Stuff Peace Corps Volunteers Like, #4

Inspired by and written in the spirit of the popular blog and book by Christian Landers, Stuff White People Like. No Peace Corps volunteers have been harmed in the making of this post.

4. Wearing bandannas

Bandannas were originally made from leftover scraps of fabric and designed to keep sweat on one’s brow from dripping down into one’s eyes. They were popularized by cowboys with flasks of whiskey in hand who ran multi-day cattle drives under the searing Texan sun.

Bandannas are now made in myriad colors and patterns carefully chosen to evoke the Old West and designed to create the illusion that the wearer does the type of work which generates sweat. They are popularized by Peace Corps volunteers with Nalgene bottles in hand who have multi-day explosive diarrhea under the big spiders in their latrines.

Peace Corps volunteers love these things. You will not find a Peace Corps volunteer leaving his or her house without wearing one bandanna and stowing two more in different colors in his or her dusty backpack in case of emergencies, like copious amounts of sweat or an outfit change. They are the ultimate Peace Corps Chic accessorizing tool.

The reason why bandannas are not omnipresent in America is because it is difficult to convincingly sell the perception that you are doing hard, sweat-inducing labor while brewing overpriced soy lattes made from organic, fair-trade coffee beans grown in [your Peace Corps volunteer’s host country]. Which is what all bandanna-wearing Peace Corps volunteers were doing after they graduated college with their expensive liberal arts degrees.

If a Peace Corps volunteer takes the additional step of fashioning a bandanna out of a local [your Peace Corps volunteer’s host country] fabric, he is serious about his textiles and was probably the type of person to measure the leg openings of his tapered-leg chinos back when he wore chinos.



A volunteer’s credo

I want to be humble. I want to learn that a certainty is often an uncertainty that just hasn’t been considered carefully enough. I want to have the strength to admit my insecurities and lapses in integrity and deficiencies of character.

I want to be spiritual. I want to be conscious and cognizant of a greater force at work in my life, be it God, or nature, or the infinite yet infinitesimal strands of space and time which connect the universe.

I want to learn about the world around me. I want to learn about myself, not for how I perceive the world, but for how the world shapes who I am and influences how I think. Contrary to every shred of evidence I’ve accumulated in the time I’ve spent on this planet, I want to remember that the world does not revolve around me. That it is a massive, awesome thing which is much greater than the sum of the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met and the books I’ve read, which exists far beyond my capacity to perceive it.

I want to have a genuine curiosity for other people. I want to be witness to their lives, to rejoice in their joy and feel the pain of their sorrows. I want to love fully, to see everyone I meet as the interesting, complex, self-aware, valuable human beings that they are and have been and will be.

I want to love myself.

I want to take pride in everything I do. However, I want even more to be proud of who I am. I want to understand that although what I do may reflect my personality and character, it cannot even begin to fully describe the fiber of my being.

I want to perceive without judgment, to love without consciousness, to live without regret.


He eats large people

This morning I ran into Bamayo Mpundu and her three incredibly adorable daughters at the well. We worked through an amiable conversation as we drew water, the several gaps in the language barrier mostly bridged by the bamayo’s persistence and perseverance combined with my willingness to cheerfully say something completely wrong. All the while I made faces at the little girls, who beamed up at me with cherubic, toothy grins. [Mom, one of them is named Janet; you cannot possibly have a cuter namesake.]

Then Bamayo shifted the chitenge wrapped around her back to bring her youngest daughter into full view. To the delight of both her mother and a few other women who had arrived at the well, the baby screwed up its face upon seeing me and started wailing.

This is a popular game that women with babies like to play with the muzungu, since small children are told that white people will eat them. I reassured the poor kid in Bemba, “Don’t worry, I don’t eat babies. I eat large people because they have more meat.”

She didn’t look too convinced. The bamayos, on the other hand, thought this was hilarious, and repeated it for the terrified baby’s benefit. “He eats large people! Mwaumfwa? (Do you hear?)”

