Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's been quite a couple of weeks. I flew out of Zambia last monday morning, quickly arrived in Joburg and then proceeded to sit for like 10 hours whilst waiting for my overnight flight to Frankfurt. The next morning I arrived in Germany and after a mercifully brief layover I was in the air bound for America. At approx 12:30 local time I touched down. Perhaps my life has involved a 36 hour period that felt longer, but I can't remember one. But,... worth it. Worth it to see and hug my parents for the first time since last February. As we headed towards food my brother called and told me to make my parents take me to a barbecque restaurant where they served a hamburger topped with bbq pulled pork. (!)
The first week was pretty much all about the wedding. After a day to rest on Thurs we headed to Indiana. The next three days were kind of a blur. I saw a ton of people, many of which I had not seen in years, for what seemed like not nearly enough time. The wedding was great. The ceremony went really well, I didn't flub any of my best man duties. I'm not really sure what to say about it. It's hard to sum up everything that comes with a brother's wedding day, but at the end of it I was exhausted but extremely happy that I was able to be there.
After staying an extra day to take my grandparents out to dinner for their 50th, we headed back to MD on monday. It's been pretty relaxed since then. Other than an overnight trip to Ocean City, MD on Thurs/Fri I've just kind of been a bum, watching lots of ESPN, catching upon a year's worth of missed music, and eating. Lots of Eating. It's disgusting. Tomorrow evening I head back, landing back in Zam on Tues night.
I'm trying to process the last 12 days and explain them here, but I'm finding it quite difficult. I've certainly enjoyed my time here, but it's definitely strange. After the wedding a friend asked me if, coming back here after 15 months abroad, my perception of America has changed. Honestly I don't know how it could stay the same. I'm not talking about foreign policy or anything like that, though being out of the country makes you examine what effect American policies have on the rest of the world, and its usually pretty significant. I'm just talking about American culture. I had forgotten that grocery stores here have EVERYTHING or that there's an all you can eat buffet on like every corner or what it's really like to go to a major american tourist destination. I've spent the last 15 months trying to get to the point where living in Zambia feels something like normal, and now America feels less than normal.
So that's that, I think. Sorry if that didn't make much sense. I've had a great time here, I'm glad I came, but I'm not sorry I have to leave again. To all my friends in IL who I didn't get to see, I'm sorry, my tour managers kept a tight schedule and I couldn't really escape, but I'll see you guys definitely next year.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I'm in Lusaka right now, at an internet cafe. In approximately 18 hours I board an airplane, and approximately 36 hours later I'll land in Washington D.C. For Peace Corps volunteers who make the trip home during their service, no matter the reason, there are a series of inevitable conflicts to deal with. Many volunteers get home, hug their parents, eat mexican food for the first time in months, take a hot shower, watch cable tv, and can't help but feel a certain sense of guilt. Having spent a lengthy amount of time living in a village with people who basically live hand to mouth and will never have the opportunity to just leave for a while like we do, leaving can make PC seem like a fantasy land, a magical place we can pop in and out of that has no place in reality, and maybe that cheapens what we're trying to do here. Many volunteers are overwhelmed. Life moves slow here, there's not much to see or do, and getting to America and being subjected to everything we've gotten used to living without can be a bit much. Volunteers are subjected to the same questions over and over and over again. Yes, we really poop in a hole, yes, malaria is bad, yes, hitching a ride is crazy. And then, by the time we have to come back here, we've grown accustomed to seeing family and friends again every day, and eating good food and having electricity and running water, and we don't wanna leave.
This is not to tell you that I will have all these issues over the next two weeks. And certainly not to tell you all I don't wanna come home tomorrow. Of course I do. It's been all I can think about for the last 4 months. I'm very much looking forward to all of the things I mentioned above possibly happening and believe that whatever stress I feel over the next two weeks will be completely worth it. Basically, what I am trying to say is, those of you who I will be lucky enough to see, go easy on me, and I'll try not to freak out and shut down and go into hiding.
