Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | June 20, 2013

Still here, just busy!

I know I haven’t written a blog post in awhile, trust me my dad bothers me about every time I talk with him, but it seems every time I sit down to write one there is so much to write about that I push it off until next time. However, this time I am forcing myself to sit down and at least write about what I have been up to since my last blog post in December…oops!


My counterpart, Wisdom, on the left, me and Frank


Lake Malawi at Nkhata Bay

Well in the past six months I have had PEPFAR workshop (HIV workshop) which was very informative, went to Malawi on vacation (amazing!), had my mom come visit me, had a ton of different projects in my village, visited friends all over the country, said good-bye to some of my best friends who finished their service, had a successful first term with my girls’ club, helped train the new agriculture volunteers, had my mid-term conference and survived my first rainy season here in Zambia! Whew! Really this past couples of months have been some of the best and some of the worst months, but in it all I have realized I love what I am doing and most importantly am surrounded by the most amazing people both here in Zambia and back home in the States!


My mom and me on our safari. It rained almost the whole time but she was a trooper!


A friend’s site in Mpika


Girls performing skits about saying “no” in my girls’ club

Now fast forward to the past couple of weeks. In these last couple of weeks cold season has kicked in, I am training for my first half marathon, I went to my first Chipolopolo game and have a successful HIV event at the nearest clinic!


The Tamweni women’s group at a sewing demonstration where they are learning to make tablemats out of bottles caps and chitenge scrap


The end of the term party for my girls’ club

First off I want to talk about cold season a bit. I know you are probably thinking, “wait, cold season? I thought you lived in Africa?” Well I do, but it can get cold! I grew up in the Chicago area so I know how cold it can be, but here it is a little different. First, I live in a mud hut, where there is no insulation and no heat. The mud and cement that I praise in the hot season when it keeps cold during the day, I am now cursing because it does exactly that. It keeps it cold. One other big factor that makes cold season especially cold is that I live my life mostly outdoors. This means I do my laundry, wash my dishes, cook my food, bath and do most everything outside. Some of these include sticking your hands into cold water early in the morning (just have to suck it up), but the worst is bathing outside. Even if you heat your water to a rolling boil and add as little cold water as possible you are still naked outside when it is very cold! I have started bathing earlier to try to stay warm, but I go for the bathing as little as possible option most times. This doesn’t really work with running every day, but really some days I would rather smell then be freezing. So I might be complaining a lot, but to tell the truth cold season is my favorite because it is harvest season (spend a lot of time in fields with villagers), I love sitting around a fire with my host family, I am not sweating all the time, and it reminds me of fall back home! And even though it seems cold now I know I will be wishing I had this cold season when I am back in Chicago in the middle of winter!


Kara, Andrea and me on our last night out together in Zambia. Andrea finished her service

I mentioned earlier that I am training for my first ever half-marathon and I cannot wait! When I came to Zambia I absolutely hated running. I was most likely to jump on my bicycle and go on a nice long bike ride, but I needed something more here so I started running. I remember when I first came to the village I could not even run 1 kilometer without stopping to walk, but now I am doing about 10 kilometers (6 miles) for my easy run! I never thought I would be like this, but I really enjoy running! I feel great afterwards, and it is an amazing stress reliever. The half-marathon is only a couple weeks away and it is in Zimbabwe, right across the border from Livingstone, so it is going to be very beautiful.


My intake at our mid-service conference. Half way there!

My big splurge and vacation for this month was to Ndola to go to my first Chipolopolo futbol (soccer for all you Americans) game! In America we have football and baseball as our big sports, but here in Zambia they love futbol and their team is Chipolopolo! My first week here in Zambia Chipolopolo won the Africa cup and ever since then I have wanted to go see a game! The game we decided to go to was Zambia vs. Lesotho in a World Cup qualifying game. Since it was such a big game there were about 50 volunteers who were coming from all over Zambia to see it! It was great meeting new volunteers and hanging out with some friends who I have not seen in awhile. The day of the game everyone put on their best Chipolopolo and Zambian gear and got pumped up for the game, but nothing would prepare me for the game. When we came up to the stadium it was complete madness! There were so many people and everyone was so excited, it was really intoxicating! We found out seats and the game started, and it was a whirlwind from there. I swear every time Zambia scored it was like they won the Super bowl, not one person was sitting or quiet! Zambia won 4 to 0. The whole weekend was great except one thing; my wallet was stolen. It only had money, my bankcard and my ID in it, so things that can be replaced. Even though that was stressful, I had everything replaced and still remember it as a great weekend!


The Central Province group at the Chipolopolo game

Finally, my biggest program this month was an HIV/AIDS event at the Nkumbi Rural Health Clinic. I live about 10km from a health volunteer, Jen, and a couple months ago we were talking about HIV/AIDS in our communities. We decided that it would be beneficial to have an event at the clinic that serves both of our communities that focused on prevention and education, and decided our main focus group should be school/college children. We partnered with an NGO, ZPCT, and the Mkushi Department of Health to provide HIV testing and male circumcision for us. We decided on these two services because it is important that our community members know their status, and male who are circumcised have a 60% lower chance of contracting HIV from their partner. We also included HIV/AIDS education and condom demonstrations in the event. We worked for about two months together to plan it, and we worked great as a team! We both have different strengths and so it made it easy to work together. It was very stressful at times, but most everything went smoothly and the event was successful! We did not have the high numbers we were hoping for, but it was great to see that people are concerned about HIV/AIDS and want to learn how to prevent themselves from contracting it. I think the most memorable part for me was that I was able to actually see a man being circumcised! I was very curious so I asked if I could watch and they let me watch the procedure on a child and a man. It might sound gross, but it was very interesting!


