Every Evening in Siambele

As the day’s hot unforgiving sun fades into the maize fields on the horizon in Siambele Village, a cool respite takes over the farm and I walk into the chikuta. The mud bricks in the worn and well-used kitchen are blackened from years of open wood fires that have been keeping 18 people fed, washed and warm. The grass thatch roof has seen better days; patches of new thatch are scattered in random spots, shoved into the old grass wherever there was a leak. A large pot of water is on the roaring fire, waiting to boil in preparation for that night’s meal.

I take my spot next to the fire perched on my small, wooden wobbly 8 inch stool. Carved especially for me and my large American bottom, it’s the newest by many years and one of the few that aren’t broken. As I watch through the large open window of the chikuta, the sun’s remaining light completely disappears from the horizon. Bamaama comes in and the baby is quickly plopped into my waiting lap.

Rushing in and out of the chikuta, the entire family is focused on finishing chores before nightfall envelopes the farm. Everyone is chattering, the eldest sister yelling at the younger siblings to ensure everything is completed and in order for tomorrow’s work. The older sisters are washing the toddlers, dirty and dusty from a day roaming, exploring and playing on their own. The boys are still running around with their sling shots, hoping to shoot bats with small pebbles. Bamamaa is completing her business with the neighbors, hoping to sell the last of her spare vegetables. Batataa is sitting outside the chikuta, trying to get reception on his short wave radio that has a broken antenna.

I sit with the baby, enjoying the hustle and bustle. A sister comes in with clean clothes and hands them to me, it’s my job to dress the baby. I complete my task while the toddlers trickle in, shiny and clean from their baths. As I check the pot on the fire, I let the sisters know that it is boiling and ready for mealie meal to be added. Every night, we eat the same thing, nshima, a hard boiled ground maize concoction. All carbs, it’s not meant to taste appetizing, it’s meant to fill you up so you don’t feel hungry. But if you have nshima, you are lucky. After a tough harvest, most in the village only have small, plain, boiled sweet potatoes to eat.

As the family settles in from a long busy day, Bamaama, the girls, me and the toddlers sit inside the chikuta. Bataata and the brothers sit outside. The larger portion of food is divided up and served to them, a strong signal to the entire family that boys are worth more than girls, even though girls outnumber them 3 to 1. I get served next, since I’m the American guest they have been tasked with taking care of. I always ensure that I take only a small bit of vegetables so that the others have plenty to fill their empty bellies. We eat and chat about our day in a combination of English and Chitonga, the local language that only 1 million people in the world speak. 

We all finish and our empty plates are collected and placed into a large bucket that is then placed in the rafters of the chikuta. It’s too dark, so the dishes will be cleaned in the morning. The solar lantern that my grandparents brought on a recent trip is brought out and turned on. Some of the girls have school work that they need to work on. I’m lucky that, even though the boys are deemed more important, my Bataata has ensured that all of the girls go to school to get an education. He sees the power of being educated, especially in a rural community, and Bamaama ensures the funds are there to make it a reality each school year.

Bataata and the boys come in, so we can all discuss our day together and finish with a family prayer. We pray for our health, the harvest, our school work and even my family in America. I’m not a religious person, but I’ve come to enjoy this ritual. Despite all our of differences, in this moment, we all become people, just trying to survive this tough, challenging world. We retire to our own houses, quickly fall asleep and wake up to another day that will end the same way as all the previous days.

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a journal entry: 3 Aug 2008

10 years ago, I was in Peace Corps in Zambia. I was living in a mud hut, no electricity, no running water, and having an amazing, challenging life changing experience. Since it’s been 10 years, I decided to randomly peek into my journals and share with you what I wrote at the time. Raw, unedited, straight from the pages!!

3 Aug 2008: A Leisurely Sunday

So I woke up at 10. Sat inside, ate leftover tapioca pudding, then finally came out because I was dying for some coffee. Then I did some laundry, listened to some music and now I’m journaling.

I’m literally the fattest person in the village. Long story short. Clinic – scale – 90 kg – announced to everyone – record weight. Yeah. Crazy. Yet another reason to lose weight and stop eating nshima!

Off to letter writing!

#earthday

Today is #earthday, a day where we should stop and reflect on how our daily actions are impacting our planet.

I just saw baobabs in Madagascar. These amazing trees are basically the dinosaurs of the floral family; they can live for thousands of years and have probably seen a lot of things. Yet, people have carved their names into the sides to forever show that they were here at some point in time. Why do humans feel the need to make their mark permanent?

