Saturday, September 15, 2012

Peace Corps Zambia.... Chapwa (Done)

I have been thinking about writing this blog for a few months now. What would my last blog in Zambia look like? How could I sum up everything I have experienced, learned, witnessed in one entry? How could I make it as powerful and emotional as I am feeling right now, with one week left in the country which has become my home over the past 27 months? How could I explain the bittersweet feelings of leaving my Zambian home and going back to my American home? I realize I can’t, I will never be able to because a large part of myself doesn’t even understand it. Instead, I am just going to write and see what the finished product is. Apologies in advanced if it’s jumbled, confusing and not well written, but if nothing else hopefully it is a view of what one Peace Corps Volunteer out of 9,000 throughout the world is going through.

It’s over. I made it. I finished. One chapter ends, another one begins. For the past two years I have been through so many ups and downs, good days, horrible days. Hours where I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else. Minutes that I wish would go faster and watch each second go by hoping the pain of boredom would pass by. Sometimes I forget that there was life before Zambia, before Peace Corps. It seems like this is and will always be my life. Biking on the dusty pot holed road to my beautiful village of Kalaba. Being greeted by bundles of the cutest (and dirtiest) children in the world, all begging for the ball to play with, but first asking to fetch my water, as they know that you must work before you play. Coming to the provincial house in Mansa, drinking a cold beer and exchanging stories with my “fellow volunteers” or as I refer to them as, my family, about our villages. “It’s so hot” “When will the rain end” “Let’s fill up the kiddy pool to get away from that hot African sun” “Casey, you want to lay out”, “Bob, where are you biking to today?” “Tiff let’s go on an adventure”. These people are my family. We have shared experiences that I could never have imagined or anticipated. In the worst situations, they always seem to make me laugh, see the light at the end of the tunnel, and encourage me to start fresh the next day. We have gone through deaths in America and Zambia, fires in our communities, near-death transport experiences, frustrations in our work and celebrations when things worked out the right way. I would not have been able to get through these two years without them. They have been my support and will continue to be as we all transition into this next part of our lives. We call it the “real world” a lot of times but I have never experienced more “Reality” than living in rural Zambia.

Then there was the goodbye to my village. Crying in my hut with my counterpart, so that his wife and children didn’t see him show this emotion that is usually reserved for death. Having my kids linger until the sun was gone and they couldn’t see anymore (or they could but I couldn’t). Having my favorite three-year-old keep repeating “Chabipa sana ba Kel, Chabipa” (Too bad Kelsey, its very bad). Crying in my bed, which after two years on a foam mattress has a dip in the middle and allowed me to wake up with a sore back for the last year. Giving clothes from America, pencils, socks, anything I could find in my hut they would take. The rope that held my hammock, like gold to a 10 year old who only has one change of clothes and whose idea of “toys” consist of a leftover alcohol packet that her alcoholic father drinks every day, all day. It wasn’t all sad however; there were times when I felt peace. Peace that I had survived these two years in a crazy beautiful environment. Peace that I attempted and tried to make a difference, even if only in my counterpart’s life.

 My goal was to have an impact in one life, and I think with Shaderick Mwansa I can walk away feeling accomplished in that goal. However what I didn’t anticipate was the impact and changes he would have on my life. He is one of the best men I have met in my life, “my older brother” he would refer to himself as when talking to others. He biked 24k at least 3 days a week for 2 years. He never complained, He never even mentioned he lived 12 k away until I first went to his house after I had been in my village for a month. He is someone that will always be in my heart and that I will think of constantly. He was a sponge of information during my two years. We would talk about saving money, and then he opened a small shop to save money for his 6 children to go to school. We would talk about the importance of nutrition for children and he would build a garden. We talked about issues of Malaria, he made sure every one of his children slept under a net. It is people like him who will change this world.

