August 10, 2011
We have reached our 3 month mark of our service; 6 months now in country. It has been amazingly and surprisingly busy. The months of June and July passed in the blink of an eye and quite possibly we have achieved more in 3 months at site than our first year in the Philippines.
We have several projects going on right now. First, we are conducting household interviews to gather baseline data and will formulate our work plan based on the findings. On the days that we aren’t meeting with households we have been having cheese making demonstrations, working with 3 different dairy cooperatives to expand their product line, constructing a small earth dam, and linking with various organizations working in the province.
We feel very lucky to be placed where we are in Southern Province. We are an hour bike ride one way to get to a vegetable market (this is close by Peace Corps Zambia standards) and then from there we are an hour bus ride in either direction to a larger towns. Our village of Magalela has been extremely welcoming and even the milk centers in town have been very open and accommodating. The word of our cheese, or cisyu ca makupa (relish of milk) as we are calling it in Tonga, has spread and since we arrived people have been asking us to hold cheese making demonstrations. So far we have shown several families with dairy animals how to prepare and preserve the cheese. We have created a Zambian style dish using the cheese (think paneer or queso blanco) which has been a big hit. Many families here are receiving food aid and nearly all have cows. They are milking but don’t know how to make any dairy products from it aside from drinking it and they have no way to store it. By making cheese, we can preserve the nutrition that they derive from it for up to 6 months by storing it in brine; no refrigeration required. 100 grams of this kind of cheese can give approximately 20 grams of protein; comparable to chicken. Families eat meat about twice a month and one chicken will feed upwards of 10 people. So utilizing the milk this way can have a huge impact on the family’s nutrition and food security.
The dam project has been a very big deal here. We are in the South of the country with the Kalahari sands encroaching bit by bit. It is DRY. Being a traditional cattle society, there simply isn’t enough water to go around. Dairy animals particularly need significant amounts of water each day to keep milk production up. The village tried to build a dam previously using some logs and a plastic sheet. Unfortunately, somebody was out hunting rabbits (looking for some protein) by burning grass to chase them out and the fire spread to dam. It wasn’t the fire that destroyed it completely however, a lack of spillway and high rainfall led to all of their work being washed away. Fortunately, Bobby’s engineering background is proving useful here. He has gone through and done the proper calculations and we are doing some bush construction. All of the village men come together twice a week with their hoes, shovels, and whatever other tool they have and chip away under Bobby’s guidance to make a proper dam. This one should last 20 years and next dry season we will show them how to maintain the structure.
For the most part, we end each day feeling completely exhausted and fully satisfied with the work that we have accomplished. But in the past few months we have both had our breakdowns. Mine came first. A member of the milk center had invited us to his village to do a cheese demonstration on the other side of Zimba. Our round trip cycling time to this village is about 4 hours. On our way there, the wind was pushing against us making for a slow and tiring ride. About halfway to Zimba, Bobby got a flat tire and of course we didn’t have a pump. We called our contact in the village to see if we could reschedule and he was very upset; apparently he had a crowd waiting. I agreed that I was still on my way and that I would be in Zimba in the next 20 minutes to meet the person to escort us to the village. I rode as fast as I could only to find that there wasn’t anybody in Zimba waiting. I had to abandon Bobby on the sandy bush path just to come here to wait. I killed time by chatting with the milk center’s manager. Bobby arrived shortly after I did sprinting along with the bike. I was shocked at how fast he got there, I thought he ran the whole way; turns out he got a hitch from the Chinese construction workers.
After waiting two and a half hours for our guide to show up, we were ready to give up, have lunch and then go home. Just as we were about to walk into the snack shop, our contact showed up and insisted that we rush along to the village. I was a little irritated about being forced to wait so long but I was more upset about missing lunch. It is not a pretty sight if I go too long without food and cycling makes me ravenous.
When we arrived in the village, there was a group of women singing and dancing as a welcome. It was the most moving moment I have experience in country. We had a great reception and the demonstration was enthusiastically received. We took our time to answer all of the questions and before we knew it, it was already 3pm which was our cutoff time to get back to our village before dark. A family was just getting pots out to cook lunch for us but unfortunately we had to decline to make sure we had enough light to get home.
The cycle home was the worst part of the day. I was exhausted from already cycling two hours and starving from not having eaten anything since 7 am. The whole ride to Zimba seemed to be all uphill and sand. Vehicles would pass every now and then giving me a full blast of sandy dirt in my face. After one car, I just started sobbing uncontrollably. I felt I couldn’t move another foot. Bobby kept encouraging me by reminding me that we were only 10 minutes away from food and a little rest (LIAR!) before we start the last hour segment home. I kept peddling and sobbing. I kept my head down low so that the locals hopefully wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes when I tried to greet them in-between sobs. We finally got to Zimba and I devoured a chicken leg like an animal in one breath with oil dripping from my face and fingers. That day had the highest and lowest point for me so far in our time here.
Bobby’s breakdown came during our war with the animals. Not lions, elephants or other exotic animals that come to mind when thinking of Africa but livestock. He has been trying everything to protect our garden against cows, goats, chickens, and pigs. Our chicken house is then constantly under attack from the cows, goats, and dogs and then our seedlings are devoured by all of the above and also termites. So this requires us to be constantly vigilant.
Laundry day came around. Our seedlings were being stored in the laundry basin because termites were eating the cartons they are stored in, so I temporarily removed them and began washing away. Almost simultaneously we had an attack from all fronts. First a cow came and ate a pair of my wet underwear off the line in one gulp. Normally we can do a little tug of war to retrieve our clothes so I ran after the cow in hopes it didn’t swallow yet. While I was chasing the cow, our chicks went over to our chili and herb seedlings and had an all you can eat buffet and then literally just afterwards goats had gotten into our garden and knocked over our mini greenhouses (inverted plastic coke bottles). Our host mom had been at our house checking in on us just after this all happened. Bobby was in frenzy and ranting about our seedlings being destroyed. I thought it was funny at first and tried to put it into perspective. I told him that it is ok, we are not farmers and we don’t rely on those seedlings to survive (like people in the village do). That incensed him saying that I never cared about our garden anyway. I then realized he was having a moment and needed to cool off.
Frustrating bike rides and animal invasions continue. We are getting numb to the stresses mostly because the rest of the rewards are so great. When Bobby was first in Kenya somebody told him that “It’s not a safari if something doesn’t go wrong”. Part of the excitement and memories will be around the bad moments and frustrations as well as the high points. I just need to make sure I pack emergency snacks.