Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rockin the Village Life (cont.)

I'm also really beginning to enjoy all the biking I'm doing. Since I'm 50km from the nearest paved road (there are none in my district), 20km from the nearest vehicle, and since the train only comes on Saturdays, I pretty much rely on my Peace Corps-issued Trek 3700 to get me everywhere. Which is amazing, since biking on all the bumpy, windy bush paths is way more exhilarating than biking the streets of Ann Arbor. I've also been out on some longer trips: to Kasama (85km), and to my nearest PCV neighbors, Jocelyn (20km) and Christine (90km). Saturdays are my exploring days (ukushinguluka in Bemba - "Just circling around"), where I pick a small mountain off in the distance, or a village on the map, and try to go find it. Haven't really been that successful, but it's been a great time explaining the concept of exploring to the bewildered locals.

My village "roads"- either impossible narrow or muddy from the rains, but always fun to bike!

Not all's rosy in Chandaweyaya, though. Besides the lack of mechanized transportation, the food's pretty hit or miss as well. The hits include making peanut butter (its incredibly simple - I don't know why people don't do it back home!), giant bundles of bananas, and the mangoes that are about to come into season. The misses include things like whole fish (*eaten* whole, not just served whole), caterpillars (the little ones are actually alright, but do we have to eat the big black spiky ones too???), and pretty much anything made from dried cassava flour. And in addition to spotty food, I'm fighting off an invasion of bad-mannered, give-an-inch-take-a-mile little kids. They don't ever leave my house. They constantly and repeatedly ask me for everything I own. Every time I do something nice like take their picture, play soccer, cook fritters, or make paper airplanes for them, they all really enjoy it, but i just end up fueling the "Gimme Gimme Gimme" and the "Let's go crowd around Ba Michael while he cooks his meal because we're bored and maybe he'll give us something" fires".

Photographing the kids - don't be fooled by their innocent and fun-loving appearance

But somewhere amidst all this socializing, biking, eating, and chasing away little kids, I'm actually doing some work as well. I've done a bunch of "Community Entry" activities like community mapping, daily activities schedules, and needs assessments, all designed to help me get to know the community members and drive out their strengths, goals, and desires. From these activities I've found a project trying to research methods of making peanut oil (since everyone grows groundnuts, nobody can sell them; but everyone does buy lots of cooking oil). I've also started to teach fish farming lessons to several local farmers. Most of the farmers speak no English, so I've been teaching primarily in Bemba. This is where Ba Elias, my neighbor and Peace Corps - assigned work counterpart, has really begun to shine. We have spent enough time together that he really understands how I speak Bemba. Even when the other farmers are confused by my Bemba wording, Ba Elias usually understands what I was trying to say and is able to re-explain it ("What he's really trying to say in Bemba is ____").

My counterpart, Ba Elias, and footballer friend Ba Isaac, dodging crocs on the Chambeshi

Finishing the Community Mapping activity in my nsaka

The fish ponds of Ba Elias

Ba Elias is also displaying an ever-increasing flair for sarcasm. One day, when I returned from a Chandaweyaya Agricultural Committee meeting, I wanted to confirm that his name was on the all-important Farmer's Register. When I ask him he simply laughs and replies in nearly perfect English "Are you kidding me? I MADE the Farmer's Register! I'm the first name on the list!" (turns out he was the former Chairman of the C.A.C., but I don't know where he learned to say "Are you kidding me?"). I'm fairly certain that after two years, Ba Elias will be not only the most knowledgeable fish farmer in the land, but also the best user of sarcastic English slang expressions. Now that's what I call development!


  1. Have you seen any interesting wildlife on your bike trips around the area?

    The key with kids is to take advantage of their short attention span, and divert their attention towards something far away from you. Or bargain with them, "If you do abc for me, I'll do xyz for you."

  2. Sounds like you are turning into Lance Armstrong!! Very impressive!!
    Good luck with the small ones. Carly just ended up shooing them out when she tired of them and would ask THEM for gifts instead (this would usually confuse them)!!!
    Ba Elias sounds like fun. Anybody who can use a language with sarcasm REALLY understands it!!
    Stay amazing, Mark Loehrke

  3. It's fun ukushinguluka your website: biking, eating caterpillars, dodging croc's, developing the native sarcasm.

  4. Mike:

    I'll start by saying Happy Thanksgiving. I just bought myself a new Trek bike for an early Christmas present, so I know how you're enjoying yours.

    I am COO of Water Charity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does water, sanitation, and public health projects worldwide. We recently started a new initiative, Appropriate Projects, to fund small water and sanitation projects very quickly.

    I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bolivia ’66-’68), and am well aware of the difficulties Volunteers face in the field. Appropriate Projects is an addition to our regular Water Charity model that is allowing us to provide project resources to PCVs in the field immediately.

    Often there is that little project that must be done now (before the rains start, before school begins, or in response to a critical need), but there are no funds available. Traditional funding sources are cumbersome, and there are long forms, detailed requirements, limited resources, and long delays.

    PCVs working in water and sanitation usually have potential projects lined up. For those working in other program areas, there may be water components to their projects, or improvements needed where they work or teach.

    Sample projects may be: a rainwater catchment, handwashing stations for a school, water for a clinic, piping, tanks, pumps, sinks, latrines, wells, etc.

    We like to “finish” projects that have been started, and “fix” things that have ceased to function.

    We encourage follow-up projects that expand upon the successful completion of the first small project.

    If you have a project in mind, please fill out the application form. We want this to be easy for you, so we have developed a simple form that you can fill out in one sitting.

    If you have any questions about the appropriateness of your project, or you need some time to get it together, just let us know.

    We pre-fund projects, so you don’t have to wait around for donations to roll in.

    If you do not have a project that qualifies, please pass this message on to your fellow Volunteers who may have an interest. Finally, if this initiative resonates with you, please let others know what we are doing through your social networks, websites, and blogs.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Averill Strasser

    Appropriate Projects

    Water Charity

  5. Averill

    Thanks so much for reaching out to us Zambian PCVs! As an RPCV from the 60's, how much different does it seem now that people like you and I can connect over the internet?? I can't even imagine how you were able to forge such collaborations without internet and cell phones!

    Your proposition - helping out with those little improvement projects too small and immediate for traditional funding sources - seems like an absolutely stellar idea! Since I've only been in the village for two months and have not yet begun to work closely with the school, I don't personally have a sanitation/public health project in the pipeline. I've been really surprised at how rare water- and fecal- borne illnesses seem to be in my village so far. We'll see how that changes as the rainy season approaches!

    However we've got 141 other volunteers in Zambia, many of whom are working specifically in public health. I just sent out a call for project proposals, so we'll see what turns up!

    Thanks again for reaching out - i feel like such collaborations are going to be crucial for development out here in my village, and I look forward to keeping in touch!