Welcome to Camp Glow

14 December 2013

Picture a young girl, 14, maybe 15. Bright smile, dressed in her Sunday best, intricate braids in her hair. She’s never been more than 20 kilometers from her home in a rural Zambian village. She’s never been anywhere near the provincial capital of Kasama, which hosts 50 times the population of her tiny village. Never flushed a toilet or experienced electricity.

Matilda, one of our most shy girls on day one, ended up being GLOW Girl of the Day.

Matilda, one of our most shy girls on day one, ended up being GLOW Girl of the Day.

Maybe among the girls in her vil, she’s confident. Outspoken.

Now though, she’s been dropped off outside a giant grocery store in a paved, vehicle-choked sprawl of concrete. She’s suddenly surrounded by girls she’s never met, and a whole bunch of muzungus playing bizarre games and talking in a language which contains perhaps 20 words that she actually understands. The muzungus are gleeful, welcoming her in broken Bemba and telling her to join the circle and the games. Shortly they will all go to a lodge, all together, in a big mini bus.

The girl hovers shyly, caught somewhere between curiosity and disbelief. Or joy and terror.

Patricia, right, and Harriet (behind her), of Mfuba Village, mildly terrified entering the lodge on Day 1.

Patricia, right, and Harriet (behind her), of Mfuba Village, mildly terrified entering the lodge on Day 1.

PCV welcoming line, through which all the girls had to walk upon arrival. I guess I'd have been terrified, too.

PCV welcoming line, through which all the girls had to walk upon arrival. I guess I’d have been terrified, too.

Welcome to Kasama Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). It’s a once-a-year, PCV-led event that offers young teen Zambian girls the opportunity to leave everything they know and go to a week-long camp to learn about assertiveness, boys, sex, HIV, and planning for their futures. Oh, and to have ridiculous amounts of fun dancing, playing dodgeball, doing relay races, making crafts, and singing silly songs.

You know, camp stuff.

Only these girls have never even heard of such a thing.

Or certainly my girls from Mfuba never had. Harriet and Patricia arrived, with my counterpart Ba Dorothy, in a state of bewilderment. Some of the other girls, who came from all over Kasama and Mungwi districts in NoPro, spoke English, had teachers for parents, had much nicer clothes, and exuded the confidence of girls who may actually make it through grade 12.

Harriet and Patricia are 15 and 17 respectively, but they’re only in grade 6, and their prospects for advancing past grade 9, which requires passing exams in English and paying a lot of money for grades 10-12, are pretty bleak. Harriet’s parents do OK, but they’re hardly well off. Patricia’s family is downright poor.

Harriet, shyly introducing herself.

Harriet, shyly introducing herself.

I was so excited for them to experience Camp GLOW, I could hardly stand it. They were merely bewildered. On Days 1 and 2, they barely spoke. Patricia, the more shy of the two, visibly shrunk inside herself, making eye contact with no one, not even me.

I wondered what I’d gotten my girls into.

But slowly slowly, they began to come out of their shells. Raising their hands and asking questions. Making friends with the other girls. Looking me in the eye.

One night, dancing started up post-dinner, and Harriet and Patricia noticed the two drums we’d brought from the Peace Corps house. Suddenly they were the center of attention, and man could they drum! I’d had no idea!

Patricia and Harriet in their element, on the drums.

Patricia and Harriet in their element, on the drums.

The next day, Harriet purposely sat down next to me at lunch and struck up a conversation! (Previous attempts by me had been like pulling teeth.) Then we had a water-carrying-and-bottle-filling relay race. Our “pride,” the Blue Eagles, made up of my vil and RAP PCV Logan’s vil, came in second! (The first place team cheated like crazy.) We’d previously been dead last at everything. (Due in no small part to the adults. Especially me.) Suddenly we were all shouting and hollering and high-fiving all over the place.

