Friday, March 19, 2010
Its been a crazy week trying to get all of my things packed up and ready to go. I finish up all my projects and told everyone that no I am not leaving you anything to remember me by because I do not really know you. Grrr sometimes Zambia is frustrating. It is also weird trying to pack when Andy is staying here, we have had to do a bit of bargaining about who gets what for the what for the next few months. Andy gets the computer, so I am not sure how getting online will be for the next few months. But for me leaving him the computer I get the good Ipod and a new phone and the good tent. Fair trade I think. He also gets all of the America land food that is left but that is more so that I know he will eat something besides pasta and ketchup between now and August.
About three kilometers down the dirt path we got stuck. No problem we had a wench so we just pulled ourselves out. About 100 yards down the road guess what, yep stuck again. Once again we hooked the wench to a tree and started to pull ourselves out. Well this time it did not work so well. After two uprooted trees and a broken wench we knew we were in trouble. No problem we thought we will just call the Peace Corps in Serenje and they can come and pull us out (we where only about 1 1/2 hours from the central house in Serenje.) But after talking to the volunteers whose site we were at we discovered we were 41 kilometers from the nearest cell phone coverage. Okay once again no problem we will just use the radio that is in the truck, but then we remembered that the Luapula truck does not have a radio. Okay again no problem we will use the satellite phone that we have in the truck. Nope dead! Now we knew we were in trouble. Now our only option to get word out to the rest of Peace Corps that we needed help was for Andy to cycle 41 kilometers (24.6 miles) in the rain, in flip-flops and kakis, and on a bike that was too small for him and had only gears of 4 and 7. So off Andy went. He cycled for two hours in the pouring rain. As soon as he reached coverage he sent a message to the PCVL of Central Province. "Cruiser stuck, wench broken, phone almost dead. Please send help fast fast!." She immediately called back and said she was on her way.
About four hours after Andy left us in the village he returned. The only problem was that the truck that came to rescue us was a truck that usually lived in Lusaka. Therefore it did not have a radio or a wench. Andy, Kristina (the PCVL of Central), and I all said we should just leave the truck and return the next day when we had the proper equipment, but the drivers wanted to try and get the truck out. Seeing that we had already been stuck twice that day on the road that we had to use to leave the village we thought it was best to leave before dark. After about 3 hours of trying to get the truck out with no success we demanded that it was time to go, but by this time it was pitch black outside. After loading the truck up and heading out we made it about 100 yards down the road and guess what? We got stuck!! That is right once again no phone, no radio, pretty much no way to contact the out side world and once again call for help. After about thirty minutes of trying to get the second truck out Andy, Krisitina and I decided it was futile. We were all exhausted and it was totally dark. So we decided the best thing for us to do was to go for help. Since it was dark it was not safe to take a bike we walked. We walked 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) through a strange village, in the dark, and barefoot. We were barefoot because we had all been trying to push the truck out of the mud in our flip-flops. Wet dirty feet in cheap rubber flip-flops means only one thing. Blisters!!
As soon as we reached the road we could hear the drunks. Great we thought, the last thing we wanted to do was deal with a drunk Zambian. So we decided the best thing we could do was to walk as fast as we could straight at him and hope he was drunk enough not to notice us. And if all else failed Andy could just knock him out, because no one would believe him in the morning when he told them what had happened. We did not think our strategy would work, I mean three white people walking down the road in the middle of no where Zambia is hard to miss. But much to our surprise he walked right by us with out saying a word to us, he was talking to someone, but we were pretty sure that person was in his head.