Jen and I at our HIV event

So really those are the highlights of my past month or so! I am still really enjoying my work here, and look forward to what the next year of my service brings! I promise to be better about writing blog posts, especially right after the big race! 

Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | December 9, 2012

Busy Fall

Well it has been awhile since my last blog post, and I apologize but life has been crazy here! I guess I have to go all the way to September….

Since I had just come back from IST (week long training in August) I was really motivated again to start projects in Chankomo. So I met with my counterpart, Charles, and we made a plan of visiting each of the villages in my catchment to introduce myself and my job, talk about the deforestation, and sustainable development. I was extremely impressed with Charles! He took over all the discussions and helped the villagers understand. I also started planning with different groups for building tree nurseries in October. September also was when the first group of volunteers that I met in country were leaving, their service being complete. It made it even more real how fast my time here is going!

With September being all about working in the village, October was a good balance of working in the village and vacation. It started with doing a couple Msangu tree nurseries with my women’s group and then a couple different individuals. It was a process because first we had to build the stand to keep the tree nurseries off the ground. This is important because in the village you have chickens, cows and goats that can come and eat the seedlings, or the worse thing about Zambia…the termites. They seem to go after everything and anything! Once the stand was built we gathered old manure, sand and forest soil for the pots. These we mixed in a 1:1:3 ratio to enhance root growth and give nutrients to the seedlings. Next we packed the pots and prepped the seeds by clipping the outer shell. Once all the seeds were packed we planted the seeds and put them up on the stand. With the tree nurseries I also incorporated using different things around the village for pots, incase the plastic ones were unavailable. In total we planted over 1000 Msangu trees that will be ready to plant in the next couple of months! I check on them regularly, and they were doing well for a while until the rains came and two of the stands fell! Some of the trees survived, but we know for next year to build stronger stands.

My Women's group in front of their tree nursery

My Women’s group in front of their tree nursery

After three weeks of tree nurseries it was time to head out on vacation! It started with a night at ATB in Mkushi with some amazing people! There was a big group of us there and we had a braai (BBQ in America) with a miner, Nico, and his wife, Marianna. The food was great and it was the perfect way to start off the vacation. The next day we headed up to a white farmer’s place, Pieter’s, for another braai to celebrate Zambian Independence day. Pieter is a white organic farmer who grows the only organic tobacco in Zambia. His place is absolutely beautiful and he was extremely welcoming. The first day we spent swimming in the river on his property. There was a waterfall that we climbed up to and swam under, and then was a couple platforms to jump off of. We spent hours down there and it was so much fun! That night Pieter killed a sheep for us and so we had a very filling and delicious meal. The next morning we woke up and sat around the camp fire and ate pancakes. We were really tired from the day before and it was a little cooler so we sat around for awhile just talking and relaxing, finally we moved on to other activities. Later in the afternoon, Kara, Andrea and I decided we needed to take advantage of the water one more time, so we went down to swim and the sun came out! Everyone else joined us and we again spent the afternoon swimming. And that night Pieter killed a pig for us, so again we had a huge delicious meal!

The next morning we packed into Pieter’s canter and he took us to the Great North Road. From there the group split; some of the group going back to Serejne and some of us going north. My friend Lauren and I were heading to Mpika to go to her site for a night and I was excited because it would be my first time seeing her site! All I can say is that I am very jealous of her site! It is very beautiful, she has a huge house, and great people to work with! The next day we were back to traveling. This day ended up being one of my worst traveling days in Zambia. We were trying to make it to Mbala (one of the most northern towns) in one day, but there were no cars on the road, so we got stuck in Kasama. Luckily, there is another Peace Corps house in Kasama. We stayed the night there, and I was able to see my friend Ijoema who was staying there. And finally the next day we made it to our destination of Mpulungu, or Lake Tanganyika!

I had heard horror stories of everyone I had told I was going to Lake Tanganyika in the hottest month, and so I was a little nervous but it ended up being fun! We were up there to celebrate two of my friends’ birthdays, Drew and Chandra, and even though it was extremely hot the lake was beautiful! We spent the day swimming in a pool lakeside, because the lake is very rocky and crocodiles are prevalent. The next morning we decided to go see Kalambo falls. Kalambo Falls is twice as high as Victoria Falls and is the second highest falls in Africa, so I was excited to go, but little did I know what I was getting myself in to. We started by taking a boat at 5:00am across part of the lake, and I am no sure why I thought this was a good idea because I get extremely seasick. I was fine for the first ten minutes and then it all went downhill from there. For the rest of the ride I was holding on to the edge of the boat trying not to throw up and from what everyone says I was a wonderful shade of green. About an hour later we land at a little village on the edge of a mountain, and without a break start rapidly climbing that mountain. None of us had been there so we didn’t know what to expect, but I believe that hike up was one of the hardest things I have done. I did mention that it was the hottest month of the year, the slope is very steep, and we didn’t bring enough water or food. So I was profusely sweating, still feeling nauseous, and dehydrated.. let’s just say I wanted it to be over with. Two hours later we finally reached it! And no matter how miserable I was getting there it was worth it! We climbed over to the top and reloaded on water (we used iodine tablets) and relaxed for a while. Once, I was rested and re-hydrated I was able to enjoyed the view and the hike back, which took half the time. And once back at the lake we were able to take a nice, cold swim! For the boat ride back I learned my lesson and took some Dramamine one of the other volunteers had with them, so I passed out in the bottom of the boat! That night my friend, Jesse, and I decided that even though we were supposed to stay for a couple more days, we wanted to head back early to rest a couple days at the house in Serenje before going back to site. The next morning we left at 5:30am and made it to Serenje by 3:00pm, much easier than going up! I spent a couple days at the house, and one of those days was Halloween, which we celebrated by dressing up the housekeeper and one of the guards and teaching them about Halloween! The whole vacation was fun, but I was definitely ready to go back to the village!

