Mwaiseni kuli Mfuba!

My new home! The nsaka is on the left, behind the plastic-tarp water catchment that Steve set up. His bike’s next to the house; mine’s in the nsaka.

On April 1, I arrived in the village of Mfuba, the place I will call home for two years beginning in early May. And to say it was a spectacular visit would be a serious understatement. I felt excited and nervous and weighted with responsibility and elated all at the same time. Mostly though, I felt like the luckiest girl on earth.

It was a brief, two-day visit. Just a chance to check out my new home, get a sense of the place, and make sure that my hut, ichimbusu, nsaka, and bathing shelter were all in place and live-able. I knew that the current volunteer, Steve, would be there to show me around. (I’ll be a second-generation volunteer; most sites get three volunteers – six years in all. Steve has been the guy who gets them used to having a muzungu around.)

I heard the singing before I even stepped out of the PC Land Cruiser. At least 100 people had gathered in Steve’s yard to greet me with singing and drumming!

Me gettin- down with Ba Mary (left) and Ba Dorothy (right). Though I didn't even know their names at the time.

Me gettin- down with Ba Mary (left) and Ba Dorothy (right). Though I didn’t even know their names at the time.


Dancing with Ba Memory.

Dancing with Ba Memory.









I was shocked. Then a little freaked out. Then overjoyed. It was like something out of a movie. Women were pulling me into the circle, tying around my hips the extra citenge that is standard for dancing, and insisting that I dance. I obliged, and dragged some more women into the circle with me. I got to pound on a drum for a while. I danced with old women and little kids. I got dehydrated and hungry and my stomach had been feeling a little funny already, and I didn’t care. Mfuba was clearly THE coolest village in all of Zambia, and it was going to be my home! :+)

Ba Boston and Steve on the drum.

Ba Boston and Steve on the drum.

Now, for the record, Steve orchestrated all of this. He did NOT get this kind of entertainment when he first visited two years ago. But the fact that the community would show up for this kind of thing at all was still freaking cool. And I found out later that most of them had been waiting there since 8 a.m.! (Due to firefighting that morning at our second site visit, I didn’t get there ‘til noon.) My village rocks!

After the excitement died down, I was told to address the crowd and introduce myself. Which I did. In Bemba. I told them how welcomed I felt (Mwaiseni means “welcome” in iciBemba), what wonderful people lived in Mfuba, and how excited I was to begin working with them in May. Then someone whispered, “Tell you’re your name and where you’re from!” “Oh yeah, I’m Terri Nichols; I’m a Peace Corps volunteer from Amelika (Bemba spelling, not mine)!” Throughout my little “speech” there were howls and exclamations all around. I was stoked to discover that this was one of my “good” days with the language, where I felt like I could actually communicate, rather than one of those “bad” days where I feel like I’ve forgotten everything.

I was introduced to members of various co-ops and clubs, as well as the head man and random important people. I shook a LOT of hands. Then, finally, around 2, Steve and I got to retreat to his hut to cook lunch. Then an older woman showed up, carrying a huge bowl of groundnuts for us. She apologized profusely for “missing” the big welcome ceremony; she’d had to go into town and hadn’t made it back in time. After she left, Steve and I did a lot of talking, and I was so happy to get the lowdown from my predecessor. (Initially, I’d really hoped to be a first gen volunteer, but I definitely see the advantages of having someone else get things rolling a little – and Steve has done a fantastic job of that. He’s also a fellow Montanan! Well, MT transplant; he lived in Bozeman for 20 years before joining Peace Corps.) Just before sunset, I went for my first walk around “town,” where Steve showed me some shortcuts and notable features.

Yes, it is a very small village, about 7K south of the paved road between Kasama and Luwingu. It’s near the top of a plateau that on its southern edge tapers down to Lake Bangweulu and the Bangweulu Wetlands, around 150K or so away. I am told there is a “mountain” nearby, but in this neck of the woods, that means a small pile of rocks somewhere. Still, it’s definitely on my list of places to visit in my first weeks living in the village.

There are far fewer domestic animals in Mfuba than in the villages I’ve seen in Eastern and Central provinces, but there’s still the odd goat or pig, and a fair number of chickens. My soon-to-be-new home is comfy and well-built, and, best of all, is surrounded by grasses and trees that give me a fair bit of privacy. It’s set back just far enough from the main “road” through town to be perfect. The well is a very short walk away and is sure to give me a ripped upper body, as there’s no crank or anything; you just use a rope to pull up the bucket, hand over hand, one bucket at a time, ‘til your water jug is full.

