July 29, 2011

Community, Entered

"Each nation has many customs and practices which are not only unknown to another nation but barbarous and a cause of wonder." - Montaigne (in this context, he is referring to the differences in German and French house-warming stoves. If he only were to come to Africa.)

Serenje Boma, Zambia
I have been living in the village of Chimupati, in Serenje District, in the middle of Zambia, in the center of Sub-Saharan Africa, for three months. I am finished with Community Entry, an artificial period of 90 days to orient myself to my community and them to me. From everyone's vantage point the world orbits them; in my case everything is moving faster around me, the train speeds by nearby and traffic follows a swift parallel path, while I spend the entire afternoon sitting on my porch.Here's a few notes, observations, and rants from my time here so far.

In the institution of Peace Corps everything has a name and every name has an acronym. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) use this jargon so frequently that even our Zambian Counterparts (Counterpart = a local official, government worker, or community member a volunteer works closely with) start using them; see the previously noted Economist article on NGO-speak. These acronyms become verbs, and take on a life of their own. To leave here after two years is to COS (Close of Service), to leave early is to ET or be ET'd (Early Termination, chosen or decided for you) or to be Med Sep'd (Medically Separated, sent back to the States with full medical coverage, in some cases).

"To teach effectively in order to impart relevant knowledge and skills." This is the uninspired description of a teacher's work, offered by the Zambian Ministry of Education. It has become my mantra, which I recite after stumbling out of my mosquito net draped bed.

I had a child named after me after days in the village.

Paraphrased from an interview with former President Clinton: The problem with poor countries is that they lack systems, that there is no predictable outcome no matter how hard someone works. But when these systems are in place, they are often concerned with their own propagation and stability (i.e. the birth of the bureaucracy).

"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers is about frisbee and death and the memoir as a parasite attaching itself to the author, his family and friends, and bleeding them dry.

Football is a big deal here. I watched a student score with a flying header. This is something that gets even the bamayos (mothers) with babies on their backs out onto the field to celebrate. A ball (bola) is made by spherizing plastic bags and wrapping them with string.

A skillfull mix of water and dirt can resurface a floor or wall. A skillfull mix of water and cornmeal can make nshima, the national dish (Zambia without nshima is like Italy without pasta).

Relying on solar power makes one impatient with the sun.

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