That's all. Tien. See you on the other side.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oh yeah i remember this. Been a while, i'll try to update as comprehensively as i can without droning on for too long. I did in fact come back from zanzibar, reluctantly, and returned to life in the village. Since then, things have been going really well. In mid-march i went to chipata in eastern province for a week of hiv/aids training done by peace corps. We all brought community workers from our villages and spent the week doing hiv education and learning ways to teach the people where we live about prevention and positive living. It was a great experience for myself and my counterpart, and since then he has been keeping me busy. We've been working with the hiv positive group in the area, meeting about twice a month and teaching them what we learned. The group is also working to start a chicken coop to raise money for themselves. I'm basically the cheerleader, encouraging them and helping out however i can. They're a great group of people and i'm excited by their enthusiasm. In mid april, having an entire weekend of vacation days over the easter holidays, my friend koh and i headed back to malawi for a short vacation. Our destination this time around was cape maclear, on the south end of the lake (nkhata bay, where i went last time, was on the north west side). There was a little more adventure to it than we had expected, including a bout with malaria (not me this time) two 12 hour trips to get there and back, and a lost reservation that ended with 5 people sharing an empty house with two mattresses and nothing else, but the cape is absolutely beautiful and we still had a pretty great time. The next week i went into lusaka for a night to say goodbye to half of the volunteers in my province, lusaka province consists of 3 education volunteers and 3 health volunteers, the education ones having started a year before us, so last month was the end of their service. It was hard to say goodbye, especially to eric, my closest neighbor. While in peace corps your neighbor becomes a pretty important part of your life. You hang out together a lot, you learn a lot from them, and a lot of times they keep you sane, especially when you're first posted. Their group leaving makes my intake the upperclassmen of peace corps zambia, which is pretty crazy. At the beginning of this month we went into lusaka for our midterm conference, for some training, medical check ups, and a workshop on perma culture gardening. It was good to see everyone again and good to reflect on the last year and prepare for the next 12 months. Since then. Its been village life as usual, minus a quick trip to lusaka this week to get my work permit (only took 15 months). I'll be here another week and a half, then i go to chipata for provincials, then i fly home for brendan's wedding. Well, that's about it for now. Hope you all are well. Miss you all a lot and can't wait to see some of you in a couple weeks.

Monday, February 16, 2009

And now we come to the end. I'm in an internet cafe in Stone town, about 5 hours away from our ferry departing the island for Dar Es Salaam. It's been quite a week. The music fest was a lot of fun. I must admit I was afraid that it was going to be like three days of bad reggae music or something like that, and while there was a little of that the music was actually really good. They brought in traditional African world music type acts from all over the continent. The festival was held in a fort, and it was one of the coolest venues I've ever heard live music in. We usually would eat dinner and then get to the festival around 8 or 9 just as things were picking up steam. There were about 40 volunteers from Zambia at the festival so every night turned basically turned into our own little dance party. While world music isn't really my thing it was hard not to have a good time and I'm definitely glad I came. It's time to get out of here though. I've had a blast but this vacation has run it's course (I mean that in a good way) and it's time to get back to the village and sleep for like a week.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

So at like 8 o'clock yesterday morning my companions and I got on a shuttle bus and rode down to the south west coast to spend the day swimming with dolphins and snorkeling. This was not my first time embarking on such an adventure, in 2006 I went on a dolphin swim trip, with very little success. This time around was, um, different, to say the least. We arrived at the beach at around 0930 hours, picked out neon colored masks, snorkels and flippers and walked out to a wooden motorized boat and set out dolphin hunting. the next hour was equal parts hilariously absurd and awesome. The first thing we notice as we set out is that we are not alone. There are like 5 other boats full of pasty white european tourists in speedos, just like our boat, hunting down dolphins. Each boat has about 12 people in it, all sitting on the side of the boat, facing out, flippered feet dangling in the water. We're all heading in the same general direction, looking for dorsal fins. When a dolphin was spotted, all boats would make a bee line for the animal, circle around it, the guy driving our boat would yell jump, and 50 people would fall into the water and swim towards the one dolphin who is trying to get away from all these people as fast as it can. It's a sight to behold, and the whole time watching these people and myself I couldn't help but wonder if this was really stupid.