Me at Kalambo Falls

Me at Kalambo Falls


After my vacation I was ready to dive back into projects in my village and for November it would be to push for soya before heading off for meetings. Soya is the name thing as soy in the States, and I was pushing it because it doesn’t use fertilizer, and is more nutritious than maize. The first week in November I had a workshop explaining the benefits of soya and how to plant it. The second week with the help of my friend Trish I had a cooking workshop where I talked about all the things you can make with soya, and I showed how to make soya sausages. It was a big hit, 36 people showed up and 8 of them were men! It went so well that I am planning on having another one where I make soya milk.

The finished soya sausages and the people who came

The finished soya sausages and the people who came

The third week in November I had to go to Serenje for the biannual provincial meetings. These meetings are to get everyone in your province together and discuss new rules for Peace Corps and go over the house rules again. There are now 40 of us in Central Province and so the meetings lasted really long and it was very stressful having everyone there. On the other hand it was great seeing a lot of my friends that I don’t normally see on a regular basis.

While at the meetings we also celebrated Thanksgiving! This was my first big holiday away from home, but I didn’t get homesick because I was able to spend it with my new family over here in Zambia! We also had a ton of food like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, greenbean casserole, and homemade pumpkin pie!

the Central Province family

the Central Province family

The next week it was finally time for Camp GLOW! This is a girls camp held all over the world where volunteers bring girls and mentors from their community to teach them about different things they normally wouldn’t learn in the village. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, so the whole basis of the camp was to empower them. And I have to say it was one of my favorite things I have done in Zambia so far!

The camp started on Sunday, November 25th with all of us meeting in Mkushi before we headed to Ndubaluba where it would be help. Once all 20 girls, 10 mentors and 7 volunteers were there we piled into a canter and headed out. Right away I felt like I was back at camp because we started singing songs and dancing, but most of them were in Bemba so us volunteers tried to follow along as much as possible. Once there we had lunch and made tie-dye t-shirts to wear for our group picture. That afternoon we talked to the girls about their “paths to the futures” and what obstacles they would have to face to get there. Then after dinner we played volleyball, which was hilarious! And after volleyball we had a campfire with delicious hot chocolate.

The next morning we talked about different statistics of women in Zambia, and this was quite a shocker to a lot of the girls and mentors. Going off of that we then had the girls write or draw about a person they admired and encouraged them to give it to that person. I was shocked when one of the girls (not even from my village) wrote me a letter about how she admires me. After that we talked about what it means to be assertive and how to say no, and had the girls perform skits. I was extremely impressed with their skits!

After lunch half of us went down to the dam and went canoeing. This was one of my favorite things! Most of the girls had never been in a boat and even fewer knew how to swim! There were 3 of us volunteers there so we split up and took 3 girls each in our boats. I have to say I think my girls understood the idea of paddling together because we were the fastest. However, I do not think they understood that we needed to stay in the middle of the boat because I think I spent a lot of time hurling myself to one side of the boat to keep from tipping. The staff of Ndubaluba had us play a couple games and I think the girls really enjoyed it. When we were safely back on shore we went back into the water to swim a bit. We still had our life jackets on so I helped a couple girls and mentors swim around..mainly just splashing.

That afternoon we talked about the difference between a unhealthy and a healthy relationship is. The volunteers acted out skits, and the girls thought we were hilarious! Then our activity for the night was cultural dancing. Let me just say I think Zambians can move their hips like no one else! The girls and mentors each did a dance and then they tried to get the volunteers to dance but we were nowhere as good as them. It all turned into a big dance party, and I think by the end I could at least begin to move my hips like them!

The next day we started off with peer pressure and then went in to boyfriends and sugar daddies. We helped the girls understand these better by including games and songs to help them remember the important things we talked about. And that afternoon my half of the group stayed behind and made journals and talked about malaria. It wasn’t as exciting as canoeing but it was a much-needed break! That afternoon we talked about puberty and the changes that boys and girls go through. They learn about this in school, but not extensively so it is very important to teach it.  Finally that night we talked about periods and then made homemade sanitary pads for the girls to take with them.

The following morning we had a guest speaker from Lusaka come from Youth Alive Zambia. She talked about rape and sexual abuse. It is a tough subject but extremely important for girls that age. At the end everyone left but the girls and they had a chance to feel comfortable asking questions and opening up. After that talk we climbed the rock wall! In my half all the girls climbed and almost all made it to the top! Only two of the mentors wanted to do it and only one made it to the top. After everyone had gone me and my friend Steve were challenged to race to the top barefoot like they did..and I won!

After that it was time for 5 of us to leave so other volunteer would have a chance to spend time with the girls. I was really upset and didn’t want to leave! I feel I had made a connection with the girls and wanted to spend the whole week with them. I did talk to the other volunteers after camp and they said the second half went really well.

