Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to Village Life...

It has been a struggle...
You know, I spent 3 months getting adjusted and accustomed to life in the village. Life seemed normal. Life seemed okay. I didn't really miss home that much anymore. I could live without friends and family. I could live without electricity and water. I could go weeks without being in town. It was my life. I was, as they say in Zambia, USED.
But then, take me away and throw me into two of the biggest cities in Zambia for 3 weeks, and it is all erased. I spent these weeks being surrounded by friends, and more especially American friends; friends that share my same culture, ideas, history, and lifestyle. We spent our time drinking, hanging out, and going out dancing (things that we hadn't been able to do in the 3 months prior). We got to meet and interact with town Zambians (who are a completely different kind of people than village Zambians). We felt the freedom of walking through shops and restaurants and towns without everyone staring at us and watching our every move. We were not the first and only white people they've seen. We could show off our meager language skills and dazzle those we spoke to (yes they've seen plenty of white people before, but none who can speak local languages). We felt proud. We went on vacation and hung out with tourists. We spent big bucks on safaris, cruises, and rafting trips. We lounged around in bed and by the pool without worrying that anyone was thinking we were lazy. We felt free. We felt almost like normal Americans again.
And then...back to village life...
Back to the loneliness, the boredom, the isolation, the hard labor of making fire and fetching water, the inability to communicate, the inability to get them to understand you and why you do the things you do. Back to the guilt for sleeping in too late, the questions about why you are spending so much time in your house, the random people walking back and forth past your yard and staring at you, the empty greetings, the lack of privacy, the lack of conversation and intellectual stimulation. Back to the unfamiliar culture, beliefs, and lifestyle. Back to never being alone, yet somehow feeling totally alone.
This is my life now. I know I'm making it sound horribly tough... but, don't worry, I'm sure I'll get used to it again. Maybe it will be okay and totally normal 3 months from now... by then it will be time for my next vacation...

