It takes work

My parents showing their true personalities: Mom, the librarian who wears funny hats, and Dad, the modern-day Crocodile Dundee

My parents showing their true personalities: the librarian who wears funny hats and the modern-day Crocodile Dundee

Exactly 23 years ago today my amazing mother was born. (Yes, she had me at the tender age of negative-2 — don’t judge.)

Over the past few days I’ve been helping my mom work on the website for J and J Fish Farm Stay, my parents’ foray into the up and coming new world of agrotourism (read: sustainability-minded yuppies spending their precious few vacation days learning about working farms instead of snorkeling in Maui). It’s been great. In addition to giving me a chance to reconnect with latent childhood memories during the course of hours spent photographing goats and yelling questions over to my father in the next room about the best season for hydroponics and whether or not he’s willing to teach guests how to fly fish — in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, and it’ll cost you — this impromptu mini-web design workshop has also been a great opportunity for me to bond with my mother.

And by “bond with my mother” I mean “impress her with just how much time goes into making a site look presentable and give her a greater appreciation for my blog.”

I put a lot of work into molding my blog. I take my Third Goal responsibilities of being a Peace Corps volunteer seriously, I approach blogging like a job, and I spend an embarrassingly large amount of time writing and editing and re-reading and revising. For some perspective, I have 51 draft posts currently in the queue and some of them are completely written and just waiting for a week when I can’t think of any new blog ideas.

But as I sat at the dining room table in my parents’ house teaching my mom how to add borders to photos and edit links to child pages, I started to think about all of the different things that she’s taught me. I try to be more empathetic. My mom has empathy streaming out of her pores. I want to listen more and talk less. My mother is the consummate listener, completely selfless and effortlessly engaging and infinitely likable. I want to experience the love that grows from the continual commitment and dedication of a long-term partnership through hardships and triumphs. My mom has been married for 28 years and my parents are so adorable together it’s nauseating.

I want to be a better person. My mom is one of the best people I know.

And as we sat together in the house where I grew up, at the table where many of these lessons both directly and indirectly have taken place, I realized that I’m beginning to understand more fully just how much work my mother has put into molding me.

Happy birthday, Mom.

My mom, Pt. Reyes, 1985

My mom, Pt. Reyes, 1985


Home for the holidays

Nothing quite says Christmas like consuming copious amounts of food, rampant speculation among my aunts about when I’m going to get married and/or have babies, and watching Youtube clips of weird viral videos on repeat. It’s good to be home.

With my wacky family in Sanger, California for Christmas

It’s a testament to how good-natured my family is that they still love me even after being subjected to several hours of Ylvis’ What Does The Fox Say?

Three kids who spend way too much time discussing men's shoes

Three kids who spend way too much time discussing men’s shoes

I brought chitenges home for my family and made them put them on for a picture

I made my family put on chitenges for the sake of cross-cultural exchange


We just wrapped up the December 2013 Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Mansa, where twenty girls in Grades 5-8 and ten female mentors from ten communities across Luapula Province met at Mansa Secondary School for a four-day camp to promote a wide variety of topics ranging from assertiveness to peer pressure to HIV/AIDS education to sewing sanitary pads.

Twenty bright-eyed Zambian girls bunked in dormitories, tie-dyed shirts, played netball, and mercilessly teased one of the only two males working with the camp. Ten bedraggled Peace Corps volunteers raced around buying groceries, calling facilitators, building bonfires, mixing cups of tea, and not bathing for an entire week. It was a huge success.

I’ll post more pictures soon, but for now I’d like to introduce you to my GLOW girls:

Funny Chola, Grade 5

Funny Chola, Grade 5 – photo credit: Ryeon

Maggie Mwenya, Grade 6

Maggie Mwenya, Grade 6 – photo credit: Ryeon

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photo credit: Megan

Planting a tangerine seedling to teach about sustainable development

Planting a tangerine seedling to teach about sustainable development – photo credit: Emily

I want to be...

Yes, we know we are adorable – photo credit: Ryeon

ZamTwitter, Month 7

Random news from my seventh month of Peace Corps service, in 140 characters or less.

November 11 – Was woken up at 3am by the sounds of women wailing. The funeral that started yesterday is still going strong. It’s gonna be a long day.

Another dusk descends

Another dusk descends

November 13 – Older volunteers warned me this would happen but I thought I’d be immune. I guess it was inevitable: someone in my village is using my TP.

November 16 – Just got to Mansa and ate six hot dogs for lunch. First meat in six weeks. Matt is a happy volunteer.

November 19 – Bats aren’t bugs. At Kasanka National Park, millions of bats all taking flight at the same time is a sight to behold.

Lucas with a reclining seat for the bat migration

Lucas with a reclining seat for the bat migration

November 21 – Waited for a hitch for seven hours before gratefully cramming into a pickup truck. Never again will I complain about the line at the DMV.

On our way home

On our way home

November 23 – Chased off the beach by driving rain and wind approaching hurricane speeds, tents blown into the lake, we beat a hasty retreat to the lodge.