Development. Oy. I kind of hate the word while simultaneously looking at graduate programs with the exact word in the title. It can be so backwards. Giving, giving, money from America, Europe, South America. It’s not money what the people in my village need. It’s the confidence to know that they don’t need outside money. They are the most creative, innovative and intelligent people I have ever met. However they have been told they are “poor, stupid Africans” for way too long that a majority of them believe it. “We can’t do it without America, we are African”. If they only knew there own potential. If only people would give them a chance. It is something I struggle with daily and whose solution I have yet to come up with. At the same time I see Peace Corps as just the beginning of my journey.

Peace Corps. Two years. Wow, that’s a long time, “Don’t you miss America, don’t you miss being clean, Internet, TV, good food, dairy, good roads, a car.  You hitchhike? Isn’t that dangerous?” Yes Peace Corps is two years. However if there is anything I have taken at the end of my service it is that two years is not a long time. It barely scratches the surface. There have been people working in development, in Zambia, in countries around the world for 40, 50 years. I only have two under my belt. It’s a good start but I have a long way to go, so much more to learn. I don’t know what the future will bring, school, jobs, more travel. Who knows? Living in Zambia has allowed me to not know and still have the confidence to move forward. Zambia, it has been more than I could have ever imagined and an experience I will carry with me every minute of every day. Natasha Natasha Sana Mukwai (thank you so much).

Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my blogs. Like I said they have never been made to be a reflection of Peace Corps as a whole or anything other than what is in my mind when I put the pen to the paper, or my hands to the keyboard. I will finish my Peace Corps Service this Thursday September 20, 2012 by ringing a tire ring and become a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). Then it’s off to Tanzania, Zanzibar for a week on the beach with some fellow PCVs and then to Vietnam to visit dear friends Natalie and Alex who I haven’t seen since starting my service. Will try and keep everyone updated with pictures along the way but this will be my last Zambia blog. Thanks again for everything, hope if nothing else you have gotten a glimpse into my life for the past two years.

Mushaile Bwino. Stay well. Kelsey, Bupe, Simmons. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Simple Pleasures

**Written in Kalaba Village, May 6, 2012**

I think one of the best things about living in a village is that it makes you notice simple pleasures. When people ask me what I did this past weekend I could really say is Laundry and Paperwork. However the things I noticed that made it a great weekend in the village are smaller and to some may seem inconsequential. For example in my mind yesterday I spent a good part of the two with my two favorite kids, Agnes and Ngandwe. We spent a good part of the day in my hut on a hunt for a scary hairy spider that I found when cleaning under my bed (a chore that I try to avoid at all costs). When I was telling this story to my parents their reaction was “Aren’t you used to spiders by now” and most things of the creepy crawler distinction I am used to. I can handle wall spiders, biting ants, lizards, rats and even small snakes but this thing was tarantula looking and I was not going at it alone. So after moving of my furniture, lots of squealing (mostly on my part, not on the 10 and 12 year olds part) Agnes stabbed the spider with a small stick and again a 10 year old was my hero. That adventure was the highlight of my Saturday. That paired with playing with bubbles with my kids after the hunt had concluded. I think it was a quote from Knocked Up when Paul Rudd says, “ I wished I loved anything as much as my kids love bubbles” Well I love watching my kids love bubbles. I would do it for hours if I didn’t get light headed from the loss of oxygen it takes to blow the bubbles. I am sure someone in America has probably made up an invention that doesn’t require breathing for bubbles to fly away but we are in Zambia and all we have is me for now.

That brings “Sunday Fun Day” or me to Sunday as some refer to it in my previous life. Again not “eventful” by most peoples standards but pretty perfect by mine. I went on a beautiful run past my favorite dambo that looks like every beautiful picture you have ever seen of Africa but happens to be in my backyard. Then I treated myself to breakfast burritos (I must say my tortilla making skills have gotten quite good). The rest of the day was mostly spent reading and doing paperwork for this Malaria Net project. However it ended with my kids drawing on my porch and then two cute girls playing a laughing game with each other on my porch for hours. Just listening to them laugh at nothing was enough to make anyone smile. Now it’s the end of my weekend and I get to write this journal entry while listening to “new” (at least by PC standards) country music that my neighbor gave me and watch the sun turn from the brightest yellow to a light orange and finally the most beautiful pink. Two years ago when I arrived in the village I would be counting down the hours until the weekend was over so my American Monday workweek could start. Of course there are still remnants of that neurosis left, but very little. The longer I am here the more I enjoy the simple pleasures especially because as I write this entry my time here is slowly ticking away. However for today, right now, I just get to watch the Zambian sunset and listen to little girls’ laughter. I honestly can’t imagine a better Sunday. 

