Sundays

Sundays here are so long. I sit on the step of my little hut and look at my watch again. It’s only 3pm.
Any other day of the week I would be halfway through a lesson in something to do with health or Zambia or Lunda, the language I have been assigned to learn, or I would be on the way to the market or doing something for school.

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Spotted, yesterday: a cloud shaped like Africa!

Every day here is so scheduled. So hectic. But that’s what training is.
I wake up at 6am, my bath water is ready at 6:30. Breakfast is (usually) at 7am. At 7:30 I meet Hannah, my friend whos host family lives right down the street from mine, so that we can bike to class together. We are the only ones who live in this part of the village, 2.5 km off of the main road, and just over 3 km from the Peace Corps training center. She is learning Tonga (and will be placed in the Southern Province), while I am learning Lunda (and will be sent to the Northwest Province). But we bike to the same place each morning, and manage to fit in a daily debrief as we fly down the dirt road that we have already memorized for where to avoid potholes and where to swerve around the majority of the sand.
Our language lessons go from 7:45 until nearly 12:15, at which point we return to our homes for lunch prepared by some member of our host families.
In my language class are two other girls, Katherine and Casey, with whom I will be moving to the Northwest Province come September.
After lunch Hannah and I reconvene at 1:30 to bike to our second session of the day. This one will deal in our technical training: cross cultural issues, health training, and generally anything we need in our skill set when we make it to our sites this fall.

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Notes from a cross cultural session a few days ago.

Tech lasts from 2pm until 5pm.
By the time we get home it is usually almost 5:30pm. Hannah and I have had plans nearly every day this week to go for an afternoon jog when school lets out, but we keep getting home too close to dark to do so.
Dinner prep starts at 5:30 or 6, dinner is at 7 or 7:30, and I hang around until 8 or so before going back to my hut to read or do my homework. I am in bed, asleep, by 9. 9:30 at the latest.
Saturdays we have a half day of school, and are finished just after noon.

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The winter sun sets by 6pm here.

So, it is a Sunday. I have the entire day free, a rare patch of time with nothing to do. But what to do? The hours have been ticking by, so slowly it seems.
My bath water was ready at 8 this morning, giving me a nice chance to sleep in (not that I need it here). Breakfast was at 8:30, and by 9am I had the entire day stretching out in front of me.
Yesterday, though, Hannah and I left our bikes at the training center. So, at 9:30 we set off for a jog over to collect them. We finally managed to go for that run! We returned back to my compound to stretch a bit, and when she left I settled down to study. It was only 11am. By lunchtime, 1pm today, I had already made 60 flash cards and had worn myself out studying  Lunda. After lunch I washed some clothes, which brought me to 2pm. The afternoon sun was beating down, so I went back to my hut to finish reading my book and to paint my nails.
And now it is 3pm and I have nothing to do. My kindle ran out of battery (one of the things I hate about reading on a device), so it is charging on my solar panel in the sun. I could stay and read it, but the sun is still so hot (despite it being the middle of winter here), and the winds keep coming in and blowing sand directly at me.
The idea of going for another run has crossed my mind, but that, too, would mean spending more time in the heat.
Two hours until the sun will start going down, and then two more hours until dinner.
It is slow here, but in a nice way, I must admit. Maybe I will go inside and do some yoga. Or listen to music. Or draw little cards to give to my classmates tomorrow. I can do pretty much anything I want.
Because tomorrows Monday, and my hectic schedule will return, once more, and I won’t feel this sweet sense of boredom again for an entire week.

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In the early mornings

Every morning when you wake up it is still dark. The dawn is only just starting to creep in and kick the millions of stars from the pitch black sky, and the roosters have been singing their chorus outside your hut for what feels like hours now.
You unstick the thick mosquito net from the side of your bed and roll out from the sunken middle of your mattress.
It’s time for another day.
You walk outside to the edges of the cornfield to brush your teeth, and the low hills lining the horizon are still blue with dawn. The sky fluctuates between purples and blues and even peaches and greens closer to where the pulsing sun is slowly dragging itself into the sky.
The sun here is bigger than any you have ever seen, but that also comes as a result of living so close to the equator. It is thick and red in this early morning as it gets ready for another day of the dry heat and deep colds that come along with the winter months
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The fields are all dry right now. It has been months since the rainy season and it is nearing the end of the harvest season. Nearly all the maize has been collected, and the corn cobs dry in a giant cache nearby. The maize has been pounded, and the resulting powder is cooked into nshima to make up the staple food for lunches and dinners day in and day out.

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The road to school

But a day can turn from so good, so pleasant and nice, to bad so fast. You put your hand out on the door of your hut and a bee stings you. And you get asked to come into Lusaka, into the medical office, because you are allergic to bee stings and they want to make sure you are really okay. Even though you know you are okay already.
And it’s good they are taking care of you, but by 17:00 when you have spent the entire day sitting around the office, being proded and lectured on how to deal with this in the future, and you have been sitting around for hours, waiting for someone, anyone,  to take you back you your village, you are simply fed up and frustrated.
You have been here for days and it already feels like months. Every day, all day, is scheduled. Government issued pamphlets and assignments and even friends. And all you want is to be settled. Without someone telling you where to be and what to be doing twenty four hours, every day. Without  people watching what you do all the time. Without all the pressures to learn a new language, culture, group of friends. And it all becomes unbearably annoying at times.

