Sunday, February 26, 2012

im getting a kitty...

Yes, that is my big news, I'm getting a kitty. I hope I can still be independent Larry and the kitty doesn't consume my constant attention. Even if it did, it wouldn't be the kitty's fault. It would be completely my fault for kidding myself that I could get a kitty and expect it to be otherwise. My host family is pretty happy about the kitty coming as well, but no doubt as happy as I am, to have a companion at my site. They want her to kill all the rats around the village. I don't know what I'm going to name her yet, but I met her a few weeks ago and I'm going to get her in two days.
What else is going on...I'm now on my way back up-country to Kelondu. I hope I will be there by Wednesday. I came down to Lusaka last weekend and then headed out to Chipembi, the new training site for this year's LIFE intake. The site is at Chipembi Farm College and it's quite a bit more rural than our training site last year in Chongwe. Chongwe was a metropolis compared to Chipembi. There is no transport in and out of the place other than a minibus or two, and just a small market and a few bars. It was interesting to see the new volunteers that just got to Zambia two weeks ago. I was in their shoes exactly a year ago, so it gave me a chance to reflect on the last year. I wouldn't say really that I'm much different, just tanner, not as fat, and my brain has different information in it. Really, I'm enjoying Zambia more than ever and it seems to get better every day despite challenges. The people here are just amazing and I absolutely love learning new things from them.
I did make it to Nkhata Bay, Malawi at the end of December for a week of vacation. It was probably the most relaxing vacation I've ever had. It's a beautiful corner of the world, with some beautiful freshwater fish. Lake Malawi is a hot place, and the only way to manage is to do plenty of swimming. If you ever have a chance to go there, your worries will just drop away, and everything will get a little bit clearer. After being in a place like that, I really couldn't complain about anything.
So, I'll be heading back to Lunda land for a little over a month. I'm looking forward to getting back to the place I call home and getting going on a few projects, namely my garden. We are also getting going on a pine plantation project and launching a new Women's Club in Kelondu. Everything is intensely beautiful this time of year due to abundant rainfall. The grasses on the plains are head high and the trees are a rich mix of jungle green colors. The road is now pretty terrible near my village. There are many giant puddles of foot deep water mixed with clay and sand. It has really been discouraging motorists from venturing to Ikelenge. It's tough for Ikelenge to expect any new developments in Zambia's newest district if the road is nearly impassable. Things should be improving bit by bit in the next few years. It should open up the supply of pineapples tremendously to the rest of the country.
My kitty! I think she is about 4 weeks old in this picture, cuddling with her two littermates

The male in the litter looks exactly like a kabonsu (African Wildcat) so we suspect the litter is a cross between wild and domestic cat. He is very playful. My kitty is the one with the white face.

This goat tried to investigate what was inside this paint can and got stuck. We are the only reason it is alive right now. The bleating in the can was a priceless sound. I also love this picture because of the random conglomeration of village items present; an old shoe, a brazier, a child, an axehandle, and a reedmat.

Our lakeside accommodation in Nkhata Bay. I was falling asleep every night to the waves lapping on the rocks.

Jenny, Me, Tom, and Dre hiked to the top of a mountain in Malawi.

Our tree planting day at Kelondu Basic School

Our first field trip with the Ikong'a Basic School Chongololo Conservation Club. We went to a lake just some meters from the school.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Time for disease and vacation

The last week of November I went back to Kelondu after three weeks out. I attended a workshop in Solwezi with one of my counterparts, Dominic Kazhimoto, on how to implement HIV/AIDS awareness in our area. During the workshop I became quite sick, and had to go down to Lusaka to be probed by Peace Corps medical. It turned out I had some sort of gastrointestinal infection which I suspect was salmonella. It was a pretty terrible infection and I was put on Ciprofloxin for 5 days to basically nuke my intestines of any organisms. Even the antibiotics haven't really brought me back to normal yet, and I've since been having recurring symptoms. I just have to be more careful about what I'm eating and touching, try to wash my hands more, and never stray too far from home. It's really something that I've been learning to live with. It's sometimes easy to forget that there is no health code in Zambia. You do everything at your own risk, and sometimes you pay for it.

