Monday, June 14, 2010

Make it home.

(By: Michael Dylan and the Sleepwalkers)
Kikaonde word of the post: Bakwetu (My Friends)

Solwezi draws an earnest comparison to towns of America’s “old west”. The provincial capital of Zambia’s Northwestern Province and the home to Peace Corps’ Northwestern transit house, Solwezi has seen a boom that harkens of the gold rush. It’s inhabitants have come seeking work in the ever growing mining industry of Zambia. Copper has replaced the gold but the other particulars remain the same. Churches, stores, and markets have sprung up in town to support the cattle ranchers and gold miners of the day. Wealthy Zambians, South Africans, Australians, Chinese, and Americans stroll through town for a bite to eat and a nights rest in between travels to and from the mines. They support the industries that have banned together in the loose confederation that is the Solwezi economy. But apart from the economic structure, it is the dust that seems most drawn from a Hollywood western. Every step, during the dry season, results in a fine mist of powder that leaves people, animal, plant and structure equally tinted in the robust red hue. Depending on which tribal source you cite, the red dust has either colored the African’s skin or been colored by the centuries of bloodshed the continent has contributed to the soil. Either way, the red dust is apart of the African tradition but today, it is nothing but a frustration to me. Katherine, Laura, and I are making our way up a steep, dust-covered incline on the way to the largest market of the town. As we reach the pinnacle of the hill, a cruiser, no doubt owned by a wealthy miner, blows by us, distributing dust evenly across our path and into our lungs. The haze forces a momentary stop to cover our mouths and catch our breath.

“I never thought I would say this but I can’t wait for rainy season! My clothing might actually get and stay clean!” Laura exclaims. Katherine and I agree upon Laura’s remarks as we nod our heads through sporadic coughing. Katherine points out a leaf easily 10 meters off the ground. Despite the height, the leaf has not be spared the engrossing red mist of the dust. We share a momentary smile at the spectacle of a green town turned red and continue towards the market, all the while passing more and more people, equally as red-tinted as the leaf.

The main Solwezi market stands as another caricature of old western lore. As far as the eye can see, merchants peddle whatever it is they are selling on the nearest shopper. Their eyes widen as three muzungu enter the market.

“Customer! Customer! Friend! Look!” The shouts can be deafening but are easily remedied with a quick response in Kikaonde. “Kechi tubenakupota akwe ne.” The shock and awe at us knowing at least rudimentary Kikaonde melts into warming laughter, a pattern sure to repeat itself time and again as we journey deeper into the market. Today, we are shopping for a tall order. Not impossible to find but not a Zambian staple by any means, Avocados are our search today. Trips to Solwezi often accompany attempts to recreate anything American, and today the goal is guacamole. Tomatoes, onions, assorted greens (mostly pumpkin and sweet potato leafs), okra, mpua (tiny white eggplants), pineapple, watermelon, live chickens, piri-piri (African version of habanera peppers), dried and smoke sardines and other fish, Kitenge (decorative fabric used for EVERYTHING from a skirts to baby holders), used clothing, cook-ware, and pretty much anything else you could ever want can be found around some new, twisting corner hidden deep in the market. The maze has been the end to many a good volunteer but for reasons we can’t understand, this is the place we have grown most attached to here. The market is life in Africa, chaotic, loud, unorganized, confusing…but always cheerful, enlightening, and most of all, served with the traditional African sense of humor. We find everything in the market, a man dressed as a woman and dancing to sell pirated DVD’s, a woman using her baby as an adorable puppet to sell the muzungu some Irish potatoes, and eventually Avocado. Haggling is another aspect of market etiquette that we have fallen in love with…here is what haggling for an Avocado just might look like…

“Nanchi Inga?” (how much?) I say to the merchant with a sleeping baby strapped firmly to her back.

“2 pin, one.” (roughly 40 cents) She answers.

