April 26, 2011
In a little more than a week, we will be officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers. A lot has happened in the past 11 weeks that we have been in country for our Pre-Service Training (PST). We have learned to embrace eating nshima, lumps of boiled corn meal, and have reached a conversational level in Tonga; a language I didn’t even know existed until a few weeks ago. For me, the days are filled with highs and lows which balance out to a nice happy medium by the end of the week.
During our time in Zambia, we will be working within the Linking Income, Food, and Environment (LIFE) Program. Our training so far has focused mostly on farming and tree planting; who knew there were so many considerations to take when planting trees. Of course, the methods and tools we practice in training are just a starting point and every community will have very different and specific needs. A few weeks ago we got to visit the village where we will be living in Southern Province. I felt like I hit the jackpot since our host parents are dairy farmers. We get to enjoy fresh milk every single day. Dairy products are the things that I missed most while in the Philippines. Not even realizing we would be posted to a dairy area, I brought rennet tablets to make mozzarella cheese so that will actually come in very handy in our village. I would joke before we left America that I was going to buy a milking cow and introduce our village to lactose intolerance. Our village of Magalela, however, is well accustomed to dairy products.
Our schedule during training has been intense. We are busy six days a week. Most days we have language in the morning for four hours, have an hour break for lunch and then an hour to bicycle over to the training center for technical sessions in the afternoon. The volunteers are spread out throughout Chongwe and stay with host families who speak the language that we are learning. Many stay in their own mud huts on the compound; Bobby and I stay in a room in a larger house. There is no electricity or running water, which isn’t entirely problematic but it is always wonderful to have electricity…it really is a marvelous invention.
Out of everything, the part I have the hardest time with is the bike ride. We are only a few kilometers from the training grounds but it is up potholed, rocky hills with some massive puddles that always leave me covered in mud. The first few weeks I was very timid about riding and would often curse (sometimes loudly) the “road”, the holes, the rocks, the mud, and our fate for ending up in the one Peace Corps country that expects its volunteers to bicycle ridiculous distances on equally ridiculous roads. I fell in a big hole that sent me flying off the bike on one of the first rides. I was pretty banged up and it left me overly cautious for weeks. Not to mention every now and then a kid pops out of a bush wanting a high-five, which I am not capable of going while clutching on to the handlebars for dear life. Today one even hung on to the back rack, which seems like good fun but nearly made me crash.
Now after about 10 weeks of riding every day I am finally able to stop looking for the holes to avoid and can now look up and see the beautiful scenery. Today, as I was admiring the emerald green fields and cornflower blue skies, I happily chirped a Tonga greeting to a woman and was immediately sobered when I noticed her eye was swollen shut from a black eye.
We are excited to finally wrap up PST and swear in as volunteers. It is bitter sweet leaving all of the friends we have made here, both American and Zambian but we are looking forward to heading to our site. We will have many more ups, downs and bitter sweet moments during our time here I’m sure but I hope to keep the happy medium going.