Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ndinafika nu America!

Ndinafika mu America! I have arrived in America! Hey guys! It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has changed in my life. Due to an unfortunate safety and security issue my Peace Corps service was interrupted three weeks ago. Now I am back in the States and have a new sister-in-law! With my brother's wedding and visiting with family I have not had much time to sit and write to explain in detail what happened with the Interruption of my Peace Corps service. In short, a local man who worked with the Office of the President of Zambia assaulted me. Needless to say, Peace Corps removed me immediately and deemed my site as a safety and security risk. Due to the fact that there is currently a vacancy for the position of Director for the Education Program, PC was unable to find a replacement site for me to continue my service. I was sent back on Interrupted Service and therefore will not be continuing my service with Peace Corps. I have been state side for two weeks but it feels like I have been back forever. !
America’s fast paced culture has made the time to appear as it has flown by but when I think back to my 27-hour journey to the first world it seems like ages ago. I miss Zambia tremendously. I never thought I would say this but I even miss goats trying to drink my dishwater

Adjustment. Well, to be perfectly honest…I mean…I must be free…if I think too much about how PC handled my Interrupted Service it makes me a bit upset so I chose to think of the positive aspects of my service, the real reason I chose to serve. The people. The cross-cultural experience. I think about the people in Chimate village; the Kanyumba’s, my home stay family; my little “ici ciani” girls; Violet; the sound of children’s feet running behind my bike;
the mountains; the bumpy land cruiser rides down red, dirt roads; droppin’ it like it’s hot at Hills CafĂ©; mango tress; fields of maize; breathtaking sunsets; the illumination of the stars that fill the entire sky at night. I think about my fellow PCVs often, especially when I eat pizza or taco bell or when I sit on my comfy couch with a laptop in my lap surfing the net while I watch the Sopranos. But trust me I would trade it all in again for more time in Zambia. I miss bathing under the sun and stars, I miss my latrine but not the bats, I miss having to bend down for everything, I miss n’shima, I miss the relaxed, slow pace, I miss the sense of community, I miss the rich and colorful culture. Now that I have returned I am able to experience all the things I never took the time to appreciate before. I am able to move at a slower pace and experience life through different eyes.

Top 10 things I didn’t realize I missed in America
10. The smell in the air after a rain shower
9. The feeling of soft green grass between my toes
8. Scented candles and lotions
7. Arby’s curly fries dipped in Arby’s sauce
6. Hot baths
5. Soft TP and towels
4. Ice cold New Castle beer
3. Fabric softener and washing machines
2. My contour pillow
1. My grandmother’s laugh

What’s happening in America? When I first arrived I asked myself this question. I was eager to catch up with the current events of America. During my layover in DC, I watched CNN and I found myself comparing the headlines stories to my experiences in Zambia. “Wildfires in Idaho.” In Zambia they purposefully burn their entire country after the harvest season. “Michael Vick, who plays for the Atlanta Falcons is charged with animal cruelty for dog fighting.” What would PETA do if they saw the neglected dogs in my village? “Backpacks, are they weighing down our children?” If only the children in Zambia had backpacks or any books to put in them. Actually, I find myself making constant comparisons. I first noticed the obesity and wastefulness of the American people and how socially isolated technology keeps everyone and how connected it keeps everyone. The first cultural difference I noticed was on the shuttle between gates in Dulles airport. In Zambia it’s an understatement to say the buses are overcrowded. People greet, shake hands and even sit close to one another…okay lets be honest, they sit on top of one another with two chickens, a goat, three children, and a bag a sweet potatoes… and chat. And when they chat they genuine, sincere and compasionate. On the shuttle in DC, I was given the “why are you talking to me” look when I said good morning to a woman who barely looked up from her bluetooth, camera phone, mp3 playing, text-messaging, cell phone. People were seated in their protective bubbles, within a socially acceptable and expected personal distance sipping their double lattes, reading papers, and listening to ipods with their fingers busily flying away on their blackberries.