After walking down the road for about ten minutes we saw headlights coming in the distance. We where so relived. Now all we had to do is to get them to stop. It took about ten minutes from the time we spotted the head lights for the car to reach us. Thankfully the truck pulled over to see what it was that we needed. The driver seemed hesitant to let us ride, but as soon as he discovered that we were willing to pay he let us all climb in. Andy sat up front with the driver and Kristina and I climbed in back. The driver of the truck greatly underestimated the predicament we were in. He only charged us 20,000 Kwacha (about $4) each; we would have been willing to pay five times that amount. We just needed to get to Serenje so could return the next day with another truck. The truck thankfully had a tarp coving the back because soon after we got in it started to rain. The only bad thing about riding in a truck bed covered by a tarp is that it traps all the exhaust fumes. A few kilometers down the road we stopped. The only reason that I can figure out for the stop was so the driver could tell all his friends to come and look at the Muzungus in the back of his truck. I felt a lot like a monkey in a zoo must feel. Except no one through food at us, which I would not have minded, the only thing I had eaten all day was a hard-boiled egg and a chocolate bar I bought in Lusaka to take back to Mansa as a special treat. Soon enough we got moving, only to make another stop. This time it was to pick up another hitchhiker. No big deal we thought until he through a giant bag of kapinta (little dried fish that so many people in Zambia love to eat) into the back of the truck. I think the smell of kapinta has to be the worst smell in the world and I was quite glad that the diesel fumes were over powering the rotten fish smell.
After about two hours in the back of the truck they dropped us off. We walked for about one kilometer before another car stopped to pick us up and took us all the way to the Peace Corps house in Serenje. We arrived at the house just before midnight. After discovering we had left all of our toiletries in the truck we collapsed into bed, I was tired enough not to care that I had not brushed my teeth. The next morning we woke up and waited for another Peace Corps truck to arrive (it did not arrive until about 10:30 due to the fact it had been stuck in a near by town due to heavy rains.) This one had a radio and a functioning wench. We stopped at the gas station to fill up and pick up some food for the drivers who had stayed the night with the trucks before getting on our way. As we were just about to head out both stuck trucks pulled up beside us. The drivers had literally dug the trucks out. I have no idea how they managed it. But you will never meet someone with as much ingenuity as a Zambian. Our truck definitely has some damage, a few new dents and a little bit of a wiggle as we went down the road, but we made it back to Mansa safe and sound.
I have learned a few of things from this experience. Never go into the bush with only flip-flops. Always have a contingency plan. And if you have to abandon your truck in the bush make sure to take your toothbrush. I also learned that all the things that I carry around in my purse thinking I might need someday like a flashlight, a knife, toilet paper, and chocolate actually do come in handy in a tough situation.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Last year Andy and I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in our village. Very early in the morning we started to get people, mostly children, coming to the house walking up to us and saying ”Christmas” with a big grin on their faces. We would reply “Yes it is Christmas” or “Merry Christmas” they would then stand there with the grin on there face for a few minutes, the grin would start to fade and eventually the would turn and walk away. We did not understand that they were asking us for gifts. The people outside of our village were more straight forward. They would just walk up to us and say “Give me Christmas” when we would say “No” they would just look at us straight faced and say “Why?” to which I would respond “Ummm, because I don’t know you” but this never seemed to be a good enough answer. We would then cautiously turn and walk away. The “Give me Christmas” requests continued until new years and then for a week or so after that we got “Give me New Year” we soon just learned to ignore it.
This year was different. We spent the Christmas with about ten other volunteers at our house. We had all kind of decorations that parents and friends had sent from the states and everyone was trying to carry on at least a bit of their Christmas traditions from home. We watched every movie we could find that had anything to do with Christmas, ate lots of food and after picking up about twenty packages from the post office almost everyone had at least one present to open. It was a good day, but it was still not the same as being at home. It is hard for it to feel like Christmas when it is 90 degrees outside, we kept hearing how everyone at home was freezing and snowed in and I must say that we were a little bit jealous. It was also much harder this year to be away from family and friends. Andy and I were able to carry on one tradition that is important to us, every year for Christmas dinner we cook a traditional meal from the country of our choosing. In the past we have done Japan, India, Italy, to name a few, but this year we went for most traditional American food we could think of - Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. One thing you learn when you are this far from home is that it is the little things like Mac and cheese that make the homesickness better.
New years is another holiday that is mostly forgotten here in Zambia, and Andy and I decided to go along with the Zambian tradition and were in bed by 9:30. After having a house full of volunteers for about two weeks it was nice to have a quiet house so we decided that would best be taken advantage of by sleeping.
