Back home

29 July 2013

I returned to Mfuba late yesterday from four whirlwind days in Kasama, for “Mini Provs.” There were provincial meetings at the PC Northern provincial house in May, but us newbie PCVs weren’t allowed to go because we couldn’t leave the vil or use the house during Community Entry. Mini Provs were supposed to be an excuse to give us a break, let us get online, do work we can’t do in the vil, etc.

For me, though, I hit my “OMG, how am I going to do this“/”Get me the heck out of this village” moments much earlier on. And I got my break over the Fourth of July, when I celebrated the American holiday at a waterfall outside the town of Luwingu with a few PCVs who live in that area. (I’m halfway between Kasama and “the Gu,” as PCVs there call it, so I’m told I’m an honorary member of the “Gu crew,” which is just dorky enough to suit me perfectly.)

The Gu Crew during my first trip out of Mfuba villagel, to celebrate Fourth of July at a waterfall outside Luwingu. L to R:  Rodney, Erica (Orange), Erica (Peth), and Tristan, sporting that beautiful citenge.

The Gu Crew during my first trip out of Mfuba villagel, to celebrate Fourth of July at a waterfall outside Luwingu. L to R: Rodney, Erica (Orange), Erica (Peth), and Tristan, sporting that beautiful citenge.

At the time, it was the perfect break. Exactly what I needed. Caught up with Adam, from my intake, and met four other great, inspiring volunteers. Just three days, but I returned to Mfuba feeling happy and refreshed after my first “vacation” since I arrived in Zambia. Since then, I’ve been happy as in my vil.

Going to Kasama, on the other hand, never feels like a vacation to me. I’d gone in twice previously, just for the day to get mail and a few groceries. This time, though, there were also government officials to meet; computers I could use to go online (imagine that!); Skyping with my brothers; important info to research about farming, chickens, live fences, etc.; and of course a LOT of other PCVs: all 7 of us NoPro newbies, plus at least a dozen more seasoned volunteers.

It was all a bit overwhelming.

Needless to say, when I awoke on Saturday, the day I was supposed to return to Mfuba, I still had a ton to do. Even though all I wanted to do was to lounge in one of the hammocks and do NOTHING.

So when the power went out, leaving my eggs half-cooked on the electric stove (ah, the advantages of charcoal!), it was a great excuse to finally chill. Played an entire game of Monopoly, then sat down to watch a stupid movie. (The power was back on.) Other PCVs were already talking about sticking around for a third night by staying at a nearby guesthouse. I let myself be talked into it.

Don’t get me wrong: I had a great time that evening, dancing and talking and cooking really gross food at 10 pm. But there were a LOT of PCVs there – many of whom had already used up their allotted four nights per month at the house but wanted to stick around. As I listened to tales of all the different countries they’d visited during their service, I couldn’t help but think: how much time do these volunteers actually spend in their villages?

I’m not about to get preachy here. God knows I’ve had my days where I want to run screaming, and I think I have an amazingly friendly and understanding village. Some other PCVs have a much rougher time of it: Villagers constantly asking them for money, parents openly beating their children, things being stolen from their huts.

But me, I really LIKE my village! I’m kinda getting to love it.

Still, I got lulled into that PCV comfort bubble. The whole ride back to Mfuba, with Adam and Tristan, who were going further on to their vils outside Luwingu, I was enjoying the conversation so much that the time flew. So when suddenly we arrived at my stop – Mumana Lupando, a 6K walk from Mfuba – I was totally unprepared. Suddenly I knew how those other PCVs felt, not wanting to go back to their vils – especially when a drunk guy threw his arms around me and asked me to marry him. (I count my blessings every day that I don’t live right off the tarmac, where the drunks are plentiful.)

But as I made my way back to Mfuba, I was greeted warmly by one person I knew. Then two more. And at the edge of the village, there were all the kids: Mavis, Isaac, Kamfwa, Mary, even little Obed, whose constant stream of “Ba Terri”s used to drive me nuts. “Ba Terri! Muli shani?” They greeted me as if I’d been gone a year, and it sure felt like it.

My Mfuba buddies: Left to right, Joyci, Annette, Obed, Memory, Doro, and Allan.

My Mfuba buddies: Left to right, Joyci, Annette, Obed, Memory, Doro, and Allan.

Cisuma ukumimona!” (good to see you!) I exclaimed. And I meant it. Said the same to every adult I ran into that evening, too.