Adjustment to this sudden shift in lifestyle continues increase my self-awareness. I’ve been reconnecting with family and friends. As of now I have been staying at my dads in Nashville, TN. Life’s road is winding with unforeseen bumps and turns along the way. Along the journey, it is important to take the time to stop and enjoy the scenery and the special surprises it brings. Now that I am back I am thankful that I am able to share special days like Sam and Thadd’s baby shower, Tara’s bacheloret party, Dre’s b-day, and Tara and John’s wedding. Let’s not forget the Titans vs. Colts game Sunday with my dad! My next adventure along my journey is flying to Denver for a cross-country trip. Dre and I are driving from Denver, CO to Charleston, SC…not exactly coast to coast but close enough. We are going to make all the ‘come see the world’s largest prairie dog ’ stops and of course stopping at all the must sees like the St. Louis Arch and Graceland (yes a girl from TN has yet to see Graceland). At least I will not have to worry about sitting on a bus next to a woman vomiting kapenta! We’ll stay at Folly Beach, SC till around the first of October then head back to good ol’ Nashville to figure out what’s next.

I am looking into other grassroots job/volunteering opportunities in developing countries. I have applied for Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) Its like the British Peace Corps except it is not funded by the government. It receives its funding thru non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or from host countries themselves. US nationals must apply thru the Canadian VSO I have a phone interview tomorrow, Thursday Sept 13th! Some other ideas that I am interested in researching as future possibilities include relief work in Peru or New Orleans, AmeriCorps , School Psych jobs abroad or within inner city America, working in orphanages in Africa, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) overseas So far I have completed only surface level searches, so if you have any ideas, web links or personal connections PLEASE let me know. I really fell in love with Africa and I would love to return as soon as possible so my searches have been primarily focused around my return! I am also up for some traveling!!!!!

P.S. Dre sent me this link to an article today and I found it very interesting. Check it out if you get a chance.

Please keep me in your thoughts during my transition and preparation for my next adventure. I would love to chat and or visit with you all while I am here. Email will the best way to contact me, as I do not have my cell or bluetooth/blackberry implanted into my ear yet! ha ha!


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Only In Africa

...Would you say “zikomo” (excuse me) to a cow!
...Are snot rockets a feature presentation.
...Can you buy bottles of cow blood at the chemist (pharmacy).
...Are termites and crickets edible.

...Are pots scrubbed with dirt and sand.
...Are pigs and goats strapped to bike racks.
...Would you poop in a bag.
...Would you eat off the ground
...Would you get chased by baboons.
...Is child labor not only accepted but expected.
...Would it be believed that a ‘donerfish’ (mermaid) was spotted.
...Would you pick off or spoon out the mold and eat the rest.
...Can the Bread Hustle be truly appreciated.
...Can your official police statement not be your statement at all.
...Can you be hustled by a man renting VCRs.
...Will your phone be stolen out of your hand while you are talking on it.
...Will you be called lazy for sleeping till 0700 hours.
...Would you become upset by poop in your recently swept dirt yard.
...Would you be considered early if you arrive an hour late.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bwanji zonse!

Bwanji Zonse! Hello Everyone! Things have been extremely busy for me in Chadiza since I wrote back in May. Now that I have oriented myself with the community and with my job roles I have been able to assess some of the needs and begin several projects. Also, I have had some pretty interesting personal and cultural experiences that I know you guys are eager to hear—ONLY I N ZAMBIA!

It is the cold season now and yes it does get cold in Africa. The high winds are the major cause of the drop in temperature. At night the air is so cold I wear my good ol’ Western sweatshirt and fleece pants. Then by 9:00 am I am cycling up a huge mountain wiping sweat out of my eyes. I’ve been told July is the coldest month with frost on the ground in the early morning. Hey, one good thing about all the goats sleeping around my house at night is that they might provide some form of insulation! Ha ha! But the afternoon heat continues to be intense..if this is the cold season I am by no means looking forward to the hot season in October. I have made some close friends in the village. My closest friend is Violet Zulu (in the picture above), she is the headman’s daughter-in-law. She is pretty educated (went to grade 10) and can speak English fairly well. Violet is my support system in the village. I eat with her and her family, I go to the fields and garden with her to harvest, she washes my clothes for me, and she fills me in on all the history (or gossip if you will) of the people in the village. I have gotten used to village life. So much so that sometimes I have to stop and say okay if my friends and family could see this right now they would freak out…oh but me, I am used! I can start fires like an Eagle Scout, I can see in the dark like a superhero, I can cycle off-road paths somewhere between Lance Armstrong and Cary Hart, I can make peanut butter like Rachel Ray, and I can build just about anything with a stick and a piece of string like MacGyver!