Now with all the holidays finished up we are back to work as usual. School has reopened so I am back to working with my preschool and Andy starts his art club again this week. He will be teaching one and two point perspective and will be having the children draw still lifes. I just finished a work shop for parents and teachers that taught the importance of early childhood education and how they can incorporate early childhood education activities into their daily lives. The children here are unsupervised for most of the day and have very little interaction with their parents or any adults (ask my family, it is one of things that they commented on the most while they were here to visit. Andy and I call the Children “free range” because the just run around doing whatever they want all day.) I am trying to help the parents understand that even with limited resources they can effectively teach their children and help to prepare then to attend school. We never thought that we would be focusing on education as our primary work here in Zambia, but the longer we are here the more we recognize how important education is and that if the education system in Zambia does not improve then true development will never happen here.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Our adventure started in Serenje, Zambia. The Serenje train station was exactly what you would expect of a train station in Zambia. There was one light bulb to light the entire station, four wooden benches, a flooded bathroom, and a lovely stench in the air and the train was three hours late. I was, to say the least, a little skeptical as to how the trip was going to turn out. The train arrived at 11pm and we climbed aboard. We boarded the train in the third class section and walked to our berth in the second to last car on the train. There were eighteen cars in all. We had a first class cabin and after seeing second and third class I was glad that we had “splurged” on first class. The train was probably built in the 1960’s and I do think there have been any changes since then. Actually, I am not sure that they had even done any maintenance either. In order to turn the lights on in our cabin to had to twist two naked wires together, when you did this sparks shot out at you. Also there were electrical outlets, reading lights and a fan, none of which worked. I was not sure what I had gotten myself into. I felt like fifty hours was going to be a long time to spend on this train. (Be sure to check out the link to the Flickr account for clearer pictures.)
Tanzania is much more mountainous than Zambia. Not big mountains but big enough to give the train a good workout. Tanzania and Zambia seem to be just about the same, but there were subtle differences. The construction of houses was different in Tanzania. In Zambia the main form of home construction is mud brick, but in Tanzania it seemed as though most of the village houses were constructed using a wattle and daub technique. I do not know why the construction practice would be different, but it would be interesting to figure out. By far the most exciting difference I noticed crossing over into Tanzania was the food. In Zambia you have your standard “window” food (this is the food you can buy out of the window of any form of transportation) peanuts (boiled and roasted,) fritters, roasted maize, hard boiled eggs and fried chicken. I personally will not eat the chicken, I think it is just asking for severe stomach problems to buy chicken from a women out the window of the train not know when or how the chicken died, how long ago it was cooked, and how long it has been sitting in a metal bowl on the side of the road/train tracks on a 100 degree day. It just seems like a bad idea to me, but of course Andy loves it. So far he has been lucky, but one of these days it will catch up with him, at least that is what I keep telling him. But once we crossed the boarder there was a whole new selection of food to choose from! Cashews, coconuts, chapati and plantain!!! Cashews!!! So good! You could get a small bag cashews for about 25 cents and a good size coconut for about ten cents. The only problem was trying to open a coconut on a moving train without hammer or at least a pointy rock. This was not problem for our porter, he just leaned out the window and bashed it against the side of the train. You could also buy food in the train dining car, but it was expensive and not as good as eating cashews. There was also a bar car where you could buy softies(soda), water, and, much to Andy and Trevor’s delight five types of beer. Warm beer on a hot train just is not my idea of a good time, so I stuck to warm Cokes.
About 50 hours after boarding the train we arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Dar es Salaam is a city of about six million people, but you would have thought you were in a town of about 500 people by the size of the train station. We climbed off the train into the dark night and found a nice taxi driver Ali to drive us to our hotel. After about thirty minutes of trying to get out of the train station parking lot (for some reason the streets were in gridlock at nine o'clock at night) we headed out. It took us about fifteen minutes to get to our hotel from the station. During that time we say a man run up to the car ahead of us in traffic grab a cell phone that the driver was currently using and run off. What a first impression. We decided we did not need to spend any time in Dar es Salaam and that we would head to Zanzibar island as soon as possible.
