a journal entry: 6 march 2009

in my last journal entry, i learned that my host sister jacqueline was pregnant. and i had to leave my house in the village. it was tough. but then i went on vacation and forgot about my housing situation for a little while. in this journal entry, i’m now back in the village for a few days before going to lusaka, the capital city to see the peace corps doctors.

allergies

when i say i have bad allergies, it’s no joke. i have really serious environmental allergies. and it’s honestly a miracle that i survived peace corps zambia at all! i am allergic to everything that my house was made out of, literally. i am allergic to dirt, dust and grass. all things that are included in mud huts with grass thatch roofs!

as you can see in this post, i really thought i was going to be sent home because of my crazy awful out of control allergies! and while that would have been the easy option, and i did contemplate leaving many times, it wasn’t what i truly wanted.

so i stuck it out!

6 march 2009

wow! i haven’t journaled in what seems like forever. and i think that i will be retiring this journal after that!

came back from zanzibar, stayed in lusaka with joe and got to watch season 5 of the office! it was amazing and was really the bigger of the highlights of my trip. it’s SO good i can’t wait until i see the rest!

then i hosted 1st site visit! it was a lot of fun but they weren’t very talkative. plus i didn’t really want to be in the village, with jacqueline, and having to be fun and happy about being there. it sucked. i cried the first night in my bed. so i was really glad when deb came! then the second night i complained to her, and she complained to me, and we made it through.

on the last night of the site visit, we camped at my house in the village. we had a huge HUGE dinner, ate at my house with everyone, which was really nice. i really miss them. and celebrated my 1 year anniversary in zambia!

yup. i’ve been gone for one year. and it’s been up and down the whole time. although mostly ups than downs. but today it’s seeming more down. my allergies have been bad again. and they are making me go to lusaka on monday so they can see me on tuesday.

i’m really afraid that they are going to med sep (medically separate) me. and i don’t want that at all. even though i’m not liking the village all that much right now i don’t want to leave zambia. i’d rather stay in town as pcvl (peace corps volunteer leader) or move to livingstone and work as an extension volunteer. or even move to another country as a volunteer.

i just would be devastated if i had to be sent home because of my allergies.

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A Request, A Walk

It started out innocently enough. Lwendo, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, invited us to her house in the Village. She had a community that wanted to start their own school because they would get cut off from the main school during the rainy season. Of course we could help! We could easily share with them some basic information and give them the contacts that they would need to take action on their plan. The date was set, we would come for a visit and meet the community.

We traveled out to Lwendo’s Village in the back of an old pick up truck. We told the driver who we were visiting and they very kindly dropped us off along the main road before their final stop at the school. This way, we wouldn’t have to walk very far with our packs. We arrived to Lwendo’s house as the sunset, said our hellos and greetings to the entire host family, poured ourselves some strong after-transport level drinks and started setting up our tent in the disappearing light of the day, which quickly turned into pitch black.

I should have known something was up. We turned up to the local clinic the next morning at 10, when I would usually start my day of work in the Village. A nurse had volunteered to take us out to the community, since Lwendo wasn’t exactly sure of the path to take. The nurse looked at her watch and looked back at us disapprovingly. She said we should have left hours ago. I past it off as the over-exaggeration of someone who wanted to drive home the point that yes, we were late.

We should have left hours ago.

It always takes a bit longer to get somewhere when you are walking through the Zambian bush. You must greet everyone you meet on the path. And there is a long tradition of greetings you must ask and enquire about, including my favorite question: What have you eaten? As you can imagine, the list of mandatory greetings are extremely thorough.  Not only must you greet everyone on the path, but if someone from a house nearby sees you, there is a 99% chance that they will shout at you and invite you over for the long list of greetings and depending on the time of day, a drink or even lunch.

Even taking this additional greeting and chatting time into account, we should have left hours ago.

At about hour 2 of walking, I started to wonder how far away this particular community was. Probably something I should have asked at the beginning, right? Well, most people would ask this first. But I hate walking and I really hate knowing how far I might need to walk. This is when the complaining and whining really kicks in for me, no matter how hard I fight it. My internal mind can’t handle knowing distances and everyone knows it.

The heat of the afternoon really kicks in now as we continue on hour 3 of walking, we should have left hours ago.

As we get hotter and hotter because, at this point, we have run out of water, we start meeting more and more people from the community that requested we come for a visit. We must be close! And finally, out of nowhere, we round a bend in the path and the river appears below us. The river isn’t that large at the moment, it slowly and quietly flows across the fallen cement bridge that was built years ago and washed away quickly after that. We make our way safely across the fallen bridge and up the hill where the Village is waiting for us at the Headman’s house.

Phheewww!!!!! We really, really should have left hours ago!

In true Zambian Village fashion, even though we are REALLY late, only half of the school committee is there. We are bustled into the chikuta around a small card table and given the largest wooden carved stools that they have. We are fed dried peanuts, chibwantu – a homemade maize drink and someone refills our water bottles for us from the river. But, you’re thinking, did you filter that river water? No, we didn’t came prepared in case you haven’t realized that yet. We’ll risk a stomach bug for hydration. Plus, it only slightly tasted like soap since it was collected right next to a woman doing her washing.

