When I arrived, some of the boards had come loose in my be frame. Chama, our driver, asked my host for nails. When I retrieved a hammer & nails, all the dudes in my yard looked surprised. Chama said, “You’re well equipped.”
“I came to work.”
Next day I took my new saw to some planks & built a corner shelf for the wall of my storage area. Like all other manual labor, sawing is an acquired skill. I spent a good while making my cuts & acquired a reputation as an unlikely lady carpenter in so doing.
Not gonna lie. I felt a bit crazy riding into my village in a Land Cruiser loaded to the brim & topped with a bed, mountain bike & more. & when the driver pulled out & I surveyed the cluster that was my living area. A dios mio. I didn’t think it’d ever get done. Bed & mosquito net first. Then everything else, pan’gono pan’gono (bit by bit). Somehow, I managed to get everything unpacked & organized today. Tomorrow projects around The Cottage. Thursday harvest maize. Saturday meet my headman. Woo!
Been thinking about how I’ll make my hut my home & have decided to incorporate a wall of quotes to keep me inspired & help me maintain a positive attitude/re-focus when the going gets rough. Any suggestions y’all may have would be appreciated. What inspires you? What lifts you up when you’re feeling down? Why do you fight the good fight?
We had a practice language exam today (I passed!), part of which consisted of my language teacher pointing to the mud hut behind me & telling me to ask him 6 or 7 questions about it, pretending I’m interested in renting. My mind started spinning through my years of rental history & coming up short. Somehow things like, Are pets allowed? Utilities included? Washer/dryer in unit? Parking off-street? 24-hr maintence? Fitness center? Pool? & such didn’t seem appropriate in this particular setting…
PO Box 510203
Mail makes me smile. A whole lot. If you need filler in a package, try: coarse grind coffee/yummy tea/heirloom seeds/magazines/articles/sudoku/good pens/sweets/crystal light/pictures!/gum/cashews/nail polish/almonds/surprises!
This morning I decided to take a walk to the dam near my soon-to-be home. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, but the day was gorgeous and I had several hours to kill. So I set out down the path in the general direction given by my host (over “The Hill”). I walked through the village, greeting some folks busy at work near their homes, wandered through some grassy meadows, and came to a field of maize where the path was less clear. A man was tending cattle nearby, so I asked the way to the dam, and he proudly showed me the “African bridge” composed of the roots of two live trees growing over a small body of water and pointed me on my way. (This may officially be my favorite bridge on the planet.)
I walked along a winding path through fields of maize, groundnuts (peanuts), & sunflowers, interspersed with beautiful wildflowers, aiming as best I could for “The Hill” to which I’d been directed. When I met a couple of women resting in the shade of a mango tree along the path, I introduced myself (in Nyanja) and asked (in English) if the dam was ahead. They nodded their agreement. (Zambians are very, very agreeable.) Several minutes later, I came upon a house. Realizing I had been walking for much longer than necessary and was no longer headed toward “The Hill,” I stopped and introduced myself and asked the direction of the dam again, only to be told I needed to backtrack and take a right at the cemetery.
So I wandered back down the path, picking wildflowers as I went. I took the right and found myself smack dab in the middle of the eternal resting place of at least a few dozen Zambians. A few had headstones of cement, but most graves were marked by long sticks over the body and a tub of some sort as the makeshift headstone. Realizing the path didn’t continue beyond the cemetery (and, frankly, feeling a little creeped out and totally out of bounds), I beat it out of there with relative quickness. I met an elderly woman when I rejoined the main path and exchanged pleasantries before we parted ways.
Then I began trekking up what must have been “The Hill”. The path wound to the west and forked many times, but I felt sure I could find my way back. Very soon, I became aware that someone nearby was cutting down trees and began to notice the increasing ratio of stumps to live trees. One of the potential projects in my area is working to reduce deforestation near the dam, so I was confident I was getting close.
I rounded a corner and saw two women bent near the path gathering freshly cut wood, each with a baby strapped to her back. Just as I was about to call out a greeting, one of the women looked up, caught sight of me, threw her load of wood to the ground, and started out with a healthy sprint in the other direction. What a frightful sight I must’ve been, walking along in my chitenje (wraparound/skirt), carrying a large bunch of wildflowers.
“Muli bwanji?!?” (“How are you?!?”), I shouted, suppressing my laughter. The woman who hadn’t run away returned my greeting and called to her friend, laughing at her clumsy getaway attempt. I introduced myself & told the ladies I’d be replacing the current volunteer as the runaway slunk back. Her friend and I had a good chuckle before I turned back to head home.
Even though I didn’t make it to the dam, I felt like I’d accomplished enough for the day. Zambians seem to find nothing more entertaining than whatever it is the nearest mezungu (foreigner) is doing. Basically, they’ve been laughing at us since the moment we arrived (and, undoubtedly, won’t stop as long as we’re here). Turning the tables was a fantastic change of pace and all the morning’s work I needed. The dam can wait for another day.