“Ah! Mutengo wabaya! Bweizeipo!” (The price is way to high, please lower it!) Katherine replies with a slightly comical tone in her voice.

“Ine. 2 pin.” (No)

“Tukonesha kupota Avocado akwe byo 1 pin” (We can buy Avocado over there for 1 pin) I reply, hoping our merchant hasn’t realized that Avocado isn’t to be found anywhere else in the market.

“1.5. Kijitu?” (ok?) She subsides.

“Kijitu!” we answer in unison, proud of our saving of roughly ten cents per Avocado. As she puts the Avocadoes into bags, we utter the greatest word to ever be created and we utter it in seemingly planned unison…”Mbesala!?”

Mbesala (M-bay-sail-a) literally translates to “Bonus” and is a customary way to end a transaction. The merchant gives us a sly smile, obviously disappointed that we know about this wonderful cultural transaction. She grabs a spare tomato and a handful of piri-piri and slides them into the bag with the Avocado, free of charge.

“Tambulai mbesala” (here is your bonus) she says with a hearty laugh that wakes her sleeping child into a gut wrenching sob that begins the moment it sees three white people standing in front of it.

“Twasanta Mwane” (we thank you) we say as we make our way back into the labyrinth that is the market. Our journey complete, we begin our long trek back to the transit house. Now only laughing at the constant dust spray. Katherine begins loudly singing her own rendition of Alicia Key’s and Jay-Z’s “New York” much to the delight and dismay of the locals around us. “These streets will make you feel brand new, these lights will inspire you…living in SOLWEZI. Concrete…and dust…jungle where dreams are made of. There’s nothing you can’t do living in SOLWEZI!” We share a laugh as we garner the stares from hundreds of locals, most of who are now laughing along.

“You know, those lyrics kind of work…” Laura says, “I’ve never felt newer in my life, or more inspired.”

We don’t talk much as we walk the rest of the way back to the house; we each are stuck in thought. The truth is, this is what our dreams were made of. The people who have joined Peace Corp have long dreamed of foreign markets and great adventure. It’s a strange feeling to realize you are living a dream. Without saying a word, it becomes painfully obvious that we are all thinking the same thing.

“How in the world has this small, mining town in Northwestern Zambia become our home?” Katherine says with wonderment.

“I don’t know, but somehow, it has…” I reply as I spot the same leaf Katherine pointed out earlier. Still covered in dust, still hanging on for dear life. I can’t help but feel slightly connected to that leaf. Both dust covered, both hanging on for dear life, and both living in Solwezi. With help from my friends, Katherine, Laura, Ken, Taylor, Bart, and more…we have made this home.

New pictures up on facebook and a very exciting project/website is in the works so check back often! Love you all!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Float On

(By Modest Mouse)
KiKaonde Word of the Post : Kuloba: (v.) to fish
Nsakuya kuloba ku Lunga River kimabanga lelo.
(I am going fishing on the lunga river this evening)

