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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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. 

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!

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. 

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 

Status

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 

TED Talk: ‘Don’t Insist on English!’

Something that makes me sad about being here is that upward mobility in rural Zambia is largely determined by your ability to speak English. You could be a science or math wiz, but if you’re not great at English, your chances of furthering your education are significantly diminished. And, whether intentionally or not, volunteers do enforce this. I’ve largely had to choose English speaking counterparts for trainings due to my own limited proficiency, including a rather heartbreaking moment where I had to pass up a great counterpart because there was no translator for that particular workshop. And our rural education program is being pushed to focus solely on TESOL (teaching English as a second language), rather than teacher training or building upon other subjects. However, language proficiency isn’t a determinant of intelligence!