What do fish ponds and snowflakes have in common?

They’re both made of water.

Juuust kidding. No two are alike!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting a lot of fish farmers and prospective fish farmers. It’s exciting; they’re all so different from one other and each pond reflects the cumulative effect of widely varying motivations, resources, and physical landscapes from farm to farm and from farmer to farmer.

image

Last Wednesday Sebastian and I biked to the boma to meet with officials at the Department of Fisheries and World Vision district offices regarding ongoing initiatives to develop small-scale fish farming in Nchelenge. On our way back home, we stopped near Kambwali to visit one of the other lead fish farmers in the district. Benjamin Mpundu “is strong, very strong,” Sebastian muttered to me, no slouch himself. One look at the collection of fish ponds this lean, wiry man has single-handedly carved into the hillside like terraces proved evidence to this observation.

image

“But he has little knowledge of pond construction,” my counterpart added confidently. “We can help him.”

We spent the next hour dispensing advice for the new ponds that Ba Benjamin is digging, jumping in and getting our hands dirty (Sebastian), and taking pictures of the delighted kids who gawked at the muzungu the entire time (me).

image

image

A few weeks ago I visited members of a fish farming group in Shabo Market, a community about 8 kilometers to the south of Nshinda. As I took an extended tour of their farms, checking out various ponds, I offered advice on maintenance and construction and took important technical notes in my notebook such as “pond is hidden behind banana trees and shaped kind of like a triangle. It looks like LOST up in here.”

image

The youngest fish farmer in the group, Samson (tallest kid, center right), can’t be more than 15 years old, a number which is approximately thirteen more fish than the maximum this little swimming hole can support based on standard stocking ratios. I emphasized that he has a great start and gently suggested that his next step might be to make the pond a bit bigger.

image

Ba Mulenga is a farmer who doesn’t yet have any fish ponds, but he’s prepared a great pond site on his oasis-like farm tucked away at the end of a long, winding bush path. I visited the site and found that it’s ideally situated for easy future expansion into digging more ponds, has a stream with year-round water flowing nearby, and is situated directly adjacent to the garden so the pond effluent can easily be used to irrigate his crops. It’s the RAP site selection equivalent of a home run.

image

Two days later I arrived at our scheduled meeting place and time to help stake his pond and Ba Mulenga was nowhere to be found. I waited an hour to make sure he wasn’t on Zamtime, then biked another half hour to his farm to see if he was already there. He wasn’t. I finally took off, a bit disgruntled. I remembered that you need to come to the plate before you can hit it over the fence. Oh well. We’ll try again next week.

Ba Enock is one of the more relatively well-established fish farmers in the area on the simple basis that he has fish. It’s a tenuous distinction; the two large ponds on the edge of his Chinese cabbage garden aren’t maintained and are thus in various states of disrepair. However, he tossed in some cabbage leaves and sure enough, fish started feeding on the surface.

image

Ba Enock is either a closet optimist underneath his ever-present scowl or he must have the world’s dryest sense of humor, because he dragged me through hectares of tall, scratchy grass so that I could inspect several puddles which he called ponds without a trace of irony. “Take a picture of the pond,” he said expansively. So I did.

image

Ba Davis wins the award for being my most industrious fish farmer at the moment. On a Tuesday afternoon he showed me two freshly dug small ponds, side by side. He had just completed them the week before and they were tiny, measuring 2×3 and 2×6 meters each. With a typical stocking rate of 1 fish per square meter, the smaller pond wouldn’t be able to hold more than six fish.

6-8 months is a long time to wait for six fish to reach harvestable size, I told him. If you combine the ponds into one larger pond and start making it wider, you’ll increase the maximum potential fish yield. Ba Davis nodded knowingly. You’ll be able to grow more fish and make more money, I added helpfully. His eyes lit up. Bingo.

image

I returned to visit that Friday and he showed me with no small amount of pride an entirely new pond he had dug right next to the other two. It measured 2×4. That’s eight more fish.

