Thursday, December 10, 2015

Short essays inspired by friends...

    To get ideas for blog posts I asked friends on Facebook what they would like to know about my experience living here in Zambia. I have lived in Zambia for almost two years and have become accustomed to my surroundings and daily goings-on in the village. I realize the things that seem ordinary to me are actually interesting to others. 

     My friends' questions have helped me re-look at my life here in the village. I now stop and admire the sunrises and I observe the people and think hard at both the similarities and differences compared with the people from my own culture back home.

     Thank you, my friends, for helping me open my eyes and seeing this place as if it is the my first time; only I'm looking around and seeing things as though you are here with me.

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Jude: What does the countryside around you look like? What kind of animals do you encounter and what makes you smile?

     On my walk to my kimbusu (outhouse) in the morning I look to my right and see the sun rise above the trees preceded by tall grasses. It is flat where I live with very few hills. Heavily populated,thatched-roofed huts can be seen through the bush. 

     The people in my community rely on growing maize for income and food. There are many acres of land cleared nearby with long narrow mounds of soil where the maize seeds are planted, then the maize grows into tall stalks; similar to home.

     During the dry season after the fields are burned, it is just flat lifeless land left with burn marks everywhere. Hundreds of acres are torched after harvest. This is an extremely damaging farming practice, not only for the soil, but some homes burn down, as well.

     During rain season everything is green. Maize is planted in the fields and the grasses grow back. It is absolutely beautiful.

     In between rain season and dry season the grasses turn different shades of brown. There are trails I walk that are lined with elephant grass that can grow over six feet tall. I love this time of year. It is the most beautiful to me. This is the time of wind season so the grasses sway in the wind. I will miss this the most when I come back home.

     Beyond the maize fields, away from dwellings, there is vast unbroken forest. Unfortunately I don’t see many animals. Reasons are most have disappeared, especially the large animals like elephants and lions, due to human encroachment and the animals that are left hide or only come out at night; very difficult to see any animals here.

     But they are out there. Bushbucks, duikers, monkeys, skunks, porcupines, and other smaller animals found in sub-Saharan Africa. I have not seen any of these, but they are out there.

     Birds are more obvious and some are very different from birds at home, especially the horn bills. They are large noisy birds with huge and strange formed beaks. Also, there are tiny birds that are very colorful and parrots fly by now and then. 

     My kitties bring home many kinds of rodents they’ve killed. There is a bigger variety of rodent species here compared to where we live.
     
video

    Insects are very interesting here. Some are huge like the cicadas and locusts. There are African honey bees that travel in swarms during the dry season looking for water. It is thrilling hearing them fly by. We don’t have that where we’re from. 

     Millipedes are common. I saw one almost a foot long with a circumference of a quarter. Luckily they are harmless and they are fun to watch.
     
     Goats roam free here. Sometimes they pass by my hut. So do oxen that get loose. Chickens are everywhere. Roosters don’t only crow in the morning, they crow all day long and sometimes into the night. Baby chicks are common to see running around with their mothers.

     When I walk along the trails along the maize fields lined with grasses I expect to see elephants and giraffes. But, I only imagine seeing them. Sometimes I will hear a cow mooing in the distance and I pretend it is an elephant snorting. It is sad what has happened to the wildlife here. There are just too many people and the mines are so numerous now the elephants don’t migrate through like they used to.

     The saving grace are the trees where I live. If I was placed in the eastern or southern part of Zambia where most of the trees have been cut down I would suffer from the heat much more than I do here and not experience as much rainfall. 

     Overall, Zambia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. I am very lucky to live here.

What makes me smile? The kids, when people greet me first, and remembering the many, many times I wish I was in Africa; then realize...I'm here! :) 

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Patricia L: It has been wonderful seeing some of the boys in activities, but are there any girls who come to learn how to write their names with chalk on your kitchen floor or your bricks?

     I can answer with, 'Yes, girls visit and draw on my cement floor, their names are on my hut, and I've practiced with them writing their names.', but I feel your question deserves an introspectively thought out answer.




     I spend more times with boys. My empathy is stronger with boys, maybe because I raised two sons.

