Visitors

My parents are in town and we’re traipsing about the country. Not two full days in Zambia and they’ve already befriended market vendors, met some of my closest Peace Corps volunteer friends, and produced more blog posts and Facebook updates than I have in the past three months. The combination of jetlag and 21st century smartphone technology is a potent mix in the right hands.

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Hut improvements

My parents are arriving in Zambia tomorrow, and so like any dutiful son I’ve been busy cleaning and preparing my site for their visit. Most of this work entails teaching kids how to ask my dad, “Are you Jackie Chan’s brother?” and removing cat hairs from all surfaces for my feline-allergic mother.

However, their much-anticipated arrival is also a good excuse for me to do some renovations, including installing a few new shelves and devising a vertical dishrack on one of my kitchen walls.

No two Peace Corps services are alike: Michael Krohn

At a hidden waterfall located just a few kilometers from Michael's site

At a hidden waterfall located just a few kilometers from Michael’s site

Earlier this month, I biked down to Mwansabombwe District to visit my good friend Michael Krohn in Ngalama. Michael is a LIFE ’13 volunteer who arrived in Zambia at the same time I did and was posted to a site just 65 kilometers to the south of mine, making him one of my nearest volunteer neighbors for the first year of my service. So of course our sites could not be more different.

I live in a bustling village that straddles a single road, with the main path through my community threading twenty feet in front of my front door and hundreds of people passing my hut every day. Many of these passersby are children who walk to and from the nearby primary school, which is so close that I can hear when goals are scored in football matches and when church hymns emanate from classrooms-turned-chapels on Sundays.

Michael, on the other hand, lives on an isolated family compound 12 kilometers off of the main road along bumpy, dusty bush paths. There are no other houses within sight, so if he doesn’t leave the compound for a program, he could spend the entire day seeing and interacting with nobody but his host family. He does this often, because they’re awesome — Michael eats lunch and dinner every day with his host father and counterpart Ba Rodgers, his host mother Ba Justina, and their seven extremely photogenic and sassy children.

Michael and his host family

Making banana wine

As an agriculture volunteer, Michael works with rural farmers to improve existing farming methods and help introduce efficient new techniques. Ba Rodgers has an incredible work ethic and an amazing integrated farm with a knack for animal husbandry, so while I was in Ngalama I toured the dry season garden, chicken coop, rabbit hutch (with an elevated tray for Michael’s and Ba Rodgers’ newest venture, guinea pigs), duck pond, and fenced pig enclosure. I tried my hand foot at the innovative foot pump which carries water from the stream up to holding basins near the house, learned how to make palm oil, and ate all of Michael’s pasta. We even watched Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief with the entire family one evening. (Friday nights are movie nights, using Michael’s laptop charged by a solar panel/car battery setup to show various family-friendly American movies ranging from Tangled to How To Train Your Dragon.)

All told, it was a great two days spending time with a good friend and great volunteer, visiting a part of Luapula Province I hadn’t seen before and marveling at the incredible variances that can exist between two volunteers’ sites.

Of Fish and Men

Dusk on Lake Tanganyika

Dusk on Lake Tanganyika

I spent last week with my friends Chris and Emily in Mpulungu, Northern Province, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Mpulungu is Zambia’s version of Monterey on the Central Californian coastline: lots of great shopping, a diverse history, interesting culture, friendly locals, and sweeping vistas on the shore of an incredibly diverse aquatic ecosystem.

It’s also really, really hot. If Steinbeck had been born in sub-Saharan Africa instead of Salinas, he’d have perished from the heat before he had a chance to write about the Musonda family making the pilgrimage from Kapiri to Mpulungu in search of a better life and jobs in the Lake Tanganyika fishing industry. The rest of Zambia is just leaving the warm, wet season and coming into cold season, but Mpulungu hasn’t gotten the message yet.

After hitching from Musaila to Kasama on Monday, we grabbed a swift and wind-chilled ride in the back of an open pickup truck up to Mbala on Tuesday morning, then hired a taxi to take us the rest of the way to Mpulungu. We spent the next four days exploring, marveling at the way fish permeate every facet of this bustling port town.

The waterfront market receives a healthy influx of fresh fish every morning, caught by fishermen the night before. A handful of commercial fisheries dredge the lake with nets, processing their catch in lakeside plants and shipping their prized yield downcountry to larger cities like Lusaka and Ndola and Kitwe. Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second-largest and second-deepest lake after Lake Baikal in Siberia, boasts 250 species of cichlids and 150 more species of non-cichlid fish. And we found tons of fish-patterned chitenges in the markets.

We bantered with kids, danced with merchants, and befriended generous local businessmen, who invited us to lavish braais where we feasted on fresh fish. We took a day trip to Kalambo Falls, a jaw-dropping single-drop waterfall in an impossibly deep gorge on the border of Zambia and Tanzania made even more striking by the fact that most of Zambia is a very flat country. We spent quality time bonding with good friends. We fished. We didn’t catch anything.

We prowled the sprawling markets every day, discovering items we hadn’t seen anywhere else in Zambia. Mpulungu’s proximity to both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Tanzania means a healthy infusion of foreign textiles and goods, which means Matt was delighted to find the national football team jerseys for random countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe.

Lake Tanganyika isn’t exactly a famed vacation destination (unless you’re a fish biologist) because it has few white sandy beaches and little tourist infrastructure. But as a place to visit for the sheer enjoyment of a beautiful locale and new cultural experiences, it’s hard to beat.

Kalambo Falls

I’m on vacation in Mpulungu, a town on the coast of Lake Tanganyika which has the distinction of being Zambia’s only port. Yesterday we took a day trip to hike to Kalambo Falls on the border between Zambia and Tanzania. Depending on who you ask, Kalambo Falls are the second highest, highest, or one of the highest waterfalls in Africa with a 772-foot single drop to the river below.

There are two ways to reach Kalambo Falls. The first is to embark on a strenuous, two-hour hike along a trail that climbs straight up a sheer cliff (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly), then up and over a mountain ridge, then down the other side. The second is to take a $100 taxi ride right up to the edge of the falls. We, being cost-conscious Peace Corps volunteers, chose the hike and lived to regret it.

Second site visit

I spent the past week hosting six trainees in the new RAP 2014 intake at my site in Nshinda. We netted ponds, conducted practice language interviews on the shore of Lake Mweru, and chucked Frisbees at with delighted schoolkids. Yesterday, Garrett, Allison, Mariah and Collin, Nicole, and Matt were dropped off on their individual site visits to see their own villages, huts, and communities for the first time. Welcome to Luapula Province, guys!