Friday, June 8, 2012


If I had to describe Namibia in one word it would be sand, or sidewalks. Ok so I guess I had to describe it in two words. But let’s back up a bit and start from the beginning.

Over this past Easter/Passover Vacation myself and 5 of my closest friends decided to venture out of Zambia to our neighbors to the South, Namibia! However first we had to get there. We started from Luapula and did our normal day of hitch hiking down to the capital Lusaka. From Lusaka we rested for a day (hitch hiking is surprisingly tiring) and then got on a bus to Livingstone where the famous Victoria Falls can be found. However we weren’t even able to get in the falls this time because we arrived in Livingstone around 3 pm and we were suppose to get on a bus to the border down at 1 am.  So we stayed up or tried to keep each other up and headed to the bus in the middle of the night. We waited. And waited. And waited. Then we were told the bus is going to be 3 hours late and we weren’t having any of that. We had to get our vacation started! So we convinced a man with a nice large van to take us to the border (sounds much sketchier in America thinking. Think Zambia. Totally normal to get in a strangers truck and let them drive you through the night to the border). We arrived at the border and slept in this nice mans van until the border opened at sunrise. Then we got stuck behind THREE bus loads of teachers coming from Zambia at immigration and lets just say it got hectic. However after some interesting discussions we made it to the other side! Immediately it was clean. The road was paved, the building was clean, people formed LINES, it was like going into another universe. It was officially vacation. But we were still quite a bit away. So then we found a mini bus, which also was the nicest mini bus I have ever been on, and were on our way again, only took another 17 hours on that mini bus to arrive in Windhoek. So it ended up taking us 4 days to get to Windhoek but let me tell you, it was worth EVERY MINUTE!

Windhoek, as the majority of Namibia that I saw was something straight out of a European postcard. Namibia was a german colony and so there are still a LOT of germans and german influence everywhere you look. My friend Katie and I went on the run the first day and just couldn’t believe what we saw. Number one we hadn’t seen sidewalks in two years and number two where were all the people? It seemed shockingly quiet and serene for a capital city. Then we realized that’s because there are only 2.1 million people living in a pretty massive country. However even though we all knew this fact we still couldn’t seem to get over it the entire trip. But then our vacation had officially started and it was off to do what we do best and rarely get the chance to do, eat, drink and shop! We immediately gorged ourselves on delicious seafood and draft beer while shopping for some goodies for the trip. Windhoek was beautiful but we really were itching to see the Ocean. I hadn’t seen it in two years and I was nearly about to burst. So the next day we headed to Swakopmund, the coast!!

Swakopmund was the cleanest, nicest beach town I have ever been to and I have been to my fair amount of beaches. It had a beautiful boardwalk that went down miles along the beach, the streets were swept (sidewalks again of course) and there seemed to be no trash anywhere! Swakopmund is not only known for its beautiful beach but also it’s the extreme sporting. The first day we arrived we decided to go and check out the dunes. Namibia is known for its incredible sand dunes and it didn’t disappoint. They were absolutely beautiful dunes that we just sat on all day taking up the view of the ocean. The desert backs straight up to the Ocean and its one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. It honestly felt like you were in Arabian nights. You took it in and it was one of those moments where I really thought life couldn’t get any better.  The next day we decided to do it up and go ATVing.  Most of us had never been so we were all looking forward to it and we were not disappointed. We ATV’d all throughout the dunes for an hour and a half and I can honestly say it was some of the most fun I have ever had. It was the mixture of a roller coaster and bumper cars. It rocked. The next day was just as amazing as it was time for Sand boarding or should I say sand sledding? My friend Natalie was the only one among us brave enough and experienced enough to actually sand board. The rest of us got to basically ride down these huge dunes on a made up sled that was a waxed down. It was so much fun and we got up to 60 km/hr on some of the fastest dunes! It was also a pretty ridiculous workout because as fun as it was to sled down the huge dunes, once at the bottom there was only one way back up and that was you walking in the deep heavy sand!  Again we were able to spend the day on the beautiful dunes and what more could we have asked for. Swakopmund was everything I could have asked for. It was serene, majestic and just a lot of fun. Sadly, our time was running out and it was time to go back to Windhoek for one more good beer and better meal.

