Friday, May 30, 2008

The end nears

May is finally coming to an end and I am still struggling with the fact that it is 2008 already. Time is flying by – the rainy season has come and gone – I have travelled once again to Zanzibar and experienced the musical fusion of Sauti Za Busara – I finally got to show some visitors around as Kev, Jason, and Sally experienced a bit of Africa - I said goodbye to my neighbors and friends and moved myself out of my home leaving it open and welcoming to my amazing Peace Corps replacement – life has been beyond busy with the array of programming being organized at PARVEN Foundation – and I now find myself a Province away helping to administer a food security survey in Northern Province.

I am trying to wind down my stay here…tie up loose ends…and prep myself for the sad departure which is fast approaching. It really is amazing to think about the days when I was just packing to come here…the anticipation…dread…hopes (a crazy array of emotions) – and literally all those same emotions are back again…readjusting to life at home will probably be just as difficult as finding my feet here…

Ahh…the sounds of a choir practicing floats into the room…as the curtains blow in the ‘cold’ season’s breeze. That it just one of many things I will miss when leaving this place…the singing is beautiful – a melody of differing octaves – not the same ‘perfect’ voices we require for singing in America. Here, the imperfections, the off tunes, the variation is what makes the music so rich and full of life.

What else have I been up too?... Ive been sewing quite a bit both on the old manual foot powered machines and on an ancient electric beauty. The women I work with are impressed that a white girl can sew her own clothes, and without a pattern (it makes me smile). I got to do a community service activity with some kids I work with which involved repeatedly picking up and dropping a cement filled paint can (we were filling pot holes with minimal 'means') - that was fun! hmm...ill have to get back to you with more...times running low...

I have figured out that I will be done here mid August and will be taking a freighter home...probably from Amsterdam into Cleaveland!

Shaleni Bwino

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Close to 2007

The holiday season has once again run its course and the often heard words of 'give me Christmas' are thankfully behind me. Im really having trouble believing that 2007 is over, that I have experienced my last mango season, that I will be leaving my village in just over one month, and that I will be coming home this year! The end is in site ~ leaving me with mixed emotions and the growing anxiety about what's to come.

Workwise the past two mounths have slowed a bit ~ mostly due to the rains drawing peoples interest and time to their fields....and partially resulting from the exhaustion that hit after four months of crazy hecticness. THe holidays have all been nice...and spent near home. Thanksgivng was a feast of around 30 with an actual turkey this year and mimosas to pull us through a long day of cooking.

The cookie party was once again lacking the # of people found at the NH event though delicious and fun none the less. We even had representatives from the Lusaka office and the embassy partaking in the mouth stuffing messy chaos. THe house was partially decorated with leftover stockings adorning a mantle of an unusable fireplace. The sweet scent of ginger, peanut butter, and the always enticing sugar/butter/vanilla mixture floated in and out combining with the spicey smells of the mexican feast that was prepared for dinner. The sounds of Chrismas music and a day spent with good friends made the holiday season seem real and finally upon us.

Christmas was spent in a village in Mwense at my friend Katie's site. Six of us spent the holiday cooking, eating, sleeping and not much else. I did finally make it to a church service - midnight mass to be exact - and though I consider myself athiest and could understand lttle of the bemba sermon I found the whole experience to be quite beautiful. Six young girls dressed in matching citenges and headwraps were dancing in the aisle ~ six alter boys dressed in robes of varying bright colors were swaying in the front of the church ~ the whole church was filled mostly with women and children and would burst into song every few minutes it seemed. Flowers were freshly cut and hanging from the rafters and tacked to the mud brick walls ~ candles illuminated the church in a warm yellow glow (making me reminisce of my days in front of the heat of a glowing fire back home surrounded by the warmth of Christmas music my sister always insisted on playing). The beauty of the experience almost brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of why I love Zambia and will truly miss it.