It was still dark and I lay in bed with a feeling that I was six again. I've always had this feeling of nervous excitement and cautious optimism before a big fishing trip. David's eyes had lit up when I told him I had brought a fishing pole to Zambia. While fishing for many here is still a matter of food security, Zambians share with me the child-like curiosity to what any body of water might be keeping secret. David got even more enthusiastic when I showed him my fly rod. The graphite rod might as well have been a space ship as local fisherman use homemade bamboo rods with homemade hooks. We stood outside my hut and I demonstrated fly fishing in a moment of surreal cultural exchange. The impromptu lesson ended with a plan and hopes of fresh tigerfish for dinner. David knew a man who know a spot on the Lunga River that was full of fish. This is how news is spread here...someone knows someone who knows something, but the news was all I needed to hear. I pulled myself out of bed, got dressed, and walked outside to face the cold African morning. The sun crested over the eastern horizon and rooster's calls could be heard echoing over the entire valley. David stood outside of my hut in the same ripped jeans and bright smile he is always wearing, ready to go.
David is my "brother". He is 24 and the father of a beautiful one year old, Patricia. David speaks English well, along with KiKaonde, Swahili, Bemba, and other assorted Bantu languages. His extraordinary soccer skills provided him with an above average education and a slightly more western sense of humor. A car accident ended his dreams of playing professional soccer but you do not sense any disappointment or regret in his voice when he talks about his past. David is the architect of my budding garden and is my go-to guy for any information on the village or village living. I am teaching him chess in our free time and he is teaching me Swahili. We are becoming fast friends.
"We must wait for our friend to get here, he knows where the spot is." David tells me in slow, deliberate English which Peace Corp volunteers have lovingly deemed "Zam-lish".
"Ok, will he be soon? We need to get on the river early, before it gets to hot if we want to catch anything," I say in hopes to instill some sense of urgency in David. I have reminded him of this constantly over the last few days in hopes of countering the effects of "Africa-time". He has assured me he has told his friend to be here promptly at six am.
"Yes, he will be here very soon. He lives just there." David calmly explains. I return to my hut to prepare a breakfast of bread purchased from the market and homemade guava jam my volunteer friend, Ken, and I made. With every fleeting minute, my thoughts attempt to calculate how quickly our odds of success are diminishing. Seven am comes and goes. David casually goes about his morning routine. Eight am comes and with it the first signs of the African sun. The morning chill is melting into an oppressive heat which is multiplied by the utter lack of clouds. By 8:20, the friend is here. A man of at least 50, our friend claims that his magic spot near his farm, is near and readily accessible. We set off. I am skeptical of all of this but still optimistic that we can be on the river in time to catch an early morning tigerfish feeding frenzy.
5km down the road we reach the Lunga River but roar past it on our bikes much to my own confusion. My Zambian guides have pulled quite a bit ahead of me. I follow for another 2km, extremely confused to where we are going. Eventually we reach a bush path that is the path to his farm. I glance at my watch impatiently to see the hour hand hit the 9 mark. David claims that we have less that a km to go. I trust David but seem to remember him saying he does not know where we are going. After a "short" (15 minute) pit stop at our guide's home for him to change, we head down the bush path. Kilometer after kilometer go by. We ascend, we descend. But still we are not there. Moments of silence seem to reveal a roaring river in the distance, but moments of optimism fade into realizations that we are no where near the river. My watch shows 10 am and my frustration peaks. I remind David that the fish will only be active in the morning, he assures me we are near.
In the distance, a grove of banana trees becomes apparent. These are our guide's trees and he is enthusiastic to show me his entire orchard. We park our bikes and begin our trek on foot. Tall grass and a lack of anything that might be construed as a trail fail to hinder my guides but much to my own frustration, every few meters is a new point of interest...a cabbage patch, a sugar cane field, some sweet potatoes. Each stop taking several minutes. I am at my wits end. How is David not steaming like I am? He was more excited than I was about this trip. It was all he talked about and none of his talks mentioned farm tours and km of km of trekking, yet he wore the ripped jeans he always does with a huge smile. Is this how my entire Zambian experience is going to be? Is work going to be hindered by countless setbacks? Are my own plans going to left at the mercy of a foreign time system? David turns around to see me deep in my own frustrating thoughts. He places his hand on my shoulder and smiles, "we are going fishing now."
In an instant, the grass stops and we approach the Lunga River. Two large hills frame a valley in which the river meanders calmly. It is beautiful, breathtaking, and exceeds the limitations of language. At least 20 miles into the African bush, I feel my worries float away. The sound of water and the site of flowing water carries away my frustration and a calm falls on me. I look at David and our guide, laughing as they set up their own poles. I understand, if only for a moment, the calm that Africans share over the anxieties of time and punctuality. David turns and laughs at my sudden relaxation. "Do you see now? There was no need to worry."
Despite my sudden calm, I was right about the fishing. We had arrived at around 11:30 and the river was too hot for active fish. In vain, we cast and pull in. Not even a nibble. But we laugh, and joke, and I learn how to eat sugar cane. After close to 45 minutes of reward-less fishing, our guide, who had wandered further down the river, yells towards David and I, "Ahh, it is too hot! We should have come earlier in the morning!" David and I catch each others eyes to share in this priceless moment. After a quick second of bewilderment, we both fall to the ground in side splitting laughter so intense that our guide can not help but join in. The laughter subsides and we return the way we came, our fearless guide always knowing the way.
I had dreamed of an epic return to my village with stringers of tigerfish dangling from the back of my bike. My legend and legacy in the village would be cemented. I had hoped to return with more, but instead I came back with less. Less worry, less concern. My frustrations were well founded and are going to be a constant struggle as I try to work in such an exotic culture. But now, I have an inkling of understanding to what it will take to counter such frustrations. David bikes me to my house in the jeans and smile he is always wearing. He leaves me at my door, myself wearing a pair of jeans and a smile that sense that day, I have almost always worn. Africa will not be calm, will not be easy, and most of all, will not be constant enjoyment, but as I drift to sleep that night, body aching from exhaustion, I feel relaxed and ready for another day. Another day and we continue to float on...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Life In Technicolor