It has been an interesting few weeks in Kelondu since I returned after Thanksgiving. The rains have become regular, though not always predictable, and people have begun to leave the villages during the week to go work in their fields. This is the time of year when people plant cassava cuttings, government subsidized maize, and pineapple suckers, the three major crops in our area. People traditionally make mounds for planting cassava so that the tubers are easy to harvest. The cuttings grow quickly and produce sweet potato-like tubers after a year. The tubers are pounded into flour and used to make nshima, which we eat at least twice a day. We wouldn't normally grow maize in our area because the soil is acidic and not very fertile. Also, we don't get much sun in the wet growing season, making it difficult to get good maize yields. However, the Department of Agriculture runs a maize and fertilizer subsidy program that provides matching grants to farmers.  Most farmers take advantage of this program to grow some additional food for the year.

Christas (center) brought me one of the large local mushrooms she found near the fields.

I finally finished the windows on my house, so now you can't easily break in anymore.
Inside my chota (sitting shelter). A favorite place for goats to rest now that it's rainy season. I'm going to build a bamboo trellis with morning glory around the outside to keep the goats out. Also you can see my fuel-efficient stove under construction in this picture.

My house and chota. There are some citrus and guava trees in front of the house.

These are my wheels!
We've been attending a lot of funerals in the past few weeks. Three people in Kelondu have died in the last three weeks. In Lunda culture, funerals are among the most important events. Almost every adult in the area attends the funerals. Most funerals last several days and include a mourning period, burial, and finalizing arrangements.  My host family lost one of our grandchildren, Christine, who was 6 years old, last weekend. She had been at Kaleni Mission Hospital for 5 days after coming down with malaria. After a few, days we had learned from her grandparents whom were at the hospital that she had serious cerebral malaria and her condition was worsening. When I heard that news, I was fearing that she wouldn't survive. Malaria is extremely bad in Zambia, and it is a major killer of young children. Rural Zambians simply not not have access to doctors, medicine, and good nutrition like those in towns. The night she died, Saturday,I had spent the night at one of the teacher's houses because of rain. Early the next morning, as I was returning home on my bike, I saw people walking toward my village. I knew immediately what had happened before I even got the news. As I came to my village, I saw people huddled around fires who had spent the previous night mourning. I greeted family members whom had arrived during the night, and went in the house to see the body. My host parents had empty looks on their faces, drained from being at the hospital for a week. Their daughter Clara, 23, the mother of Christine, was a complete mess. I couldn't believe that a little girl that I had seen almost every day of my time with the Musokola family, was now lying in front of me dead. The funeral was very quick the next day. Hundreds of people had arrived on Sunday once they heard the news of the child's death. Some people came from 60 or more kilometers away, a sign of the respect everyone has for my host family. People rallied to build the coffin and bury the child before noon on Sunday. The graveyard is in a patch of forest not too far down the road. For the next two days after the burial, my host family struggled to set terms with the child's father, who gives little support to the two children he has fathered with Clara. About a hundred people were sleeping outside my house for 2 days in the rain. I decided I had to get out of my village for a few days and visit the new Aquaculture volunteers in Ikelenge, Mike and Kinzie. I had yet to see where they lived because they had just been posted in late October.

My chicken house
One of my hens, Kimbo

My other hen, Maude, and her 4 chicks that look nothing like her. Only the white one in the front has survived.

Me using a shallow plow made from an old bicycle frame at Mujila Farms near Kanyama. The farm is run by the Methodist Church to promote improved agriculture in the area.

My finished and functioning fuel-efficient stove

My brothers Fred, Kellis, Kephaus, and Clicent out on Nyambela Plain, one of my favorite places to go birding.