Its strange how one minute Im ready to pack my bags and be done here and with the next blink of an eye I find myself in complete awe, fully content, and wanting to remain. I returned to my house today (New Years day) after spending the holiday in town with an American missionary family whos has become my family - a home away from home. We rung in the New Ywar sipping on shandy and sparkling wine ~ had our own countdown (seeing as we couldn't find any countdowns to join in with on tv at our ring in time) ~ snacked on chips, nuts, cookies and delicious dark chocolate (courtesy of Gradma Connie - a volunteer at the orphanage the Morrow Family has started). The kids (Tom included!) were enthralled in the act of lighting fire crackers - putting the dog in a full chasing frenzy. Part of the family attempted to remain awake till the following morning when, at 7 am, we would be able to watch the ball drop in NY and see the site of 1,000,000 people layered up and braving the hecticness that is NY City. With coffee and just walking 5 month olds in hand we counted down (somewhat groggily) once again. Needless to say it is times like these ~ times when I know the family and friends are gathering - laughing - keeping up tradition - that I yearn to be home....and yet Im now back at my hut and just went outside to bring everthing in for the night when I was struck, almost dumbfounded, by the sky ~ overflowing with millions of twinkling stars... the clarity seemed aweing even for the typical Zambian sky ~ Orion, the bull, and the seven sisters (the only constellations I can really identify) were hard to see only because they were literally swimming within a sea of other equally as bright and beautiful stars. It was another beautiful and magnificent momment that left me feeling like I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.


I welcomed a new member into my home recently...hes a 3 month old orange and white kitten who allready struts his stuff around the house like he owns the place. Hes adorable, is constantly filling the room with the sound of purring, and gets much enjoyment out of attacking my feet (especially in the morning when I have just woken up and am stepping out of bed - not my most tolerent times of day as those of you who have tried to communicate with me at that time surely know!) Hes very attention hungry and is not only always searching for a way onto my lap but has also tried to make friends with the local kids who ussualy run away or let out a little giggling scream if he gets to close (they are not too used to showing affection to pets). and though I still claim to be solely a dog person I have come to love the annoying, poops under my bed, little guy...which is where the problem started...I returned home from the aformentioned cooking party in Mansa to find Morris missing...the house filled with an eerie neighbors keep telling me he was probably snatched up by an owl or hawk as he ventured outside to hunt one night...hope that he will return is slowly dwindling as the days go on. Its crazy how magnified the feeling of onliness is when it is just following a time of company, friends. Ive lived here alone since Manlonda (my dog) passed and have been fine with it... but now that Ive had a month where I was greeted with excitement upon my every return, where I was always the center of attention with him vieing for my love, where I was needed ~ its lonely~ its sad to come home to an empty remember how he used to chase my chickens around, to eat my meals without him gazing up at me expectently. Such is life though...the birds have to eat as well..I don't think that I will be attempting to have any more pets while Im here...I couldn't really take losing another.

(I spoke too soon - just a week later I came home to find my 2 Chickens and all their eggs gone ...feathers covering the mess that was once an orderly poultry house...a village dog has been terrorizing many peoples chickens...yet another confirmation that me and anything living don't mix...oh well..the fresh eggs were nice while they lasted)


Elly's Update - Heres a quick update just for you...

- Bundas erupted in more frequent drinking...almost to the point of excess ( Im sure you know who Im talking about). There have even been tears of frustration from poor Irene... who is once again pregnant. Im not sure how to help the situation.

- Measles broke out in Kazembe around Thanksgiving. A poor orphan passed away and all the Morrow kids were sick for quite some time.

- Steven started an educational program where hes inviting youth to come live and work with him in exchange for knowledge on sustainable ag and fish farming...there are 4 kids there now.

- Mr. Banda passed away suddenly having something to do with his heart. Unfortunately right now people are starting to blame Kennedy for his death (mostly because hes related to my family here and a not so smart comment by my neighbors son)...hopefully no bad will come to kennedy.

- Two people were shot by the Congolese on the river during fish ban (I don't think that I will be taking the inflateable out anytime soon).

- There was another CR bus accident near Mwense this time. (I think that I will continue on with your boycott) and a car jacking by gunpoint near Lufubu...crazy huh.

- I think that everything else is normal, Im moving soon...Jane is great - your site is in good hands- oh and the cat is now gone...sad but a relief when I stay there. Miss you and will see you in the near future.