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On the way home from school!

But then you get out of the car at your host family’s compound. And the sun is setting behind the swiftly blue-ing hills. And it is deep orange like the morning, and it is still even bigger and grander than any you have ever seen.
And soon the stars will come out: more than you had ever imagined existed.
And your host sisters run up to greet you, “muli bwangi” with their big smiles and questions about your day. And suddenly things feel so much more right again. Things feel more settled.
And, you think to yourself, this is it. This is real life.

On Laughing at Myself

When I was riding my bike home from training on Saturday I was doing totally fine. I had figured out my gears and had almost gotten the hang of riding this too-big bike over the dirt and rock roads that lead to my house. And then I hit the giant patch of (deep) sand in front of my house and my bike came to an immediate stop. And tipped right over.
So at that point I figured it was a good plan to just get off of the bike and walk it the rest of the way to my host family’s house, and hope that no one saw me.
No such luck.
The two older girls from my host family, Karen and Memory, came running up to me, giggling. I mimed, did you see me fall? Yes, they said, laughing still. So we spent a few minutes making fun of my clumsyness before they invited me to come along with them to do chores.
It was the first time we had actually spoken in the twenty-four hours I had been living with the family.

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My trusty bike, a bit big for me, but overall good!

Whatever I do here I feel like there will be someone there to laugh at me. At me or with me, however you want to see it. Because it is funny to see a muzungu (a white person) trying to do things for the first time. Riding a bike through the sand, hoeing potatoes for the harvest, getting water from the borehole.
Its easier to just start laughing at myself when I get things wrong. When I stumble over the new, foreign words, when I drop things or am generally awkward in a new space.

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Me and a Zamdog at a site visit last week

So here we are in school, at the Peace Corps training center in Chongwe, just outside Lusaka. We are busy getting ready to learn new languages and new skills for our service.
I will be learning Lunda, which is spoken in the Northwest province. I don’t know much about the province besides the fact that they are known for pineapples and honey and it rains there six months out of the year. 
But it’s good to remember to laugh at myself for the mistakes I will inevitably make. It’s good to remember to take it all lightly. And it will be good to remember, in a few months when I am in my own hut, when the biggest problem I had all day was falling off my bike into the soft sand of the road.

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The tarmac outside the village, on the way to school.

Staging

And we’re off!

Tuesday started Staging, the part of Peace Corps where they put everyone who is leaving for your country in the same intake group in a hotel and register you, go over last minute logistics, and spend some time going over what exactly the Peace Corps is.

So that we really know what we are getting ourselves into.

The staging sessions were ones that seemed like they were going to be dull sessions filled with useless information, but actually ended up being really informative, and a bit fun too! Mostly because I had a good table full of people, but also because we got a chance to talk a bit about Peace Corps, what its values are and what the mission of it is, but also about what we are expecting from it, what we are anxious about, what we are excited for, etc.

It was really nice to finally be able to talk to others who were also preparing to leave about what to expect, what we were worried about, what we were leaving behind, all that. It was also really nice to just get to meet the others who would be going with me to Zambia!

After staging we all went out to various dinners (our last in the states!), and then at 2am we left on buses for JFK! Our flight wasn’t until around 11am, but they like to have extra time in case someone forgets their passport. Or luggage. Or just decides to back out last minute from getting on the plane to Zambia!

After a 14 hour plane ride to Johannesburg, South Africa, and another 2 hour flight, we had arrived! An hour of going through customs, and grabbing our bags, and we were greeted at the door by current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers), who were ready to collect our luggage, take pictures of us in our sector groups (new trainees representing both the Health and Education sector are in my intake group: I will be doing Health), and throw us into Peace Corps vehicles to go to the motel where we would be staying!

The 2014 Health intakes, freshly arrived in Lusaka, Zambia
The 2014 Health intakes, freshly arrived in Lusaka, Zambia

One Week in America

I spent the last week on planes on trains on buses, bouncing from city to city. This is nothing new, seeing as I did that for the last few months as I made my way around Asia. But this time the roads are paved and straight, the trains are short and without bunks, and the cities are ones that are familiar. I’ve been seeing friends and family all over the east coast before going back to California for a week before I leave, again, this time for Zambia, this time for the Peace Corps.

Food!
Food!

I keep getting the question. The all important question: are you excited? And I say yes. And they ask, and are you scared? And I say yes. And I do mean these answers, but it is hard for me to completely feel them. I am excited, and I am scared, but at the same time I forget at times that I have these feelings. I am so focused on seeing my friends again, on seeing these cities again, on eating pizza and taking hot showers and sleeping in real beds again that I forget to check in with what I am feeling about leaving again, this time for two years.For twenty seven months.

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And right now? Right now I feel happy, right now I also feel sad. It’s been so exciting to see my friends, some of whom I saw a month ago when I was back in the states, most of whom I won’t see again for a long time. And it has been so exciting to get to go from friend to friend all week, getting lunches, getting dinners with people. Eating foods that I hadn’t had as much access to over the last year, foods that I wont get to eat for a while, again. And getting home so that I can unpack my stuff, I can wash it all, and then pack it up again for my next big adventure!

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