   I'm now in Solwezi preparing to go on vacation for a few weeks. I'll be heading down to Lusaka for a few days to take care of some things, then I'll be heading to Chipata in Eastern Province to visit some other volunteers. We will be spending X-mas at the Lundazi Castle near Lundazi. Then after a few days I will be travelling with some other volunteers to Nkhata Bay in Malawi. It will be a nice, relaxing beach vacation I hope. Lake Malawi has among the highest freshwater fish diversity in the world. We will be staying at Njaya Lodge for part of the time and Mayoka Village as well over New Years'.

I have really enjoyed receiving all your letters and packages. It really makes my days sometimes. Getting mail has never been so exciting, so keep writing because I want to hear about what you are doing, even if you don't think it is important.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Season of Plenty

It's been a while since I last wrote. Here's the latest update...

September and October I spent mostly in my village after being in Lusaka and Livingstone for most of August. September and October are the middle of the hot season here. Most people have told me that the hot season this year was much cooler than normal. This time of year we get a lot of fruit ripening in our area, mostly because it's hot everyday and the rains haven't quite begun yet. We have pineapples by the truckload in Kelondu this time. People wait by the road with their giant piles of pineapples, waiting for a truck to come and buy them. Usually the pineapples get taken by trucks to Solwezi or Copperbelt where they sell for 3-5 times as much as they do in my area. Some pineapple farmers rent trucks and take a load of pineapples to the DRC border and sell them for 5,000 Kwacha each (about one US dollar).  In Kelondu, pineapples usually sell for 1,000 Kwacha each, and these are the best pineapples I've ever had in my life. You've really never eaten a pineapple until you've come to my village and eaten a ripe pineapple straight out of the field. This time we also have a lot of other fruits including papaya, mulberry, and avocado.

My garden project has been taking a lot of time. My garden is a small plot, maybe 10 by 10 meters. I'm trying to use it to demonstrate practical, organic gardening techniques. Gardeners and farmers here suffer from the same misconceptions here as they do everywhere else in the world. The biggest issues...mono cropping, lack of crop rotation, insects, poor soil fertility, and of course, goats. We have some excellent gardeners in my area. We have abundant, year-round water sources, which makes gardening very practical. Most people have very impressive stream-side gardens. Unfortunately, farmers here suffer from the lack of availability of a good variety of seeds. Most of the seeds that they can get are poor-quality GMO seeds that can't be recollected and replanted from the crop. The major agro-industrial corporations have their grip even on the poorest and most remote areas of the world. There are a few local varieties of eggplant, tomato, and onion that people here have had a great deal of success growing here. People save seeds or bulbs and replant them. Unfortunately, because people plant these same crops every year, all year, the pest issues have become a huge problem, lowering productivity enormously and requiring people to spray pesticides. In hot season, all of these problems combine to make organic gardening extremely difficult. The goats, the insects, and the weeds have all claimed my garden as their home, and they love being there when I'm in Solwezi or Lusaka.
I've been holding some meetings with the gardeners in my area to discuss conservation farming techniques. Every time we meet, we discuss a different topic, composting, bed construction, pest-control, etc. So it's been a slow process getting farmers used to the idea that they can use certain plants to make pesticide sprays, or that they can use manure from their chickens or goats, or that they can plant different crops every season. The main incentive is that all of these things don't cost them anything, so it doesn't hurt to try a little. I don't have much to show for in my garden right now, but I'm trying to set it up well for the future integrating some useful tree species, live fencing using pineapples and mulberry to keep the goats out, stabilizing slopes and reducing soil erosion using grasses, and slowly improving the soil using manures and nitrogen-rich plant material.

The garden project is part of a larger idea that everything should be designed well and have a purpose. I'm trying to convince people that they should have chickens or goats for good reasons, not just because other people have them. They should be thinking about the purpose and function of everything they do... BEFORE THEY DO IT. People should grow pineapples, or garden, or plant certain trees, or have fish ponds because they fit into a larger system instead of standing as individual projects. For example, you can use the sludge from your fish pond or chicken poop as manure, then you can use garden wastes to feed chickens and fish. Pineapples can be used as live fencing, and don't necessarily have to be planted in perfect rows. I'm starting to keep some chickens (I have 4 hens at the moment) as somewhere to start. Lundas aren't traditionally good with animals. They have always hunted their meat and have never had the need to raise animals until recently. Now all the game has been sold down the road and people have to keep animals. Animals are, for the most part, treated like things. They aren't treated as if they have feelings or as if they can do useful things like pull carts, plow your field, or eat weeds. Animals here function as bank accounts, as indicators of wealth, and as sources of manure. It's really become something I want to focus on in my service, getting people actually using their animals correctly and having them for a good reason.

