Saturday, August 29, 2009

Training Time

-- August 23rd, 2009 --
Life here in Zambia just keeps on trucking at breakneck pace. Two days after returning from our first site visit we were assigned to a language group (I’ll be learning Bemba!) and taken to live with our host families, where we will stay until the end of September. I’ll never forget the incredible nervousness, excitement, and anticipation we all experienced on that first night of homestay. A group of us - John, Leah, Angela, MaryEllen, Ashley, and I - were stuffed into the back of a Land Rover (again…), rehearsing our simple Bemba greeting more intensely than we’ve ever rehearsed anything in our lives! One-by-one the volunteers all said their anxious goodbyes, hopped out of the Land Rover and into the welcoming arms of their host family, anxiously reciting the aforementioned greeting to much smiles and applause. And just like that they were gone, disappearing into the sunset as we continued to the next volunteer’s house. It was at once a sad and exciting time - sad that our amazing Group of 42 was finally being separated, but exciting in that we each could look forward to our own unique homestay experience.

My new home at Ba Enock and Ba Robina's place

And for these past couple of weeks my homestay family has been absolutely incredible. My host father is 65 years young (and by young I mean not-a-single-grey-hair-on-his-head young), a retired Army contractor who is originally from Copperbelt province. My mother, also from Copperbelt Province, is the quintessential family matriarch - the one who really runs the show around this place. She has a quick and hearty laugh, and despite my dire warnings she has showed no qualms about entrusting me with the family cooking from time to time. I also have a host auntie who has been a truly unexpected blessing. She is in town only because she is sick (she’s waiting for surgery in Lusaka) but she is all smiles all the time. Every day she eagerly and patiently helps me through my often-futile attempts at constructing full Bemba sentences, and to her persistence I owe much of my current vocabulary. I also have a pair of teenage host brothers who are football-crazed maniacs, a trio of host sisters who love to play cards, and a whole gaggle of young kids, most of whom are probably not actually related to my family.

My host aunt, Justina, and Joshua, one of the chitlins around the house

Making nshima!

Our Peace Corps training here in Chongwe has been pretty intense thus far, but also incredibly rewarding. Every morning I meet with three other volunteers and a language trainer to learn Bemba for four hours straight. Learning language for four hours per day is quite mentally taxing, but boy is it effective! I’ve studied Spanish for five years and Chinese for two-and-a-half, and yet I think after these nine weeks of training I will be more proficient in Bemba than I ever was in those other languages.

After Bemba class I typically eat lunch with my host family and then bike eight or nine kilometers down the road (unpaved of course) to get to my technical fish-farming sessions. We do all sorts of crazy fish-farming activities in these sessions: we’ve measured and staked out a pond for construction, transported small fingerlings by bike for 13km, held fish-food-finding competitions, and actually harvested a local farmer’s pond. In the coming weeks we will perform a second, more serious harvest, which we may get a chance to sell in the local Chongwe market!

Looking forward, everyone here is holding their breath for next Thursday (the 27th), which is when we find out exactly which site we will be going to. As a Bemba speaker I know I will be going to either Central, Northern, or Luapula Province, but I’m still waiting on the specific details. And during the first week of Septembe we will go on a second, more extended site visit that will include a two-day stay at my site-to-be. So in two-weeks time I will be able to tell you all about the place in which I will be living for the next two years! But until then, stay well and enjoy those last few days of summer back in the States!


  1. Work hard Mike! :P

    My last days of summer have often been spent in the anatomy lab dissecting. The hands are (unsurprisingly) really really difficult to dissect. >.<

  2. Thanks SO much for taking the time to post in your blog.
    You will have a different experience than Carly did as a teacher and I cannot wait to hear all about it. When you finally get to your post and are alone please remember that MANY people back in the states are thinking about you and care for you very much. You are always in our thoughts.
    The pictures are the last one with the workers reflected in the pond. You have quite an eye!!
    All the best, Mark Loehrke