For the last few days I’ve been visiting Makambwe Village in Eastern Province, with Bailey & Buck (the other folks in my language group). We’re guests of Caleb, who’s 1 year into his LIFE service. Courtney, who is with the RAP (fisheries) program & lives in a village nearby, has been with us a lot, too. We’ve had an awesome time meeting different folks in the village, like the headman; the woman who makes these huge, awesome clay pots (and, on Sundays, the bootleg liquor they drink in the village); an awesome, progressive farmer who’s using a lot of great green techniques in his fields; three village elders who talked with us about funerals, traditions, & beliefs in this part of Zambia; and approximately 1 jillion iwes (pronounced EEE-ways. Literally, “you,” but it’s the general term thrown at children. And animals, for that matter.).
The first night here, we joined the folks in the village for dancing. The younger ladies form a circle around some dudes with drums and shake their bums & hips in unison while singing awesome songs like “My husband went to town & bought me a chitenje (wrapper). It wasn’t very nice. He should’ve gotten the wax one.” And “My uncle bought a bicycle. I saw him using it in town to carry prostitutes. I’m going to spill the beans.” It’s pretty rad. The women make the songs up about different things that happen in their lives. Kind of an awesome way to get back at someone who pisses you off – immortalize your grievance in song. The dudes stand around the circle and pretty much ogle the women while they’re showing off their mad hip-shaking choreography. They pulled us into the circle, of course. And everyone in the crowd laughed their heads off at us for our total lack of Zambian dance abilities. But Zambians laugh their heads off at most things mezungus (foreigners) do, so most Peace Corps folks are like, eh, screw it. Might as well have some fun, right?
When we went out to look at the fields, we wandered into a grove of banana trees that were hiding a fish pond. These amazing little bright yellow & black birds had built the coolest nests at the ends of the branches hanging over the water. They are nearly heart-shaped (though upside-down) and almost totally enclosed, except an entrance underneath, where predators can’t reach. We snagged a couple (sorry, birds) to look at them more closely. They must weave them out of green grass & then let it dry. They even finish the entrance ends with a different kind of weave. Amazing.
Buck slaughtered a chicken for the first time. Caleb’s method is to hold the chicken upside down for a few minutes so the blood rushes to its head & then slit its throat & let it bleed out. I pretty much have no desire to slaughter one. I might stop eating chicken altogether in Zambia. Haven’t decided on that one yet. I want to keep chickens if I can, though only for eggs.
Yesterday we rode our bikes out to hike up a little mountain. From the top, we could see everything for miles. It was a clear gorgeous afternoon, & we took the opportunity to explore the area. We rode through several villages, meeting tons of folks, scaring iwes, shaking hands like we were some kind of celebrities, and getting heckled a fair amount. We rode through the bush, over a few awesome bridges constructed from logs thrown over some supports, and finally along a couple of roads. We made it back just as the sun was setting, threw together a quick dinner & passed out early. One of the best days in Zambia yet.
This morning, we were treated to a ride in an oxcart. We all had a chance to drive, too. Pretty simple endeavor. The rules are: hit the cow on the right if you want to go left, or the cow on the left if you want to go right. Stand up and click your tongue to speed up. Whistle to slow down. Have the cow boy walk in front to lead the cattle when you meet another vehicle. And, above all, don’t fall off. We met a car full of Zambians who thought it was hilarious to see an oxcart full of mezungus with a lady driving. The driver stopped, got out, and chased us down to take our picture.
Tonight is our last night with Caleb & Courtney. We’ll be heading to our respective sites in the morning for a few nights. I know I’ll be meeting a bunch of people including the headman, getting a feel for the village layout & surroundings, & hanging out with my host’s family. I’m excited & a little nervous to go out “alone” for the first time, but it’s going to be amazing.
Today we met Chief Chamuka, 1 of 283 traditional chiefs in Zambia (3/4 male). Traditional leaders “elected” based on family lineage, custom, leadership ability & other factors, they are also recognized by gov’t with their own division & chain of command. They manage land rights, settle non-criminal disputes, work toward development, etc. You bring gifts when you visit a chief. We brought a live chicken & mealie meal, but anything from cooking oil to cash works. When he enters… (see comments)
This week in Nyanja we learned to bargain at the market. They taught us handy phrases like,
“How much is this?”
“You made the price too high!”
“I’m a volunteer & have little money. Please lower the price.”
If/when we get our way, we’re supposed to ask for mbesela (something extra). While I love a good bargain, it’s just so different to think of shopping this way! I’m going to have to get up my nerve, or I’ll be overpaying for everything the next 2 years! You know all Americans are rich, right?
I can’t deny premeditation. I knew days ago at the 1st telltale move that drew my attention: innocent lives would be lost. So when I opened the door to my chimbusi & saw them alone, unprotected, unaware of danger, I knew I had to act. Stepping back, I collected myself, knowing my course of action would set the stage for my entire time in Zambia. I was torn, of course. Innocents. But I fortified my nerve, stepped in, lifted the cover, & swept the 2 baby rats down the long hole. Now to deal with ma.