The content of this blog is the creator's own thoughts and does not represent the views or opinions of the Peace Corps or the United States Government. I would also like to apologize for all my spelling and grammatical errors... there will be a lot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vacation Review


I feel like it been forever since I was in the village. I had IST for 2 weeks in Lusaka where we got to do the amazing perm gardening workshop and gallivant around Lusaka to our heart desire. I ate enough Indian for a lifetime, saw every movie playing, danced the night away, and spend every Kwacha I had. It was good times. After all that I bussed myself down to Livingstone with some other volunteers to meet with my mom.


I got to spend a night at the Jolly boys hostel first – gotta say I give it 5 stars. It a really fun, low-key place. "I never knew a morning in Africa when I woke up and I was not happy" adores the archway, I think its very telling. Complete with a cushion pit, tree house smoking room thing, and plenty of interesting international travelers passing through all for only 15$ - I'd recommend it one hundred percent to low budget travelers in Livingstone. My mother has a bit more refined taste and staying in a bunk bed with hundreds of 20somthings didn’t appeal. So we headed for the Royal Livingstone (the most expensive place money buy). I have to admit I was a bit uncomfortable with the celebration of colonialism so alive and well. However being situated on the Zambezi riverside in the middle of a national wildlife park is beautiful. And you do get very close and personal with the wildlife, as if it was totally normal sometimes Zebra and Giraffes will walk by your dinner table. At Livingstone of course the star of the show is Victoria Falls. We not only toured on foot but took to the air in a helicopter ride that made my mom desire to be a pilot. It was beautiful to see. We used the rivers closeness our advantage and enjoyed a sunset Zambezi river cruise (nicknamed the booze-cruise), which safely and comfortably carried us over water teeming with hippos, crocs and other animals. If that wasn’t enough, I had my own adventures at the falls. I worked up my courage to go to the devils pool, which turned out more complicated than I thought. I was met at the top of the water falls by a pushy young guy who told me how to get the devils pool, long story short to get to the pool you have to climb/wade through the top of the falls for about 30 mins with the possibility of flying off the edge to your death at every step. Due to the water level we gave up halfway and just hung out at the edge of the falls which was beautiful and a bit terrifying. I found of later that my guide was illegal and that apparently the pool isn’t open for another few weeks – whoops. After that death defying experience, I felt I hadn’t really put my life on the line enough this week and headed to the bunji jump on the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. There are no words I’ll just show you pics and the video.

South Luangwa:

You’d think we would be done after all that right? Nope! We then took a plane over to one of the most popular parks in Zambia. We stayed at the fun and funky Flatdogs, which had the most enthusiastic and cool staff ever. This park was fantastic, offering 2 game drives a day, which lets you see the diurnal and nocturnal animals. We saw all 4 of the big 5, which live in the park. We even saw 2 leopards in one night. Our guide was spectacular, and the things he spotted were amazing. I think the most memorable was the chameleon, at night in a far away tree. Staying at the camp was a fun experience, since you are just across the river from the park you sometimes get visitors. At night the hippos come out of the water and block the path back to your tent, during the day its elephants. Which was extremely surreal and a bit scary – thank god for the watchmen that guide you around the camp!


The final part of our vacation was a quick trip to my site. It was really nice to have my mom meet all the villagers and teachers I’m working with. She did very well, in the village and actually seemed to enjoy doing the chores. Unfortunately this was only one day, so at 5 am we headed out to Ndola to get her on her flight. Because of lack of transport we had to hitch a bit, which I have to say was fun to introduce my mom to. Surprisingly I got her to Ndola on time and got me back before dark… although the last 50miles took 5 hours - that's Zambian transport for you.

Now what?

Vacation is done-zo, time to head back to the village. Its a bit daunting, after all this time around Americans you have to go back to being completely on your own. I love my village, but no matter how much I integrate I'm still an American in the middle of the bush. So its takes some adjustment, and patience. Wish me luck!

See more pics under the picture tab.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Look Into Peace Corps Mental Health

I’ve begun to see a common trend in Peace Corps volunteers… we are all bi-polar. What I mean is that we all seem to have drastic mood swings during our service no matter where we serve. Peace Corps actually gives us a little chart about our predictable changes in moods here. After my 6 months here, I have noticed I tend to fall in one of 4 moods

Mood 1: Holy Crap I’m in Africa!

I normally have this thought when I wake up. And tend to have it whenever I experience something very “Zambian” like eating termites or hitching a ride on an ox-cart. This is generally followed by a sense of awe, and amazement at being here. I tend to also have this feeling when I encounter some strong cultural differences. Like a conversation about how hip-hugger jeans are creations of the devil and need to be prayed over before they can be worn. I also have this feeling when I do something I never thought I could, like when I biked up my nearby hill of death, or when I built my own oven.

Mood 2: My Life is Amazing

I tend to have this feeling when I manage to have a full conversation in Bemba, my students actually understand what I’m doing, I help my host family pound groundnuts, or I when I walk outside at night and see a blanket of stars above my head. Africa is a beautiful place and getting to actually experience the culture first hand is amazing. Especially for someone like me, I really treasure the moments when I’m allowed into the lives of the people I’m working with. While I’m marveling at my own luckiness, I imagine little singing blue birds following me and I’m tempted to skip around my village. I prance about with a smile so wide it actually hurts my face.

Mood 3: I Just Want To *insert activity from home*

Something normally triggers it like I just dropped all my water on my head, when trying to take a bath, or my braiser wont light. It’s no secret that in Africa everything requires a lot more effort – cooking, cleaning, bathing, and even sleeping. You have to really think out your day or you’ll end having no water to wash your hands or not having any food. So sometimes I think “God, I wish I could just use a microwave!”. This mood also includes certain activities. In America most of my friends were men, I tend to stay up late, and I’m agnostic on a pious day. In Zambia I do none of those things, partially due to availability and culture. I miss being able to call up one of my male friends at 3am to go to a dinner and just drink coffee – all 3 of which aren’t available to me and would result in complete a lot of misunderstanding in my village. These are the moments I feel homesick, not even for anyone or thing in particular I just miss having a certain way of life.

Mood 4: This Game Sucks I’m Going Home!

Thankfully this mood is rare and generally is fixed quickly. But it happens. I normally have this reaction of “I just want to go home!” after something goes very wrong or my nerves are rubbed raw. When no one shows up to a meeting I’ve been trying to hold for days, when the particularly forceful children (who are rich btw) on my bike ride to the BOMA run after me pulling on my clothes asking for money, when men are just plain vulgar and rude to me when I’m just trying to buy my tomatoes for the week. There is no way about it, being a white person in Africa means that you can’t blend in. People will always have something to say to you or to ask you for and everything you do is a production. It’s also hard when you get charged 3 times the normal amount for things and you hear everyone you pass say “Muzungu!” or “Buuga!”. Normally you take this in stride and even use it to your advantage to get a villages attention but sometimes it’s just plain tiresome and all you want to do is be somewhere where you don’t feel like an animal at the zoo.

I can honestly say I have had days where I have gone through all 4 moods at least twice. Its just the nature of the work, and living in another culture. As a side note this blog entry was inspired by an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” about steroid induced mood swings (we laughed at how much it resembled Peace Corps moods). The more you know.