Samfya, Luapula, November 2013

Samfya, Luapula, November 2013

November 27 – During Provs house cleaning we unearthed a tenor sax from a back closet. Has reeds but needs new pads. Nobody knows who put it there. Odd.

November 29 –
-ATM ran out of cash
-had to run after a moving bus
-radiator overheated twice
+arrived in Nshinda safely
=successful Provs travel-out day

December 3 – Adding more nails to the wire mesh on my windows because my kids like to pry and hit with sticks. My insurance needs an iwe damage clause.

December 8 –
“Do we buy live chickens or dead ones for dinner?”
“I’m not killing chickens.”
– Things actually said while planning the Camp GLOW menu.

So we got sausage. (And chicken -- dead ones.)

So we got sausage. (And chicken — dead ones.)

Friends, Part 2

I couldn’t fit all of my friends on one post (yes, I’m that popular), so here’s Part 2 with some of the wonderful volunteers in Luapula Province:


Eddie was a RAP ’11 volunteer who just finished his service in October, but during the five months we were in Nchelenge District together we bonded over several hours of earnest conversation about Peace Corps and development and the meaning of life. To say Eddie is well-read is like saying Bill Gates knows computers. The man can tell you a fact you’ve never heard before about literally any subject you happen to be on. Eddie was also a sneaky conversationalist. People who only saw him at the house would swear he never talked, but get him one-on-one and the guy wouldn’t stop yapping. No judgment; I’m pretty sure that’s what they also say about me.

Emi and me

Emi, a CHIP ’12 volunteer, is currently my nearest Peace Corps neighbor and the only other volunteer in Nchelenge District, which is a nice way of saying that my hut serves double duty as Emi’s bike storage shed and free food stop. Only kidding! Emi is one of the nicest and most conscientious people I know and on the rare occasion when she does have something not overwhelmingly positive to say, she couches it in caveats and hedges it with disclaimers.


However, she’s from Washington, which means she’s the worst kind of hipster: the kind that doesn’t think she’s a hipster. She denies it vehemently, but if you ask her what kind of music/movies/food she likes you can be sure it’s something esoteric and only found in Seattle. Emi is also a model volunteer, with new projects and groups every time I see her. Ugh, Emi is despicable.


Chantel (CHIP ’12, Samfya District) was one of the first volunteers I met in Luapula Province back in April when we came up for Second Site Visit and is vivacious, razor-sharp, and an otherworldly dancer. We basically occupy extreme polar opposite ends of the physical expressiveness spectrum. However, we have very similar senses of humor (read: the inappropriate kind) and so we get along fabulously and crack each other up on the regular.

Chantel went to Howard, but you’d never know it because she never mentions it, ever. Nor does she talk about how Howard’s homecoming is the best homecoming, or how Howard’s marching band is the best marching band, or how Howard’s men are the best-dressed and most handsome men. She has not once said any of these things.


Emily (RAP ’12, Mansa District) is the tallest female volunteer in Luapula, which means she’s probably the tallest woman in the entire province, too. (Zambians are not particularly known for their height.) This is because she’s from Nebraska. They eat tons of corn there, I think, which turns them all into giants. As if this weren’t intimidating enough, she’s also fiercely competitive and talks more trash than an inner city basketball team. None of these things have anything to do with our friendship, which was cemented by a shared love for Barbara Kingsolver and a mutual fondness for teasing Asians.

Emily is another one of those annoying volunteers who is always busy and involved in everything and generally makes me feel like a complete slacker in comparison.


Michael is a LIFE ’13 volunteer in Kazembe District about 65 kilometers south of my site, which makes him one of my closest volunteer neighbors in the province. Michael is that guy, the guy who is cool without trying, who exudes affable trustworthiness, who is instantly good friends with you as soon as you meet him. He’s a jack of all trades, good at everything from Frisbee (he played Ultimate for a club team back in America) to cooking (when he’s in charge of house dinners people start salivating four hours in advance) to listening (he was elected to VAC, our volunteer peer support and advocacy committee, without even being physically present for the vote).

Michael is also completely ridiculous. He’s that guy who crosses the line between what you should and should not say every single time, no matter where it’s drawn. Yet somehow he’s so affably charming that he never gets in trouble for it. Michael is one of our resident barbers (and it goes without saying that he’s excellent at it) so even if I could think of anything bad to say about him, I wouldn’t. It’s hard to get a good haircut in Zambia.


Ryeon (also LIFE ’13) is in Mwense District and is my bankashi, or sister, in every sense of the word. We’re both in the Luapula volunteer family, we each secretly think we’re smarter than the other, and we argue with each other constantly. One thing I won’t argue with her about though is anything involving keeping score; Ryeon approaches games and sports with an unbridled ferocity. However, despite this frankly shocking facet of her personality, she’s an incredibly sweet person when not engaged in competition. Ryeon has an open and genuinely curious soul, and when you combine this with her Bemba proficiency (best speaker in Peace Corps Luapula) you get one heck of a volunteer.