As I regaled them with tales of what a pain in the butt it is to find transport on a Sunday (that’s a whole other story, as is transport in general here) and listened to the latest news from the vil, I counted my blessings yet again.

It sure is good to be home.


Under African skies

23 July 2013

I was out late last night (’til 18:30!), visiting some friends who live nearby. I’d gone there initially to check up on Ba Maxwell, who has malaria, but I ended up shelling maize and chatting for a looong time with him; his wife, Ba Scolastica; and Ba Webby, who lives across the road from me but happened to be visiting, too.

If Mfuba had a village comedian, Maxwell would be it (sick or not). Scolastica can hold her own with him and is quickly becoming one of my favorite people here. Webby already IS one of my favorite people: patient with my Bemba!

We talked about all sorts of things, mainly centered on the differences and similarities between friendships, dating, marriage, women’s rights, and breast exposure in our respective countries. Highlights included Webby announcing he’d only pay 100 kwacha ($20) for an American wife, vs. the going rate here of 800 kwacha, because Americans only want one or two children. (He was joking; you had to have been there); Scolastica announcing she is NOT a baby-making machine (that was the gist anyway); and Maxwell pulling out his “breast” like a woman nursing a baby.

I didn’t want to leave and might’ve stayed all evening. But in typical village telephone fashion, a child came by to tell me that someone had come to MY house to visit (bearing groundnuts and beans, it turned out) and was now waiting for me across the road at Agatha and Bernardi’s place.

I think that’s the first time that’s happened here: I left someone’s home not because my brain hurt or because I’d run out of things to say or because I just wanted alone time, but because I had to.

As I walked home under a full moon, Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” started up in my head like some movie cliche, and I had this sudden thought: “Holy crap, I’m in Africa!” Utterly corny or not, I walked all the way home singing softly to myself and grinning like a fool.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d had the “Holy crap I’m in Africa” thought, nor was it the first time a song from the Graceland album has popped into my brain (I hate to admit it, but it really IS appropriate sometimes). But it WAS the first time I felt not that I was observing this magical place unfolding before me, but that I was actually a part of this tiny corner of the continent, with all its beauty AND its flaws. Re-reading what I’ve just written, I realize it’s also the first time I’ve used the word “friend” in Mfuba Village.

The art of receiving

14 July 2013

Ukupokelela: to receive something given. Such a (relatively) easy word to say in Bemba. For me, though, such a difficult word to put into practice!

Many of you reading this know how bad I am at receiving anything – gifts, compliments, free meals, help of any kind. I thought I’d gotten a little better at this.

But now, in Zambia – where I have ostensibly come to GIVE, my reluctance to receive has jumped into overdrive.

Here is a list of just some of the things I have received in the past week:

  • Three pounds of vegetables (at least)
  • Three tomatoes
  • Sugarcane
  • Two meals
  • Help in building my compost pile
  • Help in putting the roof on my shed (Who am I kidding? They built it all by themselves. I just watched and gave them water to drink.)
  • Ba Bernardi’s time. He spent most of a day biking with me 65k to the nearest (decent) carpenter so I could finally get chairs and some more shelves. He’s also insisting that he will pick up the furniture for me, on his own. On his bike, of course.
  • Water-drawing services from my favorite kids, Bwalya and Mavis
  • Compliments on my cooking
  • Ridiculous amounts of praise and thanks from village committee members at a meeting
  • Remote blog-posting services (oh, wait, that’s Helene back in the states! Isn’t she awesome, everyone? :+)
My bike, laden with bananas, sugarcane, and veggies given to me by a local farmer when I visited his garden.

My bike, laden with bananas, sugarcane, and veggies given to me by a local farmer when I visited his garden.

And what have I given in return?

Funny, I was about to say “not much.” but I just realized I DID give a “better gardening” workshop. And I gave away the sugarcane and almost all the veggies (which I cooked up to share for dinner at Ba Agatha and Ba Bernardi’s). I helped some neighbors shell maize.

I also gave another English lesson, and taught some more people the Hokey Pokey (kids and adults alike, they freaking love that song!), and I sure made a of a lot of people laugh. I joke that sometimes it seems that that last one IS my job here, and that if that’s true, I’m doing a fantastic job!

So maybe that’s enough. Maybe in Zambia, keeping a tit-for-tat tally of whether I’ve done enough to deserve the food or the help or whatever is NOT the point. (Come to think of it, maybe it never is.)

When people give something from their hearts, it makes THEM happy. As I know myself, giving something – especially when it is well-received – can be a great joy.