I strive to reduce my waste, especially in regards to plastic. Plastic NEVER leaves the planet. It takes hundreds of years to decompose into tiny plastic particles, and these never leave. They settle into the oceans where they also make their way into fish, whales and other sea life. And if you eat fish, you might also be eating plastic! It’s very easy to reduce your plastic waste: bring a cloth bag, reuse the plastic bags you do have, use a reusable water bottle, wear your plastic flip flops until they have multiple holes worn through them.

You don’t need to live a completely sustainable life, I fly a lot of places so I don’t believe my carbon footprint can ever be erased, but we can all make small changes to help the planet!

here’s my tip jar!

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#arts4change, kusafiri in madagascar

I was planning a trip to Africa and knew that Jen was also going to be there. I initially didn’t think I was going to be there at the same time, but decided to change my plans so I could be. And she then asked me if I could be a part of the Planning Team for #Arts4Change, Kusafiri in Madagascar. And I said, why not?!

As a member of the Planning Team, I’ve been supporting with event prep, logistics and coordinating social media.

We have engaged followers by having a competition to name the event mascot, the very cute lemur that you see in the event logo above. We started a brand new twitter account so we can grow reach of not only this event, but Kusafiri World Centre as a whole.

Like and Follow Kusafiri World Centre for the amazing content we created!

A few things happen

I’ve discovered that a few things happen to me when I am in Africa.

1. My tan comes back.

I don’t know when, but apparently I’ve been in the sun long enough for a bit of my tan to come back. The only reason I can tell is that I have a white band around my wrist from where my headbands are kept. But maybe I’m not scrubbing all the dirt off when I shower.

2. The calluses reappear on the top of my feet.

I sit on the floor in India. I sit on the floor everywhere actually. But for some reason, the calluses that I have on the tops of my feet have reappeared with a vengeance.  I’ll have to go back to India and scrub them away quickly before I go to America.

3. My hair falls out so much that I get a bit worried about losing all of my hair.

I’m losing my hair at an alarming rate. This happened to me while I lived in Zambia and it has started again here in Ghana. I looked down at the floor around me and there is long pink hair EVERYWHERE!!! I’m the only one with long and pink hair here, so obviously it is mine.

But all in all, I’m having a pretty good time. Today we went out on a visit to STAR-Ghana that gives money to CBOs (Community Based Organizations) and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). We also visited an organization called Gender Centre that was started by a group of women lawyers and works on empowering women to stop the violence. They had 2 interns from Canada and a VSO volunteer there. The group is doing amazing work and really shared a lot about how they go about fund raising and applying for grant money with the participants in the event. I chatted really briefly with the 2 Canadian interns while everyone was getting on the bus. If only we had more time, I could have fully explained the Stop the Violence campaign!! I only had time to tell them to check out the website and give them my business card!!!!

Shop Rite

3 days in Ghana and I’ve stepped back into the surreal world of Africa!

The training centre where we are staying is absolutely fantastic. They are just finishing up the upgrade and the place is new and clean and very comfortable. I have my own room and my own bathroom!

The first day, no electricity. Fine, no worries, I’m used to it (although it was a bit annoying that we couldn’t just put the generator on). Second day, no water. Still waiting for that to come back. But I do have a working air conditioner and internet that appears to be faster than the fast line at Sangam.

Needless to say, I’ve been keeping myself busy on the world wide web.

This morning we went out to Shop Rite at the mall. I was with Gloria, one of the young ladies who is looking after us, and Marie-Paule, the Fifth World Centre Project Manager. What a trip it was.

First, it was the nicest Shop Rite I have ever been in. There also wasn’t many people, despite being in Accra’s biggest mall. I suppose everything looks empty when you are coming from India.

As I walked through the aisles, it was strange not to be buying a ton of things to stock up on and haul back to the village. When I walked past the Yum Yum peanut butter, I didn’t automatically put 3 bottles in the cart and contemplate a 4th. When I walked past the cream crackers though? I couldn’t resist and bought a pack. Shop Rite still has the same crazy plastic toys and even the same hair brush I bought when I lived in Zambia. Apparently, Shop Rite doesn’t change.

We walked around a bit more and I bought a Strawberry Fanta from Game. I can’t even remember the last time I had a deliciously fantastic Strawberry Fanta. Probably sometime in Zambia!!

The tiny bit I have seen of Accra shows a much more developed country than I was expecting. The roads are huge and I haven’t seen sign of a pot hole yet, granted I’ve only been on one road so far. There are a lot more foreigners around and most of them are businessmen in suits.

