This blog is intended only to recount my personal experiences with the Peace Corps; it is not intended to reflect the Peace Corps' official stance or the opinions of other volunteers.
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Friday, June 4, 2010

Community Entry: Village Life Begins

On April 27th, I was officially posted at my permanent site, where my humble mud and grass hut sits in the middle of a small village called Chisadzi, in an area known as Naviluli. Nestled in the mountainous and absolutely gorgeous scenery of Eastern Province, my new home of 84 families (within the confines of 46 huts) is absolutely welcoming and comfortable. I’ve been there for a little over a month now; learning the community, meeting the people and authorities, visiting the schools, playing soccer; as well as simply learning the way life works out here, such as walking to a borehole to fetch water, cooking over a coal fire, bathing from a bucket and doing whatever it takes to not let the rampant activities of my new rodent roommates drive me completely insane.

After a couple of weeks of anxiousness, confusion and several short bouts with denial and apprehension, I began to get into the swing of things. I organized my hut by hanging things on the walls, I have a cleaning routine which involves moving everything around while I sweep the dust and dirt and debris out of the hut, I wash my dishes three times daily, I start heating up my bath water at 16:30 (no later than 17:00) then I’m cooking dinner by 18:00. I have three jerry cans for water (two 20 liters and one 10 liter), and that fifty liters of water can do my washing, bathing, cooking and drinking for about two days. I do my laundry bi-weekly.

It’s an extremely simple life, yet the families here work harder than any American ever will. There is an extreme difference behind the aspect of work when comparing Americans to Zambians in that, Americans live to work, and Zambians work to live. In the fields by 5:00, I’m normally alone when I wake up and start my morning routines. My compound is empty and I know that it’s cotton-harvesting season, so they won’t be back for a while, not until well after lunch. So there isn’t much for me to do when I’m sitting alone. I will keep myself busy with small household projects, like fixing the windows or figuring out how to hang my utensils, or maybe design a bookshelf to build someday. I read a lot, which is a nice way to pass some time. The local children like to hang around my place and just watch me in whatever it is that I’m doing. On weekends I hop on my bike and head for Chadiza (20K away), the namesake town of the district that I live in, which houses shops, a post office, schools and general “town like” atmosphere; a nice contrast from the village life. The other three volunteers in the district usually meet me there for cold sodas and snacks and it’s just nice to get away and speak some cohesive English for a little while. We share phone calls from home as well as packages and recount each other’s week in our comfortable “down town” area.

So this will be my life, for at least a couple of more months, which is how long this “community entry” period is supposed to last. In this time frame, work is very limited, but volunteers are more focused on learning the communities they’ve been assigned to, as well as look for the areas which have potential for development and begin the project planning stages. In August, all the new volunteers from my intake will reunite in Lusaka for 10 days at an In-Service Training (IST) period, in which we gain more specific skills to the ideas that we’ve collected during community entry. Once returning after IST, the work officially begins.

So for now, I’m just a villager. I live in a house that looks like everyone else’s. I get my water from the same pump the old women in my community do. I walk down to the shops to chat with the men, just like any man would do in the village. I attend the traditional ceremonies and laugh and dance just like the rest of them. I eat local foods, I attempt the language but most importantly, I love the life. I have convinced myself that the living aspect of these next two years will be simple from here on out. Once the work begins, who knows how the spectrum will change; but even so, if it does change, for better or for worse, I will still remain a villager just like the rest of them.