Further reading

Hello! I thought I had closed the book on Fishing in Zambia, but some of my recent reading has inspired me to use what is left of this platform to shamelessly plug a few other blogs that I thoroughly enjoy. I think you might, too.

Bush Baby Colvin

Bush Baby Number 1

Bethany Colvin is actually a former Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. Not Returned Peace Corps volunteer, because she actually still lives in Zambia! I feel like this gives her insights even more credibility because whereas I was only in Zambia for 27 months, she has remained in my province of Luapula for several years after she completed her own service and is still doing very Peace Corps-y things with her husband, Jeremy.

Bush Baby Colvin has pretty much everything you’d want from a blog: a wickedly funny, brutally candid, and probingly insightful author; an interesting premise (how do you raise a Western family in decidedly un-Western rural Zambia?); a great story (Bethany and Jeremy own a small farm in a rural Zambian community, work with rural education and community development, and are literally the only expats I’ve ever met in Zambia who actually live in a mud hut just like the rest of their community); and tons of pictures of insanely adorable “Bush Baby Colvins” (now plural!). I had the privilege of meeting Bethany and Jeremy while I was serving in Zambia — in true frugal Peace Corps volunteer fashion, I hitched free rides in their trusty old Land Rover — and greatly enjoyed my short time getting to know them. These are folks who really walk the walk, so to speak. I want to be like them when I grow up.

You’re going to love this blog if you:

-Are a mother
-Wonder if you’re doing the right thing a lot
-Appreciate candor
-Have ever had a disagreement or fight with your partner and still love them anyway
-Are a living, breathing human being with a pulse


Emilie Syberg is a Rural Education Development volunteer in Northwest Province, Zambia. We met randomly at the Peace Corps Medical Office in Lusaka when I was receiving my health physical prior to departing, and I was extremely grateful for the chance encounter because now I get to stalk her blog from the comfort of my home with all of my modern American amenities. Boy, this is the best way to read blogs about people living in much different circumstances!

Anyhow, Emilie’s blog is a treat. Her writing has flawless word choice, a cadence that is beautifully evocative, and the sort of skill that almost slips by unnoticed until you stop and realize that you’re not just reading, you’re feeling what she writes. I tried to do this for two years but my writing feels absolutely wooden and clunky in comparison. Emilie’s recent blog post, “This and That,” may possibly be the single best thing I’ve ever read showing what it feels like to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Please check it out. I want to write like Emilie when I grow up.

You’re going to love this blog if you:

-Want to know what it really feels like to be a Peace Corps volunteer
-Appreciate the subtle use of repetition to emphasize a theme
-Finish a short story and feel that melancholy sensation of wishing it would continue while at the same time realizing that it does continue because it’s now a part of your own life and woah how did that just happen??
-Are a living, breathing human being with a pulse

Check out these blogs if you get a chance! I promise it won’t be a waste of your time.

Stuff Peace Corps Volunteers Like, #5

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.


Home, sweet home

5. Bragging about how primitive their sites are

It is hard to spend more than three minutes talking to a Peace Corps volunteer without eventually hearing about the things that he or she does not have or cannot do because he or she is in the Peace Corps living in [your Peace Corps volunteer’s host country].

This is because for a Peace Corps volunteer, the primitiveness of one’s site is considered to be a high badge of honor. The fewer resources or amenities that a Peace Corps volunteer has, the higher up on the pecking order of Peace Corps bragging rights he or she ascends. Volunteers who only have intermittent access to electricity in Paraguay rank higher on the “more primitive site” scale than volunteers who only have intermittent access to internet in Armenia. And Peace Corps volunteers who serve in countries like Zambia scoff at these volunteers from their lofty perch atop the primitiveness rankings, anchored by their proud boasts of having no electricity and no running water.


Behold my very slow but fully functioning water collection device — works: every time it rains

Even within the same Peace Corps post, volunteers are keenly aware of the differences between provinces and from site to site. The intrepid soul who lives 25 kilometers off the tarmac and five hours from the provincial capital garners instant respect and outward envy from other volunteers, who secretly are glad they don’t have to climb a nearby termite mound and recite a complicated incantation in order to catch a cell phone signal.

However, none of these hardships can top the Peace Corps trump card: having served in the Peace Corps in The Early Days. It is an undeniable fact that life in the Peace Corps was harder, purer, grittier, and more primitive back before you were born. This was a time when volunteers had to ride camels to the school uphill both ways 20 kilometers in the sand, send letters through the bush attached to the scaly legs of dust-hardened Guinea fowl, and never complained about their sites’ primitiveness, ever.