Happy New Years Everyone!!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The oppressive heat of October has intermittently been relieved by the coolness of early rains. The birds have returned in anticipation of the termite’s flight and the browned world is once again highlighted by vibrant sprouts of green. People are busy preparing their fields, harvesting the last unburned elephant grass, and thatching their houses. Grade 7 and 9 students are studying hard as they will soon sit down to take their exams ~ a determining factor in whether or not they will be able to continue their education. Zambia will celebrate their independence this week - October 24th - without the excessive booms of fireworks, and the gathering of families at barbeques and daytime picnics. Instead most will continue on their daily path of chores and work that will sustain their families in the year to come…with the possible consumption of locally brewed Katata or kachasu.

With October has come the BizAIDS program to my community. I am traveling for three weeks with one facilitator and two HIV counselors throughout the Luapula Valley as we teach basic business skills and HIV education. The counselors are providing mobile testing services at every stop not only for those attending the program yet they also wander though the communities to sensitize those who are not in attendance…One step towards ending the stigma around HIV testing. Its always so rewarding to watch a friend take initiative, to build the courage, to become a leader, to know their status.

There is a wedding next week - joining a returned volunteer and a gentleman from Mansa. Many of us will travel to the Copperbelt to witness their union and view the traditions of a Zambian wedding. I have heard that there is a lot more dancing worked into the actual ceremony of marriage within Zambian tradition in comparison to our American services. We are then going to camp at a chimpanzee refuge - to view these intelligent animals that were probably once pets now orphaned, displaced from the Congo conflict, or possibly saved from laboratory operations. I’m preparing myself for a somewhat sad experience of cages and empty eyes as compared to the prior day of joyous dancing of the wedding.

Happy Halloween and Zambian Independence!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Well…the calm quietness (or utter boredom if you must) that used to be my life here seems to have disappeared – only to be replaced with overly busy, hectic, teenage filled stress – which I must say I quite enjoy. This week has brought the end of two week long student empowerment camps (one week for girl students and one for boys) in Koni Village, and one province wide Girls’ Career Week held here in Mansa. All three programs focused on topics ranging from HIV transmission and prevention, the benefits of Voluntary Counseling and Testing, gender awareness and the need for gender balance, decision making, effective communication, and other Life Skills. The career camp also included trips for the students to different workplaces and colleges, throughout the provincial capital, where there were successful working/educated women. These women, along with an array of facilitators, worked to inspire the students to stay healthy, finish their schooling, and encouraged them to be assertive and set goals for themselves. Overall I think that it went fairly well…of course we had the typical money/lack of sitting fees dilemma during all of the events (something that seems to come with the territory here n Zambia), and we had some small oversights such as forgetting that most of the students had never experienced bathroom facilities with plumbing and porcelain and spent some days incorrectly utilizing the facilities –oops.

I am now heading back home for only a week and a half…enough time to try to organize the community around the next event that will be starting in October – a BizAIDS program. This will bring a facilitator around to rural communities and talk about basic business skills such as determining profit and loss, figuring out price, marketing, and will include a lesson on HIV while bringing mobile VCT (HIV testing). This program will last for 4 weeks…I think two in October and two in November.

Liz and I are also starting to plan an Income Generating Activity workshop/basic business to have here in Mansa for the commercial sex workers of the PARVEN organization and for the AIDS orphans at Mapalo Orphanage. We have a planning meeting with the executive committees of those groups next week.

As life gets busier of course it is also becoming unbearably hot out…the dreaded month of October is fast approaching…yet luckily so are the rains! The crazy all purple trees are in bloom, mulberries are ripe, and the mangos are almost golf ball size (mmmmmmm) – Life is good!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

And the Wait Begins –
I have to say that my two weeks in America land proved to distract me from the true reality of ‘life’ – or that which is my life for these two years. I once again grew comfortable with the reliability of transport, the accessibility of food, music, anything and everything I could ever want or need, short cues at the bank (not to mention personal space in any cues), the smell and soothing beauty of the ocean... it was a nice refresher! Thanks to everyone who came to visit on such short kept me busy...too busy really. Now I have returned to a life busy in its own respects but also full of waiting. Waiting hours for meetings to start, pacing anxiously for key organizations to arrive in order to start programs (3 hours late in the case of the recent Mutomboko Ceremony Voluntary Counseling and Testing Mobilization!!!), or coming to grips with the anger when people decide not to show up at all - such is life here.