Camp GLOW crew

Camp GLOW crew

So that is the past 3 months of my life here in Zambia. It has been very busy and exciting, and I know I still have 16 months left of it! Right now I am in Serenje again for a HIV/AIDS workshop for a week and then I head out on vacation to Malawi for Christmas! After New Years my mom is coming and I cannot wait to see her! Don’t worry I will do a blog post about all my adventures in Malawi and with my mom in January!

I also want to thank Darrel and Nancy Wilkerson, as well as my Aunt Sue and Denice Muse for their contributions to Camp GLOW! Without you we couldn’t have done it! Thank you!

Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | September 15, 2012

Lusaka and Livingstone

Just two weeks ago I returned from my first vacation in Zambia! Before I went on vacation though I had to go to Lusaka for a weeklong training with my intake. I was gone from my site for a little under 3 weeks, and even though I felt like I was gone for longer I learned and experienced a lot in those 3 weeks.

As I have mentioned before the first 3 months in the village is a period called community entry. In this time you are not allowed to leave your district, mine being Mkushi, and you are also not allowed to start any projects. This is supposed to help the integration into the community. It is difficult because for the first 3 months in country you are around people 24/7 and then suddenly you are all alone in your village with only the villagers to be around. Luckily for me I have a couple volunteers within biking distant so I had a place to retreat to when I needed some time around another American.

Anyway, after those 3 months the intakes reunite to discuss their villages and have a weeklong training, IST, in Lusaka. For the LIFE ’12 it was actually almost 4 months before we were reunited at the Great East Hotel. I cannot express how amazing it was to see some of the people that I have become closest with and see that everyone is doing great things in their villages! The first couple of days were spent finding out how everyone’s villages were, the projects that they were working on, and just relaxing.

Part of this training is also for our counterparts, or the people we have been working with in our village. It was really good to connect our counterparts with each other and also brainstorm project ideas with them. My counterpart, Ba Charles, is a conservation farmer in my area and is also the only Zambian I have met that is always on time, so of course I wanted to bring him to training with me! I loved seeing how motivated Ba Charles became about new project ideas and it made me excited to get back to the village to start working with him! One night a bunch of the volunteers decided to take our counterparts out to Indian food for a change. This was a very interesting experience. My counterpart did not know what anything was and was searching for nshima on the menu. I leant my advice and ordered him a chicken dish, and thankfully he enjoyed it!

The rest of IST was spent learning about topics that we showed interest in. We had sessions on solar drying food, mushroom growing, beekeeping, citrus tree propagation, animal husbandry, chicken rearing and many other topics. Other volunteers in our intake led some of these sessions and I really took the most out of those sessions because they were explained in a way that we could use it in our villages. And when we were not in sessions we were taking advantage of all the food choices in Lusaka and eating out almost every night. Some of the food that I ate included Chinese, Indian, Pizza, Thai and diner food…so much for the diet! Even though I was not eating very healthy we also spent many nights dancing to ZamPop!

After about a week of IST I had to say goodbye to some of my intake that was not heading to vacation. Even though Zambia is only the size of Texas, traveling is difficult so I will probably not see many of these people again until we all meet for training halfway through our service. So I was kind of upset about saying goodbye to some people, but most of us were going down to Livingstone together so I was still really excited!

Like I said traveling in Zambia can be difficult, so the group of us that were going down to Livingstone by hitching (most people were taking a coach bus) decided to create a game of it, The Great Amazing Hitch. The goal was to get the least amount of points, and there were many ways to get and subtract points. My partner was Lauren and even though we made it down in the lease amount of time, we did not have many points deducted because we are girls and had two really awesome hitches.

So after almost 7 hours we were finally on vacation in Livingstone! We stayed at Jolly Boys Backpackers, which is a hostel but has private rooms and I would recommend to anyone! They are really clean and friendly and the best part is you can book almost any of the excursions that Livingstone has through them. The first night 12 of us decided to book a half-day of rafting and sunset cruise for the next day! The next morning the rafting company picked us up and we headed to an adventure packed day!

I have been rafting before while I was in New Zealand, but that did not prepare me at all for the Zambezi! The river I rafted in NZ was only a class 3…this was a class 5 which is not even legal in the US. We first had to walk down into the gorge and from there you could see just a little bit of Victoria Falls, as well as the first rapid. In my boat I had Caleb, Ijeoma, Fiona, Sophia and Karen from Australia. Our guide was Enock, and even though he has been out on the Zambezi for 7 years it still didn’t help the knot in my stomach! We headed out and practiced a little bit before heading out into the first rapid, the Boiling Pot. Before all of this our guide asked us what level of extreme we wanted to do and we decided to be the most extreme we could!  I was confident for awhile but then the boat tipped and we all fell out. I have to say that was the scariest moment of my life. I knew right away that this was different than New Zealand because I was under the rapids for what felt like 5 min, but probably more like 1 min, but the whole time I was scared out of my mind! Finally I surfaced and another raft picked me up and I guess I looked how I felt because they kept asking if I was all right. After we found out we were the only raft to flip on that rapid. I did make it back to my boat and right away the next rapid was coming up, which the Zambezi is known for, the rapids right after each other. We didn’t flip again until the 3rd rapid, and this time I was under the upside down raft so dipped out and held on until our guide flipped it back over and pulled us in. Again we were the only rapid to flip on that one. The next couple were intense but we held on and didn’t flip again, and on one of the rapids we were able to get out and float down just with our life jackets was a lot of fun! When we got to 6th rapid we had to get out and walk around because it was a class 6 and only professionals can raft down, which some of our guides did. After that we had the hardest rapids of the day. The 7th rapid is the longest and luckily we didn’t flip, but then we came to the 8th rapid. We had 3 ways we could go down, and of course we picked the hardest. Of course we ended up flipping and it felt like hitting a brick wall. Again we were all sucked under and when we came up and turns out even our guide lost our raft so we all held on to each other and floated down the rest of the rapids. At the end of the 8th rapid Caleb and I were separated from the rest of the group and we just looked at each other and you could tell we were both thinking, “We survived!” After the 8th rapid we only had 2 more and we didn’t flip but Caleb fell out on the last rapid, rapid number 10. After we were finished we had to walk out of the gorge, which was harder than the rafting itself! It is almost a vertical climb on a wooden ladder, while you are carrying your helmet, oar and life jacket. At the end of everything I ended up with a twisted ankle, swollen nose, ripped back nail and tons of bruises, but I would completely recommend it to anyone who likes an adventure!!


