In the City, Off to the Village

Today was a beautiful day. The cold season is starting to (finally) pass, and while the mornings are still bitterly cold, the days are starting to be warm, with little wind and a whole lotta sunlight beating down on us.

Today, too, was a great day because we got to go to Lusaka! We are leaving to go on our second site visit, which for me means to North West Province (more on that later), and so we had to go to the grocery store in Lusaka to get food for the trip, and were given the rest of the day to do with as we liked. So, after buying our groceries and dropping them with the Peace Corps vehicle, Katherine and Casey (the two other Lundas!) and I left to start wandering around the center city area.

I love wandering around cities. Especially new ones. The crowds were new, the street vendors were new, the women walking through the streets balancing giant baskets of bananas and sugarcane on their heads while they avoid the people and weave their way through traffic were new. We found ourselves walking through some back streets, off of the main tarmac area, where we found the used clothing store, DAPP (equivalent to Goodwill, and where we could get five items of clothing for under 30 kwacha/$5), and a giant food market lining the road! Here we couldn’t resist buying some avocados and carrots, and talked to anyone who would listen in Lunda. Most people in Lusaka don’t know any Lunda, but it was still fun to try.

After wandering around the city we found our way to the mall where we pigged out on bacon-hash brown-cheeseburgers, and even cut up one of our avocados on them to make them extra delicious. We got a lot of odd looks from the waiters, but none of them told us to put the avocado away so we just went with it.

The bacon-hash brown-cheeseburger. And Katherine's thumb.
The bacon-hash brown-cheeseburger. And Katherine’s thumb.
The dregs of the meal, and empty avocado skins.
The dregs of the meal, and empty avocado skins.

So, on Monday morning (early!) we leave for North Western! We (myself, Katherine, Casey, and our language teacher, A Harriet) will visit one of the current PCV’s sites up there for around four days before we head to our individual sites, where we will stay for two days on our own, and then take buses back to Lusaka. Of course, to get to the site we have a ten hour ride followed by a night at the Peace Corps house in Solwezi followed by another few hour ride the next day. And all that reversed to get back from our sites to Lusaka. It’s a bit of a hike.

Now, where am I going? I found out a week ago that I am going to be posted to Minyanya, a small village in North Western Province, around 45 km east of Mwinilunga, my district Boma/main town, and probably 150 km from Solwezi, the Provincial Capital. I am their first health volunteer, though they have had other volunteers in the past, working on education and agriculture projects. I will be living behind the clinic. My host works at the clinic, and will help to show me around the village, and to connect me with all the important people I will need in my life there. They are still working on building my house, but hopefully will finish that soon. I am very close to the tarmac, and also to another school.

Me and my host (and clinic worker), Kenneth. (At our host workshop last week.)
Me and my host (and clinic worker), Kenneth. (At our host workshop last week.)

It’s all incredibly exciting, getting the chance to see my village, getting the chance to finally travel a bit, getting the chance to meet other volunteers, and to walk around the city by myself and to finally start to glimpse a bit of the independence that has been lacking in our lives here! In one month we will be completing our final language exams, cultural presentations and technical presentations. Just a few days after that I will swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. And the day after that I will ride in a cruiser up to the Provincial House in Solwezi, and I will start the process of moving in to a new hut, a new town, a new life. All on my own.

As a bonus, Hannah and me being weird.
As a bonus, Hannah and me being weird.

A Letter to Myself in Six Months

Dear Jenna,

I am sitting in my hut right now, on my bed under the mosquito net with my pillow and sleeping bag between my back and the cold concrete wall. It is almost like a couch, and it is the most comfortable place in the tiny 5×8 foot hut. It is the first time I have gotten to use my computer in over a month, which in itself is so nice. I should be studying for Saturday’s language exam, but instead I am here, writing this.

The full moon has passed, just a few days ago, and the sky is pitch black again. The type of black where I start to worry about getting lost while leaving my hut to brush my teeth each night. Remember how sometimes the sky gets a bit lighter at night and you think it’s because your eyes are starting to adjust better to the dark, but in reality it’s just because the bright light of the full moon is lighting up the night? Yeah. But the sky is pitch black again, and when you go outside you can see all the stars imaginable, and the Milky Way, too. It really is a site to see.

Desmond Junior and Kelvin and Victor and Karen are outside, sitting around the brazier. Esnet, your host bamaama is shouting something at them in Nyanja. They respond lazily.

I want you to know how proud of you I am. I want you to know how amazing it is, what you are doing each day. I want you to know that there truly are times when I don’t think that I will make it, and then I think of you, far off in the future, doing it all. And doing it well. I want to remind you to be brave.

