Sunday, April 19, 2009

Training wrap up

So the last blog post was over a month ago and a lot has happened since then. The most exciting thing is that I got a chance to see my actual site for the first time. I spent a week living there and getting a chance to get to know the community/village and the school where I’ll be working. The town, Mumbi, is named for chief Mumbi, who’s palace is in the middle of town. All chief’s by definition live in palaces and it’s usually a nicer, larger version of a village hut but probably with a a corrugated metal room instead of thatch and has glass windows and electricity. Pretty bwana, i.e. baller. The specific village I’ll be living in is called Kalowe. My hut is between a couple of families’ compounds all of whom are somehow related to each other. It’s pretty close to the village headman’s compound, the village well and a smaller soccer field. The school and the borehole with the safe drinking water are a little ways away but still just a couple minute bike ride away.
The first day I got to my site the school head teacher, Mr. Goma, and Mr. Banda the teacher who’s assigned to work specifically with me who’s also in charge of training other teachers at nearby schools, showed me around the town. The main drag, a wide dirt road, has tuck shops (a Britishism I guess, you can “tuck” into them quickly) where you can buy soap, sugar and salt, the market with little open air stalls which were selling tomatoes and bananas this time of year, the palace, the clinic (0 doctors, 0 nurses, 2 health workers and a catchment area of over 20,000 people), which had a long line, mostly of mothers with young children, and then they introduced me to my village headman. This was thankfully ceremony free. When we dropped off another volunteer at her site (Emily, who will be my nearest neighbor, a short 30 km bike ride away) we were greeted in her village with a large outdoor community meeting. The VIPs, i.e. the headmen, a few teachers and us, sat in the shade of a tree while the village sat out in front of us on the ground. Emily and the teachers gave speeches and then the women in the village did a welcoming dance in her honor. The dance was really cool but I was happy to postpone giving a speech in chenyanja about the role of an education Peace Corps volunteer.
The highlight of my week in my village was definitely getting to play on the village soccer team. They were SUPER excited that I knew how to play and wanted to play with them. I was told that I was just going to be watching the village A team scrimmage the B team but when I got there they told me to warm up. Apparently the team had already warmed up so after I rolled up my pant legs and flipped off my sandals my warm up consisted of jogging across the field while the 21 other guys watched from a line on the midfield line. It felt like a pretty awkward start and I didn’t really know what to expect. Then they had me line up with everybody else and we did some Brazilian style warm ups. I was asked what number I played, I guess they number soccer positions like we number basketball and baseball positions but I had no idea what they were talking about. Eventually I got put in defense on the B team, which was fine. I played for about 2 ½ hours and it was really fun, active soccer. They had a coach and it was obvious that everybody watched a lot of soccer because the some of the play was pretty sophisticated. The only bad part of the whole thing was that while the Zambians have been going around barefoot their whole lives my soles are used to being wrapped up in socks and running shoes and I got some pretty nasty, large, open blisters on my feet by the end of the game which I had failed to notice while I was playing. I realized when I got back to my hut that I had neglected to pack any first aid equipment. Woops. Luckily one of the families brought me over some gauze and I was able to fashion a bandage by ripping up my chitenge (cloth/wrap/towel/beach towel/head-wrap/dress/etc.) and tying the gauze to my feet. For the rest of the week if I had to go anywhere farther than my chimbuzi (pit latrine) I was sitting on the back of someone’s bike rack and getting pedaled around. This also made me realize that after losing 15 lbs from malaria I was still a good 30+ lbs heavier than the average villager who was trying to bike me around.
Guess I should now mention that I got malaria. It sucked. But after a few days the medicine took effect and I got better. This was all a several weeks ago and I’ve been back to 100% for a while.
Here are some other little vignettes of life in Zambia:
I made an Easter egg last Sunday with some of the other volunteers and as I was going to give it to my family my little host sister came up and wanted to see it. As soon as I handed it to her several things happened simultaneously. I realized that she had no idea what an Easter egg was. She said, “oh, what” and tossed the egg, which she thought was a ball up in the air. She fumbled the catch and the egg crashed on the ground, hit a rock and broke. Oh well. It was a valuable lesson on cultural assumptions.
Once I walked into my mud hut and reached to the right of the door to flick the light switch. I have small windows, a candle, a gas lamp and a headlight for light for light inside my hut. I couldn’t really explain to my family why I was laughing out loud.
At my site I was invited to watch a match between two neighboring villages and while I was sitting on the sidelines watching the game with the village elders, a ring of children sat very close watching me for the whole game. I guess a muzungu is more interesting than a game even if he’s only sitting. Every once in a while one of the litter kids would reach out and touch my skin then look down at his hand to see if any white rubbed off.
Other news: Training is going really well but Im excited to get out to my site. Swearing in, when I officially become a Peace Corps volunteer, is this Thursday. We get to have a celebration at the ambassador’s house with drinks and hors d'oeuvre. I’m pretty excited. After that its only a couple of days till I’m dropped off and the real adventure begins!