Elly and I were 'successful' at the VCT event - getting 29 people tested. Of the main leaders who had agreed to attend, only three of the local Counselors showed (and of those three, and the other community members, I am proud). The event included a dance and drama group from the provincial capital, VCT, speeches, and singing...Overall it was smaller than I had hoped... and we did have to wait the 3 hours for the dance group and the testing organization to arrive...but it was nice.

Since then my neighbor, Elly, has been pulled from the village (her two years is up) and I have met her replacement as well as all the other new volunteer soon to start their service. It is crazy that a year has passed allready...that so many old faces are leaving...and so many new ones coming in.

The student camps start this week...though I dont consider myself remotely religious...if you feel inclined to pray for me...i might need all the help i can get to make it through two weeks of crazy hectic teenage filled chaos - at least with my sanity still intact. I'll report back on how it goes!

Then there is a week to prepare for more students and chaos at the Girls Career Week....ahhh....I should be working now instead of talking. Love you all and miss you much!

Happy 21st R!!!! and Congrats Chrissey and Curt!!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

There and Back Again

Sitting on the shores of the atlantic for the first time in over a year…the wonderful smell of seaweed and salt in the cool breeze…of warm sand beneath my feet…my entire family (flown in from around the country) hiding in the bath house, awaiting the arrival of the birthday girl. I’m home! She quickly spots me first...knowing her own child from behind - though bewildered at how I am sitting here and not an ocean away in the sub Saharan. Words escape her as all she can muster is a subdued sob as we embrace. Turning to find Dad she then sees the family, filling the deck, saying ‘surprise’ and taking pictures. She had no idea any of this was coming and will need a few hours or days to recover…to fully comprehend. The afternoon is filled with stories, delicious food, ample beverages, and much catching up. The only downfall is that it was too short…impossible to reconnect with the whole family in one afternoon.

The Road Home
The trip home was long and arduous…not something I would be able to do everyday. All would have been lovely if the bus I was scheduled to take didn’t break down. Well I guess the fact that it broke down wasn’t all that surprising (a common occurrence in vehicles here)…the only problem was that we were waiting for the alternate vehicle that was called in as a replacement - a vehicle that never showed (also not very surprising)…but at this point it was 10am the day before my 8am flight home…and every other bus to the capital, Lusaka, had already departed. Great…time to hitch then…which sometimes works out better than the bus - on those occasions when you get picked up by a bwana ride - an uncrowded SUV where you get your own seat - or even have air conditioning…unfortunately this was not one of those times…especially seeing as I did not have the time to be picky about my transport. At first I thought I was lucky…when only after 1 hour a truck stopped and told me they were a straight shot to Lusaka! One hour in I knew that ‘Luck’ was not the right word. I was in the cab of this tractor trailer with around 10 other people and two kids…sitting scrunched behind the drivers seat, beside a women who decided to travel with a bag of kapenta (small dried fish) - a delicious smell in a stuffy BO filled cab. I was picked around 11:30am and should have arrived around 9:30pm to Lusaka…in normal situations… though this driver decided to maintain speeds less than 45mph on empty straight roads (which I guess was better than the normal ‘thinking you were going to die’ type of transport)…but left us getting into the capital at 3:30 am (a 16 hour painful ride in which I had to hold back tears - the only thing keeping me inside was knowing I would be going home)… in which I stiffly got out of the truck and cabbed it to the airport…where I tried to take a short nap though was freezing my ass off (it is the cold season) and was unable to stop shivering until the security dude let me go into their office where there was a little space heater. I never knew how enjoyable long plane rides could be before my time in Zambia…I don’t think I will ever complain about being served airplane food (which is pretty good)…being able to watch movies…and sitting in economy class (it was so nice to have a seat of my own)…not to mention the free wine incorporated with international flights! It also helped that I then sat business class (a first for me) from London to Boston…which made up slightly for the 16 hours of hell the prior day.

Home Sweet Home
My time home was fabulous…though two weeks was too short…and I now feel like I need another vacation. I ate enough delicious food to keep me content for the following year. Hung out with all of you close enough to visit (and some of you not so close - thanks Julie, Doug, and Jaime for traveling!)…saw some live music (MOE, Keller, and Ratdog)…walked my little sister to her class at Harvard Med (yes I’m a bit jealous that she is at grad school already! Congrats R)…spent ample time at the beach…won and lost at hearts with the folks (of course we were just going easy on Mom right Dad!)..hugged the puppies…went on a couple boats …nalelanda cibemba panono na Ba Gregg… and got to celebrate Chrissey and Kurt’s up and coming wedding by attending her bachlorette party! The week was too full...and too fun…and made saying goodbye once again a bit difficult. One year left though…I’m sure it will fly!