The time is slowly speeding up here, and right now I think that is a good thing. Because June felt like it took months to go by, and I don’t want every month to feel that way. But July feels just a bit better and August will feel even more so, I am sure.

I still feel like I am living in a different dimension or universe from whatever is happening at home. Does that feeling ever go away? Do you ever get used to the discord between your life and your friends’ lives?

I don’t know if you think the time is going too slow or too fast, but whatever it is, just know that time is passing as it should. That sometimes when it’s going too slowly that just means you are really learning a lot from where you are and what you are doing. Sometimes when it seems like time isn’t passing at all you just need to get away with a cup of coffee and a book. Fall into another world while reading, and watch the time slowly start to speed back to normal.

I promise: it works every time.

Sometimes when it seems like time is passing too quickly and it doesn’t seem like you have enough time to do everything you need, just remember how far you have come. How slowly it went at the beginning. How you craved for it to speed up. Because right now it is speeding up so slowly, and there is so much yet to come. Remember that sometimes time flying by is good. It means you are really doing what you came here to do. It means you are working hard and learning a lot. And teaching a lot, too.

It will get hard, it will get easier. I don’t know that, but I do, at the same time. Because that is the way it always is. Even when it is so inexplicably hard, just know it will always get better.

Sometimes there will be days where the most work you can do is to light the brazier and cook yourself lunch. Don’t worry: that is your accomplishment for that day. Sometimes there will be so much to do you will think you can’t do it all. You can. You always can. Whether it be house chores or work tasks. Sit down, make a list, start tackling the list one by one.

Go for a run. Paint something. Draw a picture for a friend and send it in a bush note down to another village. Play your ukulele.

Go to the prov house. See people. Talk. Laugh. Listen to music. Plan a trip somewhere. Enjoy this. Enjoy it all.

Know you are doing an amazing job, whatever you are doing and wherever you are.

Your fan,

Chicken and Sunsets

My youngest host sister, Joyce (10/11 years old), came and knocked on my hut this morning around 10:30.
“Come on, Jenna, it’s time for the chicken!”
I looked outside and there she was, plaid skirt, pink top, live chicken and kitchen knife in her hand.
“Come on!!” She implored, and lead me around to the back of the compound.
She the proceeded to walk me through killing the chicken (I’ll spare those details), plucking the feathers, chopping it up and washing it, and then putting it in a pot over the fire to cook for lunch.
I have officially cooked a chicken from scratch.
Anyways, the reason for all of this was that today was PACA day, a day where they have us stay home to learn some of the household chores in the morning, and practice PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) tools on our host families in the afternoon. It involved a good deal of Peace Corps Goal #3.

Goal #3:
Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

So, instead of going to language all morning we stayed at home, doing whatever our host mothers had prepared for us. Which, in my case, was making chicken, nshima, and green for lunch. Yum!
I also did some laundry and swept out my hut.

I get bored in class and draw on myself.

This past week has flown by, though, with lessons every day and a language simulation (oral exam) on Saturday. And between learning to dress for both the freezing cold mornings and the scorching hot afternoons, making hundreds of flash cards, and learning to prepare chicken, time has been flying by.
But sometimes it does get so slow. I have been getting more and more antsy as the days wear on. We have been inching towards the long awaited one month mark of being here, and I am finally starting to feel a bit settled into the routine! I know the bush path I take to school by heart: I know where the bad sand traps are, where the potholes are, where the rocks are that could trip me up on my bike. I know my routine and am getting used to waking up at six in the morning, when the sun is just starting to rise. I am still not used to how incredible the sunsets are, but they’re too beautiful to really settle in to.

The sunset.

I have started to go for runs in the evenings after class, something I never liked to do before. I generally find running to be boring and tedious and boring. But it is becoming more and more appealing, and I am staring to really enjoy it! Possibly because it is the only time that I have truly to myself. Where I’m not feeling self concious for sitting in my hut, where I’m not out with other people.
Sometimes I run with Hannah, which is nice, too, because we get a chance to talk and also just to run in silence.

Me and Hannah, after practicing ukulele on Sunday.

I think I’m slowly getting ready to go out to my site. To have autonomy, to have my own space.
It also means being able to survive in a foreign language, one that I am more and more comfortable with as the days go by, and to be able to go out and do the job I am supposed to do in a new place. A job which I won’t really figure out until I am in my final village. But the tools that they are working to give us are slowly coming together to start to make sense.
In short, I’m starting to be a bit more ready to do all of this.
And excited. Nervous and terrified, yes, but excited too.
I have no idea what each day really brings here, besides a beautiful sunset, but I think it will still be okay.