Things You Don’t Thing About When You Say “I Can’t Wait for Rainy Season”

  • 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. 
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Where in the World is Nick Chantiles?

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 

How to Eat Pineapple!

It’s pineapple season, y’all! And in Ikelenge, “land of the sweet pineapple,” this means that there’s makondi nankashi (a f***ton of pineapple). Fortunately for me, everyone has been super generous, and I have been gifted a lot of pineapples whenever I do meetings or field visits (also by my host family, because I live on pineapple farm). So, I’m a BIT of an expert on the matter of eating pineapple now, and thought I’d spread my maana (wisdom) and explain the three main methods I’ve observed during community entry.

Method One: The “Copa Cabana”

Step 1: select your pineapple

Step 2: cut the top off of your pineapple

Step 3: grab a spoon

Step 4: dig in and enjoy!


Potential problems: Although Method One has been observed being performed with languid ease, the non-experienced pineapple eater will find that it’s f***ing hard to eat a pineapple with a spoon.

Troubleshooting: Stab the insides of the pineapple repeatedly (works best if done after attempting with spoon only, so as to build up rage). Drain/drink juice so as to get a better look at how jacked up the pineapple now is, as you desperately attempt to rectify the situation. Upon giving up, discretely hide the remains of the pineapple in trash pit upside-down so that it appears to have been fully eaten.

Attempts: 1

Method Two: The “Ice Cream Cone”


Step 1: select your pineapple

Step 2: firmly grasp it in your hand

OPTIONAL STEP: cut off the spikey parts of the leaves to make a better handle

Step 3: cut off the base of your pineapple

Step 4: peel off the sides with your knife while maintaining hold on top

Step 5: slice off bite sized pieces at your leisure

Step 6: dig in and enjoy!

Potential problems: it is possible that, in an attempt to be cool like your village compatriots, you will try to skewer a piece, using the knife as a utensil. With this attempt, you will almost surely slice open your lip, and will receive a whopper of a canker sore several days later. More likely is that you will lose roughly twenty-five percent of your pineapple by being too eager with your slicing, and failing to grab falling pieces as both your hands are full.

Troubleshooting: Accept that you’re a big fat loser, and don’t try to be cool ever again. Another option is to use a duller knife. Discreetly cover the fallen pieces with dirt so that it appears to be fully eaten.

Number of attempts: 12

Method Three: The “Fruit Salad”


Step 1: select your pineapple

Step 2: place your pineapple on a clean surface

Step 3: cut off the the top of your pineapple, following suit with the sides and base until fully peeled

Step 4: cut into cubes

Step 5: place in a dish and serve

Step 6: dig in and enjoy!


Potential problems: Method Three most likely requires the use of several clean dishes, of which you may not feel like cleaning for just one lousy pineapple, and is also the messiest of the methods. Additionally, Method Three is lame, and reminds you of Betty Draper sadly staring out at the 1950’s suburban wasteland, wondering what it’s all for as she prepares the pineapple for some racist garden party.

Troubleshooting: use dirty dishes. Alternatively, don’t wash your dishes after. Use this method as an opportunity to drift into existential melancholy or, if ennui isn’t your thing, try and imagine how Don Draper would describe this moment in an ad pitch for canned pineapples.

Don Draper: This device isn't a spaceship; it's a time machine

Attempts: 5

Aside

Things at Site That Make Me Feel Chiwahi

  • 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.
Aside

Things at Site that Make Me Feel Chatama

  • 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.

Highlight Reel: First Three Months

My sister used to do this thing called “Highlight Reel” every month while she was serving in Peace Corps Thailand, so now that Blogspot cruelly deleted her blog, I’ve decided to pretend like it was my idea.

Cute and flirty: I have a pretty sick farmer’s tan, as well as an utterly obscene Chaco tan. Ever seen pictures of yourself as a child and gone “I used to be so tan. Why don’t I get this tan anymore?” It’s because you never go outside anymore, you goon! The average American has spent half the time they’ll EVER be outside by the time they’re 18. That is insane, y’all! Explore this beautiful earth while it lasts and you too can look like you’re wearing sandals at all times.

Something I learned from my community: People are terrified of chameleons. They’re essentially the same thing as a black cat in western culture, and symbolize witchcraft. There’s even an idiom in Lunda that goes “there’s a chameleon on the eggplant bush” which means there is a witch in the village. Almost all cultures have relics of animism incorporated in there (spirit houses in Eastern Europe and Asia, Santeria in South American Catholicism, Druidism and Paganism in western Christian holidays), but there’s a lot of fear surrounding witchcraft and a lot of illnesses get attributed to it. I could go on a long diatribe about how this relates to missionaries and why I don’t support mission trips, but I’ll save that for another time. The point is, be nice to black cats and don’t fawn over chameleons in Zambia.

Something my community learned from me: Had a couple great (but very private) talks about homosexuality. Homosexuality is considered sodomy in Zambia and is a crime. This does not have deep roots in traditional culture, but rather a result of missionary influence. Again, not going to dive down that rabbit trail just yet, but you should watch God Loves Uganda if you haven’t already done so. Anyways, it was really nice to have those moments, and interesting that the conversations I had with Zambians have been far more open and productive than conversations I’ve had with Americans back home.

Shower insights: Bucket baths are awesome. AWESOME, I tell you! Our first couple days we were in a hotel and I had to wash myself squatted in a tub with shoes on, and I was prepared for the worst. But, oh boy. My thatched bathing shelter is just low enough for me to peel over at the sunset while I bathe and if it’s dark enough I can look up at the stars. It is so relaxing and I highly recommend it.

Something that didn’t totally fail: At site visit, my language group was staying with a PCV who was wrapping up his service. During this time, we had to teach a class in Lunda to a large group in the community (because I missed canvassing) and also to a small women’s group. We taught the large group about making compost, and then I did a little thing on tree pruning/shaping with the ladies. When I say I stumbled through, I mean STUMBLED. But guess what, everyone got the gist of what I said and everyone was really sweet. I suspect that our PCV host already did a composting workshop, and his host mom ran the show during my five minute pauses to remember the word “until.” But that’s the point, really. As extension agents, we’re pretty much here to facilitate a space where people in the community can grow the way they want to, and where people can lead from within the community. It was definitely a stress relief concerning language, which strangely isn’t fluent after three months like I thought it would be!