We start many conversations about the community and why they would like their own school. It makes sense, they have plenty of kids, it’s a very VERY long walk to do twice a day for young children, and during the rainy season no one can cross the river. We share information about how they can get started, what things they will need in place and who they can talk to within the Ministry of Education to register their new community school. We encourage them to take action and make a change for their community and their kids!

Despite walking forever to get there, we then go on a tour of the Village. We see onion patches, collect some garlic from another field and even meet the largest farmer in the area and see his overflowing maize bins. All I can think about is the fact that I have to walk all the way back to get to my tent.

We’ve rested a bit, refilled our water bottles again for the walk home, said our good byes, gave out phone numbers to keep in contact and we’re again on our way. I’m leaning into the absurdity of having to walk this much now, I’m laughing out loud at nothing in particular and making the others laugh too. I keep hoping that an ox cart will come up behind us on the narrow path and magically be going in the same direction as we are. It never happens. But we do meet an ox cart that is traveling to where we just came from, not helpful but we did meet another of the school committee members who was on the back of that ox cart.

As nightfall sets in, we are still walking, but are so close. I can hear families finishing their days and cooking dinner. And the smells of those dinners are intoxicating after a long day of walking. Finally, we arrive. Dusty, dirty, weary but laughing. We quickly get the fire ready and make a giant pot of simple pasta to eat. We pour ourselves drinks. We continue to laugh at the hilarity of a simple visit to a community who wants a school.

We walked 18 kilometres. That’s 11 miles.

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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You Can Pee in the Shower

I’m sick in bed today so I thought I’d take this time to blog about my last few months at work.

I’ve never owned my own house. Well technically I had a house in the village in Zambia but I didn’t have to deal with any of the modern world consciences like electricity and plumbing. But with my current job I’m quickly learning LOADS of new things about how to deal with and take care of an almost 50 year old building in India.

The story starts about 2 months ago when I kicked a whole through a wall. I only wear flip flops. We discovered water running down the outside of the pipes. We found a contractor to do the waterproofing work and thought that would be the end of it.

Until water kept leaking.

We took bricks off the front of the building and the pipes seemed fine. We started digging down into the ground and found the problem. The pipes weren’t running into the chamber and had holes in them.

Then we had to investigate all of the chambers. Most of them were clogged. We paid for them to be unclogged but we were still having issues. We then found a plumber who was willing to fix all of our chamber issues. So for the last month I have been looking at everyone’s business. I know where the nukes are and I know all the codes.

I also know for a fact that it doesn’t matter if you pee in the shower. It all goes to the same place here.

We will hopefully be finished with the chambers and plumbing very soon. And cross your fingers that we don’t find any other crazy issues!!!

We start an event tomorrow, the first of the year! And you can now follow us on twitter! @sangamwc

That’s What She Said

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched this week’s episode of The Office, then stop reading RIGHT now!!!! Wait, I’m not really revealing any spoilers. If you don’t know Michael is leaving The Office you deserve to have that spoiled for you. But honestly, if you haven’t watched the episode yet, you are an idiot. I live in India and I managed to watch it right away. Yeah, an addict always knows where to get a fix. Always.

Michael Scott left Dunder Mifflin. It is a day I never thought I would see, especially since Dunder Mifflin is still standing and open for business.

I have been a huge fan from the very first episode. How could you not love this show? It has everything. A boss who hosts an office awards show. A crazy paint-balling, beet farm owning sidekick. A receptionist turned artist turned office manager. A guy in love with said receptionist turned artist turned office manager. A man who has done millions of crossword puzzles when he should be working. Creed.

No matter where I lived at in the world, I always had The Office.

I was flying home from Honduras during the Season 2 finale. I double and triple checked that my tivo was set to record the whole episode. The morning of my departure: road blocks. People were protesting something, I can’t remember what it was now but it took me hours to get to the airport instead of the twenty minutes it should have. I didn’t miss my flight and managed to get back home and watch the finale without anyone spoiling what had happened with Jim and Pam.

I was living in India (the first time) when my dad (who is the best dad ever) spent $50 to send me Season 3 when it came out on DVD. I had it less than a week after it was released in America.

When Season 4 started and I was still in India, I sat in a very sweaty and smelly internet cafe for well over an hour attempting to load the opening episode. It took the entire hour to stream 3 minutes before the internet stalled and crashed. Oh what a glorious 3 minutes they were!

When I moved to Zambia I didn’t know how I was going to manage. 2 whole years without new episodes of The Office? This was going to be a challenge. I moved to Zambia prepared with my Office t-shirts, my Dwight bobblehead, and an iPod loaded with 3 full seasons and all the new episodes from Season 4.

Every Thursday was still The Office day for me. I would watch an episode every Thursday on my tiny scratched iPod screen. This became a ritual for me. I lived for Thursdays. Every Thursday I would dig out an American Hello Kitty fruit snack and keep this along side my painstakingly charged iPod. I would go and eat dinner with my host family, come back home, wash my face and feet, then crawl into my bed, tuck myself safely into my mosquito net, watch The Office and eat some delicious chemically flavored Hello Kitty shaped fruit snacks. You laugh (or think this is very sad), but this kept me sane.