First, a quick internet usage until now besides internet phone. Posts should be more regular from now on.

Second, some notes on the blog. I want to make something that is informative to people who know me and entertaining for everyone. I will stay honest in all my posts and promise to report the truth and not rumors, heresay, and exagerations (all of which are extremely common in Peace Corp). Finally...I am naming every blog post after a song that I am currently listening too. The song, if listened to, will hopefully provide further insight into the goings on of my life. Today's song is Life In Technicolor II by Coldplay.

Now for my first African post...ready?

I look down at my feet for a quick status check on my well being. What appears to be a dark, robust tan covering my feet can quickly be exposed for what it really is with a quick rub. Beads of dirt fall of in endless layers only to expose red spots from any number of bugs, ants, mosquitos, creeping eruption (yes, that is the real name for a parasite that invades human's feet here in Africa), and others. Today, the dark clay comes off easily and only a few visible bug bites appear, I must be doing something right. With such a positive check up, I feel renewed for a new day. A warm bucket bath, a quick meal, some tea, and a warm laugh from my homestay Bamayo (mother) has rapidly become habit and one that continues to provide suprising comfort. Blessing, my little sister, seems in a bad mood today. She is seven and her bad moods rarely last more than an hour. By lunch, she will be fine but now she has a scowl on her face that could puncture sheet metal. I ask her whats wrong, as I always do, and as always, she doesn't understand. She doesn't speak english, nor I, Nyanja or Lunda, her two languages. I seem to feel she gets the point and lets a small smile crack through, if only to let me know that an enthusiastic greeting will still be coming at lunch. Katherine, my hutmate, tries some impromptu funny faces in hopes of cheering her up, but her attempts fall on deaf ears.

From the hut next to ours, our families' home, we hear a bellowing, "Ble!!!"