So why, here – where giving is at the very center of the social fabric, where giving is just expected because everyone is part of your family, whether by blood or simply by proximity – do I resist?

Because people here are much poorer than I am. Because I am supposed to be here to help YOU, darnit! :+)

Somehow, in spite of that, it clearly gives the Bembas great joy to share with the muzungu living in their midst. In the interests of community integration, napokelela with a smile.

Sights & sounds from my front porch

10 July 2013

I just watched a new crescent moon sink behind the tallest tree in my front yard. It was the perfect ending to my day. Then again, I pretty much always feel that way about my evenings on the porch.  If I were Zambian, I’d be sitting in the nsaka, perched on a stool or an extra brick or sitting on a reed mat, huddled around the fire. (It HAS gotten chilly at night!) More than one neighbor has expressed concern that I’m getting my citenge dirty on the bare concrete, or that I’ll get too cold without a fire. But I’m an American, and what can I say? It’s not THAT cold, and I like my view from the porch. The only view from my nsaka is of the icimbusu.

Ok, to be fair, it’s not a porch so much as a front stoop. Just big enough for me and two friends, or me and my charcoal brazier when I’m cooking. But it’s the perfect spot for taking in the sights and sounds of Mfuba Village – almost any time of day.

06:00 – breakfast on the stoop when I have big, early-morning plans (plans that inevitably don’t happen ’til later, but I’ve gotta be ready just in case …) OK, I admit it: it is COLD out here. Why don’t I have a fire again? Oh yeah, saving the trees and all …

I’m rarely out here this early, but it’s a beautiful, nearly silent time. Golden light on the trees, and truly the only sounds are the birds. Including of course my overly ambitious rooster, who starts in before 4 am most days and is now going strong. Unfortunately, my front door faces west, so, reluctantly, as the sun rises, I make my way to the first patch of sunlight – on the edge of the nsaka.

September colors from the front porch, with my favorite tree (Mpasa) at left.

September colors from the front porch, with my favorite tree (Mpasa) at left.

07:00 – My usual breakfast time, and now things are hoppin’. Birds going crazy, swooping and diving; chickens digging in the mulch of my soon-to-be garden for all they’re worth; goats making a ruckus in the trees.  My neighbors, too, have leapt into action. Ba Nellis walks through my yard, taking the short-cut from her home to the well. Through the screen of trees I see a blur of bicycles heading to the fields to harvest – the early farmers who will soon be followed by many more. And the voices! Bamaayos shouting at one another, and at their children, from all directions. It’s hard to explain the amazing range of intonations in speech here, but trust me, I could be entertained for most of a day just listening to these ladies talk (and, in fact, I have been several times!). Mwaya kwi?! (“Where are you going?”), said with a serious raising of pitch on the kwi, is the most frequent phrase.

08:00 – It’s a lazy morning for me if I’m eating breakfast this late. I try not to feel guilty as I listen to the chatter of the not-so-early farmers, slowly making their way to the fields, stopping along the way to catch up on the latest village gossip. The 1st and 2nd graders are heading to school (an hour late, as usual), and I can just make out the sounds of the older girls at the well, hauling up metal buckets full of water and scrubbing yesterday’s dishes.

13:00ish – Lunch time for me, but I retreat into my house to eat. For the next four hours, the sun will blaze on my front stoop, and I’m just too lazy to haul lunch ingredients to the nsaka.

Inevitably, kids will stop by in between school (or work in the fields) and lunch, which is still an hour or so away for most of them. I leave my lunch – and the cool shade of my house – to sit in the nsaka and chat for a few minutes. I fight competing urges: to share my eggs or peanut butter or leftovers from last night with kids who probably haven’t eaten in six hours, or to tell them to go away so I can enjoy my lunch while reading!

18:00 – My favorite time of day. Mfuba Village is at its most raucous, but it’s now my time to relax. A neighbor or two might stop by as I cook or eat my dinner, and she will politely sit for a few moments when I offer her a seat on the (filthy) porch with no reed may. But she has her own dinner to cook and is soon on her way.

Neighbors are again yelling back and forth, kids are playing various ball games in the road in front of my house. (No worries. We see an average of two vehicles a month, and they are always preceded by excited shouting: “Motoka! Motoka!”) The birds are at it again. Bernardi and Agatha have the radio on full blast: gospel music, which is a favorite here. I much prefer it to a program I like to call “the angry preacher.” Think American televangelists, but much louder.

In the midst of this cacophony, a red sun slips behind the trees, almost unnoticed but for the pinkish sky and the chill left in its wake.