After one of the worst nights of sleep of my life (Dar has to be one of the hottest places on the planet) we headed to the port and boarded a ferry to Zanzibar. It took about two hours to get to the island. Along the way we saw giant freight liners (Dar is one of the busiest ports in Africa,) dug out canoes and traditional sail boats called Dhow all sharing the same waters. It still amazes how you can see a hug modern freight liner and a hand built boat together, but that is life in Africa, villagers who have Internet phones but still carry water home from the river. It is crazy.
Zanzibar has a long and complicated history. It has been ruled by the Portuguese, the Sultan of Oman, and the British. It is now in a union with main land Tanzania, formerly known as Tanganyika, but if you ask a Zanzibari they will tell you that they are not part of Tanzania. It was an important trade port between all parts of the world for many products including ivory, spices and even slaves. The island has been influenced by many different cultures over the years and this can be easily seen through the architecture they have left behind.
The next morning we left the island and head back to the main land. Due to our past experience in Dar es Salem we decided to head straight to the airport instead of exploring the city. We arrived at the airport about seven hours early. When we tried to check in for our flight the told us we could not check in until two hours before our flight. Even though Dar es Salaam is the capital city with six million people there was no where to sit except the floor. So we sat on the floor of the airport for 5 hours. Two hours before our scheduled flight time we tried to check in again. They told us to wait we still could not check in. One hour before our flight we still had not checked in. Then finally about 45 minutes before our flight was supposed to leave and we where still trying to check in we were told that our flight had been canceled and rescheduled for the next day. This would not have been nearly as annoying if we had not talked to at least six different people trying to check in and we had sat in the airport for 6 hours. Needless to say we were a little bit testy. It took another hour for a representative of Malawi Air to arrive. When he did arrive he informed us that they would put us up in a hotel for the night. My expectations were not high for the quality of the hotel the would put us up in, but I was very wrong. The hotel was amazing! We had room service and cable TV. Sitting at the airport for for seven hours sucked,but the hotel made it totally worth it. The following morning we got up to travel home. When we arrived at the airport we actually checked in for our flight and boarded the plane. All seemed to be going well until we landed and a man on the plane whom we had befriended came over to our seats and told us that we had not landed in Lilongwe, Malawi (our destination.) We went to the stewardess and asked where we were. She informed us that we where in Blantyre, Malawi and apologized. She then told us to get off the plane. Not knowing what we were supposed to do next we got off the plane, went through customs and were ushered to a waiting room full of people. We were then instructed to get back on the plane, which we did. The plane took off and landed in the right destination. There was no explanation ever given as to why we had landed in Blantyre. We then took a taxi back to Chipata, Zambia and we where finally home sweet home.
Every year in Zambia’s Central Province is the single largest mammal migration on the planet. Millions of bats (around ten million this year) congregate in the caves and trees at Zambia’s Kasanka national park. They stay there from early October to early January which is the first few months into the rainy season. Ashlee and I planned on going with a group of volunteers form our province, but were waylaid by the beginning of the rainy season. The first heavy rains blew out a window in our house and poured through our roof in buckets(literally). Since I had planned on seeing this phenomenon last year, Ashlee sent me on my merry way to see the bats with a few other volunteers while she stayed in Mansa with a few sick volunteers and to keep an eye on the temporary rain protection I had put in place.
Those of us going down were able to hitch a ride with the Peace Corps truck on its way to Lusaka. They dropped us at our campsite for the next few days with all our food, gear, and bicycles for both Grayson (our nearest volunteer neighbor in Mansa) and I. Over the next few days we saw the bats numerous times and amazing wildlife. We had a park guide walk us around some of the park and point out some things, including hippos. While we didn’t see other major game, their tracks were everywhere in the morning when we woke up. Elephants passed right by our site in the night and we were not even aware.
We huddled together many times to wait out what were incredible storms, but by the last day the sun was shining. Grayson and I woke up at 3 am packed our bikes and made our way to the Guides’ camp by four. Our guide from the day before said that Grayson and I were free to cycle the 25 kilometer (15 mile) out of the park without a guide. So that began our 285 kilometer ' (171 mile) bike ride back to Mansa. Unaccompanied for an hour of bush riding through a national park with lions, crocodiles, hippos, and lord knows what else.