One day my host sister Jacqueline was at my house and she picked up my iPod. I showed her how to use it, how to make the music stop and start and how to change songs. She sat there playing around with the scroll wheel when all of a sudden I hear a gasp, “Mutinta! There is a small man inside here!” She managed to turn on an episode of The Office. “It’s my favorite tv show from America,” I said. I quickly started to explain about all the characters and about where they work and what they do and why it is my favorite tv show. Jacqueline quickly lost interest in the show and asked me, “Yes, but this is not a tv.”

On Fridays, if I had 3 bars on my phone (meaning strong enough for internet), I would log on to nbc mobile and read about the week’s new episode.  Again you laugh (or think this is very sad), but this kept me sane.

Not only did my crazy obsession with The Office keep me sane but it made me feel connected with America and with American culture. I always knew that Michael and his employees were out there, up to something hilarious and wonderful. Just thinking about those 22 minutes made me happier. It made living in a mud hut in the middle of the Zambian bush a little more bearable.

Slowly I adjusted to living without The Office. Friends would send me updates or magazine articles or dvds with new episodes on them. Pretty soon I saw living so far from America as an advantage in my Office viewing. If I wasn’t living in America, I wasn’t hearing all the ‘news’ reports about who was guest starring or seeing commercials highlighting the best 30 seconds of an episode. I could keep everything that was happening a surprise until I got back to America to binge on The Office.

That is what I did with Season 6.

Now I’m living in India (again), with much faster internet services available, and able to stream new episodes of Season 7 of The Office from the comfort of my very own bedroom. Because of the crazy time difference between America and India, my Thursdays have now become Fridays. I search and search where I can stream the episode from, then patiently wait while it takes the day (or half a day if I’m lucky) to load.

I watched Michael’s last day at The Office on my lovely 17inch laptop screen in my mosquito net with the air conditioner running, in India.

“Oh, this is gonna feel so good getting this thing off my chest.

That’s what she said.” -Michael Scott

India is cold.

I am here to smash this common misconception. India has the Himalayas. It gets cold.

Now I’m nowhere near the actual Himalayas but winter is upon us here in Pune. I’ve been gone from ‘home’ for so long that my body would freeze in a tough South Dakota winter. My winter is sweatshirt, jeans, and (on really cold days) socks with my flip flops. I’m perfectly suited for this arrangement.

Sometimes I do miss those South Dakota winters. I miss staying inside, bundled up, in front of the tv with my hot chocolate and marshmallows. I miss watching Keloland tell me to never leave my car if I get trapped on the side of the road in a snow bank. But now that I think about it, I don’t miss snow. I technically miss blizzards. Any other kind of snow is just annoying really.

I also miss my furry boots and crocheting new scarfs and hats.

But this Christmas I get to eat not one but TWO of my favorite Indian dishes: misal pav and pav bhaji. In my book, this makes up for being away from blizzards (and my family) for the Christmas holidays.

Noise.

I’ve always considered myself a city girl. I’ve never lived on a farm. I like things being open past 8 pm. I don’t care how much it rains or how the crops are doing. The smallest place that I have ever lived is Sioux Falls, well technically Brookings for college, but I only lasted 3 semesters so I don’t think that counts. I always complained that I was forced to move there when I was ten years old. It was small.

Then I moved to a farm in the middle of the African bush and things changed. Big time.

I now have an unstoppable urge to greet everyone I pass. I need peace and quiet. I have to be by myself way more than the average person requires. I ask about the weather and crops. I am completely comfortable going anywhere by myself with nothing to do; no reading material, no phone, no notebook, no companion.

And after I left Zambia, South Dakota was perfect. I could sit in the backyard and enjoy all the peace and quiet I required.

Then I moved to a city with close to 5 million people, in a country with 1 billion.

I now fall asleep with my ceiling fan and Alicia Keys album on high to the masked sounds of a city teeming with life. Trucks passing by, horns honking and beeping, people yelling, sirens sounding, calls of prayer announced, the night watchman’s whistle. It gets to me. I feel myself going crazy because I can’t get one moment of silence.

I’ve started a hunt for quiet places here but so far they have eluded me. Even the coffee shops are loud. I walk around with my iPod on, not because I don’t want people to talk to me like in Zambia, but because it is the only way I can have a true moment to myself. A moment for my mind to be free, to wander aimlessly through my mind’s eye, to ponder where I want my life to go, to just think.

Zambia gave me plenty of time to think and sleep. I’ve become nostalgic for the 2 years of quiet, peaceful village time I enjoyed. Hours spent reading in my hammock, hours spent coloring and playing Uno with the kids, hours spent sitting in the family kitchen in the dark discussing life, hours sleeping, hours drinking coffee with nothing but the day to enjoy, hours of walking just to walk, hours enjoying the sunset. I yearn for it.

Yes, yearn.

Unfortunately, those village days are behind me and I’m caught between needing the village and wanting the city.

It is time for me to figure things out, with noise.

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