The company brought us back to their headquarters and feed us lunch, showed us the pictures and gave us time to get ready for the sunset cruise. While we were waiting I was looking in the distance and noticed something moving across the river, and we realized it was a pack of elephants crossing the river! First time seeing elephants in the wild! Finally we headed out on the sunset cruise on the Zambezi! It was a great time relaxing after the rafting and seeing tons of hippos!

The next day Stephen, Steve, Britain and I headed out to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls! Because it is not the raining season there is not a great deal of water flowing over the falls, but it was still amazing and it gives me another chance to go back when there is more water!  We spent a couple hours hiking around and then headed to the little market they have there. Just a note of warning, do not pay the first price they give you! All the stands thought we were tourists until I started bargaining in Bemba and I was finally able to get a good price, they called it the “Mkushi price”, for a couple bowls I wanted. After Victoria Falls we went to eat some delicious Mexican food and enjoy cold margaritas, it is definitely hotter in Southern! That night was my last night in Livingstone, so we all went out to Olgas, a Italian restaurant! SO GOOD! I had the pumpkin ravioli and it was delicious!

After two crazy days in Livingstone, Stephen and I headed up to Choma to go to his site. I was excited to see a site in Southern province, but hitching out of Livingstone is hard because everyone thinks you are a tourist. We finally decided to take a minibus to Choma…which was a bad idea. After over 2 hours of sweating and being squeezed into a minibus we reached Choma. I started not feeling well so we decided to stay at the Peace Corps house in Choma that night and head to Stephen’s site in the morning. I am very glad we stayed that night at the house because I ended up with the flu. I was up all night very, very sick so sadly I was not able to go to Stephen’s site, but just another reason to visit Southern again. I was at the house for a couple days until Steve and Trish from Central came through and I decided to head back with them.

It took two more days of hitching to get back to my site, but it was worth it! I had an amazing time at IST and on vacation in Livingstone! Seeing my intake, who are like my family here in Zambia, and hearing what everyone is up to really re-motivated me to start working on tons of projects on my village…which will have to wait until the next blog post!

Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | August 1, 2012

City girl turned farmer

Well I have now lived in the village for 3 months and am out of community entry! That means I can start projects and travel out of Mkushi district! Even though I have already started some projects I am excited to feel like I am a real PC volunteer! Also, I can now go and visit my friends in other districts and provinces!

Anyway, I have been hard at work the past three weeks getting my field ready for planting. In my village I am trying to promote conservation farming and with this type of farming it is recommended to do your land prep early before rainy season. As LIFE volunteers we promote this type of farming through 3 main principles: minimum tillage, crop rotation and retention of crop residue, so the type of land prep we do is very important for these 3 principles. There are 2 types of land prep; ripping and basin digging. Ripping is done with animals and since I do not own a plow or cows I decided to dig basins!

I first started off by marking off an area of 10ft around my field where I will not grow anything to act as a firebreak. This is important because burning is very popular in the village to clear the field, so to protect your field you make a fire break. And I also left a space to make a garden when the rains come so I can have veggies more often! Afterwards I started to mark off where my basins were going to be, and this is done with something called a terrene rope. On the terrene rope there are makers every 70cm to mark where the basins will be, and this is enough space between the plants for adequate root growth. Once the line is marked off the crop residue is pushed in between the lines. This crop residue helps with soil erosion and if you have a termite problem (which I do) it is food for the termites, so they don’t eat your seeds once planted. After I marked off the lines and organized the crop residue I began to dig with a special hoe called a chakahoe, which is designed for conservation farming. This hoe is made 15cm wide (the width of a basin) and is sharper than a regular hoe to break the hardpan.  My first day of digging I was only able to dig 12 basins before I had 5 blisters on my hands!

I spent the next 9 days getting up in the morning and digging basins before it was too hot. Every day I became faster and faster and became better at making basins. I also started wearing gloves to help with the blisters, but I still had blisters the whole time. The motion of lifting a 25lb hoe over your head over and over gave me some nice back, leg and arm muscles. But I also had trouble getting out of bed everyday because I was so sore, so I now know the importance of stretching!

Now with my basins dug I will just have to keep the crop residue in place, because my chickens like to come and ruin it. But the next step with be in September when I will start to add lime to help with the termites, and then planting after the first rains in October/November! I will probably try to plant maize and soya, and then plant velvet bean and sun hemp. The maize and soya will be because those are two main staple crops here in Zambia and then velvet bean and sun hemp for improved fallow. The improved fallow is to help with the soil quality because maize has been the only crop grown on my field before me.

While doing land prep I help a land prep workshop for my women’s group to show them how to do it, and I think we will be doing it in their group’s field for the next season! I also had a lot of people stop and ask what I was doing, so it was good to have the villagers see that I was doing a different type of farming than what they are used to.

