A day in town

05:59 – I wake up. No alarm clock. I’ve got this shiz down to a science.

06:45 – Out of bed and making coffee while bantering with the neighbor kids. This mostly involves them asking for coffee and me telling them it’ll stunt their growth.

07:52 – Sebastian comes by and we chat for about fifteen minutes. We’re biking into Nchelenge today. He tells me to give him twenty minutes so he can eat breakfast before we leave. Sebastian’s always late; I give him forty.

08:34 – Just as we begin to leave it starts to rain. Hard. We both quickly agree to wait until the rain stops, and I return to my hut to wait out the showers.

09:10 – The rain tapers off, and I’ve collected 15 liters in the past half hour. We’re good to go.


09:42 – Halfway to Nchelenge boma, Sebastian says he has to drop off money for a guy and we make a small detour. It’s not as shady as it sounds. The guy turns out to be the head teacher of Kambwali School, who is, I learn from a chart above his desk, the school’s 16th head teacher dating back to 1924. Before we leave, he insists that I greet the Grade 8 and Grade 9 classes next door. He enthusiastically ushers me into first one room and then the next, immediately stopping both classes in the middle of whatever they were doing. After I make each of my introductions, dozens of laughing and cheering teenagers rush up to shake my hand. So this is what it feels like to be a celebrity.

10:22 – We arrive in the boma and stop by the District Commissioner’s office. Our goal: to learn about opportunities to collaborate with district government programs on HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention. The DC isn’t in, so we end up speaking with the guy standing in for him. He talks for 15 minutes and says nothing helpful whatsoever.

10:50 – Two staffers are closing up the NZP+ office as we arrive, but when they see us coming they promptly unlock the door they just locked. They cheerfully explain that this HIV-positive living NGO organizes several support groups within rural communities. We exchange contact information, but when I tell them my name, I receive blank looks. I try again: “It’s Matt, short for Matthew, like Matthew in the Bible and Young, like young brother.” Ah, there are the relieved smiles and nods of comprehension. Works every time.

11:24 – The next door down is the deputy for the MP (Member of Parliament), who spots us leaving NZP+ and invites us in. He’s friends with Sebastian, so we oblige. We explain that we’re trying to get a new borehole drilled in our community because there is only one pump at the school and the wells have long gone dry, leaving many families without consistent access to clean water. It’s immediately clear that we are not using the proper channels for this type of grievance, but he enthusiastically writes us a handwritten note to give to the District Council anyway, the people who can actually help us. The note says, and I’m paraphrasing, but not by much, “Listen to these people.” The deputy MP flashes me a warm smile of gratitude as he tells me that he had a teacher from Cincinnati when he was a boy and “I loved that man.”


11:52 – Next stop: the Department of Fisheries (DoF) building. We greet the staff, then head into the regional PLARD coordinator’s office where Sebastian proceeds to jokingly but insistently cajole the man for various things for the next twenty minutes. PLARD is an NGO sponsored by Finland in partnership with DoF, and we’re told that a contingent of sponsors from Finland will be visiting soon. The coordinator tells us to keep our schedules open next Tuesday. Sebastian makes a crack about giving him advance warning to make sure that he’s in Nshinda, and not at his first wife’s home ten kilometers away. The PLARD guy is confused: you have two wives? Yep, Sebastian responds, grinning widely. But only one fish farm, I add helpfully. Sebastian cocks an eyebrow at me in mock protest. The PLARD guy sighs.

12:42 – We ride the three kilometers to Kashikishi, where Sebastian meets with the NatSafe bank manager to ask about the status of his CEEC loan. We had submitted a request two weeks ago to the director’s office in Lusaka for an exemption so that Sebastian can work on the new fish ponds without going through a contractor, but nothing has changed. He’s at an impasse: none of the contractors have adequate training or tools to properly facilitate fish pond construction, but the bank isn’t willing to release funds without the security of working through a licensed contractor. Sebastian absorbs this news calmly. Not for the first time, I find myself admiring his determination and persistency.

13:17 – I coast down to Old Market in order to buy onions, tomatoes, and a cabbage from the feisty bamayos at the vegetable stand. I tease them about their prices and they cackle, obligingly tossing in a few more mbasela (free) onions. I search for buns, but can’t find them anywhere.

14:12 – Still haven’t seen any buns as we arrive at the Development Aid Project for the People (DAPP) offices. We are mildly surprised to find looking back at us from across the desk only the third non-Peace Corps muzungu I’ve seen in Nchelenge in the past year. We chat a bit and it turns out that he’s on a short-term stint in Zambia from Europe, updating the NGO’s database systems in regional offices throughout the country. Sebastian and I explain that we’re advocating for a new borehole in our community, and we learn that DAPP is overseeing the drilling and installation of several new pumps in the district over the next few years. A possibility. The European man tells us the steps to take in order to fill out an application for the community requesting a borehole.


15:07 – We go to the District Council and again ask about boreholes. We’re directed to an office at the corner of the building. The man there consults a list on the bulletin board behind his desk and informs us that our village of Nalukoshi is 27th on the list of communities that will be receiving boreholes in the next phase of a project funded by JICA (a Japanese NGO). He reassures us that drilling will begin “any time after April.” I’m tempted to quip that this really narrows down the timeframe, but I hold my tongue. Finally we’ve hit pay dirt with some solid information. Now I just need to find some buns.

15:48 – We arrive at the Nchelenge World Vision office in order to wrap up some loose ends from a fish farming workshop last month. The food security coordinator we want to talk to isn’t there. We continue on.

16:17 – I finally find my buns at a small market near the barrier which marks the end (or beginning) of Nchelenge boma. They’re the good kind: soft and chewy and a little bit sweet. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and I’m salivating. We start the journey home.

16:53 – Sebastian, laboring up the hill ahead of me, pulls over next to a couple of girls. He doesn’t know them, but one is holding a small turtle and he wants to ask them about it. We talk to the girls for a bit and find out that they’re not going to eat the fulwe, but instead are bringing it to a witch doctor who will use it for juju. Hmm.

17:25 – We crest the last small hill on the tarmac before reaching Nshinda and are treated to a magical view of the valley bathed in light from the sun dipping low on the horizon, with dark storm clouds blanketing the distance. I shout to Sebastian that we live in a beautiful place. He just smiles and shakes his head at me. Silly muzungu.



5 thoughts on “A day in town

  1. I love your blog, Matt! Your writing is exquisite and flavorful! Reading your adventures connects me to my daughter who is a PCT training in Chipembe. She is currently out visiting her eventual site in the northern province. (tbiaggi.blogspot.com – To The Ends of the Earth)

    • Hi Linda, thanks so much for the kind words and praise! I really appreciate so many different people in the greater Peace Corps community reading my blog, and I always love hearing from other volunteers’ family back home.

      I hope your daughter’s having a great experience so far! Zambia is a magical place. 🙂

      • Thank you for replying to my note. Taylor’s permanent village will be Chungu, near Luwingu! I actually found it on our Zambia map! Best wishes to you for a continued safe and meaningful experience! And, keep up the wonderful blogs!

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