GLOW girls doing five squats with water bowls perched on heads; competing for our Blue Eagles team is Cleo, from Logan's village.

GLOW girls doing five squats with water bowls perched on heads; competing for our Blue Eagles team is Cleo, from Logan’s village.

I have rarely been happier. Except maybe when, on the very last night, our pride killed it at the talent show. And I’m not even exaggerating. All the other acts were solo singing, or solo dancing. We were the only group, and the only ones to bust out the drums. Patricia mixed it up and joined the dancers for a bit, and everyone in the room was singing along. (Well, the Bemba-speakers anyway; the PCVs had no idea what they were singing; Logan and I just danced where they told us to, since our girls had insisted we dance with them.)

Blue Eagles (left to right) Patricia, Cleo, Logan, Memory, and Mathilda. (She and another Memory, on drums with Harriet, joined our group because we were so freakin cool.)

Blue Eagles (left to right) Patricia, Cleo, Logan, Memory, and Mathilda. (She and another Memory, on drums with Harriet, joined our group because we were so freakin cool.)

Minutes later, Patricia came up and whispered in my ear that she wanted to sign up, last-minute, for a solo dance! I was so proud of her!

So now, picture that same young girl. Smiling and laughing with new friends, a wealth of new knowledge just below those braids. Notice how she shakes hands with all the teachers and PCVs, looking each one in the eye. Well, except for the one PCV from her vil, who insists on giving her a big hug and whispering to her, “When you get back to Mfuba, don’t forget to walk with confidence.”

Watch as she walks away into the busy streets of Kasama, head held high. “Emkwai,” she says. “I will.”

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Giving thanks

30 November 2013

Two days ago I celebrated American Thanksgiving with 41 other PCVs, plus our Zambian NoPro boss, Ba Jonathan, and the saintly Zambians who take care of the NoPro house and Land Cruiser. But I’m still feelin’ grateful.

PCVs Zach, Eric, and Chandra cookin' up a storm at our week of Provincial Meetings.

PCVs Zach, Eric, and Chandra cookin’ up a storm at our week of Provincial Meetings.

Thanks to twice-yearly provincial meetings, we’d all been crammed into a small space together for three days at that point, cooking communal dinners over loud music, playing “Settlers of Catan,” and swapping stories. And yet a sense of ease and comraderie continued to permeate the atmosphere.

I’d come into the week dreading the thought of so many people, so much social interaction, so much loud, 20-something partying. And I did have to take occasional, “Leave me alone, I’m playing guitar in an isolated corner” breaks.

Yet I had an overwhelmingly good time. I learned just how caring and helpful and insightful my fellow NoPro PCVs are – even the ones I’d never talked with before.

PCVs with Pig: Dan, Adam, and Zach roasting up the pig they bought, carried, and butchered for Thanksgiving.

PCVs with Pig: Dan, Adam, and Zach roasting up the pig they bought, carried, and butchered for Thanksgiving.

Each province has its own particular identity in the PC Zambia world. Maybe all these deep, philosophical conversations and “Hey, let’s all pitch in to help clean up!” efforts are the reasons we’re known alternately as “NerdPro” or “The Kumbaya Province.”

Or maybe it’s that, before eating Thanksgiving dinner, we went around in a circle and gave thanks – some of the older PCVs with tears in their eyes, realizing they have only a few months left here.

Me, I said I was thankful for the kids in my vil, and for the overwhelmingly positive energy and light I saw reflected in all my fellow PCVs. (Apparently I’m in the right province. ;+)

I didn’t want to take up too much time, what with delicious food and SEVEN – count ’em, SEVEN – pumpkin pies waiting. So I left out a lot of my thanks.

For one thing, I am so, so thankful just to be here. I sometimes forget this in the day to day, but I wanted to join the Peace Corps – in Africa specifically – for well over a decade before it finally worked out. Back in early May, when I signed my final piece of paperwork declaring me ready to head into the vil, I got tears in my eyes. I feel privileged and amazed that I’ve made it this far.