"Ma!?" replies Blessing who quickly disappears into the house. Her chores need to be done and on this, Katherine and I feel the pressing need to actually leave for morning classes. Both of us have quickly adopted "Africa Time" a concept that may just be the reason for slow development in Africa but may also be their greatest contribution to the world. Punctuality is an unheard of quality here as there is rarely not enough time. You come, you go, you arrive, you depart, you get focused, you get distracted...all without the slightest concern of time. Despite their repeated requests for the peace corp trainees to become entirely "culturally integrated", Peace Corp fights our transition into "Africa Time", for obvious reasons. But on this morning, Kat and I being fifteen minutes late will go entirely unnoticed. We have language class first, taught by a Zambian by the name of Golden. He was raised in this structure of time so our tardiness is as regular as seeing two Starbucks on the same block. He is in his early 50's and his name is fitting. He is never short a smile or a moment of levity, even in the most intense days of language class. We are friends with no concern to age, race, nationality, or culture...just friends. He also is an incredible language instructor. He speaks six languages and is extremely fluent at Kizungu (English). He also, luckily, speaks KiKaonde, the language I will be speaking for the next two years. Not many speak KiKaonde so to hear a friendly "Byepi Mwane!?" each morning motivates me for the next four hours. Our language classes are every morning, for four hours, with just me, the instructor and two others, one being Kat. Despite the motivation, the friendship and source of distraction found in Katherine, four hours can be extremely brutal. We are not meeting in a classroom, or even a room, we meet in a shed. A literal shed. Crumbling brick with a sheet metal roof. It is the only place near by to protect us from the daily rains of rainy season. So we endure. Three words that I repeat often in my we endure. We endure for the next four hours with the promise of steaming Nshima prepared freshly by our Bamayo waiting for us at home. Like (American) clockwork, our lunch is waiting...

Nshima (pronounced InShima) is made from crushed maize, boiled with water until extremely thick. Think grits, with the consistency of mashed potatoes. It is wonderful and served with every meal. A Zambian could eat two steaks, a full potato, and an ice cream sundae, but if Nshima is not served, the Zambian will state that he "has not eaten yet". It is served with a "relish" or maybe even two. A relish is defined as anything served with Nshima. Chicken, eggs, chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves), sausage, catepillars, kapenta (small, dried anchovies), or any other locally grown item could be a "relish". I make the next statement with zero hyperbole, Kat and I's Bamayo is the best cook in Zambia. Lunch is always a highlight of the day and some of the slower days, might even accompany a nap.

Blessing is back to normal now and drops all that she was doing to run across the compound to give us furious hugs. She sits with us the entire meal, always mocking the way we eat Nshima, the way we say thank you, and just our general tone of voice. Her "American" impression is spot on. I revenge such mocking by teaching her fun phrases in English such as "I am weird", her new favorite thing to say. Before we know it, despite the temptation of Africa Time, it is time for Kat and I to head to the training center for our evening "technical training". This could consist of sessions on modern teaching methodology, Zambian education standards and traditions, or anything else. Today it involves being bussed to a local school to teach a class. Despite our complete and utter ignorance to the academic level of the children, their place in the books, or even their names, we teach. We teach to a classroom of shocked children staring at a Zoo animal they have only read about in books. Hushed laughter and amazement follows every word out of our mouths. We are not merely strangers, we are the strangest looking strangers these children have ever seen. On this particular day, I feel as if my lesson on perimeter and circumference was an epic failure. 'They didn't learn a thing' I think. But this exercise was not for the children, but for us, and in that way, it was a huge success. We build confidence with every lesson. We meet new contacts in the villages. But most importantly, we endure.

On a normal day, by 17 (Zambia operates on a 24 clock, so 5 O'clock to Staters) we are free to go. This day, a social gathering is being planned at Aaron's Lodge, a bar only 8 km away in nearby Chongwe. Many find this distance too daunting after a tiring day but Katherine and I are in desperate need of a beer and to see our friends in the other training group. Thirty seconds standing on the dirt road outside of the training center is all it takes for us to get hitch from a Ministry of Education official in a Bwana (Zambian word for "baller") Land Cruiser. They pick us up and agree to give us a free ride. This could be due to kindness or mere curiousity to seeing Muzungu (white people) hitching on the road. We arrive at Aaron's to a roar from our friends. I have known these people for two months but already, they are family. This usual excitement from our friends is all I need to feel at home.

