A morning in the life of a Peace Corps trainee

[This post was originally intended to be “A day in the life of a Peace Corps trainee” but it was taking way too long to write and PST is already almost over. I decided to sacrifice scope for painstaking detail.]


05:45 – I wake up. Sometimes it’s because of crowing roosters, one time it was the sound of Bamayo chopping up a fallen tree for firewood, usually it’s the alarm on my phone. I stay in bed contemplating the virtues of five more minutes of sleep. Then ten.

05:55 – Third alarm sounds. Time to actually get up. The rest of my family is already awake and bustling about. I pull my mosquito net out from where it is tucked underneath my mattress and get out of bed. This thin mesh is all that stands between me and bugs/lizards/rats of intimidating size, and since I don’t want them to be waiting for me under the covers when I crawl into bed at night, I’m vigilant about always re-tucking my security blanket carefully under the mattress after I extricate myself from my nest. I put on my contacts and do my 30 morning pushups, then throw on some clothes. I take pride in the fact that Bamayo has never had to pound on my door to wake me up, unlike some of the other trainees. Sure, she prepares my bath water and cooks all of my food, but I’m an adult, dammit.

06:05 – I put some toothpaste on my toothbrush, grab my water bottle, and head outside. I call out good morning, “Mwashibukeni mukwai,” to Bamayo where she is sweeping the dirt in front of the house and she returns the greeting. Sometimes after dinner I can get away with doing both my teeth brushing and my peeing at my trash pit, about 20 meters away from my hut, in order to avoid the little shop of horrors that is my chimbusu at night. No such luck in the clear visibility of the morning though, so I start brushing at the trash pit first, then duck into my nearby chimbusu and lift up the 5-gallon bucket lid that serves as a cover with a deft flick designed to propel any exploratory cockroaches away from me. I do my business, replace the lid, duck back out, and finish brushing, trying not to make eye contact with the next-door neighbor also brushing his teeth outside his doorstep about ten meters away. I’m not antisocial, but I don’t know his name, can’t remember if we’ve met (probably), and in Zambian culture, looking into another person’s eyes is considered to be intimidating or a come-on, depending on the context and the person. I’m not wild about either option.

06:12 – I return to my hut to figure out what I’m going to wear today, waving to my little sisters (bankashi) playing in the dirt who smirk and wave back. I wore socks most days the first couple of weeks, then realized how long it takes to do my own laundry by hand. I have a nice Chaco tan now.

06:22 – Either Bamayo or Mwansa, my 10-year-old sister, brings out my red plastic wash basin from inside the house and places it near the big pot of water boiling over an open flame outside the kitchen insaka. This is my cue to amble over, mix my bathing water (amenshi yakusamba) to the desired temperature using hot water from the big pot and cold water from a bucket nearby, and carry it over to my insamba. I wash my face and splash water on my hair, and every few days I shave.

06:34 – I bring the washbasin back over to the house where I deposit it on the front porch or hand it off to a grinning bankashi, then go back into my hut. With my door open and the curtain down, I can spy on the house surreptitiously as Bamayo boils water and fries French toast for my breakfast on twin braziers on the porch. I get dressed, check my email, and sweep my hut.

06:43 – Bamayo finishes cooking and disappears into the house with a covered plate. When she reemerges I trot outside, inspect the unintelligible inscriptions that my little sisters Mwila and Malenga have scratched into the dirt, and head into the house. Breakfast is arranged carefully on a platter on the coffee table in the middle of the living room: the covered plate with food on the left, mug with saucer and spoon on the right, instant coffee, small container of sugar, and smaller container of instant milk powder at the top, each with spoons balanced on to of them, and tea kettle with boiling water to the side. I sit in the armchair across from the couch, where I have sat for every meal since arriving, and which I strongly suspect is Bataata’s seat when the family is not hosting a trainee. I eat while listening to the morning news on the family’s radio and typing up a few paragraphs of an email in progress. After I finish, I return the coffee, sugar, and dried milk to the cabinet on the other side of the room and bring the platter and kettle outside to the rack fashioned from branches where Bamayo washes and stores the family’s dishes.

07:10 – Back in my hut I gather everything I need for the day in my backpack. Some are the same things I carried in my pack back in undergrad: notebooks, pens, water bottle, emergency snack. And some were staples in my man-purse messenger bag when I used to bike to work across town every day: bike patch kit, pump, spare tube. But others are unique to my current life in rural sub-Saharan Africa: portable solar panel, anti-diarrheal pills, malaria prophylaxis, and passport.

07:15 – I strap on my Chacos, throw on my helmet, and lock my door with a padlock (more for Bamayo’s sense of security than mine; I gave her my spare key within three days of moving in, but if it’s locked then she doesn’t have to watch my hut constantly while I’m gone). I tell Bamayo in Bemba when I’ll be coming home, say goodbye, wave to my sisters, and then ride off for class.


4 thoughts on “A morning in the life of a Peace Corps trainee

  1. Hi sweetie, hope you are doing well…sounds as if you are=) I was happy to read this blog and noted there was no further mention of trying to catch one of those Tigerfish…you stay away from those things!! I don’t even want to know what you’d have to use for bait=( Any special requests as we starting gathering items for another care package? xoxoxoxo

  2. Matt, I have been enjoying your blog. Wish you well in your adventure! I have great respect for your father and now for you, as you follow in his foot steps with the Peace Corps. I pray the Lord will guide you and protect you in Zambia. Johnnie F. Steinert-Sanger, Ca.

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