Vacation in Livingstone

• Travelled down by bus (about a 6 hour trip from Lusaka) with Meredith, Emily, Musi, and Andrea. On the way we passed me and Meredith’s towns and our provincial town. We were proud to point them out to our friends (and all the bus passengers that were shocked that we actually live here lol).
• Arrived to find that our hostel was right next to the bus station! How did we get so lucky?!? The hostel was awesome- totally catering to young white tourists- pillows and comfy chairs/lounges everywhere, all open with a woodsy/outdoorsy feel, nice tropical looking pool area, amazing outdoor bar/restaurant area (with the best most variety of American style food I’ve seen in Zambia yet!), simple yet clean rooms, self catering kitchen, on-site travel/activity booking agent, etc.---Amazing! And Affordable! If you are ever going to Livingstone, look up Jollyboys!
• On our first day, we just lounged around at the hostel, simply enjoying being on vacation, and not having to answer to anyone. Plus, I think we might have been a bit tired from going out dancing the night before ;-)
• Our second day, we had booked a Game/Safari Drive in the morning and a Sunset/Booze Cruise in the evening. The Safari drive was awesome- we had a great guide (who even broke the rules a little bit and let us get out and walk)- and we were lucky enough to see all of the animals possible in the park except for the Rhinos- we saw crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, baboons, wildebeasts, zebras, etc. We even got to walk up close and look at a Buffalo carcass that some vultures were eating!
• After resting back at the hostel for a bit, we were picked up for the cruise. The boat goes down the Zambezi for about 1.5 hrs before sunset. They serve snacks, dinner, and all you can drink alcohol. The boat stops for the sunset, then returns back much faster than it came, at which point there is a crowd of young tourists downing more drinks as quickly as possible. Me being that smart one that I am, had decided to drink wine that night, since it is expensive in Zambia and I hardly ever get the chance…bad decision! LOL. Let’s just say that my friends were able to continue partying on into the night with friends they made on the boat…while I had to stay back at the hostel in bed  P.S. Don’t ever try to mix Red and White wine…yeah, it tastes okay…but did not make me feel okay!
• The next day, we decided to take a trip to Victoria Falls. We just walked the paths around the Falls, crossed the Knife Bridge, took some pictures, and watched our friend Musi bungi jump. As we were sitting up at the top of the falls, we saw a large group of people gathering on the shore, and we saw some boys coming from a distance, wading through the fast flowing current before the water goes over the edge. As they got closer, we could see there was one boy in front, feeling out the path and guiding the others. There were about 8 Zambian boys following him, and they were carrying something heavy. Finally, we could see that it was a body, all wrapped up in plastic and blankets. The crowd silently watched and waited as the boys slowly and carefully picked their way through the dangerous waters. They finally reached the shore and the crowd parted as they loaded the body into the back of a waiting truck, and drove away. There was a News Crew there that was able to give us a bit of information--- There are illegal guides that will take groups of people along the edge of the falls to pools of water where you can swim and even look over the edge. This boy (he was in his 20’s) and his friends had gone with such a guide last week and the boy had somehow been swept away/drowned while they were swimming. His body never went over the edge, but the search party was not able to find him for almost a whole week. It was only his friends and family doing the search and retrieval…the park would play no role in assisting. Sadly, these kinds of things happen all the time here, and nothing is ever done about it. I wonder if it would have been different if it had been a tourist to drown?
• We were having so much fun in Livingstone that we decided to stay an extra day and book a whitewater rafting trip. Me being the adventurist I am, I convinced my friends to do the full day rather than just a half day trip. LOL might have been a mistake…
• Anyways, the day started with a big group intro, safety instructions, and all that good stuff. It was fun because we already knew many of the guides (I even partied with some of them the night before). For the ones that didn’t know us yet, they soon did, as they were shocked and delighted to hear us speaking to the others in Tonga and Nyanja. After safety briefings, we took a little drive to the Falls, unloaded the gear, and hiked down to the bottom of the Falls- the “Boiling Point”. They set the rafts in the water and loaded us in. There were 7 or 8 rafts in the group. My guide was kind of like the leader, so on the first rapid, we stayed back and supervised as all the others went first. I think the first 3 in a row failed and flipped! Oh well! We had no choice now- we were already in it for the day! Finally, my raft tackled rapid 1… and we made it through! After that we continued on… all boats making it through 2 and 3… then a few flipping on 4… mostly good on 5 and 6… THEN WE GOT TO 7… the longest and hardest rapid of the trip- I think half or more of us flipped- my boat was first to attempt and we flipped right away- I tried to hold on to the safety line, but my hand slipped and off I went down the rapid! Did I mention this is the LONGEST rapid? Meaning I got dragged and tossed and dunked under the water for what seemed like forever! Now I am usually a pretty tough and adventurous kind of girl…but I was seriously scared for my life! I have never been through something so terrifying- I SERIOUSLY thought I was going to drown. I was frantically trying to swim toward the edge or to the nearest safety kayaker, but it didn’t help. I finally gave in and let myself float away, finally being rescued by another raft down where the water finally calmed and smoothed down. I looked around and the river was littered with paddles and people in orange life jackets. The rafts collected everyone, and then took a little break to sort out and redistribute everyone to their correct rafts. Many, like me, were scared and flustered and out of breath, choking and coughing up the gallons of water they swallowed. One boy had a bloody nose and a chipped tooth. I heard later in the day that another girl had chipped her tooth also. Crazy! The next few rapids were terrifying, mostly because I was dreading a repeat of number 7. We stopped and had lunch after 10, which I could hardly eat because my stomach was still doing flips. My friend decided she had had enough and quit for the day. Me and my other friend reluctantly decided to continue. Luckily rapids 11-25 were much calmer and simpler than the first 10, and I think we made it the whole afternoon without any rafts flipping  After the hard day rafting, a bunch of the guides came back to our hostel to hang out at the bar, and then we went out dancing with them in the evening. All in all, an exciting day!
• Finally, the next morning we had to say goodbye to Livingstone. I can’t wait to go back! Going for New Years’ if not sooner! We took a bus to Choma, where we spent the night, more out of laziness than anything… and then finally returned home to village life the day after that.