After a short conversation with Moses, the bartender, and a purchased beer (5,000 Kwacha, roughly 1 dollar), I find myself, like always sitting with Bart, Ken, Katherine, Anna, Laura, Taylor, and others. My new friends. We rarely talk about Peace Corp. Rather, we clear our minds with ridiculous scenerarios, stories from past lives, and plans of leading revolutionary coups in the neighboring Congo (Ken and Adam's Fun Land will be its new name). I feel as if these people have been around for ever. Sadly, these rare social gathers are always too short. Traveling in darkness is dangerous and avoided at all costs. Cars to hitch with are less frequent, and the unlit roads provide for some extremely perilous biking. Kat and I leave shortly before dark to find a flatbed pick up truck turning onto our dirt road. Like always, the drivers are happy to let Kat and I jump on. We sit on the bed with a few Zambians, some goats, and a chicken or two, all of which have huge smiles on their faces (ok, maybe not the goats and chickens). We drive down our rutted out, damaged dirt road, towards a steaming plate of Nshima and the most beautiful sunset we have ever seen. Each day's sunset beats the last. I look at Kat and notice she is looking down at her feet, I do the same. Extremely dirty, with a myriad of new bug bites. Once again having taken my own home check up, I can't help but feel that I am doing something right.
Dinner, cards with our brother Ozzy, and some time in my book follow. Kat and I talk through our walls for a few minutes before the exhaustion of the day catches up to us. I lay down and put in my iPod. I put on Life in Technicolor and drift asleep thinking, 'I can't help but feel I am doing something right.'

- Adam

I love and miss you all! Check the facebook for pictures which should be up now and for my new address. Write and you will be written! (you probably will be anyways)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Bend (Not Quite Africa)

The slow, yet steady, process of preparing for Africa began Thanksgiving week as my mom and I pushed REI's stock through the roof. A new pack, some water bottles, hiking boots/sandals, and other random gadgets have been graciously contributed to the cause by my loving parents. While much more is to come, this beginning got me extremely excited to say the least and I felt the need to "break-in" all my new gear. 
A slowly diminishing internship schedule allowed for several days off to attempt to simulate the African wild. My good buddy, Matt,  was also looking for an excuse to get away and celebrate his recent acceptance into medical school. We decided upon Big Bend, realizing we had both never been to our state's most famous national park and the rugged desert landscape was just like Africa...right?
While I fully realized that the trip would be "difficult", I did not fully anticipated how physically and emotionally demanding it would be. The steep grades and heavy packs made for weary knees and tired minds. Nights were spent bundled up in sleeping bags attempting to stay warm and dry. Temperatures dropped to very un-Texas like lows in the High Chisos Mountains of Big Bend and the weather decided to bless us with snow. So much for my perfect African simulation! But despite the hardships, moments of sheer and uninhibited joy found their way to our consciousness. Beautiful birds spotted the landscapes and the fearless deer of Big Bend gave us constant companionship while enjoying the most spectacular views I have ever witnessed in my short life. The wildlife and views provided the backdrop for great conversation and time to contemplate my immediate future. 
Ok, my foolish attempt to "simulate" Africa failed. Big Time! But hidden in the failure were some very real and valuable realizations, the biggest of which being the foolishness of expectations. I expected to feel like I was in Africa. I expected to be in the physical shape needed for such a trip. I expected it to be just pure fun. I was wrong on all accounts. I now know that how I think Africa will be, is not how it is. Zambia rests out there, waiting for me and my naive expectation, laughing at the idea that I know what is coming. But now I have a better of idea of not what is coming, but who I need to be. On a physical level, I need to be in better bell hops are waiting for me! On an emotional level, I need to clear my mind and stop predicting. 
The only thing I do now know for sure about Africa is that it will be the most demanding adventure of my life. And much like Big Bend (on a much smaller scale), the extreme pressure and difficulty will be punctuated with exuberant joy. I think I need this sort of challenge in my life...

Here are some pictures from the Big Bend trip!

The most spectacular view of my life:

Matt enjoying the snow with our tent in the background:

The "fearless" and HUGE deer of Big Bend: