First glimpse of home (for the next two years)

I just got back from Second Site Visit in Luapula Province, my first opportunity to see the village where I’ll be living for the next two years. Here are some first impressions, thoughts, and random notes:

-Nchelenge District is way, way up there. The drive from Lusaka took 12 hours by Land Cruiser not counting stops, and the Peace Corps cruisers go faster and stop much less frequently than the buses.

-There are literally thirty kids who like nothing more than to sit right outside my door and stare at me.  All. Day. Not to be outdone, I sit down right in the middle of the pack, making faces right back. Some of the braver ones poke me from time to time to, I think, make sure that I’m real. I played some “volleyball” with some of the older boys one afternoon (batting a village ball made from plastic bags and string around in the air with our hands) and the kids got really into it, both the dozen or so who were playing and the twenty girls and smaller boys who were watching. They were loud. But even if they had been silent as mice (I’m regretting my choice of words already – you can definitely hear the rats here scurrying everywhere), all of the bamayos still would have been watching because of the muzungu in their midst.

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-Luapula Province is beautiful. We passed a river gorge on our way up to Nchelenge and it looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park, lush and green and rugged and wild. That was actually atypical of Luapula since the province is very flat, but everywhere there is green and the red/orange/yellow/brown houses contrast vividly with the green grass and trees and the blue sky and white clouds.

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-Ba Sebastian Lubinda’s fish farm looks like a tropical paradise. Ba Sebastian is my counterpart and is practicing integrated fish farming with bananas and pineapples, along with some sugar cane, cassava, and maize for personal consumption. We took a tiny bush path to reach his ponds and it was like I had stepped onto the set of Lost. It’s very tropical and jungle-like. I kept expecting to see a tiger slink out of the grass until I remembered that there are no tigers in Africa. The ponds are gorgeous. There are purple/pink/white water lilies growing wild everywhere (I told Ba Sebastian that ku America my dad grows and harvests these exact same plants for sale and he laughed; here they’re worthless), banana trees and pineapples (he’s one of the only pineapple farmers in the province) lining all of the banks, and fish feeding on the surface.

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-I feel kind of ridiculous telling people that I’m here to teach fish farming in front of my counterpart who knows much more about fish farming than me. Ba Sebastian has 18 ponds and is applying for a loan from a Zambian government initiative to promote small fish farms in Luapula Province, and he also makes his own fish food from mealie meal waste (byproduct of the flour used to make nshima) and fish proteins. I’m not really here to advise him as much as I’m here to help promote fish farming in the area and use his farm as an example for other people interested in fish farming.

-My house is pitch black and creepy. And that’s during the day. I took pictures inside the hut at night which look like stills from those movies set in deserted cabins in the woods where the victim enters the hut and sees one lone wooden chair, illuminated by her headlamp, giving you just enough time to wonder in horror where the chair’s occupant is before BLAMMMM the minor downbeat assaults your ears, the light gets knocked to the floor, and the primal screaming begins. Nope, I wasn’t feeling scared at all as I quivered in my tent inside my hut that first night at site.

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-My hut is huge: I have four rooms and a hallway, and each room is as large as my entire hut in homestay. One room is a combination storage and bathing area (with drainage pipe leading outside – I’ve already taken advantage of this feature to brush my teeth and pee without leaving my house; it’s pretty fantastic), one room will be a bedroom, and the other two rooms will be a kitchen/storage and a living room/general purpose room. Seriously, I pretty much own a mansion.

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-I think I’m going to love Kashikishi, a big market in Nchelenge on the shore of Lake Mweru 23 kilometers away from my site. I bought a t-shirt there for K5 ($1)  which reads “Manet for lovers, Monet for others,” partly because it’s delightfully ironic (I can’t for the life of me remember which one was Monet and which one was Manet; are they even two different artists?), but mostly because it’s the softest t-shirt I’ve ever felt. This thing is serious hipster candy and probably cost $45 in America before it was donated to charity and shipped over to Africa along with millions of other second-hand clothes. I love the stories behind each item in the market, comparing prices across the country and delighting in finding the same oddball shirt in two markets 14 hours away from each other.

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-During the ride to Kashikishi, I met with several district government officials in Nchelenge (Department of Fisheries, police, Department of Agriculture). Ba Sebastian also introduced me to every person we passed along the way who is a fish farmer or had expressed previous interest in fish farming, well over a dozen people all up and down the 23 kilometers, completely unplanned. That took seven full hours, and then in the evening we biked 12 more kilometers to find a carpenter in the next catchment area who agreed to make me a table and two chairs for K150 (the guy in my area wanted K300 for a table and four chairs). All told, I biked about 60 kilometers on Monday, more than I ride in a typical week in training. It provided great exercise and language practice; I greeted no fewer than two hundred people in Bemba, eliciting all manner (ha ha, Swype automatically inserted Manet there; I swear these programs think for themselves and have ridiculously dry senses of humor) of reactions from enthusiastic welcomes to angry yelling to confusion about whether I’m a woman or a man, to, most often, shocked faces quickly followed by the automatic respectful response. (Zambians are nothing if not respectful; contrary to American culture, it’s perfectly appropriate, even expected, that you call an old man you don’t know bashikulu, or grandfather, when you pass him on the street.)

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-My counterpart has two wives and two families. Surprise! They both are well aware of each other and seem to be fine with the arrangement, and he splits his time between the two houses/farms. Nope, this isn’t normal here at all. In fact, it’s generally frowned upon in this Christian nation, although so many Zambian men cheat on their wives that it’s assumed everyone has a “side plate.” So if Sebastian is faithful to both wives, I can’t really see how ably and openly supporting two families is a morally bad thing in this country where many men can’t even provide for one. And this confident, gregarious man knows how the logic adds up. After he introduced me to his first wife, Ba Sebastian asked me with a sly grin what I thought about polygamy. I was left to sputter, “Nshi shibe” (I don’t know), thankful that the oncoming darkness hid my embarrassment.

-Two days at site and I’m already giving speeches in front of the entire village. The headman called an impromptu meeting and I inadvertently strolled right into the middle of it. I sat down on the periphery, trying to be unobtrusive and remain unnoticed, but when you’re the only muzungu in a 5 kilometer radius that’s kind of hard to do. The headman called me up to speak, and I about fell over in shock. Nailed it. I think.

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6 thoughts on “First glimpse of home (for the next two years)

  1. Wow, looks like you’re totally out of your element, but taking it in stride so well! And the inside of your hut looks exactly like a horror movie, yes. Val agrees 🙂

  2. Edouard Manet painted people. He’s famous for Olympia (naked prostitute reclining on the bed with flowers being carried to get by her African servant lady) he was older than Claude Monet, the impressionist who painted those water lilies. Glad you are doing well. Should we mail you some candles? That house scares me. Miss ya lots!

    • Ahh this makes more sense now, thanks Lyuda! I thought it was a play on snobbish artsy people (i.e. you 😉 ) making fun odd people who don’t pronounce his name right.

  3. What are the children carrying on their heads? You must be so excited to actually see your new home and meet some of the community members. Love the story of your impromptu speech!

    • The kids are carrying cassava roots, to be mashed into a flour to make cassava nshima.

      I hit my character limit on this post so it cut off the last part about the speech. For any others reading, basically I was dragged up to the front of a village-wide meeting called by our headman and asked to give a speech. In Bemba. Nailed it. I think.

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