Don't get between Ryeon and a disc

Don’t get between Ryeon and a disc

Because Ryeon and I take the same road to get to our respective sites, we travel out of Mansa together often enough that we’ve begun to establish a routine of sorts: we pick a time to leave the house, Ryeon gets distracted doing something, the time comes and Ryeon is still packing, we scramble out the door, Ryeon realizes she can’t find her phone/money/passport, I find it for her, we hurry to the bus station overladen with bags, and just barely catch the bus before it lurches off. And she’s still convinced that she’s the big sister in our relationship. Please.

Friends, Part 1

I don’t talk about my fellow Peace Corps volunteers on this blog as often as I could. This is partly because I’m conscious of their privacy, but mostly because studies conducted by reputable bloggers have shown that photogenic Zambian children attract more pageviews than scruffy 20-something Americans. And I’m all about optimizing my SEO.

The truth though is that it’s impossible to overstate the importance of my circle of friends within the Peace Corps community here. They are my sympathizers during the hard times, co-conspirators during the fun times, and witnesses to the plain wacky times. And I’ve been recently alerted that several of their mothers read my blog. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce some of the incredible people who I have the privilege to serve with here in Zambia:


Lucas shooting a vivid sunset

Lucas is in my intake, RAP ’13, and in my province. He was also in my language group during Pre-Service Training and we sat across the aisle from each other on the flight from JFK to Johannesburg. So in Peace Corps parlance, Lucas is one of my first and oldest friends. He’s an extremely laid-back Missourian with facial hair that grows more wild by the minute and eclectic (lack of) fashion, who wears the stereotype of the grungy Peace Corps volunteer like one of his unkempt shirts.

Lucas played college soccer and is better at football than all of the rest of us combined, which makes him an instant hit among Zambians and a cultural integration savant among volunteers. The dude can effortlessly juggle a ball for like 37 hours straight.


Chris riding into the horizon

Chris is the other RAP ’13 volunteer who was posted to Luapula Province with Lucas and me, and the three of us could not be more different. Chris studied fisheries in college and is probably more into fish than I am (impossible, I know), but there our similarities end. Chris is from New Jersey and is fiercely proud of it, knows every single word to approximately 1,256,412 different rap lyrics, and is as ebullient as I am reserved. We’re pretty much polar opposites in terms of personality, yet Chris and I have quickly bonded over a shared love of Britney, Beyonce, and bartering in the market for chitenges and football jerseys.


From left to right: silent soldier dude, me, Meggan, Holly, and Morgan

Meggan is in Lundazi District in Eastern Province and the only other Californian in the RAP ’13 intake, which isn’t that big of a deal because we Californians don’t identify nearly as strongly with our home state as some denizens of other states do (see above, below). She is smart, even-keeled, and funnier than fun itself. Meggan is that rare person whose sense of humor makes everybody around her erupt into gales of laughter at the slightest provocation, and she adopts different comedic voices so frequently that it was three weeks into training before I finally figured out what her actual voice sounded like.

I use the Meggan test as a barometer to gauge my own comic potential: if I say something and she smiles, I know it’s a success. If she doesn’t react, I go back to the drawing board. And if she laughs, you can bet I write that shit down and make a mental note to blog about it.


Holly and Meggan being super cool

Holly is another member of the RAP ’13 intake in Petauke District in Eastern Province, and one of those people who you instantly know is from Texas as soon as you meet her. For one, she uses “y’all” constantly and completely unironically. For another, she’s tiny but her personality is larger than, um, that state down south that is known for being kind of big.

Holly is sassy and sardonic and hilarious and likes to say exactly what she’s thinking, which just makes her more hilarious. What I wouldn’t give to spend a day inside that girl’s head, y’all.


Morgan and Michael acting serious during a game drive

Morgan is also in Lundazi District in Eastern with Meggan, and where she’s from in the States doesn’t matter because she’s not from Texas. Morgan is the emotional compass of our intake, by which I mean she has feelings enough to spare for the rest of us unfeeling heathens. Her laugh is infectious and she’s thoughtful, empathetic, and kind, all traits that come with the wisdom of age. (She’s a few months older than the rest of us, so I take every opportunity I can get to tease her mercilessly about it.)

And the girl can shop. When I’m with her, I hemorrhage cash purely through osmosis. Great for my chitenge collection, bad for my living allowance.


Logan and me

Logan is a RAP ’13’er in Northern Province who is disarmingly soft-spoken and articulate with a lightning-quick wit. We have a lot in common, like a keen interest in writing, talking about girls, and overthinking things, but we differ in that I simply hear about gossip occasionally while Logan is the conduit through which gossip flows, picks up stored energy, and is aimed with military precision at various targets. The guy knows the latest news about somebody before that person knows it himself.

Logan is the type of person who, when you ask him what he’s thinking at any given moment, tells you with complete seriousness, “So many things.” As somebody who has often been told that he thinks too much, I appreciate a kindred spirit when I meet one.