Gettin’ Down to Business

I’ve been here for a month now, and several of my loyal readers have asked me how the tilapia aquaculture is going. That’s my job here, after all: to promote small-scale, sustainable fish farming in rural Zambia.

Well, the answer is that I haven’t really started yet. The first 3 months spent in your village is a period called ‘Community Entry’, during which Peace Corps encourages you NOT to work on your project much, especially in the beginning.  The idea is that we Americans tend to jump into working right away; that we would start digging ponds just as soon as possible. But in Zambia, people value relationships over productivity (crazy, I know…). Even if I don’t manage to do a single thing in my 2 years here, as long as I am friendly and a good person, my village will be happy to have had me. So Community Entry is a time to start building friendships and working relationships with anyone and everyone. My job for the last month has been to bike around and introduce myself to all of the local headmen and headwomen, to attend cooperative meetings, and to chat with people I pass on the road. Very little in the way of fish.

This week, though, I made a big step in starting my aquaculture work: I held a village meeting. The idea was to introduce myself (again!), talk a bit about Peace Corps, and explain what I hope to do here for the next 2 years. I did my best to speak in Tonga, which always makes people laugh. I have to remind myself that they are not laughing at me, they are laughing because they are surprised to hear a white person speaking Tonga. I managed to explain myself pretty well, but needed help translating when people started asking me questions afterwards. At the end of the meeting I had a list of about 12 people interested in fish farming. Some already have ponds and some are just getting started, but they all seem enthusiastic.

So next week I may have a fish story to share!