Catching Up

Wow, I haven’t posted for quite a while. A lot has happened, so I’ll try to bring you up to date.

First of all, I have finished training and have sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. The swearing-in ceremony was held on October 5th at the US Ambassador’s residence in Lusaka. The Ambassador’s residence is absolutely beautiful: a large, white house reminisent of an East Coast country estate, surrounded by lush, tropical gardens. It definitely made me momentarily reconsider my future career in science! The ceremony itself was broadcast on national television, and there were many speeches by many important people, including the US Ambassador and the heads of the Zambian Departments of Health and Agriculture. There were also speeches by several trainees made in each of the languages we had learned. After taking an oath, receiving our training certificates, and shaking many hands, it was official: we were Peace Corps Volunteers!
The following morning we said our goodbyes, packed into Land Cruiserswith the other new volunteers posted in our province, and headed upcountry.

That week passed in a flurry of frantic shopping for everything we would need in our village. The best part was when we went to the open-air market in Kabwe. It was everything a market should be. There was a perimeter of small shops selling goods of all kinds, from buckets to blankets to braziers. The inner market was a maze of tables covered in food: piles of tomatoes and onions, dishes of dried beans and fish, and baskets piled high with curry powder and salt. It was exotic, foreign, and exactly how I imagined an African market would be. And the people were so excited to see a group of white people deep in their market. “Muli shani?” they would ask, “Bwino! Muli shani?” we would reply, and they would laugh in delight that we were speaking a Zambian language (“How are you?” “I’m well! How are you?” in Bemba). I have never made so many people laugh as walking through that market: perhaps I could become a stand-up comedian here. All I would need to do is talk, and they’d be rolling in the aisles!

Finally, after the shopping was done, it was time to go to our villages. I have been here for almost 2 weeks now, and am starting to feel settled in. Everyone here is very friendly and generous: sometimes almost too generous! A few days ago I went out with my host father to meet the headman of a nearby village. On our way, we we rode our bicycles past a field where they were picking watermelons (I’m living in the watermelon capitol of Zambia). The farmers called to us to stop, and presented me with 2 basketball-sized melons. I thanked them, put the melons in my backpack, and we continued on to the headman’s hut. We talked with the headman and his wife for about an hour, and as we stood up to leave, they handed me a live pigeon. We put her in a plastic bag with her head poking through a hole, and we set off.  On the way home we passed another field of watermelons, and again we were asked to stop. The farmer there picked me four basketball-sized watermelons, and we strapped them to my bike rack. I only wish I could have gotten a picture of myself: backpack bulging, melons strapped behind, riding my bike down a narrow dirt track one-handed, holding a live pigeon to my chest with the other hand. And it all seemed perfectly normal.

Anyhow, I have caught you up on my adventures so far. I have to go see about getting a pigeon-house built, because I’m sure she’s tired of living in my washtub…

Posting from Zambia

Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Jaime, and I am a Peace Corps trainee in Zambia. In just 6 short weeks, I hope to become a fully-fledged volunteer.

I have been in-country for about 5 weeks now, and Zambia is a wonderful place. It’s the dry season, so everything is dusty and brown, but the trees are starting to put on flowers and new leaves in anticipation of the rain. I live in a one room thatched mud hut, I bathe out of a bucket, and I help my host family cook over a braizier.

My host family is incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I love playing with the children. Every evening when I get home from training we do something together. Sometimes I will bring out coloring books and markers, and the whole family will sit on reed mats and color together. A few days ago I taught all of the kids how to throw a frisbee, and we spent an hour playing catch. My favorite evening passtime, though, has been dancing.

In Zambia, it seems like everyone dances: there is never anybody standing awkwardly in a corner watching. So, when I got home from training one night and the girls ambushed me and tied a scarf around my hips, I knew I was in for some fun. The group of twelve children stood in two lines, facing each other. Someone found an empty oil jug and started drumming out a rhythm, and soon everyone was chanting and singing. Then one person from each line stepped forward and began dancing, with a great deal of hip-popping and shaking. When they had finished their verse or so of center stage, that pair would step back into line, and it was the next pair’s turn. I did my best to follow what my partner was doing, but I’m sure that even the five-year-old was moving her hips better than I was. So, with a lot of laughing and giggling, mostly at my expense, I managed to learn a couple of dances.

The next night, the kids waited patiently for me to bathe, then it was dance time again! We did the same dances as the night before, but then I asked if they would like to learn some American dances. To a chorus of “yes”es and excited hand clapping, I began to (try) to show them the electric slide, after warning them that we move our feet more when we dance than they do. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, especially the kicking part. There was definitely a side competition over who could kick the highest. But, regardless, with one dance under my belt I decided it was time to pull out all the stops. So chirping, flapping, and wiggling my way into dancing fame, I taught them the Chicken Dance. There is nothing as heartwarming and funny as a group of about twenty kids and adults all trying, with shrieks of laughter, to remember whether chirp or flap comes first. And the wiggling was, obviously, their favorite part. After that day, we did the chicken dance every night for a week, and even now the kids will randomly come up to me and start flapping their arms. I think perhaps my next move will have to be the hokey-pokey. Or maybe the macarena….