Well that is kind of an in depth look at land prep for conservation farming, just one aspect of what I do in the village. This picture is of my finished field! You can see the lines of crop residue but sorry no close up of a basin. Image

This month I will be heading down to Lusaka to meet with my intake again to have a week and a half of training. Afterwards I will be headed down to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls, and white water raft on the Zambezi!

Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | July 4, 2012

nshima, mini-buses, and hitches!

I have decided to dedicate this blog entry to two of the things I struggle with most here in Zambia…food and transportation.

            The first challenge is the food here in Zambia. The main staple in the Zambian diet is something called nshima (ubwali in Bemba), which is a cooked corn meal served in lumps. They eat nshima with a relish which can be anything from stewed veggies, chicken, dried fish or caterpillars. And this is all eaten with your hands, and there is a proper nshima eating technique that you must learn or Zambians will laugh at you. Nshima and relish is eaten for both lunch and dinner, and then porridge (a less cooked version of nshima) for breakfast. When I first came to country I had trouble with eating so much nshima, especially when you start suffering from the “nshima plug”, not going to go into more details on that one. Another thing about the Zambian diet is it consists mostly of nshima, saldi (oil), sugar and salt. Using a lot of oil to cook with and then covering it with either salt or sugar definitely takes some getting used to. However, being in Zambia for now 5 months I can now say I can eat about 2 lumps of nshima and am slowly getting used to the oil, which I do not consider that a good thing.

            Besides getting used to the Zambian diet I am also struggling with cooking for myself in the village. I thought I was a lazy cook in college, but here it takes a lot more work and is something I do not really enjoy. In order to cook in the village I have to light a brazier, make sure it is the right temperature (hot and very hot are the only two temperatures), and then cook one thing at a time. This is a very long process, which means I am slowly becoming a master at one-pot wonders! Another problem is the availability of vegetables and fruit. I can find tomatoes, onions and potatoes but anything else either does not keep or I cannot find it. This lack of variety has left me a very carb heavy diet, mostly consisting of potatoes, rice, beans and bread. My villagers have also been giving me a hard time about not eating nshima enough; I was resisting cooking nshima for myself. So, I started cooking nshima to make my villagers happy, but I have started adding different spices to make it have some sort of taste.

            To combat this carb heavy diet I have started to make myself exercise in the village. I do get exercise every day by getting my own water and doing other chores but I was still gaining weight, so I started running, taking long walks, and going for long bike rides. Which has actually been really beneficial for getting to know my community and district better. Every time I go out exercising I try to take a new way so that I will learn my way around the community and see different people. However, not a lot of Zambians actually exercise because their days include enough manual labor, so when I exercise I get a lot of weird looks and questions about what I am doing. And this traveling around my community and district leads to my next greatest struggle…transportation here in Zambia.

            Traveling around here in Zambia is a process that takes a lot of patience and staying on your toes! Getting around your community or surrounding area is usually done by either walking or biking. If you are alone and the way is not too sandy, biking is the best bet, but since most Zambians do not have a bicycle whenever you are with a Zambian you will be walking. My villagers did not think I would be able to walk very far at first but they were surprised when I walked about 14km with them one day, what I didn’t tell them is that night it was hard even walking around my hut because my feet hurt! But getting around the village or the surrounding area is the easy part of Zambian travel. Going to the local town or outside of your district is where the patience and staying on your toes comes in. Here is Zambia there are these things called mini-buses. Mini-buses are blue and white vans (a little smaller than 15 person vans) that drive all over the country and stop whenever they see someone at the side of the road. This would not be too bad if they did not try and fit as many people and luggage as possible in the van, and if they did not stop at every single person on the side of the road. I would also recommend always having something on your lap because if you don’t a random child or piece of luggage will end up on your lap to create room. Also, the mini-bus drivers will always try to charge you more, so you need to make sure you know the Zambian price for traveling to where you want to go. However, this is the best way to travel if you want to get somewhere at a certain time because the mini-buses come about every 15 to 30 minutes.

            The other way to get far distances is to hitch. This is sometimes a process that takes a lot of patience because you could be waiting only a half hour for a ride but sometimes 5 hours for a ride. This is something that takes some practice as well, because once you know what cars to look out for you become very picky and each volunteer usually goes for something different. For example I do not like riding in semi trucks (I did it once) but I have a friend that she does it almost every time she hitches. If I am in a group of people I usually try to get a truck or canter, because then we can throw all our stuff in the back and sometimes we get in the back too. But when I am by myself I try to get nicer cars. Hitching is also the cheaper way to go, because most hitches will give you a ride for free unless you have a lot of stuff. But because of the pickiness and sometimes the amount of traffic this can be a very, very long process. The other problem is someone is going only part of the way you are going, so it takes more than one ride to get to your destination. The other day I had to take 4 different hitches to get only 3 hours away!

            Well that is a little about two of my biggest struggles here in Zambia. Even though they are struggles I still enjoy the challenge, and am slowly getting used to it! 

Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | June 15, 2012

One month in the village

Well it is official..I have survived more than one month in the village!! It flew by and was extremely challenging at times but I loved it! I was posted on May 4, and as I watched the cruiser pull away I thought, “Wow, this is really it!”


For the first couple of days I worked on putting my house together, catching up on sleep, and just getting used to village life. It was a welcome change being able to get my own water, cook all my meals, clean all my dishes, and whatever other chores I do. Also, the villagers started to notice that I was in the village, and many stopped by to say hello and ask why I was there.