Sunset from the front porch.

Sunset from the front porch.

19:00 – the stars are coming out. The Big Dipper in its odd, upside-down place low in the sky, the Southern Cross off to my left. I can just make out Agatha and Bernardi’s fire, flickering through the trees. I want to go inside to the relative coziness of my house to look over various notes from the day, write in my journal, play guitar, maybe study a little Bemba. But the kids have started up their own evening entertainment: singing for all they’re worth, then collapsing into giggles when someone misses the call-and-response.  I’ll stay out for one more song. I smile to myself. The smile of the utterly content.

The longer I live here, the less I find myself playing my iPod. There’s too much to take in right outside my door, and when I’m listening to my music, I sometimes feel like I’m missing something better. Yes, it’s true: yesterday afternoon I had an impulsive, fantastic solo dance party, to MY music, inside my house at lunch time. But I kinda preferred the outdoor group dance party I had today: me, 10 of my favorite kids, a bucket, and two water jugs. :+)

In another hour or so, I’ll go out to the porch one last time, just before I go to sleep. The voices and music will have died down, and I’ll feel that sense of quiet aloneness that I love and crave so much here.  I’m still an American, and I’ll always enjoy time spent alone in my house. But more and more these days, I find myself equally in love with the communal world outside my door. It’s nice to know that all I have to do to be a part of this vibrant community is to sit out on my porch and wait for life to happen.

I’m a little hungry

9 July 2013

Right now writing is my distraction from hunger.  I am waiting for a loaf of bread to bake (slowly weaning myself off both bread maker AND oven – kind of a tall order.)  So I can cook up some eggs for an egg and tomato sandwich!  Such a luxury!  I’ve always loved this combo, but it’s only happened for me here in Zambia once.  It’s rare that I have eggs, tomato and bread all at the same time.  So I am super excited, but also super hungry!

How on earth am I complaining about hunger here?  Right now it’s harvest season, and I’m pretty sure no one is going hungry at the moment.  But I’ve seen the 14-year-old who I swore was 9 or 10, and all the 3-and-4-year-olds who look like they’re 2.  And I’ve read the statistics: 45% of children under five are chronically malnourished, and only 36% of households have enough to eat year-round.  (Just double checked those stats so yep, they are correct.)  And that’s for all of Zambia.  In rural areas, of course, they’re higher.

Even just on a daily basis, I see the way people go from breakfast at 6:30 or 7, straight through ‘til 14:00 or 15:00 with nothing to eat but maybe some sugar cane.  And they are WORKING.  As I write this, two men are building my shed, for the fourth day in a row. On Day 2, I happened to be around the house at MY 13:00 lunch time, and I noticed they hadn’t yet eaten.  I offered them food, but all they would take was a small bowl of groundnuts.  They ate lunch at 15:30, and at that point they’d been working for 8 hours.  I asked them, “Aren’t you REALLY hungry?” “Ah, we’re a LITTLE hungry,” one of them said.

I’ve twice now told someone I was REALLY hungry, and both times the person told me they were only a LITTLE hungry. I’ve stopped now with the “REALLY.”

Still, I have to admit I am a food-greedy American. I’ve been doing my best to adapt, to go from 06:30 to 13:00 with nothing but breakfast in my belly (mainly because I’m embarrassed to snack in front of them; partly because my supplies of ready-to-eat, non-cooked foods are very limited.)  But I can’t lie: I get so hungry!  Take today.  For various reasons, I didn’t have time to cook before the noon PTA meeting (never thought I’d go to one of THOSE, did you?), but I figured no big deal, I’d have an apple-and-peanut butter snack and I could last till 14:00. Apples, by the way, are another luxury, imported from South Africa and available only in Kasama.  This was my last one, saved from the batch I bought for my birthday.

Anyway, the meeting started late and went for three hours!  (A former teacher apparently stole/misused some grant money, and people were furious.)  Even the Zambians admitted at the end that they were both hungry and tired!  Meanwhile I returned home at 15:45 to find the bread I’d kneaded that morning beautifully risen…  how could I not cook it?  So I had a handful of groundnuts, started up the brazier, and waited.  And it’s taking forever!

(PS:  This post originated as a letter to a friend, who transcribed it for the blog)

What is time, anyway?