But then once you jumped in the water, you looked down and realized you were swimming with a dolphin in the Indian Ocean. The last dolphin we found actually stayed around and swam with everybody for a while, and it was pretty amazing. At a couple of points I thought it was going to touch someone's feet. So in spite of all the absurdity of the experience it was definitely worth it. Afterward we went snorkeling by a reef for a while. I've been snorkeling a few times in a couple different place but I've never seen anything like this. Thousands of fish and coral and plants in as many different colors. Afterwards we had a local meal of fish and rice (a bit more of a novelty for the other people in the group than for us, we're used to village food), then headed back to Stone Town. I'll write about the music fest at some other time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

So let's try and recap.
On Friday morning my friends Josh, Tim, Christa and myself left Lusaka and hitched about two hours north to a town called Kapiri Mposhi, to the Tazara Railway station to catch a train leaving at 1400 hours for Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. We rode first class, which means we were in a compartment that held 4 people, as opposed to 2nd which holds 6, or 3rd, which I don't even want to think about. The train was sparse, to say the least. Our compartment consisted of 4 benches with blankets which were our beds, and a small table. every car had a toilet and a sink. and there was a bar car that served drinks and dinner. We reached Dar 51 hours later. While the ride through Tanzania was beautiful, and it's nice to have transportation that you can walk around on, 51 hours is too long to do just about anything. We arrived in Dar on Sunday afternoon. Since it was too late to get to Zanzibar that day we got a hotel in Dar for the night. The Econo Lodge (no relation to the American chain) was pretty bare bones, but we were just happy to shower for the first time in 3 days. The next morning we got up early and went to catch the 0700 hours ferry to the island. At approximately 0900 hours, after three solid days of traveling we had reached our destination. Was it worth it? Absolutely. This island is unlike any other place I've ever seen. We arrived at Stone Town, the main port town on the island. It's an odd place. There's a mixture of African, Indian, Middle Eastern, and white tourist influences, an odd combination that gives the city a very unique feel. It sucks you in pretty quick. We spent the daygetting lost in the many alleys and walkways that comprise the city (think those scenes from like Indiana Jones movies where he's chasing some villain around Cairo or somewhere like that) and eating at Mercury's, the restaurant named for Zanzibar's most famous native son, Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen. Tuesday we decided that before the music festival started on Thursday we should head to the beach for some serious down time in the sun. We got a shuttle bus to take us to Kendwa, a popular destination on the West coast, about an hour out of Stone Town. We ended up staying at Kendwa Rocks, a nice lodge right on the beach. The beach is amazing. It looks like all those pictures of beaches you've seen on postcards or calendars or on your computer screen saver that look too perfect to be real and you can't believe those pictures were taken at a real place. They were probably taken here. The sand is incredibly fine, like flour almost. The water is almost a neon blue and is just warm enough to make it enjoyable (watch out for sea urchins, though. i watched two people get stung). We've spent the last two days here, laying around, eating good food, getting sun and swimming. Tomorrow we head back to Stone Town for the festival. More updates sometime soon.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm currently sitting in my cooking shelter, watching the rain. It's rainy season right now. From about november to march in zambia you can expect rain just about every day, though it varies depending on where you live. I kind of enjoy it, though the rain makes it a pain to start a fire for cooking or do laundry. Life slows down here during the rains, though it wasn't moving very fast to begin with. People are out in their fields or staying inside keeping dry. So what does a volunteer do? Not much. You stock up on books, get comfortable, and settle in for a few months of inactivity. However, since one can only stay still for so long, rainy season is also prime time for getting out of the village. Most volunteers went somewhere over the holidays, be it a big international vacation or just somewhere out of the village. But just around the corner is the biggest vacation time in peace corps zambia. In february i and about half the volunteers in country will get on a train to dar es salaam, tanzania, then take a boat out to the islands of zanzibar for the annual zanzibar music festival. Zanzibar rose to prominence in the heyday of colonialism as a key point in the spice trade. While it's still renowned for it's spices it's now mainly a major tourist destination. Fascinating culture, pristine beaches, excellent food... I can't wait.