another couple hundred years or so (note: this is essentially a mini version of an American landfill).

The interesting thing is, people used to use better equipment. I’ve seen pictures and heard of beautiful hand-made clay pots that people used to carry water in, or store food in. There’s actually a way of refrigerating food in those pots, in which you put a small one inside another one and fill the space with sand. I don’t think Zambian people would use the term “ice cold,” but the water would be as cold as from a mountain stream, and the pots would keep food fresh for days, even weeks. “What happened to those pots?” I’ve asked many times. The answer is simple: they were told the pots were backwards, that plastic was modern and the way forward and more sustainable. People wanted that, and gradually people stopped making them, and eventually forgot how to make them at all. Now, after just a few decades, the elders will tell you that the young children today wouldn’t even know what the pots were if they saw them. And the “modern, sustainable” plastic? It breaks, and gives way, and it doesn’t preserve food, but it’s waste will be littered across the landscape for centuries.

Anyways, while this video focuses solely on plastic water bottles, it really makes you think about how much plastic waste is out there in the world! Reducing, reusing, and recycling is key to conserving our resources and making this world somewhere we can happily live in.

P.S. Many stores (MOMs, for example) make an effort to use biodegradable packaging whenever possible. Consumer purchases have a huge effect on how companies conduct business, so please support biodegradable/compostable packing!