Luckily this time our journey back would only take three days rather than four, but one included 24 hours on a bus. However at this point, we can basically travel on anything so the bus was a pleasure! How do I sum up my time in Namibia? Well I guess I just attempted to but there isn’t enough time in the day to really go through it all. Although I must say with all of the great activities, food, beer, sidewalks, etc, what really made this trip incredible were the people I was traveling with. It was an amazing group of 5 girls that came to Zambia at different times but all have this connection that is undeniable. For me and two of my friends it was our last vacation as PCV’s for my friends Mollie and Nia it was her first. However the time we spent there traveling, exploring and enjoying was some of the best time I have had in my service. I love Zambia and even more so I love the work that I do here and everything I have gained from it. However every once in a while it is nice to get out and treat yourself to a sidewalk and some sand. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Quarter Century Village Bday

It’s official. I am twenty-five, a quarter century old, my mid-twenties, or as I like to call it, my prime. Part of me still feels like I am 21 but when I think about where I was when I was 21 I retract my statement and push it to 22 and then I continue to do that same process until I get to 25. Twenty five I guess is kind of a big deal because any five year mark is 15, 20, 25, 30, oh my! I know the question that is on everyone’s mind, how did I spend my big 2-5? In the perfect way, surrounded by people I love in a place called home.

Last year I had wanted to spend my birthday in my village with my best friend Tiffany, my kids and lots of rain. However one of those inevitable workshops came up last minute so it was spent in our provincial house instead. It was wonderful and everyone treated me like a queen but part of me missed my village on my special day.

This year I was set on having a village birthday and even better I have gained two more amazing close friends that have come in the past year (that’s one of the cool parts of PC with every group that leaves, another one comes). So my closest PC neighbor Katie, my first friend in country, Tiffany and my newest friend, Mollie made the long trek out to Kalaba bringing lots of treats with them.

My birthday was perfect in every way. The morning started with Tiff (who is from Cali) taking me back to my southern roots by making biscuits and eggs. Then there were some intense games of Rummy and scrabble with wonderful phone calls from friends and family in the states intermittent throughout the day. The “party” started around 14:00 (might sound early but consider that we were also sleeping by 21:00) with my friends passing out party hats and blowers to my kids and me (the kids are still blowing those horns two days later and will be until they can blow no more). We took a wonderful walk to my dambo, which is one of those vast expanses that define Zambian beauty. After some birthday pictures, the rest of the day was spent dancing with my kids, teaching them American dances and mostly reverting back to my 5 year old inner child. The night finished with a delicious Mexican feast prepared by all (but mostly Tiffany) and blowing out candles on a cake Katie made me that morning. After some perfect cards, incredible presents and an arousing game of banana grams, we called it a night.

I didn’t have electricity or running water for my birthday. I didn’t go to a bar or club like I would have in the States (although the girls were kind enough to bike out some wine from town) but I was surrounded by people who I have grown with in one way or another over these past 20 months and have become my family here. This will be my last birthday in Zambia and writing that down is hard and brings up a mixture of emotions that I can’t put into words. However wherever I am on my 26, 36, and 50th birthday I will always look back on my 25th as one of the best. Surrounded by the bare necessities, but feeling like the most loved girl in the world.

Adventures of a Muzungu

First I want to apologize for not writing for a while. I have still been writing but the internet at our provincial house has been out for months so I have to post these at an internet cafe in town. This blog was actually written in January right after I got back from the States. Hope you enjoy!