On Tuesday I had my first meeting with the Tamweni women’s group, and decided to bake on the brazier for the first time! Baking was a disaster and I ended up making no bake cookies, which they loved (one even asked if they could lick the pot!). At the meeting I explained what my role is in the village and asked them what they would like me to teach them and the first thing they wanted was baking! They also want to learn sewing, gardening, beekeeping, and conservation farming. Basically they would like to do things to make extra money.


The rest of the first couple weeks I attended a lot of meetings explaining why I was in the community and found out what the people would like me to focus on in Chankomo. Another group I will be working with is the Chankomo farmers’ co-operative, and we will be building a garden so they can sell the vegetables.


I also had a meeting with the head teacher, Medina, at the Chankomo basic school and we talked about all the projects I could do with the school. We talked about help with their garden, starting a tree nursery to plant fruit trees, and starting either a girls’ club or environmental club. The head teacher as well is really interested in conservation farming, so I will be working with her as well.


One of my favorite things I have been doing since my first week in the village is helping to harvest the crops! We started with groundnuts, then soya and we are finally on maize. A typical day of harvesting starts at 7am, and I usually go with some of the women and we work until about noon. Groundnuts are very easy to harvest, because the plant is already dug up and you just have to take off the nuts. Soya is a lot harder! I recommend gum boots for this because soya is grown in tall grass, so you have to push that down to find the soya, and it is hard to find the stalks so you have to search the grass. After soya I usually ended up with arms full of scratches, and hair full of grass and seeds. I was glad when soya was finished and we moved onto maize, which is just difficult because of the weeds to wade through. I have found that harvesting is a great way to get to know a lot of them women, and really gives you “street cred” in the village, also it is awesome listening to the women sing while they harvest!


Besides all the projects I have also started going door to door in my community so that I can get to know the villagers personally, and really explain why I am in their community, which is to teach them about agriculture! This has been great to learn everyone’s name and find out what they would like to learn from me. This is not an easy process, and probably will not finish for many, many months.


Other than the projects I have been working on I have also gone on a couple trips in my district. The first was a week after I was posted I went to my nearest LIFE neighbor, Andrea, to see her do a women’s group workshop.


The next trip I took was to the Agricultural Block show at the chief’s, Chitina, palace. The palace is about 15km away from me, so Andrea and I started off on our bikes around 9am and met up with another LIFEr, Steve. We got to the show around 10:30am, and met up with our groups from our villages, I had my women’s group and co-operative there with booths. For my women’s group I actually taught them how to make pumpkin fritters, so they brought those to show. The show was an interesting experience. It was interesting seeing what other groups from different villages are doing, but then the chief came and they put on a show. We were trying to blend in but because we were the only white people there the chief insisted that we sit under the tent with him, which was very awkward. Anyway, we left around 4pm and biked another 10km to Steve’s site for the night. The next day Andrea and I biked back, and back in my village I found out that my women’s group won third place for their pumpkin fritters!


A couple weeks later I headed to town, Mkushi, for the Mkushi Agricultural show. This is a big gathering of farmers and groups from the Mkushi district showing what they are doing, basically a bigger version of the block show. Mkushi is where most of the commercial farmers are located so the show is one of the biggest, with seed companies and equipment companies also coming to show their products. At the show I met a lot of people, and talked to a lot of seed companies. The best part though was being able to spend 3 days with my friends, Andrea, Neal, Steve, Lindsey, Trish and Sam. We stayed at ATB lodge, which is becoming one of my favorite places in Zambia.


My final trip was to Serenje for Central Province provincial meetings. This is just a couple days of meetings with all the volunteers in the province. There are about 30 of us in one house, with one shower and 15 beds, but it is still a great time seeing everyone and being able to do American things for a couple of days. The best part about this get together is the big dinners that we cook here. The biggest dinner we cooked was a roasted pig! Some of the boys found a pig (alive) on Thursday, brought it back, and started digging the hole and fire to roast it. After they slaughtered it, they put it in a blanket and buried it to cook it for 24 hours. On Friday after our meetings we started cooking everything else. I made the mistake of saying my grandma made the best potato salad, so I was in charge of making potato salad in a big laundry tub! We also made coleslaw, baked beans, different BBQ sauces, brownies and two types of cake. When that was all done it was time to dig up the pig. No one knew if it was going to be done or not, but as soon as we got it out and opened the blanket we knew because the meat was just falling off the bone. Instantly we dug in pulling out the meat, and sticking half on the plate and half in our mouths! I was convinced into eating one of the eyes, and some of the brains and it was not that bad! We invited some of the Zambians who we work with to our feast, and had an ugly sweater theme. The food was absolutely amazing, and the Zambians even went back for seconds (which is rare when you cook them American food), and I also am very glad that I decided to not be a vegetarian here in Zambia!


So that is my first month and a half in the village! As you can tell it has been a very, very busy one, but I have made some amazing relationship and I am enjoying it very much and know I am in the right place! Sorry I did not include any pictures, but I am going to put some up on facebook! My next entry probably will not be until August, when I have a stable internet connection again!

Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | April 21, 2012

First three months in Zambia!

I have now been in Zambia for almost 3 months and in less than a week I will be swearing in and becoming an official Peace Corps volunteer! So much has happened since I have left I don’t even know where to begin, but I guess I should start at the beginning. I first want to apologize for all the spelling and grammar errors, but this is all being written very fast, because I only have a limited time on the internet.