And Back Again
The travel back was a bit more comfortable than the trip there…though longer - if you can imagine. My red eye flight to London was fine…though I was unable to sleep and arrived in Heathrow at a lovely 05am. I then decided to spend the 14hr layover in the city and took the underground downtown…ate some breakfast…walked around in a somewhat tired haze…spent a few hours at the wax museum (which was crazy and creepy…how do they get them to look so realistic?)…and then saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Honestly it makes me feel a bit loopy to be home one day…at a palace in Europe the next…and in rural Africa the next…life is a bit crazy sometimes. My next flight was a bit longer…and again I had trouble sleeping…not sure why…though I was lucky to be sitting next to a Zambian woman who currently works in DC for Zambia Orphans of AIDS - an org. that helps to fund projects related to orphans…someone that I will be trying to stay in touch with. I then had to spend a day in Lusaka (the busses home only leave in the early morning…and my 06 arrival was too late to catch any of them. So I hung out at the office…tried to do some work…and organized what was left to get done on my project proposal for the student empowerment camps…and then hung out with some friends in town for training…only to get to the hostel at 11pm…sleep till3:30 am … catch a cab to the bus station…and arrive in Mansa by 2pm…needless to say I was dead to the world yesterday…and still feel like I am recovering today - again not a trip I would want to do frequently.
Work is already busy. I have a meeting with a sub chief and some local headmen/women on Saturday to go over the VCT program scheduled for Tuesday. I need to somehow organize an HIV sensitization lesson for the Kazembe police for Monday (or else I will have to teach it myself - which would be interesting). Tuesday we have the large VCT mobilization where leaders from our community will be publicly going for testing to try and end some of the stigma related to knowing your status. Unfortunately the Mwata (main chief) just backed down though supposedly his sub chiefs will all be attending…I’m not holding my breath for that to actually happen. Then I will be maybe coming back into Mansa for a day because Liz and I are trying to get the preparations for Girls Career Week rolling. Of course we had a planning meeting for this program a the end of June…and though 30 people were invited…and said they would come…only two showed up - it makes organizing a bit difficult…so unfortunately it looks as though we are going to have to do most of the work ourselves. Then the Mutomboko Ceremony is on the 28th and 29th. Leaving me two weeks before the Empowerment camps in which hopefully the teachers in my community are doing most of the preparations. Those will last for two weeks…and then there will be one week to finish preparations for the Girls Career Week…ahhh….how to do all this…I’m not stressing though….haha…what a joke…of course I am…but I do better with some stress in my life right!
Thanks again for everyone who came to visit me last week…it was fun…and made my trip home worth this additional craziness I will face the next two weeks as I try to make up the time! Happy early B-day again Mom…and thanks for your help as far as the Camps are concerned…the students and teachers will appreciate it. Talk to you all soon!

Smile…Stay Happy…No Worries

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another Successful Week

Our village counterparts are now departing, climbing onto over packed busses and clinging to the back of open pick ups. They are returning home from a weeklong training covering everything from HIV and AIDS, beekeeping, permaculture, motivating communities, to grant writing, basic business skills, and working with other NGOs and government officials. Overall the week was a success. All involved ended with positive remarks and the request for similar workshops next year with only the demand for sitting allowances negatively flowing through the air. The last day of VCT, in my opinion, made the week worth while. To see 11 of our counterparts and 4 of us PCVs confront the fears and anticipation of being tested for HIV… to sit with the bamaayos as we awaited the results and to congratulate them on their ability to now return to their village knowing their status, was an amazing and somewhat nerve racking experience. I am proud of them all and only hope that they will now work to influence their friends, neighbors, and relatives to do the same.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