My fancy kitchen with a state-of-the-art water storage system (left), gravity-powered tap (center top), natural fuel stove (right), and automatic food compost disposal system (center, furry)

My fancy kitchen with a state-of-the-art water storage system (left), gravity-powered tap (center top), natural fuel stove (right), and automatic food compost disposal system (center, furry)

Click the Stuff Peace Corps Volunteers Like tag below to read previous entries #1-4.

Zambag, n.

Zambag, zam-bag. n. 1. A large, zippered version of a reusable grocery bag made from durable woven plastic. 2. The personal transportation accessory of choice for rural Zambians and cash-strapped Peace Corps volunteers, who have been known to stuff these things with everything from pasta to books to pineapples to live chickens.

For the aesthetic pleasure of the discerning traveler, Zambags are adorned with vivid color prints of everything from large African mammals to the cosmopolitan skyline of Dubai to Miley Cyrus.

Zambian Colloquial Dictionary (ZCD), 2015.


Zambags strapped to the backs of bicycles are a common sight -- this was my load for a 150-mile bike ride last June

Sh*t my neighborhood kids say

Kid: [Cheerfully] “Give me your bike!”
Matt: [Bringing bike outside to go fetch water from the borehole] “No.”
Kid: “Give me your bike!”
Matt: “What makes you think it’ll work this time when it’s never worked any of the previous 437 times?”
Kid: [Adopting what he thinks is a winning and persuasive smile] “Come on, give it to me.”
Matt: “Not on your life, kiddo.”
Kid: [Smiling even more widely now] “I’ll just take it with me now, okay?”

Lenge helping out with bucket transport duty

If charisma mattered more than brains and determination, little Lenge would never have to work a day in his life

Bread seller: [Walking slowly past my hut carrying a tray of baked buns on his head] “Amabuns amabuns amabuns!”
Kid: [On my front porch] “Mr. Matt! Mr. Matt! Mr. Matt! He’s selling bread!”
Matt: [Also on my front porch] “Believe it or not, that’s one of the things I can understand.”
Kid: “So buy some bread.”
Matt: “I already have bread.”
Kid: “Well then, give me some.”
Matt: …

Kids: [Pulling on cat’s tail, eventually she gets tired and goes inside]
Kids: [With look of genuine surprise] “You, where are you going? You cat, come back!”
Matt: [Grinning at a thoroughly disgruntled Hobbes who is now glaring disapprovingly from inside the doorway] “Yeah, Hobbes, come back out.”

We had a good run together -- rest in peace, Hobbes

We had a good run together — rest in peace, you ridiculous cat

Kid 1: “Where are we going?”
Matt: “We are not going anywhere. I’m going on a walk.”
Kid 2: “Why are we walking?”
Matt: “We’re just walking for fun.”
Kid 3: “Why?”
Matt: “Because it’s a great way for me to get some peace and relaxation.”
Kid 4: “Great, we’ll come with you.”

Kid 1: “Is your mother coming back?”
Matt: “No.”
Kid 2: “Is your father coming back?”
Matt: “No.”
Kid 3: “Is Emi coming back?”
Matt: “No.”
Kid 1: [Thinks for a moment] “Is Mrs. Janet coming back?”
Matt: “Nice try, but I do realize that this is just a sneaky way for you to ask the same question twice.”

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Mom hanging out at the ponds entertaining some of Sebastian’s kids

Kid: “Mr. Matt!”
Matt: [No response]
Kid: “Mr. Matt!”
Matt: [No response]
Kid: “Mr. Matt!”
Matt: [No response]
Kid: “Mr. Matt!”
Matt: [No response]
Kid: “Mr. Matt!”
Matt: [No response]
Kid: “Mr. Matt!”
Matt: [No response]
Kid: “Mr. Matt!”
Matt: “WHAT.”
Kid: “How are you!”
Matt: “Not as tenacious as a 5-year-old, apparently.”

Kids: [Playing outside my house on a scorching afternoon]
Matt: [Reading inside his house on a scorching afternoon]
Kid 1: [Gets in an argument with another kid] “Matt will come beat you!”
Kid 2: “No he won’t, he’s reading.”
Matt: [Not moving an inch] Darn, the gig’s up.

Proving to my homestay siblings that I really did live there last year

Proving to my homestay siblings that I really did live there two years ago

ZamTwitter, Month 22

Random news from my 22nd month of Peace Corps service, in 140 characters or less.