IST (In-Service Training) in Lusaka

Sorry that this entry will not be very elegantly written--- it can be somewhat difficult to remember and write out clearly all the details of what happened 3 weeks ago. So, I’ll instead just list some of the key events, and hope that is enough to satisfy everyone 
• So, IST (In Service Training) happens at the end of CE (Community Entry), which is the first 3 months in your village. At IST we met up again with all 27 of us from my original training group (this is the first time we have all seen eachother in 3 months). We stayed in the same college dorms that we’ve stayed in before for PC Lusaka events.
• We had 2 weeks worth of workshops/training sessions on a variety of topics like- IGA’s (Income Generating Activities), PTAs, Grant Proposals, Adult Literacy, NGOs, Permagardening, HIV/AIDS, Safety & Security, Libraries, GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camps, etc.
• Also included was a 2 day workshop w/ a counterpart from each of our villages, that focused on Project Design and Management, where we learned how to work together to identify and prioritize the community’s needs and then plan solutions/get projects started within the community.
• We also had a 2 day Behavior Change workshop that focused on how to choose a target behavior and how to move a target population towards that behavior
• Outside of session times, we had free time to hang out at the dorms or to travel into town for dinner, shopping, drinking, dancing, etc. After 3 months alone in the village, I have to admit there was A LOT of drinking and going out (some went out every single night for the 2 weeks!). I found it a little bit overwhelming to be in such a large group of people and to be in such a big town, so I only went out 3 or 4 times.
• At the end of the 2 weeks, everyone split into their different groups heading different directions for vacation- some to Malawi, Luapula Province, Livingstone, and some back to their villages.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Exam Week

The school Term II is almost over. The pupils had exams this week and will finish up exams next week. I spent the whole week testing and marking exam papers for the Grade 5 Class (Teachers are moved around so that they don’t test their own classes). It was fun to be with the Grade 5’s and definitely interesting as some of them only understand basic commands in English (i.e. sit down, be quiet, etc.). Anything else I wanted to try to say or tell them got mixed results of understanding and total confusion… but a lot can be said with facial expressions and body movements (it helps with my background of Special Education as I am used to having communication issues with students :-). By Friday, they were even comfortable enough with me that I attempted to teach them some American School culture and was having them “catch a bubble in their mouth” (they fill their mouth and cheeks with air and hold it- thus keeping them quiet and from talking). Then we randomly ended up playing a game where I was naming animals and having them make the sounds, finally ending on “Fish”, where I explained that fish don’t make sounds, and we circled back to having a bubble in our mouths. They were very amused and happy to have a Mukuwa teaching and playing with them all week. Unfortunately, marking the test papers is a little more depressing. Depending on the subject, the average grades were between 20-50%, with only a very small number getting anywhere above 50%, and maybe only one or two making it above 80%. And it was not shocking to find some getting 7%, 10%, 13%, etc. But, when you consider that these are the same children who understand only very basic English commands, that are then expected to read and answer test questions written entirely in English, it’s not too surprising. They are basically just “Christmas Treeing” their way through their entire Education.
Next week, when school ends, I will be going on “Holiday”. First I am planning to go to Choma for the weekend to hang out at the PC House and with Meredith. Then, we will travel together to Lusaka, where we will meet up with all the others in our RED training group for 2 weeks of workshops. When that is finished, some of us will go to Livingstone for a few days of vacation. Finally, towards the end of August I will return back to the village and get ready for school to open back up.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive…