11th May 15, 2007

Falling into place - that’s the phrase I would use to define my work. It only took 9 months for me to actually feel like progress was being made (or at least approached). Granted my efforts have shifted focus a bit from my feeble attempts at following in my predecessors footsteps with farming initiatives to my now broad organizing work around the vague themes of Life Skills, HIV and AIDS education, gender awareness and equity, the importance of education, and the struggle to end stigma and discrimination relating to VCT and knowing ones status. Plans in the works for the near future include:
~ Peer educator 4 day training for local youth in the villages surrounding Koni Basic School
~ Sensitization lessons for teachers, PTA executive commity, and parents
~ Lessons and discussions held with the women at the local monthly under 5 clinics
~ Mobile VCT/media events at Mutomboko Ceremony and World AIDS Day
~ Workshop training traditional birth attendants and banacimbusas (women that pass on knowledge to young girls preparing for marriage) regarding HIV and the increased rate of infection in women
~ Boys and girls camps stressing the importance of finishing school and highlighting HIV and the Gender divide

…most of which we are hoping to have completed before September. The Life Skills training for local teachers (held in April) was successful in identifying motivated counterparts ~ making the stress of dealing with petty complaints from ‘bwana’ teachers worth every painful minute. Those teachers who were in attendance are now the main organizers for the above events. Only time will tell how long their efforts and motivations last - similar problems are faced here as in the US in regards to low teacher salaries and financial support -understandably hindering some peoples desire to work outside of the scheduled day.

May Weather
The rains have ceased ~ though somewhat reluctantly. Moisture, now, only briefly escapes the stronghold of the sky, leaving life on the ground to prepare for seven months of dryness. The once vibrant greens of towering vegetation have now crisped and dwindled into a browning landscape, while the crackling fury of an illegal early burn breaks the stillness of the afternoon silence. The temperatures still soar into the range of New England summers, evident by the streams of perspiration on the faces of each passerby. However, as brilliant coolness blankets the morning ~ allowing the cozy satisfaction of snuggling into an otherwise useless sweatshirt. The rocks and downed trees begin to peak out amidst the flowing river as it once again loses its elevated standing and returns to being a meandering stream. The chaos of growth, prepping fields, feeding, planting, new life, weeding has subsided as life seems to once again slow like the flow of the Ngoni.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Listening to the music!

Im not exactly sure how to best recap the past few months other than saying they have been quite eventful and fabulous. The annual Soucie family ‘Cookie Party’ made its African debut successfully – only with a slight delay due to the usual power outages. There were 9 of us who hit the frosting and sprinkles and definitely devoured more than we preserved for the poor blokes who weren't there.

My Christmas Vacation to Malawi was wonderfully relaxing and primarily consisted of Katie and I lounging on boats and beaches reading. It didn’t really feel like the holidays being stuck on a secluded beach in sweltering heat, but no complaints here! We met some wonderful people from all around the world - and were even able to crash with some of them for a couple days - long enough to have our fill of gin and tonics, good food, and the use of a washing machine!

I did head back to the village for the month of January and have continued to organize the Lifeskills training for local teachers, beekeeping workshops, agroforestry workshops, and have a ½ lima of crops sprouting (maize, soya, groundnuts, bombara nuts, velvet beans, cow peas, and sunflowers alley cropped with leguminous trees – gliricidia, sesbania, lushina, ngolyolyo, etc).

I did have one interesting night in the village (Aunt Sue – stop reading now!)… I got up at around 02 in the morning to use the icimbusu so I was stumbling around near the door to put my shoes on when I look up to be staring face to face with a little slithering creature – probably about a foot or two from me, resting on the door frame – illuminated by my headlamp. Needless to say it scared the #$%& out of me…though it was only about a finger width wide and two feet long. I grabbed my ulukasu (hoe), which was hanging next to the door, and stood in a swarm of mosquitoes for a good forty minutes trying to come up with a plan. Normally snakes wouldn’t really bother me too much – a result of growing up in an area with only the occasional garder snake. However we had just had a snake session at training in December and basically learned that getting bit in the village by many of these guys is often fatal (partly due to how far away antivenom is kept (South Africa) – and how many kms you would have to ride to get to an airlift). Anyway…so as I was griping my hoe I was mentally trying to urge the snake to go into the thatch roof or move to the outside so I wouldn’t feel the need to take action – an unsuccessful attempt unfortunately, for then he decided to start slithering down the wall into my kitchen. At this point I chose, against all my prior morals, to decapitate the poor guy…in which I missed on the first two swings…and had to watch the snake’s back end continue squirming long after the actual event (5 hours to be exact). It was aweful and I was mad paranoid for a few days there – very uneasy walking around in the dark.