I've also finished building and have begun using a fuel efficient stove made out of village materials. I'll include photos of this one soon. This stove uses about one third of the firewood as a traditional 3-log fire, conserves heat, and cooks rapidly. I'm trying to promote these stoves trough the Forestry Department and through the local women's groups. These stoves are practical for families that have nshima cooking all day long. I used bricks, mortar, sand, and rocks, all from a 100 meter radius of my house.

That's all for now but I'll post more pictures and more stories next week.

Friday, September 2, 2011

No Sleep, Many Adventures

I've always loved sleeping so much, especially a solid 9 hours followed by a good morning of birding. You can't top that. Lately sleep has been hard to come by. I wake up at 3 or 4 am every morning, and I can't figure out why. What is by body trying to tell me?! I'm especially perplexed because my days are usually exhausting. My theory is that there is not enough time in the day to think, and I need time to think, so Travel is the most exhausting thing. My transportation standards are now lower than anyone in the United States could possibly imagine. I'm just happy to be moving these days, as long as it's faster than walking. Two days ago I spent 13 hours on one bus going about 600km with a baby kicking me the whole time, and no sleep...par for the course.
I've been on a few adventures in the last few weeks away from Kelondu. My community entry period ended on August 10th, so I had to travel to Lusaka for In-Service training. From Kelondu, it usually takes at least two full travel days to get to Lusaka. I started off on my bike around 7am, then made it to Mwinilunga around 11. I waited on the road for about 4 hours in Mwinilunga with no luck, so I stayed at the Catholic Mission that nigh and took the bus to Solwezi the next morning, a 4 hour trip. From Solwezi, I hitched the next morning to Ndola, 4 hours, then from there to Lusaka, another 4 hours.
After In-Service Training, I went down to Livingstone, an amazing town that in many ways feels like Adventure Land at Disneyland. I think photos can say a lot more than writing...

Where are we going? I experienced what the Amaamas know so well, walking 10km with a Zambag on my head.

My brother Cliff and I in our garden. We have Kale, Cabbage, Peas, and Lettuce.

Kelondu Basic School about 1km from my house. This is the school I usually work at, Grade 1-7.

My village tuck shops, you can see the pineapple fields in the distance.

The Great Victoria Falls from the Zambian side. I'm one of the few people in the world that has seen the Zambezi Source before visiting the Falls.

Me at the boiling pot below Victoria Falls. This is the put-in spot for the Upper Zambezi rafting trip.

Amabanda anyanya ku Samuteba.
Amazing Vic Falls at sunset. What else can I say?

This day I cooked caterpillars with onions and garlic, a hit in Nswanakabinda village.

This is one of the 7th graders Bwembya holding an Amethyst Sunbird he found with a broken wing. This day we walked to the Zambezi Source from Kelondu, a two hour walk.

Ami kwitempa. (Me in the garden)

The amazing Chitunta plain about 25km from my house. This photo does absolutely no justice to how beautiful this place is.
The lip of Vicotria Falls from the Zambian side. In the background you can see the footbridge across the knifeedge and the road bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Monday, June 27, 2011

We are again in Solwezi for our provincial meetings. About 40 other Peace Corps Volunteers from Northwestern province have come to the provincial house for a few days to discuss some of the house rules, Peace Corps policy, and enjoy each others's company. I have been posted in my village for 6 weeks now.To get to Solwezi, I had to ride my bike for 3 and a half hours on a dirt road to the main town in my district of Mwinilunga, then get on a bus the next morning for 4 hours. The buses are actually pretty nice and modern. But, of course one of the two buses broke down, so the one working bus had twice the amount of people on it, plus chickens and pineapples.