This weekend I went on an adventure. It’s been a little over two weeks since I returned from the land of plenty and I am happy to say I am back to my dirty Peace Corps ways. My friend convinced me if I didn’t wash my hair for 3 weeks my thick curly hair of my past would return to its “natural state” . I am at week 2 and can comfortable say I look like a wet rat. But hey, when else will I be able to get away with looking like I constantly just bathed while simultaneously being filthy ever again? Anyway, lets get back to my adventure.

My friend Matt has been inviting me to his village for a while now and a few months ago he set off and found a bush path from his site to mine. However there was one difference to the usual bush paths that us, PCV’s find between our sites, this one involves a boat! You have to cross Mansa river to get from my village to Matt’s. So Friday morning I set off ready to bike and boat my way to Matt’s. We figured it’s about 30k (2-2/12 hour bike), which is a pretty standard distance for us bike-loving hippies. The journey there was quite lovely. Especially because I found out my counterparts village was about half way. I stopped at his for a delicious home cooked meal and a visit with any favorite namesake (his youngest is named after me and was born shortly after I arrived). It is amazing to see how much she has grown. It’s been two months since I’ve seen her and she is walking like a mad woman now! She is a year and 2 months and is turning into a real person right in front of my eyes. I realized on this last visit that she is the first person I have ever seen progress from birth to now and it’s a pretty amazing process. She will be one of the hardest to leave in September. However again I digress, back to my adventure…

After I was full on Nshima, Ba Shaderick informed me that the river was only about 1 kilometer from his house so he escorted me there where we found a nice young man who was also crossing and therefore would become my gondola operator and best friend. Mulenga (my new best friend) I learned was visiting his parents on the other side of the river where he also attends school. Mulenga and I “board” the large canoe where both our bikes and us fit comfortably and Mulenga “paddles” me across (and by paddle I mean dig a large stick into the muddy water and push us across, while standing, hence the gondola reference). The boat ride can only be described as incredible (probably because Mulenga was doing all of the work). We chatted, I enjoyed the beautiful lily pads and vast nothingness that defines the African bush, and we arrived safely on the other side 20 minutes later. From there I just kept asking people the name of Matt’s village and if I was going the right way and they graciously kept helping. About an hour later I was in Matt’s “sub-boma” (a string of shops that isn’t a quite a town but where you can find basics like sugar, salt and my favorite, rolls). Matt met me there and then showed me the way to his village about 12k away. I made it!! However the story only really starts here. Matt’s village was nice. We made a delicious pasta dinner with fresh basil from his garden (he has inspired me to make a garden purely for basil) and chatted about everything Peace Corps. The next day we were lucky enough to be joined by our friend Bob who came with eggs for breakfast (eggs plus rolls plus basil, what more could a girl want!). We had a wonderful breakfast and then I decided to get back on the “road” aka bush path. Matt has told me there was a short cut from his village to mine on another bush path so I decided to try that way. Adventure weekend, why not?