Plan Banda
In my last letter I told you that I was given a tribal name, Kristena Zulu. I learned from the Chief that Zulu is not a Chewa Tribal name. The name Zulu is actually from the Ngoni Tribe. My Headman’s last name of Zulu comes from his mother’s family. Here in Eastern Province tribal passage is matriarchal; therefore, passage of headman was given to my Headman from his mother’s brother. The Chief insisted I receive a name from the Chichewa Tribe of his Chiefdom. As a result, I am now Agnes Banda! In my village I am still called Kristena Zulu however, in the boma and around the Chief I am called Agnes Banda. For those of you that follow celebrity gossip the name Banda may sound familiar. Banda is the name of the child that Madonna adopted from Malawi. Malawi is only about 30km from Chadiza and we are of the same tribe, the Chewa Tribe. So if all else fails I can come home and be the nanny of Madonna’s adopted child. I mean who else can teach the material baby the language and culture of his tribe? Everyone needs a Plan Banda.

Kill Count Dracula
I am sure you are wondering about the bat that lived in my latrine. Operation Kill Count Dracula was a huge success. After many high anxiety trips to the pit latrine, I couldn’t take the threat of the bat a moment longer. Through a series of bat reenactments and my limited Chinyanja vocabulary, I was able to explain my problem to my Headman. Yeah, that was a morning I will never forget. My Headman speaks deep deep Chewa and I was trained in Lusaka Chinyanja, so our communication is difficult to say the least. Although I didn’t know the words for bat or wings in the local language, I did know the word for rat, choswe. So I said in my botched Chewa something like this…Ku chimbuse, ili yima monga choswe koma ili ndi…um…um …um. (In my toilet, there is an animal like a rat but it has…um…um). Because I didn’t know the word for wings I used my universal sign language and start flapping my arms up and down. I am sure anyone would have gotten a good laugh at me trying to explain ‘bat’ to my Headman. The villagers walking by probably said “Oh, that white one, she has lost her mind.” Once he made sense of my bat pantomime, it was time to discuss an action plan. I was extremely proud of my fluency in the language as I was able to fully explain my carefully plotted plan of Operation Kill Count Dracula! Thanks to my beekeeping group that I meet with every Friday (yeah I will get to that later), I knew the word for smoke. We pulled some of the grass thatch from the roof of my latrine and set it on fire and put it down in the hole and covered the hole with a plank. Bye Bye rat-like birdie! The Operation was a success and I can now “Be Free” in the chimbuse!

Blind Leading the Blind.
During my community entry period I traveled to each school and village within my catchment area to complete sensitization activities. I have 8 GRZ government schools and 6 IRI centers/community schools (like here in this pic). I held meetings in each village to orient myself with the area and the people, meet the village Headmen, sensitize the people regarding Peace Corps and my work in their village, and to share and exchange information about American and Zambian cultures. One day while I was waiting at Kapachi Basic School for the IRI mentor to escort me to his community school 2 km away I met Mr. Michael Banda. Mr. Banda is a highly educated man who attended a school for the blind in a nearby town within Eastern Province. After a lengthy conversation we learned that we were headed to the same village and that our escorts were both extremely late. I had never visited Khalika Village and didn’t know the bush path that would lead me there. And although Mr. Banda walked with a walking stick, the path was too rough for him to travel alone. With a lot of confidence from Mr. Banda and a lot of uncertainties from me, we decided that with the combined efforts of my sight and his knowledge of the village paths we could make it to Khalika together. There could never be a more appropriate time to use the old saying of ‘the blind leading the blind.’ This was it in the truest form. Thirty minutes later, not only had I made it to the village but I had made a friend. The meeting was a success as I was able to listen to the villagers identify their needs and concerns. There were farmers who requested assistance with beekeeping, women who are interested in information on family planning, and those living positively would like to form a support group. After the meeting I began to question my abilities in assisting these villagers. What do I know about beekeeping? How can I assist these villagers if I can’t fluently speak the language? Could I even find my way back to this village alone? I was reassured by my experience with Mr. Banda on the walk back to Kapachi School. I realized that any task no matter how big the challenge can be accomplished as long as you are not walking alone. Mr. Banda is interested in learning more about the culture within America. If anyone is interested in becoming a pen pal or if anyone could connect Mr. Banda with another visually impaired person please let me know.