     The majority of visitors at my hut are boys. They have more free time. Their peer social network is stronger, they venture away from their homes and make new friends and see more of the village or even go beyond.

     Girls stay closer to home to help with chores and care for younger siblings. They are less likely to attend school.

     I am sure the girls have strong bonds among their peers, but they are more home-based. This is what I don't see much of because my interaction with girls at their homes is limited. 

     This is my fault. I don't venture into their space to get to know them. Part of it is the language barrier and the other part is the lack of interest I have in the women's world here. It seems mundane to me, but maybe if I look closer I will find interesting aspects of their lives that aren't obvious. I have to ask how do they keep their lives colorful and enjoyable while washing clothes and cooking. 

     Gender role division is conspicuously marked in this society. Even I have gender rules I follow: I don't openly drink a beer or interact with males unless it is work-related. It is expected of women to wear a kitenge (a skirt-like wrap) in public, but I don't wear one and I can get away with it because I am from a different culture, so I have a choice these women don't have. 

     Your next question, Pat, challenges me to follow a woman around during the day to document what she does. This will be interesting because I have been ignoring (not intentionally) the females in this society. My explanation for my unintentional ignorance is explained below.

     I have to say men are friendlier and open to conversation with new people. Many speak English, but not always well, but well enough where we can communicate using both my Kiikaonde and their English. It can be quite entertaining to onlookers. Men are usually ready with a big welcoming smile.

    Women are generally shy. They don't easily smile especially to strangers, but it is cultural-based. Here is an example: I smile and give a bright and cheery 'good morning!' or 'mwabuuka mwane!' Well, it is not usually reciprocated this way; even with women I know. 

     It is difficult to integrate into the women's side of the community. Please, remember, these are cultural differences. There is very little interaction with outsiders in the village; this remote village in the middle of Africa. 

     I am not only a foreigner from another country with different color skin, different hair, and different dress, but I am a single woman. It is rare for a woman to be unmarried in this community, unlike the States. Women here usually have children to care for and rely on a husband to help support them. So, I am really the odd ball.

     Because of the lack of interaction with whites in the village there may be a slight fear of the unknown. Even though my intention is genuine curiosity and I have a willingness to connect and make friends, the women may see me as a threat to their marriage, a spy (I have been asked if I am one on occasion), or because I am white I may not be friendly or trustworthy. The latter is an actual concern with indigenous Zambians as a whole because of ill treatment by westerners in the past and the present, as well.

     Women are tied to tradition more than men (educated women typically leave the village for jobs) because of the lack of exposure with new groups. Their role keeps them near home, away from new people. 

     These are my observations. I do know a few women who are gregarious and have opened up to me. We share thoughts and ideas and laugh together.

     Getting to know women in this culture is difficult. If I knew the language better I would probably find it easier to participate in women's circles and learn more of their world, but I will make it a point to interact more with the quiet, prideful, and strong half of my community.

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Patricia V: Knowing what you know now, what would you have packed to bring with you or left at home?

Patricia L: Knowing what she DID pack or rather stuff and resort...I'd like to know that also.


    As Patricia L knows (I lived with her before I came here) it was difficult for me to fit as much stuff in two bags weighting under 50lbs each for my two year trip to Zambia. But, since being here I found only wishing I brought a few things I didn't think I would need.

     I remember debating whether to bring my speakers for my laptop. I left them behind. I wish I brought them.

     I wish I brought hand tools, such as hand pruners (had I known I'd be working with trees), wire cutters, and a Leatherman. Without these tools, though, I find ways to compensate. I become MacGyver!




     I brought way too many clothes. I don't wear half of what I brought with me. And it's funny because I have bought several clothing items since I've been here.

     There is a store in town call DAPP. It is run by and NGO and sells second hand clothing, like thrift stores back home. There are brand name clothes; most in good condition. I've bought jeans, work pants, dress shirts, and full-length skirts.

     On that topic, I want to mention people living in the village have access to second hand clothes. That is what they wear. And though they live in the bush, they can be very sharp and stylish dressers. My host sister has a pair of Prada shoes.

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Patricia V: “Combating mosquitoes/spiders the size of walnuts?”


