--JULY 24, 2009 ---
Well, folks, it took four airplanes and ~22 hours of flight time, but I successfully made it to Zambia in one piece, along with 41 other superawesome Peace Corps Zambia trainees (yes, Hitchhiker fans, that means 42 of us total)! After convening in Washington D.C. for a day-long meet-and-greet, the entire group departed together on July 22nd for the Zambian capital of Lusaka. The whole trip was a rather surreal experience, filled with the complete range of human emotional expression. At one end were the teary goodbyes and thoughts of "what have I gotten myself into?" as I departed Kalamazoo. But that quickly turned to nervous excitement as I arrived in the D.C. airport, and began bumping into and meeting the other Volunteers (with their predictable age range and absurdly high luggage:person ratio, Peace Corps volunteers are surprisingly easy to spot in a crowded airport). And finally, by the time we'd all finished our D.C. -> Dakar -> Johannesburg -> Lusaka marathon, we were all chatting and joking like we'd been friends for years!
After arriving in Lusaka to the cheers and high-fives of PC-Zambia staff and volunteers, we hopped in the back of a Land Rover (our new favorite form of transport) and headed to a local government hostel just outside Lusaka. We've been staying there for the past few days getting our vaccinations and meeting the training staff, and we'll soon be heading out into the bush (i.e. getting thrown into the fire) on our first volunteer site visit. So far, though, Zambia seems like an incredible place; here are a few observations I've made thus far:
- Despite sharing a border with such conflicted countries as Zimbabwe, D.R. Congo, and Angola (or maybe because of that fact), Zambian culture seems to be obsessed with peacefulness. When a Zambian asks me what I think of their country, the greatest compliment I can give is to say "Zambia is peaceful" Rather than resort to violence, the 72 Tribes of Zambia seem perfectly content teasing each other good-naturedly about their various tribal stereotypes (i.e. Bembas are lazy, Nyanjas are dumb, Tongas are wierd, etc), and they are proud of the fact that they don't fight each other.
- Nshima, the Zambian staple food, also seems to hold a cult-like status. Nshima is a maize-based dough (think extrk-thick polenta) that you mold into small clumps with your hands, and then use to pick up other relishes like cabbage or chicken. It's really amazing, and I can see why people like it, but the extent to which Zambians revere this starchy substance is rather surprising. I've already heard several Zambians complain of moderate -to- severe lack of nourishment after being forced to "settle" for rice or pasta for a week.
- English may be the official language, but the only English I've heard spoken by native Zambians (apart from our PC trainers) is the word "IAMFINEHOWAREYOU!?!?" Yes, it is one word, and it is the only greeting I typically receive from anyone under the age of 20 (though I do receive the occasional "YOUAREFINE!!"). However, learning the main greetings of the two local languages - Bemba and Nyanja - scores me big points with the over-50 crowd. A simple "Muli Shani!" works like magic to induce beaming smiles (and rapid responses that I cannot understand) in all of the older folks I meet.
Well, that's about it for now. we're finishing up all our initial orientation session in Lusaka, and getting ready to head out to visit some current volunteers' sites. I'll let you know how that goes!