Got Beans?
I have been very fortunate thus far in my service in regards to my physical health. Other than the expected stomach troubles, I have only been sick once. This particular occasion I thought I might have been experiencing malaria-type symptoms. I had a fever, the chills, body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea…all the signs of malaria. But I didn’t have any mosquito bites nor were the symptoms I was experiencing as severe as the horrifying stories I had heard from other volunteers. The day I was feeling sick my friend and fellow PCV, Micah came to take care of me. She cooked soup and closely monitored my symptoms while keeping the Cortem (malaria medication) nearby. The soup was amazing, potatoes, eggplant, soya, tomatoes, onions, green beans and vegetable cubes…a feast for the village! Sadly I didn’t have much of an appetite. The following day I was feeling better and needed rest so Micah left. Long and not so appetizing story short, there was a lot of left over soup b/c as we all know it is difficult to eat something that you tasted on the way back up the night before. Due to the lack of a refrigerator and any type of electricity for that matter and the fact that I didn’t feel comfortable with the thought of giving the villagers food poisoning, I decided to give the starving dogs in my village my leftovers. I poured the soup on the ground behind my house and called for the dogs. Green beans are not commonly seen or eaten in the village so the dogs devoured everything but wouldn’t touch the beans. In the short amount of time it took me to walk to the front of my house and get my grass broom to sweep the beans away, the curious children had come. I turned the corner and the children were gathered around the dogs’ leftovers. A small girl turned around with a mouth full of green beans!! The children had picked the beans off the ground, the same beans that the dogs had eaten all around and were eating them! What could I do? Who needs to worry about food poisoning from lack of refrigeration? After witnessing this I only worried about all the dirt and dog saliva they had consumed! I guess they have a tolerance for dirt…no children were harmed in the making of this soup.

Traditional Healers
During training I learned of witchcraft, juju and traditional healers from others experiences and stories. Now that I am in the heart of the village I am able to experience this deep cultural belief first hand. These are true stories and the Chewa people truly believe in the power of witchcraft. A woman in my village fell ill. She was feeling weak, dizzy, and experiencing headaches. Her husband took her by ox cart to the neighboring village to the traditional healer. The healer told her that she did not have any blood in her body and that she needed to drink blood. They traveled to the boma and bought a bottle of blood at a shop. She drank the entire bottle of cow blood mixed with milk! Yummy Yummy! Another woman in my village was experiencing headaches and pain in her legs. The traditional healer made small holes on each side of her head and her knees, ankles, and feet, and then smeared black charcoal over the holes.

There are countless stories and many cross-cultural experiences I can’t wait to share with everyone. I am truly happy here and I am learning more about myself with each passing day. I have to challenge and push myself to adapt to the culture and to recognize my strengths as well as my weakness. I miss you all tremendously. I will be back to Chipata July 1st for my vacation to the game park in south Lilongwe about 5 hours from Chipata. I will be taking a safari and seeing The Big Five: elephants, zebras, hippos, cheetahs, and giraffes. We will be camping in tree houses and reportedly the animals roam beneath you at night. So I will be sleeping with the wild African animals! Til next time……
Charlye, Kristena, Agnes

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bush Note

Hey you guys! I got a bush note last week and it is too hilarious not to share! Okay so a bush note is just a note that is passed from village to village til it finally somehow ends up in the right hands. So I was impressed b/c the note was written in English but my Headman was upset b/c he couldn't read it. It is village practice for all communication to go through the Headman first before any messages are delivered to people in the village. It was quite funny b/c my Headman had to walk to the school to get a teacher to interpret the letter for him before he came and passed it to me.

Anywho, here it goes:

Charlye Ramsey,

First and Foralmost I would say how are you? You are here informed that there is a club making a kraal for the goats. Come at 08:00 hours and watch what they are doing.


Too funny! First and for almost! ha ha! Of course I attened b/c as you have read in my previous blogs I HATE GOATS! I really hate them. And I am so glad the villagers are beginning to learn that walking in goat poop is not cool :)

Monday, May 21, 2007

True Life- So this is what it’s really like….