Right now is the cold, dry, windy season. It's usually windy and in the 40s in the morning, but it gets up into the 70s during the day. We are growing some cooler weather vegetables in the garden; cabbages, peas, lettuce, and carrots. The garden is my big project right now, and its been a little bit of an obsession. Right now is a hard time for people because there isn't much to eat other than cassava root and leaves, as well as some fish and whatever people forage for. We have a few guavas still on the trees around the village, and pineapples are just around the corner.

I have really enjoyed exploring the area around my house. There is such a contrast between the landscapes, just short distances around my house. We have a lot of dry upland forest called ivunda. There is also the dense, moist riverine forest called itu along the watercourses. The region where I live has alot of springs, so these forests grow around these springs and the trees can get plenty of water during dry season. There are also some amazing plains, like what you would expect to see in Africa, both dry, upland plains and grassy wetlands, both just minutes walk from my house. I had a chance to walk into Nchila Reserve to see some Impala, Sable, and Puku antelope up close. Watching the impala run through the grass is amazing. The grass is very tall right now, so you just see a bouncing head most of the time.

I've been seeing some of the birds that people come to the northwestern corner of Zambia to see including, Bannnerman's Sunbird, Black-collared Bulbul, Black-and-Rufous Swallow, Brown-headed Apalis, Levaillant's Cisticola, and Anchieta's Tchagra. It's been great because all these relatively rare species of birds are literally in my backyard about 5 minutes down the trail from my house. My host family has been teaching me the Lunda names for all the birds. I'm also learning Lunda names for the local trees, of which there are hundreds.

I've been sick a few times, with a cold and strep throat. I also got some skin infections on my leg, so I'm taking some antibiotics. It's very difficult to stay clean here, but it might help to stop playing soccer and gardening barefoot.

I know that I can't possibly express in words what my experience has been like, so I will try to post more pictures next month. In the meantime, please keep writing. All your letters have been meaning a lot to me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Another Blog link with good photos

Here is a link to a fellow volunteer's blog. Robert takes a ton of pictures, and there are a lot from our training that he has posted.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More Photos - Swearing In

 These photos are from second site visit. It was our first chance to see Northwestern Province and the villages that we will be living in for the next two years. As I have been saying for the past three months, the bugs here have been one of the most impressive things about this place.
We saw this butterfly along the Kabompo River. The pink color on the hindwing can't really be seen in the picture but it was very bright.

This caterpillar has about the size of an index finger

We named this caterpillar 'Hellraiser'
 These photos are from my village in Ikelenge district, Kelondu. I will be arriving there on Tuesday for 'community entry' which means I will stay there for 3 months and "get known" by the villagers. Kelondu has about 300 households, so I surely won't be meeting everyone in that time.

This is my chota. It's the place outside my house where I'll eat, cook, and talk with people. It's not quite finished in this picture, but it will have a cement floor, short walls around the outside, and the roof will be finished being thatched. As you can see, goats will be an issue in my village, especially because I plan on doing lots of gardening.

This is the headman's brother, Robert, showing me the pineapple fields behind the village. The headman owns 4 hectares (8 acres) of land devoted to pineapples. You can see the strip of forest in the background behind the fields. This forest is very impressive spring-fed true tropical forest.

My house in Kelondu. I have a small orange tree outside my door, as well as several guava trees.
 These photos are from our cultural day in Chalimbana, the last day with our host families from training. It was our chance to say goodbye to the Katooka clan. We wore our chitenge material clothing that we had made by a local tailor.

The Katooka family, from left to right: Sylvia, Jessica, Amaama Anna, Me, Beauty, Ozzy, Rachel, Gloria, John, and Kelly.

Me with Jessica, Ozzy, and Gloria (hiding of course)

The Lundas with our Language and Cultural teacher Golden.

Me giving my speech at the U.S. Ambassador's house.