That first night, after dark had fallen, Ba Bernardi and Ba Allan, two of the guys who have worked with Steve, showed up with a steaming hot bowl of beans, plus fresh eggplant and cabbage! (Over the next two days, we would also be treated to roasted maize and cassava, and LOTS more groundnuts. But shockingly, no ubwali! Apparently Steve hates the stuff, so maybe they think I do, too.)

Me fetching water for the first time, at Ba Agatha and Ba Bernardi's well.

Me fetching water for the first time, at Ba Agatha and Ba Bernardi’s well.

As we chatted with Bernardi and Allan just outside the house, under one of the most impressive night skies I’ve seen in Zambia, a huge shooting star traced a slow arc across the horizon. How do I get so lucky?

Highlights of the next few days included biking to the giant market that’s held on the second day of every month in the village of Lubushi, about 12K northwest of Mfuba. There we impressed the men with my bike riding skills (the paths were totally flat and rock-free, but somehow they were still impressed that a woman could ride a bike), met tons more people, and got in lots of Bemba practice.

Mfuba's wetland, about 2K from my house. A peaceful getaway.

Mfuba’s wetland, about 2K from my house. A peaceful getaway.

But by far the coolest excursion happened on my second night, when Steve took me to see the HUGE wetland (that’s dambo here) on the edge of Mfuba. We went right at dusk, and it was stunning. Peaceful and untrammeled (well, except for some gardens and cassava-soaking pits along the margins. You have to soak the cassava to get out the cyanide that would otherwise kill you.), and dotted with hummocks of trees. That wetland will be the place I go when I need a pick-me-up, no doubt.

More photos of Mfuba Village!


Up in flames

31 March 2013

Ah, the perils of cooking under a thatched roof.

It was the very last day of our Second Site Visit, which was our second chance to see the life of a current volunteer. Zach, Amy, Adam & I – the four LIFEers who are going to be spending the next two years in Northern Province – had spent four days visiting a current LIFE PCV who for the purposes of this post I’ll call Amy. We’d had a great time in her village, especially because she’s only a short walk from a small, beautiful river where we went swimming every single day!

It was our last morning, about 30 minutes before the PC Land Cruiser was scheduled to pick us up. Amy was making us French toast with her homemade pop-can stove. And it flared up a little. And caught a small corner of the thatch roof on fire. We heard her yelp and pretty quickly grabbed some water. She was trying to smother it from inside; me, Zach & Adam were throwing buckets of water on from the outside. For a moment there, I thought, oh, we’ve totally got this under control. It’s just a tiny patch of flame …

Then, all at once, the fire lept up and spread with an audible roar. It hadn’t rained in a week. The thatch was bone-dry. We kept trying to throw water on, but then the buckets were empty, and we knew we’d lost it.

Luckily we’d already taken our luggage out of the house. Amy grabbed her bike, and I think we all figured everything else was a loss. Then out of the blue, Ba Kabwe, our Bemba teacher who’d come along with us, grabbed a nearby chaka hoe and started hacking at the tiny bedroom window to tear a hole in the mud bricks. He got it open large enough to salvage some more of Amy’s stuff, including her electronics. Which was very valiant of him – but I wouldn’t have done it!

By then of course half the village had gathered to watch. Adam suggested getting more water from the river to wet down nearby roofs in case sparks spread it, but they all said no don’t bother, and as it turned out they were right. Nothing spread.

But Amy’s house was a total loss. We were all in shock. Amy didn’t cry, but I sure would have. She’d spent the past year building little shelves and painting and hanging photos and making a home out of a little hut in a very foreign land. And now it was all gone.

Then the most disheartening thing of all happened. While her house was still smoldering, Amy’s neighbors began pulling out of the wreckage whatever could be salvaged. Which was a surprising amount. But for every item that someone set aside for her, there was another that someone else took home for themselves. Now, these were small things that they were taking: water jugs, cooking fuel (how those bottles survived without exploding, I have no idea), plastic bins, food. And I know that we as PCVs own so much stuff, and these villagers have so little. On some level, why wouldn’t they snag a few things from the wreckage of a rich American home?

Still, it was stealing, plain and simple. And watching Amy’s neighbors steal her stuff before the fire had even gone out completely was kind of tough. One of those uncomfortable American moments where I didn’t know how to interpret what was going on. I asked Ba Kabwe about it later, and he said, basically, there are people like this everywhere. The same thing happened to him when his roof caved in during heavy rains last year and neighbors were helping him get stuff out. And don’t we have our share of opportunistic looting in the States as well?

This story isn’t over, of course. Amy got a ride into the provincial capital, Kasama, to hang out while Peace Corps and her village figure out what to do next. Her house will most likely be rebuilt. But I wonder: what effect this will have on the rest of her time in the village?