writes from Africa
GREETINGS FROM AFRICA! Here is an update of my adventures since leaving in July. I am currently residing in Zambia’s Central Province in the Kipiri district in a village called Chipaluka. I am a rural aquaculture promotion extension agent through Peace Corps, which means I assist the village in building and maintaining fish farms.
For the first ten weeks I received training in the basics of Zambian culture, fish farming, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and a local language of Bemba. In October I moved out to my village and will be spending the next two years living and educating its inhabitants in all aspects I mentioned above.
The building I live in is made of sun dried mud bricks with a grass roof. The kitchen is outside in an insakas or a thatched covered gazebo. Showers or bathing shelters are made from grass walls simply designed to give privacy. The toilets are holes in the ground, usually about twenty meters from the house. Sometimes there may be mud bricks or grass around it to give privacy.
I travel by foot or bike sometimes forty km a day. The main food staple is nsima. This is maize that has been finely grounded into a powder which is then added to water to make a play dough texture. This is eaten with every meal. The relish or the food eaten with the nsima usually is one type of vegetable, generally what is available from the garden, basically fried. Protein is very scarce. Many families are vegetarian not by choice but because there is no money for meat or no access to it. The fish farms will provide a source of protein to the village. Since I have moved here, I have only eaten meat on a couple of occasions and that was only for big celebrations.
I have seen such a variety of bugs that I am unable to count them all, but mostly different species of ants and beetles. I have even seen a five inch long centipede. I have eaten sun dried caterpillars. They’re actually really tasty and an excellent source of protein.
My community is mostly rural farmers who grow maize. Close to eighty percent live on the equivalent of two dollars a day or less. They are remarkable and resourceful. There is no such thing as trash, everything is reusable.
The rainy season is about two weeks late which means the water source for me and many of my villagers has dried up. I only have to travel about one kilometer to get my water but some people in my village are now traveling anywhere from five to ten kilometers to get water, which they carry by hand. The water is not safe to drink, so I use a special filter. Due to the fact that many in the village suffer from health problems because of unsanitary water, this will be one of my future projects. I also hope to be starting workshops on HIV/AIDS, malaria, nutrition and conservation farming and gardening soon.
A common question I have been receiving is about the wildlife. Most of the big game animals have been placed on game reserves. I have seen wild monkeys, a variety of bugs and a couple snakes. I have killed a black mamba in my toilet. These snakes are quite common along with puff adders. The scariest animals I have dealt with are scorpion spiders and yes they are as scary as the name suggests.
Other then adjusting to my new home and surrounding, I have begun working on digging a pond. I have met lots of people from different nationalities and heard a variety of stories. My experience thus far has been very moving.
Part of my responsibility for this experience is educating people back home of the rich culture and incredible people in this area of Zambia. I will be sending updates though out my two years to the paper, but if you have a specific question you would like to ask, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write me a letter.
Tokamanana shilenapo, which is Bemba for "till next time we see each other" "go well".
Jerry Riener PCV