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!
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! :+)
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.)
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.
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!