This is how my village will remember me after I’m gone: the white person who eats large people.


They eat Peace Corps volunteers who aren't as funny as they think they are

How to make your cat miss you

Got back to site today after spending six nights in Mansa. It was an eventful week:

-I weathered another adventure with transportation in Zambia. The list of things I’m learning to consider as normal includes flagging down a bus at 5:45am by flashing my headlamp through the dark at the oncoming high beams and hoping the vehicle stops. Also unsurprising now is the fact that it takes five hours to travel the 150 miles down to Mansa. And earlier today, the last leg of my trip back up to site involved sitting with eight other people in the open bed of a pickup truck which had POLICE stamped on the sides in big letters. I don’t know if the driver was actually a police officer, but the ride was cheap – I paid the equivalent of $2 to travel 35 kilometers – and it went so fast I swear I was airborne half the time.

-I used my first house days. Peace Corps Zambia volunteers get four days per month that they can spend at their provincial house, but these days can’t be used during Community Entry. The house had no running water and the internet wasn’t working, but I was still able to avail myself of such luxuries as watching movies and eating meat and milk products for the first time in a month and a half. I am more than a little lactose intolerant, and I was more than a little gassy. Worth it.


Wild berry Zamsip, a creamy yogurt drink with approximately the same consistency as Go-gurt, and Amarula, a cream liqueur

-I ran errands. Some were fun, like shopping – I found a sweet pair of striped, soft linen shorts for five kwacha from DAPP, Zambia’s most ubiquitous thrift store. Others were not so fun, like renewing my alien registration card so that I can continue to legally live in Zambia for two more months. After which point I’ll have to return to the immigration office and renew it again.

-I collected a month and a half’s worth of mail, receiving a delightful variety of assorted treats from my grandmother and an eclectic collection of items from my family (summer sausage, printed instructions for how to make wooden cell phone stands, corned beef hash, a copy of The Ugly American, Reese’s peanut butter cups, wireless bluetooth keyboards, underwear).


Rice and corned beef hash: brings back fond memories of childhood

-I helped prepare for Camp ELITE, a week-long leadership camp for boys planned and run entirely by Peace Corps volunteers. However, after I became immobilized (see below), helping meant that I spent an entire morning copying a quiz and camp schedule onto butcher paper while engaged in a philosophical debate on the difference between cute and sexy.

-On Saturday I accidentally impaled myself on a thick piece of wire sticking up out of the ground. It went straight through my sandal and punctured the ball of my left foot, uncomfortably reminiscent of a pivotal moment in my childhood involving Jeremy stepping on a nail, a distressed parental figure looking for someone to blame, and me running away from home for four hours. Not to worry though! The wire only went a couple of centimeters into my foot, I’ve been religiously treating the wound with antiseptic solution and antibacterial cream the past few days, and I’ve already had my tetanus shot so I won’t get…tetanus. (Is that a thing one can get?)

Although my foot is sore and I’ve been hobbling around for the past few days, it’s healing quickly and with no complications so I’m expected by myself to make a full recovery. And I’ve got to admit that it’s pretty amusing using hand gestures and pantomime to explain to the bamayos how I got my injury. Maybe some of my kids will feel sorry for me and fetch my water.

Ode to technology

Nshinda, Luapula, August 2013

It’s a typical Tuesday night

The advances of technology over the past few years offer Peace Corps volunteers unprecedented connectivity in an arena that has historically been famously disconnected. I may live in a mud hut with no electricity or running water, but I can follow the play by play of a Mariners game in real time, send emails to friends in California, New York, and Singapore, and take a picture and upload it to my blog, all using a phone bought on Ebay for $50 and powered by solar panel, operating on a cellular service that I pay for in 20-cent increments.

This ain’t your dad’s Peace Corps. A fact which my father, who wrote sappy poetry in calligraphy to my mom while he served as a volunteer in Papua New Guinea in the early 80’s, is rather fond of pointing out to me every time the topic of phones, internet, solar panels, or mp3 players comes up.