My adventure begins at O’Hare airport, where I had to say three very hard goodbyes, but afterward I was on a plane to Washington D.C. At the airport I also met Lauren, who is also from the Chicago area, and we were able to sit next to each other on the plane, which helped getting excited for what is to come. Once, in D.C. we headed to staging the rest of the day. This is basically one long meeting about what to expect and meeting everyone in our intake, and was interesting except for the fact I was running on 2 hours of sleep. That night we all went out to dinner and I was able to meet up with my friend from Mizzou, Julia, who now lives in D.C.


The next day was a whirlwind as we all packed onto a bus to the airport. Soon we were on our way to Johannesburg! 17 hours later, after lots of movies and countless hours of sleep we were landing in South Africa.  Only a little while later we were on our 2 hours plane ride to Lusaka, Zambia!


We arrived at night so could not really see anything, except where we were staying, The Barn Motel. The next couple days were filled with meetings, lots of paperwork, and battling jetlag. But at the same time we were all running on pure excitement from finally being in Zambia!


The Sunday after arriving we all split into groups to go to first site visit.  I was in a group with Jordan and Sophie, and we went to Eastern province to stay with Heather and Merkle. First site visit is to show the trainees what it is really like to be a volunteer in a village, and I think our group was extremely lucky to go to Chipata district to visit Heather! She showed us around her community, introduced us to so many different people, and showed us some of the projects she was working on. At first I was so nervous…especially using the long drop toilet and taking a bucket bath for the first time! After the first day though my excitement level skyrocketed and I really knew I was in the right place!


After our return we headed back to the Barn Motel for a night, and then the next day moved to Chipembi where we have been living for the past couple months. Chipembi is about 90km from the Lusaka on a very bumpy dirt road, which is not good for someone who gets extremely carsick! That night we found out our languages, and I found out Bemba would my language for the next 2 years! We also headed to our host families! I was the first to be dropped in my cruiser, and from what I have been told I had the “child being dropped at college for the first time” look! My host family was very welcoming, and right away I learned learning the language will be crucial in communicating with people for the next two years. That night I also ate one of my first completely Zambian meals…nshima and rape (a green).


The next day pre-service training (PST) started and would be my life for the next two months. A typical day of a  Peace Corps trainee (PCT) consists of about four hours of language in the morning, eating lunch at your home stay, biking to the training center, having technical classes in the afternoon, biking home, taking your bucket bath, eating dinner with your host family, and in bed by 8:30-9. This schedule changes sometimes, but for the most part this was my daily life, with a trip to Lusaka every three weeks. Training is not the easiest thing in the world, you have your bad days and you have your good days. One of the things that I have had trouble with is how exhausted I am. My home stay is about an hour away on extremely rough roads, and biking in the middle of the day in extremely hot weather not only makes your very sweaty but very tired as well. Another thing I have been struggling with is being in a fish bowl 24/7. The Zambian people see everything you do, and sometimes it is hard to find some privacy.


Other than those problems, I have really enjoyed training! The trainers for language and technical are so knowledgeable and patient with us! I will definitely be calling them if I have any questions in my village. I have also met some amazing people in my intake. We spend so much time together, we have become one big family! It has also been extremely helpful to live with a Zambian family. At first we had some awkward moments, but now we are very close and I will be sad to say goodbye to them.


About a month ago came a huge moment in PST….site announcements! I found out I will be living in Central province, Mkushi district, and in Chankomo village! After this announcement we split into groups based on our provinces, and went on second site visit. My group, Trish, Lindsey and Steve, went to stay with Neal, Andrea and Bosco visited as well. This time we already had an idea of what it was like to be a volunteer in the village, so we focused more on projects they were working on and just relaxing. We spent about 4 days there, and then biked 7km down to the tarmac and hitched to Mkushi. I was really scared about my first hitching experience, but being in Central we are very lucky to be in the commercial farming block of Zambia, so we rode with a South African farmer. There wasn’t enough room in the cab for all six of us, so Steve and I rode in the back, which was exhilarating, even when it started raining! That night our group, plus the other Central group, and some volunteers stayed at the ATB lodge. That was nice to have a hot shower, and a great meal!


The next morning we all headed out to our specific villages! This was another moment where I felt I was being dropped off at college for the first time. This time I was the second to be dropped off, and my village of Chankomo is only 1km off the tarmac. It was great getting to see my house for the next two years, and the surrounding area. That night I walked around and met some of my neighbors, and ate dinner Malcolm and Lilly-May…who I think I will spending a lot of time with them. After dinner we watched a movie…yes they have electricity and running water! One of the families that night had me spend the night at their place because I have no furniture in my hut. The next couple days I spent meeting people around and exploring my surroundings. On that short visit I decided that I love my village so far and cannot wait to move there and start work!


The past couple weeks have been spent wrapping up training through language and technical tests. On the 25th we will be having a culture day with our host families where we will be cooking them American food, and dancing. That night we will be moving back to Lusaka to prepare for swearing-in on the 27th!


Overall, the last couple months in Zambia have been an experience that has changed me and taught me so much. I have learned to have patience because everyone here runs on African time, and sometimes you just have to relax and go with it. I cannot wait to take everything I knew from the US and what I have learned in PST and take it to my village! I promise to post more pictures and post of my blog once I have more access to internet.

Posted by: Oh the places you'll go in Zambia | February 2, 2012

7 days and counting…

7 days until I get on a plane in Washington D.C. to Africa! I am very excited but at the same time keep thinking about the millions of things left to get, and pack and the people to say good-bye to! Just have to keep focused because before I know it I will be stepping off the plane in Lusaka, Zambia!