A typical day in the Peace Corps

Lenge keeping the floats up

Netting a fish pond in my village of Nshinda

Who am I kidding? There’s no typical day in the Peace Corps.

Despite the fact that this trope is used by volunteers so constantly and reflexively that cliches are sick of hearing it, the truth is that it really is hard for us to cobble together one semi-accurate example of a typical day in the Peace Corps. Why? Well, for one thing, plans have a different meaning in a place where time is measured in months instead of hours. For another, life has a funny habit of getting in the way.

To illustrate the pitfalls that lie sneakily in wait for the earnest Peace Corps blogger, allow me to attempt to show you what a typical day looks like for me:

06:00 – Wake up, get out of bed, head to the chimbusu for my morning constitution decide to check email, somehow find myself on Facebook

06:05 – Light my stove, boil water for coffee, do my morning pullups, drink coffee on my front porch Yeah, still on my phone

06:30 – Sweep my front porch, teach the kids how to spell a few new words using bits of charcoal on the cement pavement Still in bed, discover a folder of music I haven’t seen in AGES, start dancing exuberantly to Sk8er Boi (read: flopping like a fish, since I’m still horizontal in bed)

07:04 – Spread Nutella on some buns I bought the evening before, eat breakfast in my living room All that flopping really makes me need to pee, wiggle out of my mosquito net, fumble open my door and shuffle quickly out to the chim while ignoring the kids cheering me from my insaka

Nshinda, Luapula, January 2014

Kalu, Willie, and Mwape clowning around

07:06 – Still eating Shoot down kids’ repeated requests for me to give them Frisbee/plastic bags/money/play guitar/show them pictures, tell them I need to eat, prep the spirit stove, spill some spirits in the process, light it while still holding the cap about a foot above the stove, watch my eyes catapult out of their sockets as the flame leaps like magic from the stove up to my hand, yowl like a maniac and swat out the flame, gingerly start the water boiling for coffee, do my pullups, make my Nutella sandwiches, drag a stool outside preparing to eat my breakfast on my front porch in the cool morning air, quickly reconsider as my kids promptly resume their requests for Frisbee/plastic bags/money/play guitar/show them pictures, bring the stool back inside, eat breakfast in my living room

07:20 – My counterpart Sebastian stops by on his way to the ponds, we chat for a bit and I tell him I’ll come out to visit this afternoon

07:34 – Decide to go fetch water, place my empty 10-liter buckets outside, walk them with my bike over to the borehole at the school, greet bamayos and teachers as I pump water, strap 45 liters of water to my bike, walk my bike and my water carefully back to my hut hear chattering iwes start banging on them while I fetch my bike, head off to the borehole with my vertically challenged entourage forming a conga line ahead of me, find five bamayos already waiting to pump water, leave my bike and buckets with a kid to hold my place in line and go visit the head teacher, greet five other teachers in the process

Nshinda, Luapula, January 2014

Kids in my village returning home from the bush

07:58 – Head back out for a walk around the village, looping back to the school to buy some of the buns that I spotted earlier, walk along the road engaging a flock of Grade 4 girls in a giggly conversation about their names and my age and whether or not I’m married A throng of kids arriving for class congregates around the borehole as I get to the front of the line, I pump water with an audience of 50, strap the buckets to my bike, discover that someone (probably many someones) has fiddled with my gears while I was gone, awkwardly wheel the bike off very slowly in the lowest of my 21 speeds, continue back to my hut as my counterpart’s youngest son Lenge attempts to ghost ride my bicycle, I hiss at him, unable to swat because both of my hands are needed to steady the heavily laden bike, he is well aware of this and, emboldened, sticks an impudent tongue out at me

08:35 – Return home, invigorated by a fresh dose of community during my walk, settle into a chair and reflect on my fortunate life decide not to take a walk because I’m peopled out for the morning, plop down in my reclining lounge chair and stare at the wall

09:03 – Crack open a book and start reading

09:12 – Still reading A new wave of kids arrives and clamors to play Frisbee, I tell them to come back in the afternoon, they tell me they want to play now and start banging on my windows, I ignore them and they finally get bored and go away

09:46 – Still reading My 15-year-old neighbor Emily stops by to ask if I want to buy produce, I place my order, and she returns five minutes later with a large bunch of pumpkin leaves which I buy for one kwacha (about 20 cents)

11:15 – Light the brazier and begin chopping vegetables for my lunch of rice, fried soya, caramelized onions, and sauteed pumpkin leaves


Hobbes patrols my kitchen for loose scraps on a regular basis

12:40 – Finish cooking, eat lunch, save leftovers for dinner

13:06 – Bike through the village and into the bush to visit Sebastian’s ponds, check on his progress, stop and chat for a while It starts raining so I set up my raincatcher, Sebastian will understand completely when I don’t visit him because nobody keeps appointments when it’s raining, continue reading in blissful solitude now that the kids have been chased back to their respective homes by the rain

13:52 – Continue reading My neighbor kids Emily, Daenez, and Chungu run up and dash under my porch to seek refuge from the rain, peppering me with questions only a quarter of which I understand, they persist doggedly anyway and I continue doggedly to try to catch the verbs for the next hour

15:00 – Walk to the school for a meeting with the head teacher and a member of the PTA regarding our GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) group with the older-grade girls It’s still raining, figure nobody’s going to come for the meeting but walk over anyway, confirm that nobody is there, trudge back sopping wet

My homemade rainwater catch-system in action (slowly)

My homemade rainwater catch-system in action (slowly)

16:15 – Play Frisbee with the older boys in my front yard It stops raining, I take down my raincatcher, boys materialize instantly reminding them I said they could play Frisbee in the afternoon, everything is now sopping wet though so I tell them that we’ll play mailo (tomorrow), they protest but soon forget about Frisbee when we begin an impromptu Bemba-to-English lesson

17:02 – More kids show up at my house, this time clamoring for me to show them “snaps”, I grab a stack of 4×6’s and bring them outside, flipping through them slowly so the kids can see photos of my family, friends, and trout from back home I ignore them for as long as I can but eventually relent and show the gaggle of kids my photos, which they gaze at raptly, not caring that I showed most of them these same pictures four days ago

17:30 – Go inside and close my door for the day, do my evening pullups, take a shower

18:00 – Write in my e-journal (which consists of writing journal entries as emails on my Bluetooth keyboard, then sending the emails to myself), write and send emails (to other people), eat leftovers for dinner

It's a typical Tuesday night in Matt's hut

It’s a typical Tuesday night in Matt’s hut

19:00 – Floss, brush teeth, crawl into bed under the mosquito net, work on blog draft posts

20:08 – Start reading Can’t keep my eyes open and fall asleep

22:30 – Finish reading and go to sleep Wake up because I have to pee, don’t want to go outside to my chimbusu because scary things live outside at night, pee in my bathing shelter


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