Erica Peth is a RAP ’11 volunteer who is about to finish her service in Northern Province. She was one of my trainers during Pre-Service Training, is a model volunteer, and an amazing person. Erica recently wrote a wonderful reflection on her Peace Corps service in Zambia which I feel compelled to share on this blog for anyone who wants to get a better idea of what this experience feels like:
Now here’s a crazy idea:
Quit your job and the city that you love. Go to grad school. Apply to over 250 jobs. Get one interview. Get turned down. Get angry.
Apply to Peace Corps. Sell all your worldly possessions. Move to Africa. Specifically, move to a rural Zambian village into a mud hut with a grass roof and no electricity.
Your mission: Teach farmers to move thousands of cubic feet of dirt to create a hole in the ground from which to raise fish. (Stay motivated.)
Collect water from a stream with a bucket and carry it up a hill. Bath and shit outside. Learn a language spoken only in Zambia. Give up driving, computers, shorts, meat, cheese and chocolate. Never quite come to terms with the fact that someone is always watching you. Say goodbye to your social life as you know it. Become blissfully ignorant to the world outside Zambia. Go months at a time without talking to someone who loves you. Explain repeatedly how you could be 32 years old and still not be married and still have no children.
Laugh a lot. Cry a lot. Laugh and cry simultaneously. (A lot.) Get malaria. Get pinkeye. Get bit by a dog. Fall off your bicycle. (Also a lot.) Convince yourself diarrhea and dehydration are normal. Fail miserably at hand washing your clothes. Learn to fear the rain. Come to understand why sweeping the dirt outside your hut is necessary. Eventually find that you take great pleasure in having well-swept dirt outside your hut. Roll your eyes at the annoyance of having a venomous snake block your bush path. Secretly think it pretty cool that a venomous snake is blocking your bush path. Rush home to identify it.
Make the sunset your evening entertainment. Eat on the ground using your hands… because that is the way it is done. Listen to drums as you drift asleep…at 8 o’clock at night. Befriend the ants, termites and bush creatures and watch helplessly as they take over your hut. Wait two hours for a meeting to begin; understand less than five minutes of what was said. Make children cry at the mere sight of you. Be addressed as Madame, Mommy, Ok!, Soldier, YOU!, Commando….or Muzungu. Get hissed at. Hiss back.
Get asked for money. Get asked for talktime. Get asked for sweeties, medicine, food, sunglasses, a pen, rope, a bible, your bicycle, your bicycle helmet, clothes off your back. Be able to offer nothing more than your time.
Do this for approximately 700 days. Reflect.
Learn community. Learn humility. Strive to be more compassionate. Wish that you were more patient. Recognize that you are not. Be at peace with who you are, how you got here and where you want to be.
Conclude that this is the best decision you’ve ever made in your life.
Thank you, Luwingu, and goodbye.