By midday we had crossed into Luapula Province via the largest bridge in Southern Africa. We rode continuously taking short breaks in the shade until close to dusk. With no hope of making it to our nearest volunteers house we set up our tent in the back of a farmers cassava field hidden from from view, ate a pile of food, and passed out hard. We woke the next morning to find we were less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Mansa. After a brief stop for a rest at a new volunteers house we were back on the road and in Mansa before late afternoon. While the national park was a great time, the two days on bike was equally fantastic.
Monday, November 9, 2009
So right now in Zambia it is caterpillar season, that is right - caterpillar, and I recently got to participate in the main activity of the season, going in to the bush and hunting caterpillars. It was a lot of fun. I was in Chipili Village with another volunteer assisting with an HIV/AIDS education and testing program when we were invited by the children to go with them to pick caterpillars in the bush. How could I say no? So Staci, the other volunteer I was visiting, and I headed into the woods with five children, the oldest of which was probably ten or eleven. Now at home I would never blindly follow a child into woods, but here I did not even think twice. We hiked just ten minutes way from Staci’s house and into the woods and right away the children started to yell. They then ran and started to climb different trees, Staci and I just stood there confused. We had no idea what had gotten them so excited, but soon we understood, when the each climbed down from their trees they had handfuls of bright green caterpillars. There are three different kinds of caterpillars that are eaten here, but the children informed us that the green ones are the best (I just took their word on that seeing that I had no desire to taste test caterpillars.) It took a good hour of hunting before Staci and I were able to spot the green caterpillars, I mean how are you supposed to see green caterpillars on green leaves ten to fifteen feet in the air? It was amazing, I swear the children could spot them from 10 yards away. Thankfully there are also black and white caterpillars that are quite easy to see and these are the ones that I mostly picked.
There are many types of caterpillars that can not be eaten, unfortunately Staci and I had no idea which caterpillars were good to eat and which were not. So the children kept a close eye on every caterpillar we put into our jars, and every once in a while the would remove one or two. When we would ask why they would shake their heads at us and just say “That one will make you itch.” We could never tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones, to me they looked exactly the same. We collected three tin cans, one large peanut butter jar, and one large Tupperware full of caterpillars and we could have gotten many, many more, but we just ran out of containers to carry them home in.
When we returned home we had to kill and clean all the caterpillars before they could be cooked and eaten. To kill them you just squeeze them. And to clean them you once again just squeeze. When you squeeze them pushing from the head down all of there insides literally squirt out. Sounds gross, but actually it is pretty cool. After they are cleaned you boil them in salt water and they are ready to eat. I did taste one, it kind of tasted like beef jerky, but honestly I would not recommend them to anyone else, there is something about eating caterpillars that makes the gag reflex kick in. So even though caterpillars are not exactly suited to the American palette, they are very important to the Zambian diet. Most village children get little to no protein in their diets, meat is very expensive and fish is hard to find unless you live close to water, so caterpillars are very important part of a child's diet here in Zambia.
As much fun as I had caterpillar hunting I was actually in Chipili to work. Staci and I were doing HIV/AIDS education in preparation for a day of counseling and testing. We talked to the students at the high school and many of the people through out the community teaching about HIV/AIDS and encouraging them to be tested. When the counseling and testing team come from Mansa we had 85 people get tested. This was an amazing day for me. To help 85 people to get tested and know there status is huge accomplishment and was very proud to be a part of this program.
Friday, November 6, 2009
We had six people in the car, I had to ride on Andys lap the whole way, while we played dodge the pot hole. It was, to say the least, not comfortable. But once we arrived it was totally worth it.
After arriving and dropping our stuff at the house we where staying at we headed to the beach. That is right, a beach! We were not the only ones going to the beach, I think everyone in Samfya and about half of Mansa were also at the beach.
There were many different activities going on volleyball, football(or as we in Americaland call it soccer) and dug out canoe races, but mostly we just people watched (while being watched by other people.) But no matter where you are in Zambia you will be entertained by the children.
It was a great weekend, the beauty of Zambia just keeps amazing me. I have seen a lot of this country, but there is so much more to see.