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.)


  1. brianna?! thanks for the shout out though, and to pegsta too. keep the updates comin!

  2. This sounds so cool! And a letter is on its way to your new address! Miss you.


  3. Kevo! Great post, very informative and I love the anecdotes. Miss you like crazy, wish you could come to my birthday shin-dig! I'll tell you details in the next letter I send.