I have a new mailing address, hint hint:

Kevin Means
PO Box 560059

In other communication news, Ian called me a couple of weeks ago from Thailand during his trip with Gaelen, George and Shane in S.E. Asia and it was great to touch base with him and hear about their cool trip. He called from skype to my cell and I think it was pretty reasonable. I will also be able to skype chat from my cell phone now and that’s free for anyone on a computer and pretty cheap for me. My skype name is Kevin_means.
Thanks every body!
LOL (lots of love! This translation courtesy of Brianna’s mother.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

hello from zambia

I have been in Zambia for about 3 weeks now. In a couple more weeks I will go and visit the volunteer I will be replacing and get the first chance to see the village where I’ll be living once I finish training. It will be somewhere in Eastern Province which borders Mozambique and Malawi. We have already visited a volunteer at their site and it was by far the best part of training. I visited a volunteer who as living in Northern Province, which is mountainous and even greener and more lush than the rest of Zambia. The rainy season is just drawing to a close and there are rainstorms every couple of days and most nights there are thunderstorms on the horizon. The view from the stoop of my hut, or Nyumba, is across a broad river valley with rolling hills dotted with corn, peanut and banana tree fields. A vast majority of rural Zambians are subsistence farmers including the family I’m staying with. Patrick and Nora Kababa are peanut farmers and goat herders. There is a rotating cast of children and grandchildren living with them. The main food, nshima, is a thick corn porridge which they serve in fist sized lumps. Its pretty similar to polenta (thicker than grits). The correct way to eat is to make a ball of nshima in your hand and use that to scoop up a bite of the meat or vegetable dishes that they call relishes. I knew I was doing an okay job integrating into the family when in the middle of dinner, which we eat inside in my hut (but only because they are afraid I’ll get malaria, otherwise they would eat outside), Patrick, who was sitting next to me, yelled my name out the door, then said in Nyanja, “Oh wait,” and called for his son Boston.
I finally got a phone so I’ll be able to have internet, texting and calling access now. Call and texts to me are free for me so if you can find a way to call me cheaply, maybe skype or a calling card, I would love to hear from everybody. Internet access is also really cheap for me so I’ll be able to check facebook and gmail (haha and the onion) much more regularly. The number to call my from the states is 011260976665373.
I should have a chance to get to a computer again in couple of weeks after I get back from visiting my future village so I’ll try to get another post, this time with pictures, up then.
Take care everybody.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One of these days i'll sit down and write a long letter to all my good friends

So I stole this information from another blog and put my name on it but this is a good way to get in touch with me. Other good ways: send me and email or facebook message, both of which I will be able to check, somewhat irregularly.

Ok here is my mailing address for the entire time I am in Zambia:

Kevin Means, PCV
Peace Corps/Zambia
BOX 50707

If you choose to send me packages (and you should choose to do that) through DHL or something other than the US postal service you should use this address:

Kevin Means, PCV
US Peace Corps/Zambia
71B Chitemwiko Road
Kabulonga, Lusaka

and the Peace Corps Zambia phone number is 260 1 260377 and it may be needed to send packages. Padded envelopes are reccomended for packages.

Also they suggest you write AIR MAIL on the letters

I'm sitting in my good friend Warren's apartment in Washington DC just several blocks from the White House and in an hour and a half an exciting moment arrives; I will get the first chance to meet the 35 or so other Peace Corps volunteers who will be in my group going to Zambia with me. Today we will meet at a hotel near the naval observatory and begin the Staging process. Tomorrow morning we get lots of shots (fun!) and by tomorrow evening we will be on a 15 hour flight (more fun!) to Johannesburg, South Africa. A quick layover, another two hour flight and we'll touch down in Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia. As long as those flights will be it is a remarkably short time to travel to a place that will be so different and I'll only just be beginning to adjust even as the jet lag wears off after a couple of days.

Once in Zambia my group and I will travel to a small town and village a little ways east of Lusaka to begin our nine weeks of language, technical, health and culture training. During that period I will be living in a home-stay. I've heard that the home-stay is often volunteer's favorite part about their entire service because of the strong connections they make with their host family and I am really looking forward to meeting the family I'll be living with.

I've spent a great last couple of days visiting Sam and Ashley in NY and Warren, Jill, Michel, Cameron and Jess in DC. Before that I was the emotional and slightly bittersweet goodbyes to family and friends in Seattle including an amazing goodbye party (see facebook for pictures) that included a hilarious 75% life size Kevin.