Today is a bit of a day off for us. Yesterday we had a big meeting with a few of the ladies from Ghana Girl Guides Association and we gave them a lot to think about. Tomorrow we’ll get back into working on preparation for the meeting and hopefully they’ll ask for assistance.

 

Homesick

It’s a tough feeling to be homesick for a place that most people wouldn’t see as a home. You say you are homesick but no one really understands how that is possible.

No electricity. No running water. No McDonalds. No television. No computers.

Everyone focuses on the differences. How could I possibly miss a place that doesn’t have these basic ‘necessities’?

Easy.

I miss being able to lay in my hammock all day and read. I miss the quiet. I miss the kids waiting for me to cook fritters in the morning for breakfast. I miss sitting and enjoying my cup of coffee. I miss drinking warm Coke out of a glass bottle. I miss baking cookies in a brick oven. I miss listening to the radio. I miss laughing with my sisters because I can’t cook nshima. I miss eating chick peas with watered down tomato sauce and some masala. I miss riding my bike. I miss waking up at 6am to sit and wait for transport to show up at 11am. I miss eating sweet potatoes for dinner. I miss the rain. I miss guinea fowl eggs. I miss teaching the kids to play uno. I miss colouring pages and crayons laying all around my house. I miss playing frisbee. I miss talking with the old ladies. I miss Joy.

I’ve been gone for almost 2 years. The time has flown by. I’m living in an entirely different place, with an entirely different life style, with an entirely different job.

Now I see people come and go. They all deal with their experiences differently. I try not to interfere, especially when I can see they are processing. I understand the need to process and try not to judge people’s opinions. I want to share my experiences but this is hard. Only a small hand full of people really understand. And I still can’t explain what I experienced without people immediately focusing on the differences.

They don’t have access to medical care. They don’t have electricity. They don’t have safe drinking water. They don’t, they don’t, they don’t.

Yes. This is true. But…

They have dreams-Jacqueline wants to become a nurse. They are smart-Scotty can do maths a grade above his classmates. They work hard-Sandra bakes and sells cakes to other families. They laugh.

Some people call them a cause. I call them my family.

And I am homesick.

Days Like These…

It is days like these that I wonder why I have chosen to live the way I do.
I learned today that my Zambian sister Sandra is getting married this month.
I’m so excited for her! She is an amazing woman, a wonderful mother, an extremely hard worker, and quite the business woman. Whoever she is marrying is one lucky man. Unfortunately, I won’t be there. I never thought living and working in India would be a bad thing.
It is when I hear news like this that I really wonder why I choose to live the way I do. 8,100 miles away from my American family and 8,400 miles away from my Zambian family. (I looked it up, those are the exact distances.) Thousands of miles from friends who are scattered across the globe. Thousands of miles away from the possibility of bumping into someone I know. Thousands of miles away from a 10 minutes walk to visit a friend. Thousands of miles away from anything to remind me of home. (Whatever that may be for me.) I’m beginning to think and feel like there is really something to the saying:
‘Out of sight, out of mind.’
I miss the little things; being able to chat with my favorite aunt any time I want, cook dinner for my parents, go for a walk without getting completely dirty or being stared at the whole time. And it is on days like this, when I find out that my sister is getting married, that I really wished I had a ‘normal job.’ I would have the time and be able to afford a trip to Zambia and celebrate with my family.
I could care less about grocery stores with 9 versions of one thing, electricity that is on all the time, tap water that won’t make you sick, and whatever other ‘conveniences’ America has to offer. That seems to overwhelm me most of the time.
But I guess, for some strange, crazy, insane reason, it is all worth it. I’m having fun.

Oh Zambia!

I left Zambia over 2 months ago and I still think about it all the time. I feel like I should still be going back there. Like I’m just on vacation and I’ll be going back to resume my village life again. But alas, I am done with Peace Corps and on to the next adventure! Which I’ll get to in a minute. I’m also in the process of uploading a few more videos to YouTube so you can check those out soon. The internet is a bit slow here so be patient, they should be up sometime today. You can find them by clicking on the video clips on the left hand side of the page.

Now, on to my next adventure! I’m in India!!!!! (Yes, I know what you are thinking, “Don’t you like being in the States?” And the answer is yes I do, very much, it’s just that it gets boring after a few weeks. Taco Bell isn’t as good if you can have it any time you want.) What am I doing here? Good question. It all started while I was still in Zambia…

I had left the village and was living at the Peace Corps office in Choma finishing paperwork and packing up all of my stuff that I had accumulated over the last 2 years when I got an email from my Mom. It was a link to a job at Sangam World Centre (it is the same place that I was volunteering at before) so I checked it out. Unfortunately, the job application deadline had already passed so I was just cruising around their website and found an internship working with the Community Volunteer Programme. It looked really interesting but then I found out when the deadline was. In 2 days.