     I will begin with mosquitoes. As you may already know malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, so Peace Corps instructs us to use methods to prevent acquiring the disease which can be fatal. 
Millions of people in the world die from malaria every year. Some of my friends have lost children and other family members from malaria. 

Precautions.....

Insecticide-treated mosquito nets prevents mosquito attacks during the night while we sleep. I sleep under my mosquito net every night. Really nothing can get through the net which is draped over our beds and tucked around our mattresses. The net gives us a sense of security while we sleep knowing anything can crawl into our bed with us, including snakes like cobras and black mambas.

Prophylaxis is a medication to prevent the malaria parasite from entering our blood stream after mutating in our liver. Volunteers have three options of malaria preventative. One is doxycycline which is taken daily. The other is taken weekly. Both have several side-effects, such as stomach issues, sensitivity to the sun, depression and bad dreams. The third is another taken daily, but is not an antibiotic. This is the one I take. It has side effects, as well, but it varies from person to person which side-effects manifest. We are required to take this medication throughout our service and the medication is supplied by Peace Corps.

Insect repellent is encouraged to be used when not under a mosquito net at night time. I’ve found mosquitoes love to bite my feet.

Eliminating standing water and overgrown vegetation near our huts, which is self-explanatory. We don’t have lawn mowers and during the rain season we have to hand-slash the vegetation that grows nearby. Never-ending battle, I tell you.

     Surprisingly I’ve only killed one spider in my hut, though I probably have hundreds of them living in it. Wall spiders are big and flat and scary looking, but totally harmless. They stay on the wall. They are a permanent fixture and add to my decor. So, if I see a large spider crawling on my floor like the tarantula-looking one I killed, I kill it.


Wall spider...very common in my hut. They don't bother me, I don't bother them.
    
     Other Peace Corps Volunteers have encountered camel spiders, which are absolutely hideous, and scorpions that bite in their huts. I’ve never seen either of them.

    I keep my food in sealed plastic containers, but that won’t keep 
mice and rats away. They chew EVERYTHING! Including 
underwear, matches, candles, plastic peanut butter lids, and some 
have tried chewing through one of my food containers. This is why 
I have cats. I avoid poison because it takes days before they die and owls and other animals will die if they ingest them.

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John: 'What are the most inspiring natural wonders you've seen?'

     I visited one of the seven natural wonders in the world last Christmas: Victoria Falls in southern province, Zambia. Yes, it was impressive, but I was visiting as a tourist. I felt like I was in a museum: fences kept me away from the edge, I felt pressure to read all the wordy information plaques, and well-dressed people passed, cameras draped around their necks, speaking unfamiliar dialects. 




    As a lover of nature I like to visit places that aren't frequented by people. There may have been parts of Vic Falls that are more intimate, but unfortunately I wasn't able to access those parts at the time.

     Since I was a kid a I watched documentaries of the wilds of Africa; roaming elephant herds, giraffes eating the leaves of acacia trees, cheetahs running at full speed after prey... This is the Africa I want to see.

     Last August I visited Kafue National Park in northwestern province; only a  five hour drive from the village I reside, extremely remote where people don't live because it is too dangerous. I heard sounds I had dreamed of hearing in the wild: calls of exotic birds, trumpeting elephants and snorting hippos, and I saw the iconic landscape of the open African plain with yellow grass and acacia trees dotting the landscape under a crystal clear blue sky that seemed endless. 

     I sneaked away from the group I was traveling with to be alone.  I slowly walked along the plain, dried grass crunched with every step, i kept a keen eye out for any movement in the surrounding bush. Lions were spotted eight kilometers away the day before, but this didn't stop me from venturing forward. I felt adrenaline pouring through my veins. I saw various kinds of antelope not too far from me. No lions, though, but I knew they were out there; not that far from me. I felt alive.

   This is what inspires me. Being alone in a place feeling a connection with the people who once lived alongside the animals during a time in our earth's history of hunter/gatherers in an unspoiled environment.      The feeling I had when I was standing alone looking over the African plain is something I will revisit in my mind from time to time. Just the thought of the close proximity to an animal that would have me for dinner as I stand there, alone, without a weapon gives me great satisfaction. I have never felt more free in my life. 

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