I was off again.. Matt told me I would pass a chicken co-op on my way and just to ask the way from there. Therefore when I came upon a large structure in the middle of nowhere filled with chickens, I knew I was headed in the right direction. What Matt failed to mention (probably bc he came to my site during dry season) was this short cut was VERY wet and muddy which makes biking slightly more difficult. Anyway, about an hour and a pound of mud later I arrived at the river. I made it.. kind of.. There was one problem, there was nobody there to man the boat (where are you now Mulenga?) and the boat was 30% filled with water. Yes, this is what I call adventure, I look around and there is NOBODY for as far as the eye can see. Hmm. Decision time. Let’s put those PC “life skills” to use. I remembered a few huts a little far back where I’m sure I can find somebody to help. I back peddled a little and came up to a very old Zambian woman with her children and tell her my problem. She sends me with a little boy to find the headman who is in charge of the boat. We get to the headman’s house and his wife says he is in the field but will send a kid to get him in her typical Zambian way she offers me a seat and we chat. She has 8 children, 7 girls and 1 boy and currently her girl is next to me petting a dead rat (I try not to gag). Eventually the headman comes and says he will paddle me across. Hallelujah! We get to the boat and he buckets out most of the water but I notice a small leak where water is still coming out. He assures me its fine but to make my America neurotic self feel better I continue heaving buckets of water out while he paddles me. This time there are also three other boys with their bikes (so 5 people, 4 bikes, ¼ of water) makes the boat ride not quite as lovely as my previous ride but still an experience. We make it to the other side and an hour and a half later I arrive in Kalaba. Tired, sun burnt and slightly dehydrated but I made it home. Oh and I forgot to mention I had promised my closest PC neighbor I would bike to her site for dinner. So it was time to chug water, bathe the mud off me and shove a cliff bar down my throat (thanks for those mom) and I was on my bike again. Luckily this bike is only 10k (about 45 minutes) away. Well of course dark clouds and a fierce windstorm come out of nowhere just to test how much my legs could take. Luckily the rain held off and I finally arrived to a delicious batch of chili, cornbread and Mango cobbler. It’s wonderful having a neighbor who can cook!! Thank you for that meal Jerrica, you are a life savor. We had a lovely evening and this morning the wind and rain cooperated and I got back to my village safe and sound.

This weekend I probably tried to squeeze a little too much adventure in 2 days. However I’ve got to say I enjoyed every second of it. It’s these little adventures that remind me why I love this country so much. Smiling faces greeting me in every village, new friends made in a short boat ride and PC friends who are just as crazy and dirty as me. Peace Corps, it really is the best.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Waku is what we here in Luapula land refer to America as when we are speaking about it. Waku doesn’t actually mean America in bemba, it means “from far” but in our bemba/peace corps slang it has come to be known as America, that land we are so “far from”. As some of you know I spent the last three weeks in Waku. It was an amazing three weeks that I had been thinking about since the beginning of my service. However it was also a learning experience for me as everything seems to be throughout my Peace Corps service.

Throughout my three weeks I visited four states ( Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and New York) and dozens and dozens of friends from all different parts of my life. I felt so lucky and blessed that so many people made such an effort to see me. I got to see my cousins which I usually only see once every three years at our family reunions ( that includes you Kevin Kokal, I told you I would give you a shout out), I got to see old high school friends that live all over the states but who have still become my family ( love you ladies), I also got to see old college roommates, study abroad friends, as well as people who I went abroad with to Israel in 2005 and hadn’t seen since. It really was like I was taking a blast into the last 10 years of my life. It was wonderful seeing everyone and again thank you everyone who came from near or far to visit. It meant the world to me. So now that I have written the most broad thank you note ever written, lets move on to the infamous “reverse culture shock” which I anticipated and experienced while home.

A common question while I was in the States was “ How are you doing? Does this feel weird? What is the most different or hardest thing to adjust to?”. All are valid questions but are hard to answer with one word or even one sentence. Therefore I am going to revert back to the "list technique" which I have used so often in my blogs. So here are the list of the top 5 things which were the most obvious culture shocks in my three weeks in America after being in Zambia for a 18 months. Note, these are my observations that I don't think are necessarily good or bad but different from Zambia.

1. Iphone, Ipads, Ipods, America is ruled by Apple and by “I”. When I left the states the Iphone was present as was the blackberry, android, flip phone and various other types of cellular devices. When I came back it was Iphone nation. One of my friends had a blackberry and people shunned her like she was living in the 19th century. I understand and see the appeal of the iphone very much, however I think it has made people less social and more “I” centered. Its not a negative or a positive, just a difference that was immediately apparent to me. I just hope that as this “I” revolution continues people continue to take time to put down their “I” devices and take in the beauty that is human interaction, experience and adventure, because I think sometimes the ease and “apps” which the iphone provides takes that scary yet useful unknown out of our lives.