I’m also thankful for my closest PC friends, the Gu Crew, Adam, and, further afield in Central Province, Samwell, who’ve taken me in, listened to my ups and downs, and kept me sane.

Me and Adam on Thanksgiving.

Me and Adam on Thanksgiving.

Samuel, displaying his best Zambian hospitality by cooking me ubwali at his site.

Samuel, displaying his best Zambian hospitality by cooking me ubwali at his site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m thankful for my Zambian Bamaayo and Bataata, who patiently taught me Bemba and shared their culture and sheltered me in so many ways I didn’t even realize at the time, when I was still in Pre-Service Training.

Bataata, Bamaayo, and their grandson, Musonda.

Bataata, Bamaayo, and their grandson, Musonda.

I’m thankful to all of Yuda Village for doing the same, and for being my first home in Zambia.

Ba Allan planting trees with some of the kids.

Ba Allan planting trees with some of the kids.

Here in Mfuba, I’m thankful for Ba Allan’s constant enthusiasm, reliability, and can-do attitude; he’s the best counterpart a PCV could ask for.

Ba Bernardi, working on my roof.

Ba Bernardi, working on my roof.

 

 

 

I’m thankful for the hundreds of things Ba Bernardi has done for me, never expecting anything in return, and always, whenever I say thank you, declaring, “Ah, but there is no problem!”

Ba Agatha, comedienne extraordinaire, showing off her trademark look of amusement at her 2-year-old daughter, Gile.

Ba Agatha, comedienne extraordinaire, showing off her trademark look of amusement at her 2-year-old daughter, Gile.

 

 

 

I’m thankful for the tentative but growing friendship of Ba Dorothy, Ba Martha, Ba Nellis, Ba Webby, Ba Maxwell, Ba Teresa, and, especially, Ba Agatha, who warmed my heart today with her enthusiastic greeting: “Welcome back, Bemba woman!” I’m also eternally thankful for their boundless patience with my awful Bemba.

Agri and Katongo, eating dried caterpillars (in Katongo's shirt) at my front door.

Agri and Katongo, eating dried caterpillars (in Katongo’s shirt) at my front door.

I’ve already declared my thanks for all my favorite kids in the vil, but I’m especially grateful for all the help, Bemba lessons, and laughs from Boyd & Bwalya (I don’t know how I’d get anything worthwhile done without them), and the constant joy and gleeful greetings of my adorable next-door neighbors, Katongo and Agri.

On the home front, I am so, so thankful for every single letter and package sent by family and friends back in the States. Words just can’t express how good it feels to get something tangible from someone I love back home. Even my 80-year-old Mamma writes me in spite of failing carpal-tunnel wrists, and THAT makes me feel very lucky indeed.

I’m also thankful for my friends who aren’t such great letter-writers but who have sent me such encouraging e-mails and blog comments. Those I actually get right here in my hut (OK, I may as well admit it; I’m even kinda grateful for smart phones. :+), so they’re a kind of instant pick-me-up when I’m having a rough day in the vil.

I’m thankful for long bike rides and stumbled-upon beauty in a relatively monotonous landscape.

Storm rolling in over my front yard.

Storm rolling in over my front yard.

I’m thankful for the crashing, lightning-streaked deluge of rainy season thunderstorms; the daily acrobatics of birds and lizards in my yard; and the view from my front porch.

Last but not least, I am thankful for music. For my iPod (yes, another admission of techie-gratefulness) in times of loneliness and homesickness; for the distant singing of kids and adults alike, all over my vil and most everywhere I’ve been in Zambia; for impromptu dancing in the field or the yard; for the Hokey Pokey, which has brought such joy to Mfuba Village; for my guitar, which brings me back to myself; and for every drumming-singing-dancing fest in my yard, which opens me back up to Zambia again, even when I thought all I wanted was to be by myself.