- January 28, 2009 -
There are only a few times during our stay as Peace Corps volunteers when all 40 people from my intake get together, and In-Service Training (IST) is one of them. On January 17, we all traveled down to a government hostel in Lusaka for two weeks of supplemental training and meetings with our program trainers. Getting to see everyone again, and hear their stories from site, was an incredible time- i continue to be amazed at how everyone's village offers a completely unique experience. Some people live with families, some without. Some live right next to town, some live 200km away. Some have NGOs all over the place, some have villagers who've never seen a white person before. We all have different successes, issues, and problems, which means we've all changed quite a bit since Swear-In back in September.
Our supplemental training was short, but very important. We learned primarily about sustainable agriculture, about how to better utilize the resources around the farm to improve soil fertility and reduce the cost of inputs like fertilizer. This is a hugely important issue for Zambia, because farmers here are so dependent on government chemical fertilizer support (which is currently being reduced by 80-90% in my village), and very susceptible to drought and other climate change phenomena.
We also invited our counterparts to come down for a two-day workshop on project management. We focused on how to teach villagers to better identify their own talents and the resources within their community. This is a critical step that is missing from many people's thought process. Most people here seem to think that large projects need funding from the government and outside NGOs; one of my biggest and most critical roles is to help people see the potential they have to complete these same projects without any outside help, using just their own creativity and hard work. It's a tough thing to try and teach, so I'm extremely glad that Ba Elias was able to come down and attend the workshop with me. We'll have a lot of work to do when I get back.
It was also fun to catch up on the wide world of sports. The NFL playoffs were playing on satellite TV, but there was a 12-hour delay or so between the live game and the showing here in Zambia. Thus we all had to make a pact that we wouldn't check the scores online before the game came on, spilling the beans for the rest of the group. In that *other* kind of football, the Zambian soccer team made quite a run in the African Cup of Nations, but got knocked out by Nigeria after a 0-0 overtime tie led to a 5-4 loss on penalty kicks. It's fun to see how crazy everyone is about soccer here. During the games, each shot on goal is accompanied by a deafening roar that seemingly comes from everywhere around town. But after the Nigeria loss, and another excruciating one to Cameroon (89.5 minutes of hard work and brilliant play against a far superior team got ruined by a few seconds of stunning, ball-through-the-goalie's-hands ineptitude), the entire city of Lusaka sat in stunned, despondent silence.
But after two weeks of fun in Lusaka, everyone's getting a bit worn out and now we're getting ready to head back to our sites. The next few months should be productive and exciting, as the rains ease up a bit, people begin to harvest their crops (and hopefully fish ponds), and a new intake of volunteers comes in (yay, we're not the newbies anymore!!!). And my family's coming to visit in May, which will undoubtedly be a fantastic experience!!!! Talk to you soon!