2. DRIVING!! I got to drive while I was home and it was incredible. I turned the music up, put the windows down ( just a smidge because it was cold) and just drove. Although I loved driving, I did begin to miss the fresh air. I tried to explain to people that in Zambia I live outside. Yes I live in a mud hut but let’s be honest, it’s a mud hut. It is basically outside. I cook all my meals outside, I bathe outside, I use the bathroom outside and when I have to get from one place to another its by biking or walking, again outside. So although I tried to get out for a run or walk everyday I still felt a little stuffed by the perfectly heated cars, houses and restaurants. The day I got back to Zambia it was in the high 80’s and I went to the house where I was staying that didn’t have air conditioning or fans. It was almost a relief to be uncomfortable by the natural weather. I know I might regret this in a few months when the rains are pouring down and the humidity is unbearable, but for now, I like my uncomfortable weather.

3. OPTIONS. America has more options in every facet of its existence than I remembered. The first week I was in town I drove to a local CVS to find face wash. I stood in the isle for 45 minutes trying to figure out which one I should buy. Do I need pore reducer, foam wash, acne cream, total face wash, scented wash, etc. I just want some soap for my face!?! I became overwhelmed quickly and left the store, face wash had to be bought another day. This same thing would happen whenever I went to restaurants. To preface, we have one “restaurant” in Mansa which contains fried chicken and chicken pies, so to go to a restaurant with 100 choices of which way you want your salad prepared is slightly overwhelming. I usually just went with old classics or whatever the person next to me was ordering. It is exhausting making that many choices!

4. FAST PACE AMERICA- Although I loved every minute of my time in the states I am exhausted!! I am at my provincial house currently about to go back to my village and have slept for 10 hours each night. Although I didn’t “do” that much in America the amount of things that everyone tried to fit in their day seemed exhausting to me. Lets compare a day in the village to a day in America. A day in the village: Wake up, go on a run, eat breaktfast, bathe, read, have a meeting, cook lunch, read, wash dishes, sleep. A day in America: Wake up, Run, Shower, Go to breakfast with friend 1, go to target to get unnecessary yet wonderful accessory, stop at the bank on the way to take out money, drop off dry cleaning on the way to meet Family member 1 for lunch, go to doctors appointment, meet friend 2 for coffee, go home and take an hour to get ready for dinner with family member 2 and 3, then meet friend 3, 4, 5 for drinks after dinner. Don’t get me wrong, being able to see this many people that I love in a day is something that I will be forever grateful for, but can you see the difference? Even if it is just eating or getting a cup of coffee Americans don’t just “hang out” anymore. There must be an activity, going to a movie, or shopping, or eating or drinking. In my hut I might read for 4 hours a day, when I come into the provincial house we might watch a movie but mostly sit outside just talking about nothing ( mostly because there is nowhere to get a bite to eat or drink). I noticed in America I was always doing something when sometimes I just wanted to be still.

5. Marriage, babies, engagements oh my!! I am so thankful I was able to meet two little new additions to my family ( Hayden and Dylan) while I was home. I was also able to meet new boyfriends, wives and significant others that I had been waiting to meet for some time. It was wonderful. However this theme of marriage, babies, engagements seemed to be present in every city I visited or friend I talked to. People were either getting engaged, wanting to get engaged, tired of hearing about engagements, going to 5 weddings in June, sick of weddings, wanting to be in a wedding, etc. Again, I hope this doesn’t sound negative it was just a difference that I found since I had left the states. I understand I am 25 and this is the new reality. However I guess I spend so much time in Zambia explaining to people why I am NOT married or NOT engaged or NOT with child that it just came as a shock that it was the topic of conversation with so many different groups of people. It’s obvious to me why it was a shock as one of the main messages and topics of health education I focus on is delaying early marriage and early pregnancy ( as it is common to see a 16 year old married and pregnant and therefore dropping out of school at an early age), so I guess I just didn’t expect to talk about it as much with my peers who are living such completely different lives.