It is now the third week in February. I just returned from an amazing vacation in Zanzibar – off the coast of Tanzania. We took a two day train ride to the coast, cruising past elephants, zebra, giraffe, antelope, hippos, bufallos, and warthogs…past massai herding their animals, and through some amazingly beautiful countryside. We then hopped on a ferry and crossed a bit of the Indian Ocean to the Island where we spent a week listening to a crazy mix of musicians at the Sauti Za Busara music festival. Artists from around Tanzania, Senegal, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Kenya, etc flooded the soundwaves…and it wasn’t uncommon to be dancing in a crowd of mzungus, rastas, muslims, massai, and many more ethnicities and cultures. Truly an amazing experience which was only heightened by the fact that we were enjoying it on an island surrounded by fresh juice and fish, beautiful beaches, and some good diving. Though I do think that the colors of Mexicos diving were more vibrant with a greater diversity of corals and anemones it was fabulous to be under the water again, to see octopus, turtles, lionfish, angel fish, lobsters, sea cucumbers, nudibrancs, and many more. It was hard to leave the sea again and return to the landlocked heart of Africa…and I am procrastinating taking another shower and removing the last remaining sandy salty stickiness of my hair that reminds me of the oceans I miss so much. Oh well though…I think I will be heading back there next year…it was that fabulous – so if any of you all want to meet me there…start saving now!

Well…It is back to the village tomorrow I think. I promise I am doing some work over here! Miss and love you all.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Reflection on the Youth of Zambia

Once again Thanksgiving evening has been filled with wonderful friends and delicious food. Many volunteers within the province are in Mansa this week to celebrate, relax, eat, and participate in Girls Career Week in which girl students from around Luapula come to the provincial capital to learn life skills, about HIV and AIDs and the importance of finishing their education.

I feel as though just in the past week my list of things to be thankful for has grown immensely through the experiences shared by these girl students. I'm thankful for the ussual elements of my life; those in which I definitely take for granted - a loving family, fabulous friends, good health, food, shelter, water (though those last few have become a bit more rustic in the preceding months). Yet currently the list has grown to include;

gender equality in the states (though there are some discrepencies still of salaries/upper level positions in the workplace, and the continuous struggle against the traditional 'womens role' norms).

I am thankful to have a degree. Even if I feel lost and undirected its provided me with a security net unknown to women of Zambia who quite frequently end there schooling in the 5th or 6th grade in exchange for married life.

I am thankful for the childhood I was allowed...and even entitled to... to enjoy and the protection of the law and values associated with childrens rights. I've watched the past 6 months as the gender divide is taught at a very young age. The female children take an active role in household and motherly responsibilities as soon as they are able to walk, while the male children often spend free time playing football (the male children definitely still have household and field work to do yet the female children often perform those same tasks and then some).

I am thankful for the innocence of the young children in america...and can not even describe the depressing heavyness of my heart when looking at the faces of around 40 young female students - the brightest in their classes - the ones selected by their PCVs and teachers as showing promise and the ability to learn and spread these skills to her fellow classmates upon her return...looking at them and knowing that only 4 of them maintain their virginity (their ages ranging from 11 to 20). Many having had multiple partners allready...they haven't even all reached puberty yet.

I am thankful that these girls have had this opportunity to learn about their inner workings of their bodies, how and why HIV is transmitted, how to live healthy and positively, and have met some female professionals living within Mansa who have completed their schooling...and yet, just sitting in on sessions, I have come to the realization that we can not so easily change these cultural norms and values that have been engrained in these children from such a young age...that it will take a constant pressure/influence to even impact one child.

It was sadly aweing to witness the discrepencies in the attention and respect shown by the students and presenters of varying genders. There was much more participation and attention paid to the male speakers while the conversation changed from the topic of remaining in school to how old he was and if he was married with giggling in between.

I'm not exactly sure where I was going with this rambling...but I only hope to now spend a good deal of my time in the village focusing on female student empowerment and HIV/AIDS education. If I can influence just one girl to stay in school and avoid unwanted pregnancies I'll will feel accomplished.