Almost unbelievably, the end of Pre-Service Training is already in sight. In just a little over a month, I’ll be sworn in as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ll be wearing an outlandish fish-themed shirt paired with even more outlandish fish-themed trousers (pants mean underwear here). Just a few days after that, I’ll go shopping for everything I need to start a new life in a mud hut in my site. And just a few days after that, a Land Cruiser will deposit me at my empty hut and take off with a wave. And right there, when I take one more step into my hut, I will figuratively and quite literally be the furthest from home I’ve ever been (read it in your best Frodo Baggins voice).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today was the long-awaited announcement of our sites. The day we found out the exact place where we’ll be living for the next 24 months. It felt kind of like Christmas. Throughout training, I’ve been completely in the dark about my future site because I’m in the Bemba language group, the most widely spoken language in Zambia. My friends learning Nyanja (Eastern), Lunda (Northwest), Timbuka (Eastern), or Kaonde (Northwest) have known which provinces they’ll be going to since before we started training. In contrast, my site could have been in Northern, Luapula, or Central provinces and I’ve spent the past month and a half vacillating between option a.) weighing the pros and cons of each province and option b.) trying not to have an opinion at all because my preference has little to no influence on site selection. But now the wait is over, because today, after much pomp and circumstance (a timed obstacle course which we had to navigate while wearing chitenges like women), I found out that I’m going to Luapula Province!
Not to brag or anything, but I kind of won the Peace Corps Zambia site lottery. My site is in the village of Nshinda, in Nchelenge District in the northern part of Luapula. It’s a stone’s throw away from the border of the Congo, which we’re not allowed to visit, but it’s a cool enough fact to mention in a blog post anyway. I’m near the tarmac which enables easier transportation, and my nearest PCV neighbor is 10km away which is only about a half-hour bike ride. I’m first-generation at my site, which means I’ll be the first volunteer to live in my village. The PC staff member who inspected all of our sites reported that I have cell reception at my site, that “there are friendly playful kids around,” and that I “have a mansion-sized hut with nice rooms.”
I’m really excited. The first thing I heard about Luapula Province when I arrived in Zambia was that it is beautiful. Throughout training, the general consensus has been that Luapula is the most scenic and tropical of the provinces. It boasts several gorgeous waterfalls, national parks, and several large, pretty lakes with pristine beaches. (Translation: come visit me.) I’ve also heard that Luapula is very rural and underdeveloped. The population density is low, and this part of the country just doesn’t see the same amount of traffic as many of the other provinces. And because Peace Corps is relatively new to Nchelenge District and I’ll be a first-gen volunteer, I will likely also be the first American that many people will meet.
In just a week and a half, I leave for 2nd site visit where I’ll travel to Luapula Province for the first time. I’ll spend a few days at my actual site, meeting people in the community and trying to find a carpenter who will make me furniture to fill my currently empty mansion-sized hut.