April 22, 2011

A brief update

(Written in early April, typed today)

Greetings to family, friends, and all those who hear the sound of my voice echoed through the pores and synapses of the Internet. Apologies for the delay in posting, but this is Africa, time is elastic and water and broadband do not flow to every house. I am in the provincial house in Central Province, where there is wifi.

Zambia, termed the fetus of Africa due to its shape, is situated in the center of Sub-Saharan Africa. It borders a variety of countries, some visitable, others not. I just visited my new house, 25k southwest of Serenje. It is a distance from the phallic mass of the Democratic Republic of Congo which segments the country, and is less than a kilometer from a train which stops for three minutes before taking its occupants to Tanzania. My house and school where I will begin work at are right off the Great North Road, a slab of tarmac which provides a path for imports and exports to and from the north.

The specifics and minutiae of Peace Corps training can be explained better elsewhere and by someone else. All I can provide are vignettes into my two months here. I stay with an amazing host family in Chongwe. They are Soli and, being from the Lusaka area, speak Nyanja; but also Bemba, the language I have been learning, and a considerable amount of English. They are my initiators into the daily life of the village, providers of my meals, and my unrelenting companions. When my schedule allows, my host mother and I cook nshima and relish together, my father and I listen to the BBC, and I play games with my siblings. We listen to music and exchange superstitions and share the rituals of our cultures.

Training has been in some places repetetive but by no means exhaustive. It is our government's attempt to take us from wherever we were when we arrived and make us better at ground-level development (in the span of three months). I have been enjoying the language (or should I say Ndefwaya ukulanda na ukumfwa icibemba saana). Being an oral language, the grammar is simple and structured. Politeness and indirectness as particular to the culture of the Bantu people, as traits they are embedded in the language. The noun is king, and all other elements of speech serve only to provide its foundation.

Peace Corps Zambia has four concurrent sectors: Education, Agriculture, Fishing and Aquaculture, and Health. I am in the first, Rural Education Development (RED), and my overly fancy job title is Community Education Specialist. Peace Corps does well to stress our role as development professionals and educators, rather than recent college graduates, refugees from the American job market. Obviously the level of success in development differs from one volunteer to the other; however, I have met some very passionate and skilled people who have complex understandings of the intersection of their culture and that of Zambia. The RED program is the most structured and bureaucratic of Peace Corps Zambia, because "Specialists" will be working with and in the Ministry of Education. (The Ministry of Education, still containing clustered remnants from missionary schools, and weighed down from promises of its socialist era, is too underfunded and without resources to put into practice the extent of its mission and programs.) In fact, some of the greatest challenges at Zambian schools have to do with funding, in particular its lack. Community schools have arisen in areas too remote for children to walk to already overcrowded Government schools; the Ministry is only beginning to provide minimal support to these informal institutions, many of which lack buildings and rely on volunteer teachers with minimal qualifications.

The school where I will be beginning to work at is understaffed by five teachers, and even more are on leave due to various reasons. So some classes are combined, doubling the size from 40 pupils to 80, and others are simply without a teacher, so the Head Teacher, the principal of the school, has taken it upon himself to teach them as often as he is available. My primary role, after a brief period of familiarizing myself with the community and performing baseline data collection, is to co-teach with upper level teachers at the school. This is intended, I believe, to bring professional development and training into the classroom for teacher who are too overworked to facilitate it outside of the school. Obviously this is inadequate to address some of the greater issues of schools within the zone, including nine community schools, so as opportunities arise, I will be working on other projects at my school, in the village community, and other institutions. All the members of the community are farmers, subsistence or otherwise, so opportunities for Income Generating Activities (IGAs) might be present. One of the teachers' husbands works for COMACO, an NGO which facilitates food security projects in order to discourage animal poaching. Other NGOs in the area are working with HIV/AIDS, something which will absolutely be integrated into my work, given the data on the epidemic. A few months down the line we will receive training through PEPVAR in order to facilitate HIV/AIDS education. Our last session in training was with an association of Zambians living with HIV+, and we had the opportunity to talk with a woman who had lost nine siblings and both parents to AIDS related illnesses, as well as her husband and first child. However, she has married again, and although her husband is HIV+, their first child was negative, and she was expecting another. Although there has been advances in education on HIV/AIDS, and the emergency funding provided by PEPVAR gives two levels of anti-retroviral drugs where there was previously no accessible affordable treatment, HIV/AIDS is still a very impacting disease with nearly 15% of the population affected.

So, hopefully these few words will be satisfactory until I am able to utter more. Please continue sending emails, letters, and bush notes. I sincerely enjoy, or will enjoy, all of them.

PS: A bush note is the practice of giving a letter to someone else in the village in the hopes of it being passed along to its recipient. It helps if the receiver is the only musungu (white person) in the area. I have yet to try it but I hear it works.


  1. Zambia = Fetus
    Democratic Republic of Congo = Phallic Mass

    Love and miss you!

    PS - Look for my "bush note" I just gave it to my co-worker who gave it to her daughter...it will be there soon! (Told her to give it to the white guy named "Richard".)

  2. Thanks Megan. I expect to get your note soon.