Thanks for sending the smartphone, extra battery, and Bluetooth keyboards, Dad.

Pictures from a site visit

Last week Emi hosted the CHIP ’13 Second Site Visit at her village in Kafutuma, so I got a ride up with the Cruiser to hang out with the soon-to-be newest volunteers in Luapula Province and to eat free food. I mean, to help host.


Trainees Tom and Pete are going to be Community Health Improvement volunteers, so after their language lessons in the mornings they had various programs in the community scattered throughout the week which Emi had planned for them. Meanwhile, Eddie (RAP ’11) and I fetched water, washed dishes, and shot the breeze.


On Wednesday we had a cooking demonstration with some of the village bamayos. By cooking demonstration I mean a six-course meal which took three hours to prepare, at the end of which one of us was a tad bit grumpy because the bamayos were bossing her around and then made off with several of her bowls and utensils as soon as the meal was finished.


Before we cooked, we had to kill the rooster. And before we killed the rooster, Emi and I had to scour the village for an hour and a half looking for someone to sell us said rooster. Along the way we were taken to see a boy with a very infected leg who doesn’t have long to live (one of the uncomfortable realities of living in a poor, developing country with precious few resources in the way of health care), and shook off a very drunk headman whose heavy slur I interpreted to be a marriage proposal. I’m still not sure which of us he wanted to marry, the vivacious Asian American volunteer who has been called beautiful by Zambians up and down the district, or Emi.

We finally located a chicken and spent fifteen minutes watching a pack of kids corral the unlucky bird. The rooster gave a valiant effort, but ultimately succumbed to the force of sheer numbers on the side of its pursuers.


On Friday we left Emi’s site and headed down to camp at Ntumbacusi Falls. This was a two-part exercise designed to give the trainees a taste of Zambian public transportation (colorful and crowded, lots of singing along with Zampop) and Zambian waterfalls (beautiful and secluded, lots of singing along with Taylor Swift).


Pete and Tom were picked up on Saturday morning and taken to their individual sites, and we were joined by Caitlyn (RED ’12, who I visited when she hosted one of the RED ’13 SSVs a few weeks ago) and her friend Eva. We spent the rest of the weekend swimming and reading and relaxing, a nice way to mark the end of my Community Entry.


ZamTwitter, Month 3

Random news from my third month at site, in 140 characters or less.

July 10 – My headman just walked through the village shouting the time of the meeting I’m holding tomorrow. Folks, that ends our evening broadcast.

July 11 – It’s 1400. Nobody has arrived for the meeting. Sebastian laughs and reminds me 1400 is 1500 in Zambia Time. We start on cue at 1517. Sigh.

July 13 – The bamayos reported a strange sight in the bush this morning: 13 kids and a muzungu, slide-stepping along the path to Iyaz and Flo Rida.


July 15 – Laundry day. Of nine shirts drying on the line, a little girl instantly noticed the one I only wear inside. I’m watched a bit too closely.

July 19 – Hobbes loves avocados. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never had one before, but I didn’t know until I came to Zambia that cats are omnivores.


July 23 – Things I’d never do in America, #27: Spot a man holding a guitar, introduce myself, and strike up an impromptu song for curious onlookers.

July 25 – I may or may not have just violated the first rule of trimming the hair on the back of your own head sans mirrors: don’t do it.

July 26 – Texted Sarah in a panic and she said no worries, we’ll fix it. Then she saw it in person and started laughing, “Good thing hair grows back.”

July 30 – “If you want to hide money from a Zambian, just put it in a book.” -A Zambian government official speaking to a workshop full of Zambians.


August 1 – World Vision fish farming workshop, Day 3. Basically a PST recap. During tea break I learned Zambians prefer Havana Cola to Tango Pineapple.

August 7 – We spent an hour trying to find a chicken to buy, 15 minutes catching it, then three hours to cook dinner. Fast food this ain’t.


At Emi's site in Kafutuma for the CHIP '13 Second Site Visit. I told everybody I met that I'm her brother.