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!

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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.

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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.

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“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).

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).”

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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:

Green like fish farming

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Fish farming isn’t very glamorous. It’s grimy, strenuous, blue-collar work characterized by dirt under your fingernails and the faint odor of mud rising from your pores no matter how many times you bathe. My dad served in the Peace Corps as an aquaculture volunteer in Papua New Guinea from 1981-1985, started a fish farm shortly after returning to the States, and has been growing, harvesting, and selling fish and water plants ever since. He loves it. I served bags of Fritos and grape-flavored Simply Sodas to my grandpa’s grinning workers for 25 cents each from 1996-1998, started thinking pretty much exclusively about girls shortly after hitting puberty, and had been dreaming of a nice, clean, air-conditioned office job ever since those long summers as a kid spent toiling away in the murky water and the 110-degree San Joaquin Valley heat. Me growing up, not so thrilled about fish farming.

So of course once I was an adult who could make his own decisions, I left my nice, clean, air-conditioned office job, joined the Peace Corps, and now live without air conditioning in sub-Saharan Africa working as a Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) volunteer. Or, in other words, fish farming. Although my 15-year-old self may not have appreciated fully all of the life lessons that his father assured him he was gleaning from the muck and sweat and pungent carcasses of rotting fish, my 25-year-old self is appreciative of the role fish farming played in his personal development and thinks there’s a neat sort of circularity in the way that this has informed and led to his life as a fish farming volunteer a decade later.

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Patrick Chansa is a bright 20-year-old who finished secondary school last year, speaks fluent English, and wants to study forestry at the University of Zambia. For the time being though, Patrick is a member of a newly formed fish farming group in Kampampi. Last Wednesday he took me to visit their new pond site. After reaching town, we turned off the tarmac onto a bush path that twisted through a bucolic forest and then coasted down into a vast grassy dambo valley.

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The pond was almost finished, smelling like freshly turned mud. The smell of development (my personal madeleine). From my perch on the muddy bank I offered some advice for remaining pond construction and beginning management, describing the benefits of making the pond walls sloped (“to give the fish better spawning habitat!”) and extolling the virtues of adding manure and plant compost to the water (“once it turns green, that’s when you’ll know you have a good bloom!”).

On Friday afternoon I biked over to Chabilikila to host a pond staking workshop with my nearest PCV neighbor, Sarah. As a CHIP volunteer most of Sarah’s work is with community health, but her youth group wants to start fish farming so I agreed to come over and provide a physical blueprint for where and how much to dig. The workshop was scheduled to start at 14:30, which meant the group hadn’t fully arrived until 16:00 – punctuality is a foreign concept for Zambian meetings. No matter, this just meant I was able to spend more time catching up with Sarah, a former preschool teacher who is, true to vocational stereotypes, exceptionally good-humored and patient as a saint.

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Once the gang had all assembled, we headed out to the pond site. The roughly 15 x 15 meter square of swampy land had been slashed (tall grass cut short) and burned to clear the plot upon request before my arrival. Rubbing some dirt under my fingernails, I got to work explaining the purpose of the pond staking and demonstrating each step of the process. Together we appropriated small tree branches for use as pond stakes, measured out the perimeter of the pond, hammered in stakes, calculated the slope of the dike walls, and linked all of the stakes together using twine.

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At one point in the afternoon I managed to throw in the word utonfukumfuku (natural springs) as I addressed the group, garnering a hearty laugh of appreciation for my pronunciation of this tongue-twisting and slightly obscure bit of deep Bemba. It was a much more effective deployment of local language than when I made the mistake of practicing the most phonetically repetitive word in Bemba in front of the kids who hang out on my front porch. Now they parrot back to me “Ayakatapakatapa ayakatapakatapa!” over and over again, chortling like maniacs the entire time and delighting, as only small children can, in the fact that what they’re saying makes no sense: “Green! Green! Green! Green! Green!”

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Zambia!

Okay, so this photo was actually taken in Kenya (credit: http://www.scenictours.com/destination/africa/), but you get the idea.

It’s official! I’m departing on February 11, 2013 for the Rural Aquaculture Promotion program in Zambia, Africa. I will be a Rural Fish Culture Extension Agent.

For a better idea of what I’m getting myself into, watch this.

Just kidding. It’s going to be more like this.