In my notebook I jotted down, “Making progress, panono panono (little by little).”

image

Advertisements

FiZ selected as PC Zambia’s nominee for the 2013 Blog It Home competition

I was notified this afternoon that Fishing In Zambia has been chosen to be Peace Corps Zambia’s nominee for the 2013 Blog It Home competition! I am honored that this blog was selected as the site which best exemplifies the spirit of the Peace Corps’ Third Goal from a very large pool of fantastic PCZ blogs (Zambia is currently the largest country by number of serving Peace Corps volunteers in Africa with 284, and second-largest in the world after Ukraine).

I am excited to represent Zambia in the global Peace Corps competition, the winners of which will attend and participate in the inaugural Third Goal Mobilization Summit in Washington D.C. this August.

What is Blog It Home?

The Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services is proud to announce the 2013 Blog it Home competition.  This competition will serve as a major part of our efforts to elevate the Third Goal and infuse best Third Goal practices throughout the volunteer lifecycle. To participate in the competition, each post is encouraged to select one PCV whose blog exemplifies the spirit of Peace Corps’ Third Goal.   Up to six currently serving volunteers with outstanding blogs will be selected by the Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services to attend the Third Goal Mobilization Summit in Washington D.C. this August.   (More information about the Summit can be found HERE.)

[Excerpted from an email sent by Tom Kennedy, the Peace Corps Zambia Country Director]

I’m at the provincial house in Mansa right now for Mini-Provs, so I was able to upload a few photos I took with my real camera at site in May/June:

Site announcements!

Almost unbelievably, the end of Pre-Service Training is already in sight. In just a little over a month, I’ll be sworn in as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. I’ll be wearing an outlandish fish-themed shirt paired with even more outlandish fish-themed trousers (pants mean underwear here). Just a few days after that, I’ll go shopping for everything I need to start a new life in a mud hut in my site. And just a few days after that, a Land Cruiser will deposit me at my empty hut and take off with a wave. And right there, when I take one more step into my hut, I will figuratively and quite literally be the furthest from home I’ve ever been (read it in your best Frodo Baggins voice).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today was the long-awaited announcement of our sites. The day we found out the exact place where we’ll be living for the next 24 months. It felt kind of like Christmas. Throughout training, I’ve been completely in the dark about my future site because I’m in the Bemba language group, the most widely spoken language in Zambia. My friends learning Nyanja (Eastern), Lunda (Northwest), Timbuka (Eastern), or Kaonde (Northwest) have known which provinces they’ll be going to since before we started training. In contrast, my site could have been in Northern, Luapula, or Central provinces and I’ve spent the past month and a half vacillating between option a.) weighing the pros and cons of each province and option b.) trying not to have an opinion at all because my preference has little to no influence on site selection. But now the wait is over, because today, after much pomp and circumstance (a timed obstacle course which we had to navigate while wearing chitenges like women), I found out that I’m going to Luapula Province!

Not to brag or anything, but I kind of won the Peace Corps Zambia site lottery. My site is in the village of Nshinda, in Nchelenge District in the northern part of Luapula. It’s a stone’s throw away from the border of the Congo, which we’re not allowed to visit, but it’s a cool enough fact to mention in a blog post anyway. I’m near the tarmac which enables easier transportation, and my nearest PCV neighbor is 10km away which is only about a half-hour bike ride. I’m first-generation at my site, which means I’ll be the first volunteer to live in my village. The PC staff member who inspected all of our sites reported that I have cell reception at my site, that “there are friendly playful kids around,” and that I “have a mansion-sized hut with nice rooms.”

I’m really excited. The first thing I heard about Luapula Province when I arrived in Zambia was that it is beautiful. Throughout training, the general consensus has been that Luapula is the most scenic and tropical of the provinces. It boasts several gorgeous waterfalls, national parks, and several large, pretty lakes with pristine beaches. (Translation: come visit me.) I’ve also heard that Luapula is very rural and underdeveloped. The population density is low, and this part of the country just doesn’t see the same amount of traffic as many of the other provinces. And because Peace Corps is relatively new to Nchelenge District and I’ll be a first-gen volunteer, I will likely also be the first American that many people will meet.

In just a week and a half, I leave for 2nd site visit where I’ll travel to Luapula Province for the first time. I’ll spend a few days at my actual site, meeting people in the community and trying to find a carpenter who will make me furniture to fill my currently empty mansion-sized hut.