February 7 – Just half-wobbled, half-sprinted out to my latrine and dropped trou a split-second before I exploded. My village must think I’m so weird.

February 11 – We’re in a rainy season drought: every afternoon the sky darkens and a few drops fall, then it gets sunny again. The farmers are not amused.

Following a fish farmer out to her ponds

Following a fish farmer out to her ponds

February 13 – Ughh. An extremely unpleasant side effect of a midnight thunderstorm blowing in is the huge gusts of wind which spray sand all over my bed.

February 17 – Spent nine hours today getting to and sitting during a meeting in which I spoke for all of five minutes. Sounds about right.

February 18 – I’ll never get used to the supreme disorientation of staggering half-asleep onto the first bus barreling through my village before dawn.

A common view -- on the bus, waiting to leave

A common view — on the bus, waiting to leave

February 20 – There are 27 people on this 75-seat bus. And two of them are babies. Why can’t all 11-hour bus rides be like this?

February 22 – At the new Pre-Service Training in Chongwe and just shepherded 20 new trainees through the market. Can’t believe two years has already passed.

Nothing quite blends beauty and chaos like a Zambian bus station

The outside of a rural Zambian market on a calm day

February 25 – I’m eating and watching a dubbed Indian soap as five Zambian trainers analyze tonight’s plot of Samira nervously meeting her future in-laws.

February 28 – Peace Corps in the 21st century: in addition to sessions on Zambian culture and aquaculture, trainees also learn about cellular data plans.

March 4 – Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. Walking to the doctor holding a vial of my poop, I realize the cap isn’t screwed tight.


March 5 – Just traded two packs of Juicy Fruit and a can of expired Altoids for two bottles of water and a Fanta. Love Zambia’s barter economy.

March 6 – Nothing says cultural exchange quite like a Phillipine-made film in Tagalog dubbed in English playing in Zambia. Gonna miss the buses here.

March 9 – Netted and restocked 1,500 fish today from Sebastian’s farm, but the big news in Nshinda is that Hobbes has new kittens. Five of them.

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These are not these kittens. These are old kittens. This just proves that I’ve taken a lot of pictures of kittens.


ZamTwitter, Month 20

Sorry for the delay in blog updates! By a combination of unfortunate weather and blatant user error (read: I’m dumb), my phone died an ignominious, watery death during my recent clash with Malawi’s relentless rainy season. Since then I’ve had to run around town purchasing a new phone, attempt to recreate various blog post drafts from memory, and gnash my teeth over the unexpected additional expense and inconvenience. But not to worry, Fishing in Zambia is now back in (belated) action.

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


One of the unfortunate and very real consequences of rainy season in Malawi (photo credit: Leah Karels)

December 15 – Helped dig terraces along pond walls today for planting rice. Promoting integrated aquaculture, or just trying to keep busy between rains?

December 18 – Hobbes’ latest kittens are driving me crazy. I’m badgering Sebastian to come get them before I bike out to the bush and leave them there.

December 23 – Just bought produce from a passing boy and discovered that my usual suppliers have been profiting off my ignorance of current market prices.


This kalembula (sweet potato leaves, left back) only set me back 1 kwacha, or about 16 cents, six times less than what the girls next door usually charge me

December 25 – Today I learned that Christmas in rural Zambia is exactly like every other day, except with more requests for me to give people things.

December 28 – In Mansa to work on my Volunteer Report Form. What does a PCV eat when he can buy whatever he wants? Mostly pineapple juice and sausage.

December 30 – You know it’s been a rough two days of travel when your bus gets stuck in mud for two hours and that’s still not the worst part of the trip.


The worst part? Getting a nasty bout of diarrhea which forced me to exercise painful sphincter control for ten hours in order to not expel my bowels all over the back of a bus (photo credit: Leah Karels)

January 1 – Ringing in the new year in beautiful Tolkienesque southern Malawi. Only took 31.5 hours on transport in nine different vehicles to get here.

January 3 – Mt. Mulanje soars to nearly 10,000 feet above verdant tea plantations. This out-of-shape hiker gained 7,500 feet over the past three days.


The massif of Mulanje looming above its surroundings is rumored to have inspired the mountains of Mordor in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (photo credit: Leah Karels)

January 7 – Traveling from windswept, desolate Mulanje to sunny, placid Lake Malawi at Cape Maclear in one day is an exercise in extreme contrasts.

January 10 – I went to Malawi and all I brought back was three drowned smartphones and this impressively patterned sunburn.


Look closely and you can see the extent of where my short arms could reach with the suntan lotion (photo credit: Leah Karels)