I want to be honest and say this blog has been really hard for me to write. I don’t want to come off as negative towards America or condescending or patronizing in any light. I know where I live and how I live my life currently is drastically different than the majority of the people I know. I know I went from living in a third world country to visiting one of the richest countries in the world. I know that the culture shock would have eventually worn off if I had stayed long enough and it will wear off when I come back later this year. I just felt like it was important to acknowledge and share my experience as I have since starting my journey of Peace Corps a year and a half ago. Even though going back to the states was going “home” I felt at the end of my trip that I was also going back “home” to Zambia. I think you can have multiple homes throughout this world and I think depending on what your doing or how long you’ve been there your comfort level at those homes can vary. Currently I feel most at “home” in Zambia. With my lack of electricity, dirty peace corps volunteers and fresh humid air. I know my home will shift back to the states soon enough, but for now I am content where I am.

I can’t finish this blog without thanking my parents for everything they did for me over the past 3 weeks. Mom, I hope you can get some rest and take care of yourself as I know you were taking care of me every second I was home. You couldn’t have made it more perfect, I enjoyed every minute of my time with you and hope you know how much I appreciate everything. Dad, I know you took off work and made it your priority to be with me as much as possible. Thank you. ( B- I didn’t forget about you, thanks for spending the most time either of us have spent in Greensboro in years with me. It made my homecoming that much sweeter).

Hope everyone had a Happy New Year and are looking forward to what 2012 will bring, because I know I am.

Friday, December 2, 2011

America.. here I come?

**This blog was written November 30,2011 the last night in my village before I am gone for a month, I will be in Lusaka (the capital) for a workshop for a week and a half before I fly to America on December 14, I won't return to Zambia until January 5th. It will be the longest I have been away from Zambia and my village since starting Peace Corps 16 months ago. So apologies in advance if it is a bit over dramatic. The village does that to you sometimes.***

I am sitting here in my hut, watching a huge rainstorm that has been building all day over my little village. I just cooked my counterpart our last lunch together for a month, I just packed up all of my clothes under my bed in suitcases ( so my various little rodent friends won't eat them while I'm gone) and although I am leaving my village tomorrow , right now America couldn't seem further away.
I have been counting down this day for months, marking my calendar as the months went by and thinking of all the things that await me at home, but now that the day has come my emotions are mixed. Of course I am so excited to go home, sleep in a bed that doesn't have a rat living above it, eat food without having to substitute dairy products for fake yellow cheese, and to see my family and friends. However part of me will remain here. Part of me will stay with my kids as they draw on my porch ( which is what is happening currently as I write). Part of me will stay with my PC family as they travel to surrounding countries to celebrate the new year. Part of me will stay in my village reading in my hammock and listening to my kids giggle and dance outside my door.
It has been a year and a half since I have left this continent and a year since I have left Zambia (I went to Malawi last new years). It's a weird feeling that is hard to describe even as I try. For example, a baby was just dropped on my porch by one of my iwes. In America this would probably be considered neglect by the parents of said child ( her name is Emma and I have attached a picture), as the iwe in charge of this baby is only 10 years old. However here, it all works. I love that I don't know who emma's mom is and probably won't know as she is probably a women passing through to collect caterpillars ( it is caterpillar season here in Kalaba and people come from all over Zambia to collect them). But for now Emma and I are playing and bonding and getting along quite splendidly and this is normal.
These are the things I worry about going back to the states. I'm worried I'm going to try and hold any baby found anywhere. Grocery store, gas station, restaurant, I will probably try and hold them . Secondly my "famous" status will go on reprieve for the first time since arriving. When I go running, to town or just outside of my house I won't have children screaming my name and calling after me. In an interview with former President Bill Clinton, I heard him say one of the weirdest things to adjust to after finishing his presidency was that they stopped playing a song every time he walked into a room. I feel you Bill.
But with all of the weird changes and social norms I am sure to break, I think I will survive in the end. I'm sure to offend strangers by staring at them blankly ( a social norm I have become accustomed to) or wearing something that was " so 2009" ( which is the last winter I was home). However even with all of it, I can hardly wait. To see my family and friends even for a few short days, weeks, or hours, is worth breaking every rule in the book. So get ready, because here I come!