I must begin this entry by apologizing for having not made any significant updates since I arrived in Zambia. Peace Corps trainees (PCT’s) have few freedoms during PST and unfortunately, those few freedoms don’t involve frequent access to the internet. Pre-service training (PST) is kind of like boot camp, except Peace Corps style. Instead of waking up at 6 am to do pushups and pull-ups, we wake up at 7 am to learn about Zambian culture and its impact on development.
I’ll try to go about this in the most organized way possible, but my plane landed at Lusaka International Airport over 6 weeks ago so I’ve got a lot to say and might not have time to say it all.
3 days of Peace Corps 101 in Philly….I think I touched on this in my last post so I won’t go into too much detail. In short we had: Philly cheese steaks, yellow fever shots, the liberty bell, and all day “welcome to Peace Corps and you better be committed” sessions. Things got a little interesting when we had to pack our bags on an hour’s notice and board an 8 p.m. bus headed for JFK because a snow storm was threatening our schedule morning departure. We arrived around 10 p.m. and spent a few hours having drinks at the hotel restaurant. The next day we woke up and boarded our plane which was headed to Lusaka via Jo’burg
Upon arrival in Zambia we were greeted by the PC Zambia leadership (country director, APCD, etc.) and were brought to ISTT, a hostel on the outskirts of Lusaka which houses many international workers. While at ISTT we ran into some Japanese JICA volunteers (Japanese equivalent to the PC) who are helping to diversify Zambia’s energy portfolio, or something along those lines.
Our days at ISTT didn’t involve anything too interesting as we had just arrived and had to get logistical and administrative issues worked out before the fun could begin. However, we did have more than enough time after our daily sessions ended at 1700 to become well acquainted with one another.
At some point during this time we also had a ring-in ceremony on the lawn of PC HQ in Lusaka. The Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, was on hand to deliver a speech and share with us a little bit of his experience as a PCV in Tanzania many years ago. Secretary Carson reports directly to Secretary Clinton, so he’s kind of a big deal. The American Ambassador and Zambian Deputy Minister of Education were also in attendance and each spoke on the importance of the role that PCV’s play in Zambia.
Three words- first site visit (FSV). Talk about getting thrown into the deep end….The training class, or the in-take as I might refer to us as, was divided into groups of 3 or 4 and shipped off to different parts of Zambia to visit current RED (Rural Education Development) PCV’s. Jessica, Rosa, and I visited a veteran named Emily in Eastern province who is getting ready to COS in April. Over the course of those 4 days we followed Emily around as she worked in her community and learned first-hand what life is like as a PCV in Zambia. The time flew by and before we knew it the PC Land Cruiser that had dropped us off was back to transport us to ISTT.
Once back at ISTT we had two days to pack our bags and prepare for our homestay and the start of the “real” training. This is also when our assigned languages were announced and I learned that I would be learning Tonga and serving in the Southern Province.
This period has been the bulk of our training. Monday through Friday we are in session from 0700/0800 to 1700 with breaks for lunch and tea. Language classes are from 0800-1200 and technical (teaching and development) sessions last from 1330 until 1700. Occasionally we are visited by the medical staff or HIV/AIDS team to learn about the issues that we will encounter during service.
Saturdays begin with a 4-hour language session that lasts until noon. Most Saturday sessions are a review of what we learned during the week. Once out of language we are free to do what we want. Usually, we meet up as a group to have some drinks at the stoop or play some ultimate Frisbee on the pitch.
Sundays are free. Some people start off early and go to church with their families; others sleep in until 9 a.m. Personally I’ve given up trying to sleep through the rooster crows that last from 0400 to 0800 and jump out of bed at my normal Monday-Friday time.
I’m in Lusaka to shop for my second site visit (SSV) which is a 10-day trip to what will be my home for two years once I swear-in on April 21st. As you may, or may not know, I’ll be headed South after swear-in to live in a village that is roughly 40-50 minutes west of Choma on a dirt road.
A day in Lusaka means that we get to stock up on 10-days’ worth of western style food and absorb as much pop culture as we can in 4-5 hours. It also means that I might get to have a beer that isn’t Castle, Mosi, or MGD.
At 0600 we board PC Land Cruisers and head for our permanent sites. Upon arrival we’ll be greeted by our village neighbors, headmen, and head teacher. All of these people will be strangers, except for my head teacher.
On Tuesday & Wednesday of this week we had all day “Supervisor” workshops and met our head teachers. We spent both days going over the framework of the RED project to make sure that they understood our role as a PCV. Mr. Banda, my head teacher, seemed to have a good understanding of what my job will entail (to be addressed in a later post). I’m definitely one of the lucky ones in that my interests align well with the needs of my community.
The trip is sure to be a wonderful experience and when I return I’ll be sure to make a post with plenty of details and pictures.
I know this blog has for the most part been an overview of my day-to-day schedule and promise to sit down and talk about the more interesting aspects & issues of Zambia.
I take a medication called DOXY every morning, which in theory will prevent malaria if I’m stung by a carrier. Unfortunately, DOXY (or any other anti-malarial) is not 100% effective, but if someone does contract malaria while on an AM the symptoms will be much less severe than had the person not been taking an AM.
I’ll make a rough & uneducated guess that 50-60 percent of PCV’s in Zambia get Malaria at one point or another during their service. Luckily the Peace Corps provides us with all the necessary resources to ensure that it is taken care of immediately. Once we start taking our Coartem (malaria medication) it will usually take 1-2 weeks for the symptoms to pass, less if you’ve been consistently taking your AM. During that time we’re allowed to camp out at the PC provincial houses, which according to current PCV’s are a little slice of heaven.
There is a provincial house in every province and each one serves as our local HQ. Each month we get 4 “house days” that we are allowed to spend in town. The houses are meant to be an occasional break from village life. Each is well stocked with books, DVD’s, and Wi-Fi connections.
Zambian cuisine has been a pleasant surprise. I was a little worried about this situation before I’ve arrived, but have found that I’ll be able to eat healthier here than I would be able to in the States.
Nsima, from the maize crop, is the staple food of Zambia and has been for quite some time. It’s very similar to the mealy meal that I had in while in South Africa, except that it’s more cohesive to itself and is eaten with your hands. With Nisma you also eat a relish, which is usually cabbage, rape, or pumpkin leaves. On the side I’ll usually have chicken, fish, or eggs. This is just a small look into the food of Zambia; I’ve had plenty of other dishes, but on average my meals are made up of aforementioned items.
As with most Bantu cultures, Zambians are incredibly hospitable. I wasn’t sure if they would be as welcoming as my Xhosa community in South Africa, but am happy to say that I’ve been greeted by nothing except open arms. “Live Free” as Zambians say. I’m also happy to report that the Unbuntu spirit is very much alive in this country. If you’re not sure what I mean by Unbuntu I’d suggest that you hop onto google and do some research.
Right now I’m at Muanda Hills mall in Lusaka sitting at a computer which unfortunately has no microSD slot, so I can’t upload photos. I’m about to head over to another mall so hopefully I can find a café that will me to access those files.
Once I have some more time to sit down and think (we go nonstop) I’ll be sure to post some blogs that address the more interesting aspects of Zambia, other than my daily schedule (i.e.culture, HIV/AIDS, village life, history, etc.).