But, I’ll start with the positives, then get to the negatives. Since my last post, I’ve just been in the village continuing to settle into everyday life. I selected a teacher to co-teach with, and I started teaching Grade 8 and Grade 9 English classes. I was super scared about starting to teach, but it went way better than I expected. The Grade 8’s in particular are usually a pretty troublesome class, so I was afraid to teach them. But, I gave them a very strict warning that they better listen and behave when I teach…and they are actually following and listening to that! They have been great for me so far! The Grade 9’s (who I had been more friendly with all along) are actually the ones that are a little bit more troublesome now when I’m teaching. All in all, both classes are going well, and I’m looking forward to continuing teaching them, and hopefully improving their learning in some small ways.
My administration is still excited about me painting things on the school, and they bought some of the white paint needed. But, I told the staff that they need to be the ones to come up with the ideas of exactly what should be painted and where; my Head agreed and told each department that they should bring their ideas to me; but, so far nothing has happened. I’ve also come to a bit of a stand still with the resource room. We have some more resource books that came from the Head’s closet, but I don’t have anything to make additional shelves with right now. I was also granted 1,000 free story books from a certain NGO that need to be picked up in Lusaka and brought to the school…so then we will actually have the start of a small library.
I spent last Saturday- Tuesday at the Zone-wide sports tournament for my school. We took 65 pupils and 8 teachers to camp the 4 days at the host school. Girls and female teachers camped inside classrooms, and boys/male teachers camped outside in temporary grass shelters (with no roofs). Each school had to plan and bring food for their own meals. There were 9 schools attending, and sports being played included athletics (track & field), soccer boy’s, soccer girl’s, volleyball boy’s, volleyball girl’s, and netball girl’s. At the end of the competition, my school came in number 2 overall. For the individual sports, this is how we placed:
- Athletics- #3
- Soccer Boy’s- #1
- Soccer Girl’s- #2
- Netball Girl’s- #1
- Volleyball Boy’s- didn’t place
- Volleyball Girl’s- didn’t place
My team that I’ve been coaching this term is Soccer Girl’s, so I was very happy and proud for my girls to come in number 2. Unfortunately no one really cares about girls soccer, and none of the other teachers cared to congratulate us, because they only cared about boys soccer and netball getting number 1. Also unfortunately, no one focused on volleyball, and I later found out that our school didn’t even show up (and therefore forfeited) most of the volleyball games. Next time, I think I will have to focus on helping volleyball more.
So, although I had fun camping for the sports games, it was also quite stressful. I struggled to stay positive throughout, and also when we returned home. I’ve been thinking about the best way I can explain it… and this is what I can come up with: Every single thing that happens in a day here is strange and different, and therefore difficult, for me. Things that seem totally typical and normal for Zambians are completely different than the way things are in America…and this becomes overwhelming.
For example, at a sports tournament in America there would be a strict and organized time schedule; a happy, yet disciplined crowd; chaperones for camping; organized duties, schedules, and menus for cooking; professional umpires/referees/judges; clear and for the most part undisputed results, etc. But, at a sports tournament in Zambia there is an extremely flexible and inefficient time schedule; an out of control, on the field, drunk, and disorderly crowd (and even a few drunk teachers); lack of supervision of pupils camping; no set duty, schedule, or menu for meals (and lots of disputes about food, and very hungry children); umpires and referees with no training; fighting, arguing, and complaining (between referees, coaches, pupils, and villagers) over every single result announced. In short, everything seemed extremely chaotic and unorganized… and quite overwhelming.
Then came the return to school- which occurred by packing 65+ people and their luggage into the back of an open canter truck, driving at night down dirt paths, with a driver that was clearly drunk…again, not something you would ever see in America- but to Zambians, totally normal. Anyways, the next day in America, teachers and students would return to school and work to get back to the normal routine at school. But, in Zambia, I showed up to school and found that the other teachers from the trip were “tired” and decided to just not show up for school. For the pupils who had returned from the trip, about half came to school, half stayed home. I stayed at school and watched and waited for a couple hours. No teachers for upper basic came, and no classes occurred. It was a free for all- the students had nothing to do, and were left to play around in the classroom or wander around the grounds. To make things worse, a man showed up to sell fish- and those teachers that were around (teaching the lower grades) left their classes and stood outside bargaining for 45 minutes (I timed it) with the fish man- meanwhile the entire school’s worth of children were running around and not learning! I became quite frustrated by that time, and became unable to force myself to be positive about any of it anymore. Luckily some of my pupils could see that I was upset and came over to comfort me. We took a walk and bought some oranges to eat, then we eventually decided to go home, since there was obviously not going to be any classes taking place. I went home and took a 3.5 hour nap- not out of tiredness, but out of pure disappointment.