27 June 2013

“Time is a created thing. To say, ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.'” — Lao Tzu

This quote, which I saw posted on the wall at our PC provincial house right before I came to Mfuba, comes to mind a LOT these days. I say nshikwete nshita (I don’t have time) to the kids a lot, and sometimes to the adults who come to visit, if I really am in the middle of something. It’s amazing how busy I really am these days, going to meetings, meeting with potential counterparts, planning what I’ll be working on/teaching, and just keeping up with getting to know about people and the area. (We were told we’d have tons of free time during community entry. They clearly didn’t have my active village, or “can’t sit still Terri,” in mind.) Sometimes, though, I say nshikwete nshita because I just want some time to myself.

I’m consciously trying to say it a little less often, panono panono (slowly/bit by bit), as I get used to the communal, visiting nature of things here. It’s not that I don’t like visiting. Some of the most fun times I’ve had have revolved around hanging out with neighbors, shelling groundnuts, taking maize kernels off the cob (I’ve forgotten the word for that in English! Do we have one?), watching soccer and basketball games, and just chatting. But I still cling to this notion that when I’m in my own house or yard, especially after 4 or 5 pm, that this is MY time. ALONE time.

I don’t think that phrase translates into Bemba.

Funny, though, when I hold my tongue – when I refrain from saying nshikwete nshita and just let people hang out in my yard – I’m almost always happy I did. I form new relationships, learn unexpected new things, and honestly enjoy myself.

There’s another aspect of time here, too. The one even Zambians refer to as “African time.” Basically, the difference between “American time” and “African time” is the difference between: 1) walking around with a watch on your wrist, checking the time and making sure that you arrive to that meeting by 8 am sharp, no matter how you have to rush, and 2) NOT having a watch, but instead looking up at the sun, thinking, “hmm, it might be getting close to 8, but I still need to sweep the yard and stop over at Ba Nellis’ house to see how her toothache is doing and bring those extra bananas over to Bashi Brenda,” and deciding, consciously or unconsciously, that being on time isn’t as important as doing those things.

This last example is not made up. I see it every day; the people in the example are real people here in Mfuba. Right now, I’m waiting for Ba Allan and Ba Mary to come and tell me when we’re leaving for a Neighborhood Health Committee meeting in Kapanda, about an hour’s bike ride away. Mind you, this is a government-sponsored program. Ba Allan told me yesterday that we would leave at 7:30. Ba Mary knew better. (The women almost always know better.) She’d told me a couple days earlier that the meeting would be “around” 10. Maybe. She wasn’t sure. So of course me, the American, held fast to the certainty of Ba Allan’s proclaimed 7:30. It’s now 8:50. To be fair, Allan DID come over at 7:35 to tell me they were still waiting for a text from the clinic, telling them what time they should leave for this important meeting. I had to fight back my laughter.

I also had to hold back the giggles last week. I’d asked Ba Dorothy what time the women’s farming co-op would be leaving to harvest millet the next day (I wanted to join them; they always seem happy to have me, and I usually get a free communal lunch out of the deal!) She said they’d be going VERY early: 6 am. This is not unheard of for some farmers here, and I know from past experience that these ladies work long, hard hours (plus the field was well over an hour’s walk away; few women have bikes.) So I believed her. Got my butt up super early, skipped yoga, and was ready at 6. No Dorothy. Swept the yard. No Dorothy. Read a little about trees in Zambia. Still no Dorothy.

Finally at 7, i decided to go to HER house, and I met her on the path not far from my place. She greeted me, looked up at the sun, and said, ah, it’s 6 hours? No, Ba Dorothy, it’s 7. Six is when the sun comes up.

Ba Dorothy, harvesting amale (millet) in her own sweet time.

Ba Dorothy, harvesting amale (millet) in her own sweet time.

She looked at me, a little incredulous. Then she laughed. “Ah, African time,” she said. Even after that, we still stopped to visit some of her family on the way to the fields.

Interestingly enough, this time thing doesn’t bother me much. Waiting around gives me a little of that “alone time” to read, write, study Bemba, or write blog entries! Sometimes, it even affords me the opportunity to tell a visiting neighbor, “Ah, I have time to talk!” :+)

Coincidentally, my watch was stolen about a month ago during a ride into Kasama. It was taken right  off my wrist in a very crowded minivan, and at the time I was pissed off! It was the first thing I’d ever had stolen while in another country, so partly I was angry at myself for not being more aware. It was also the watch my mom had given me 17 years ago – practically an heirloom in my transient life.

Just a few days later, though, as I habitually looked down at my now-naked wrist to see if a counterpart was running “late” for a meeting, I had a sudden moment of awareness. Maybe my watch had been stolen for a reason. I chuckled to myself.

What is time, anyway?