Now, 2 days in America is no problem. But 2 days in Zambia? A whole other story.

I had to finish the application, questions, and 3 recommendations. It was the 3 recommendations that had me worried. All of my references were in different time zones. I immediately emailed everyone I could think of who would be willing to complete a reference for me. Long story short, I finished my application and questions and all of my references finished the recommendations!

I traveled home and after being in America for one week, I found out that I got the internship! But then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take it or not. I mean, I was having a really great time in America-land, and I didn’t really want to leave. My Dad finally said something to me that made my decision very easy.

“If you don’t take this internship, I’m not going to let you lay around the house all summer. You are going to have to get a job.”

Alright. I’ll take the internship!

After a few months of waiting for paperwork for my employment visa, I finally had my visa and was able to buy my plane ticket. A week later, I was out!

Now, I’m in India as Sangam World Centre’s Community Relations Intern. I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’ll be working with the Community Volunteer Programme and will also be working in building the programme to support more volunteers. So for the next year I will be living and working here in India!

I’ll be keeping my blog up to date, so check back! You can also follow me on Facebook or email me if you have any questions! Internet here is more reliable than Zambia but less reliable than America, so keep that in mind.

christa

 

Baking Birthdays

In the village, birthdays aren’t celebrated. There usually isn’t the money to make anything special, much less to buy gifts. I learned this when I first arrived to the village. We were eating dinner one night (just like every other night) when my bamaama mentioned it was Sandra’s birthday. But how could this be a birthday? It’s just like every other dinner, every other day. Where is the fun? The excitement? I LOVE birthdays! I feel like everyone should have a day to feel really special, especially in Zambia. I started to devise my plan.

I didn’t want to buy everyone something for their birthday. That would get expensive since there are 15 of us. I also wanted to do something that the family could continue after I left.

The next birthday, Sitemba’s, was right around the corner and I still had no idea what to do. So I went to the tuck shops in the village to buy cookies and juice for him. That night after we ate nshima and relish, I gave Sitemba his birthday treat. He shared with everyone even though their wasn’t enough cookies for everyone to have one full one! I had seen the communal way families live here-sharing relish and mealie meal and cooking oil when another family doesn’t have food to eat, sharing plows and ox carts for field work, and sharing what little a family has to help a neighbor in need. What I hadn’t expected or experienced yet was a 6 year old boy sharing his birthday cookies and juice with his entire family. Obviously I needed to devise yet another plan.

My bamaama, who is the best cook I have ever met in Zambia, said she knew how to bake cakes. She just didn’t have the ingredients. Well, I have the basics of any American kitchen: flour, sugar, butter, milk, and eggs. “I could bring them over and you could show me how to bake a cake,” I told her. And that is what we did for the next birthday.

My bamaama’s oven is brilliant. It’s a hole in the ground. She builds the fire in the hole to heat up the ground. Then when the wood becomes coals they are taken out of the hole and placed on an iron sheet. The pan is put into the hole and the iron sheet is placed on top. Presto! An oven in born!

It was a bigger hit than the cookies and juice. A tradition was born!

For every birthday since, my sister Jacqueline and I have baked birthday cake. I even have my very own oven that a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer made for me. It’s made of mud bricks for the sides and the back of the oven with an iron sheet for the top and a piece of metal for the door. My bataata even found some scrap pieces of metal rods that act as the shelf inside the oven. And boy is it AMESOME!!!!!!

The kids look forward to every birthday now. As soon as I wake up on a birthday, the kids are at my house excitedly asking, “Kupanga birthday? Kupanga birthday?” Which means in English, “Baking birthday? Baking birthday?” And I’ll tell them yes, which they already knew, and they get even more excited. Running around my house screaming and yelling while I try to put water on to boil for coffee.

Every birthday person gets to choose what kind of cake they want. Jacqueline and I have also added brownies and more recently Toll House Cookies (minus the chocolate chips) to our repertoire of birthday choices. With 15 birthdays a year, Jacqueline and I have become professional bakers!

My hope is that when I leave, the family will continue to celebrate birthdays by baking cakes. I also hope that long after I’m gone, the kids will remember all the fun we had baking birthdays.