Out with the old and in with the new. For the life of a villager, this can be interpreted in many ways. Some of the things I learned during training I have found as very useful, however, as I quickly discovered, I was living the life of luxury in Chongwe. If I was directly taken from the plane to the bush I am not sure if I would have made it. In retrospect, life was easy during training however at the time, I thought I had been dropped off in the middle of nowhere. Now I really know what nowhere really is. It is biking uphill 10 km to find electricity, but still no luck in finding running water. It is going for days without realizing that you haven’t spoken English. It is waking up at 4:30 am to chickens and goats and pigs and screaming children just to sweep your dirt yard. It is co-habitating with spiders, termites, lizards, frogs and rats. It is going 4 weeks without washing your hair or looking in a mirror. It is cycling 36 km (22.5 miles) in one day. It is attending traditional ceremonies with men wearing headdresses and animal skins. It is living in a village with a polygamist Headman. It is finding 101 uses for a stick. It is craving pizza so much that you dream you are swimming in marinara sauce. Chimate Village is quite a large village. Mufumu (Headman) Chimate is a polygamist. Between himself and his two wives, they have 20 children, 21 counting his newest child, Kristena Zulu – ME! Following Zambian traditions the Headman passed his tribal name Zulu to me. I am not certain where Kristena came from. It is not Christina or Kristen but a ‘Zamblish’ combination of the two. Now I am expected to name the next born child in the village. There is a young girl who is 6 months pregnant and I thought of giving the name Liberty to her child to represent America. Her pregnancy was unplanned and she and the father of the child do not intend to marry. The father and his family were ordered by the Headman to give the girl two cows and 300,000 kwatcha (about $73). Dowries are a common practice in Zambia. I have been asked countless times how many cows my father is requesting for my dowry. I just tell them that I do not know how to cook nsima and they are no longer interested! A man will not marry a woman if she does not know how to prepare their staple food of nsima. Other than being served on a plate, I have not seen any rats (knock on wood). It is harvest season now but I have been told that once the crops are taken from the fields that the rats come in the villages to look for food. So, I have that to look forward to. As of now I have traded my host family rats for pit latrine bats. The bats have taken residency in the depths of my latrine as their bat cave. I have decided that bats are much more terrifying than rats, I mean aren’t bats just rats with wings? Using your imagination, I am certain that you are able to envision why I am much more afraid of bats in my latrine than rats in my house. Peace Corps Medical Office would get a good laugh from a med report that begins with “Well, I was squatting over my pit latrine when…”.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Things I've Learned in Zambia Part Deux

24. It is much easier to carry things on your head (see Emma).
25. Green bananas and oranges are ripe.
26. It's liberating to go 4 weeks without looking in a mirror.
27. Don't drink village beer, they say it makes you blind! (I think we use the term "beer goggles").
28. All of 1980s Goodwill clothing donations must have been sent to Zambia!
29. Yum-Yum Honey Crunch (peanut better) and SaltyCrax (crackers) are the bomb!
30. Living with spiders, lizzards, and termites isn't that bad, however, I could do without the rats and bats!
31. Villagers give drunk a whole new meaning!
32. As homosexuality "doesn't exist" in Zambia, men walking hand in hand is more acceptable than for men and women.
33. An old plastic container can entertain Zambian children for hours.
34. It's okay to read more than one book a day.
35. Attending 3 hour meetings in a not yet mastered 2nd language gives you plenty of time to make lists of things you've learned!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Things I have learned in Zambia

1. Refridgerate After openning is just a suggestion.
2. Laziness is relative.
3. Shaving is overrated.
4. You really only need two sets of clothing.
5. White people really can't dance.
6. College dorms were luxury suites.
7. I can beat anyone in a staring contest.
8. Laughter is a universal language.
9. The 10 second rule doesn't apply here, if it falls on the ground I am eatin' it!
10. Don't worry it willl build your immune system.
11. I hate goats.
12. A bucket of water can go a long way.
13. Save everything, you will use it again later.
14. I could steal candy from a child.
15. Green oranges and bananas are ripe.
16. Twenty six years of proper English instruction can be reversed in two short months.
17. Clear your plate, there really are starving children in Africa.
18. Mail from home is like gold!
19. Soya pieces. Why aren't they big in America?
20. I can sit and do nothing for hours on end.
21. Once you get a fire started you will want to cook all day.
22. Burn everything before throwing it into the trash pit (first see number 13).
23. I really stand out in a crowd, being white and all.