Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Peace Corps’

Catching Rain Water (My Peace Corps Experience — Part II)

It takes just over thirty minutes to travel the fourteen miles from the nearest city to Scott and Gina’s village. We have completely left civilization as we know it. There is no electricity, no running water, no stores for supplies and no taxi’s that drive past this place. Therefore, it is not possible to easily “just make a run to the store”. Women walk the entire way to the city with large baskets of garden vegetables on their heads that they will sell at the market.

We are definitely living the simple life here and no one is in a rush. We seem to wake up and go to bed with the sun around here. It is just easier than using your headlamp or dealing with the mosquitos that come out at night.

Everyone has time to welcome the new visitor. Villagers hold their right elbow with their left hand when outstretching their hand to shake mine. They give a little bow then clasp both hands together and reach to shake my hand a second time. “You do realize we are going be stopped by everyone to shake your hand on the way to the clinic.” Gina said after the third formal greeting. “I thought it was nearly a three mile walk? How will we get there on time?” “We are on Africa time. It will be fine, whatever time we arrive.”

That was definitely a different way of looking at things. The school house was the only place that seemed to run on time. I spent several days assisting at the local school, while I was in the village, teaching a math review class for ninth grade students. These students were going to take their end-of-the-year exams the following week. Only students who passed the test would be allowed to attend high school the following year. Student who continued to high school next year would have to board at the school during the week since the school would be so far away.

I don’t think I ever had students so eager to learn. We reviewed about two-hundred pages of the required math textbook. I had to write important concepts for the students on the board since the students did not have a textbook for math. Only the teacher had a book.

The first day I started teaching I had not realized that I had missed their ten o’clock break until ten minutes to twelve. I asked, “Do you want to take your break now?” I heard a unanimous “no” coming from the group. “Well would you like a five minute break?” Then one boy answered for the group, “You have already missed the break; Just keep going.” I looked at the class who were seemingly agreement and continued on. I thought to myself, “That has never happened to me in America” then continued teaching.

In the middle of my class on the first day a student rapped on the door. “Can I join your class?” “Come on and sit down.” I replied. The boy did not have a uniform on but I did no think very much of it. Not all students in the lower grades could afford uniforms. After class the same boy caught me outside the door with his brother who had been listening to my class from the window. He was actually an eleventh grade student and he wanted to prepare for his twelfth grade exam that he would take in one year. He has to pass all portions of the exam to complete his diploma or he would have to try again the following year. His brother was a twelfth grade student and he wanted help with preparing for his exams in a week. I spent a little extra time with the two students at the clinic until Gina was ready to walk home from work. They seemed grateful for the extra help.

The other comment that through me off guard while teaching was on the last day when we finished for the day. I had already returned one additional day more than planned. Since I was leaving the next day I told them I could not return but I was going to have Scott and Gina report back to me on how they had done on their test. All the kids said thank you and I hear two students shout, “God bless you.” Again, that has never happened in America. I found that the students really wanted to learn and were grateful for help in their studies. It was a pleasure to assist with their learning.

Scott had assisted with me when he was able to break away from his duties. I understand that he is continuing to help the students review as time permits. It sounds like both he and the students are enjoying it. Gina worked nearby at the clinic. Since I was teaching four to five hours straight when Gina popped to in I had her do a few stretches with the kids. They both loved it.

I spent about two hours a day walking to the school or clinic. One day the rains came on the way home so Scott and I ducked in for cover until the rains subsided. Luckily Scott had brought the cards so we could play another game of cribbage. Scott and Gina had wanted to learn how to play cribbage in order to play with the other Peace Corps volunteers. Needless to say we practiced every chance we had on the trip. However, when we stopped under the shelter to play during the rain, it did not take long to amass a small crowd to watch. The kids laughed when I shuffled the cards.

The simplest things would collect a crowd especially when Scott, Gina or I were around. Everyone was interested in their friend from America that looked so different than them. Gina and I sang songs or invited groups to do art activities in the afternoons. Gina had to try to set certain times when the children could come over so they had something to look forward to during the day but would not be outside out hut all day. Gina would make them “do work” before playing. Such as pick up a piece of trash. This helped instilled some type of work ethic as well as the importance of keeping the village clean. However, after it was time to “go home” the children never stayed home for long. The adults are so busy in the village, farming and maintaining daily life, that young children did not do much all day and loved any and all attention.

Scott, a fisheries volunteer for the Peace Corps, walked us to one of the community fish ponds. Some villagers recently sold their fish and made their first ever profit from the man-made fish pond. This had been very exciting for all villagers and provided the needed boost to keep working on the project.

Life in the village is mainly spent doing things which we take for granted; Fetching water, boiling water for drinking, heating water for bucket showers, maintaining your garden and animals (aka: one of your main food supplies), washing laundry by hand, washing dishes in a basin, preparing water with bleach to wash you hands and providing your own transportation by walking or biking to places. One of the most difficult tasks is getting the coal for cooking to burn and stay hot throughout the cooking process. My last day in the village, Gina and I cleaned a large steel drum in order to catch rain water in the rainy season. They are hoping that this will ease the number of trips to the stream to get water.

Next door to Scott and Gina, the family has two young brothers that seem to take advantage of all the experience Scott and Gina have to offer. These brothers have goats, cows, sheep and chickens. They also have made four fish ponds behind the house and dug there own well with a bucket. When I asked how they got the hole that deep they showed me where there were vertical steps straight up in the wall. I could not believe that they had dug this over one-hundred foot well without a machine. They told me they still wanted to go deeper, “until the water was to their waist.” Finally, the last day, I was in the village their pregnant goat birthed twins. They would have the first goats in the entire village that would be used for milk. Gina, who had worked with goats extensively back in the United States, had worked with the family for weeks to get this goat prepared for milking. They decided to named the goats Gina and Evon. So, now I have a goat named after me in Zambia.

I had a wonderful time with my friends and getting to know their village. I know that I was deeply touched by the people I met while I was there. One lesson learned is that the people in the village do not have much, but are happy and grateful for what they have. My stay in the village reminds me to also be grateful for the blessings I have in my life and not to take anything for granted.



















The Two Extremes of Africa (My Peace Corps Experience — Part I)

I arrived to Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia, directly after spending time in Rwanda trekking gorillas. One thing to understand is that there is not a “budget” option to do this activity in Uganda or Rwanda. The permits are limited to eight tourist for each habituated group, for one hour per day and most often permits must be purchase far in advance. The cost is five to seven hundred and fifty dollars depending on the country you choose to visit. Therefore, you will not see backpackers or the “budget traveler” doing this activity. This was the one place, probably more than any other country I have ventured, where most tourists have traveled abroad quite a lot. I met some really wonderful people but I will have to say it was one place I felt, at times, there was a “keeping up with the Jone’s” mentality about where people have traveled. Example? —“Oh, you have traveled to British Columbia. That is near where I was raised. How did you like it?” Response: “It was wonderful. We went to see the glaciers. We have seen glaciers on three continents”. Not knowing how to reply I responded, “Nice.” That literally is how that conversation went and ended. I tell you this story to highlight how I went from one extreme in Rwanda to another when I arrived at Mogul Guest House were the Peace Corps Volunteers were to also arriving for a three day conference.

I was meeting up with friends of mine, Scott and Gina, who decided to join the Peace Corps for a two year term. They have been living in Zambia for fifteen months as part of the Peace Corps Organization. During their conference days, I was going to take this three day opportunity to catch up on my blog, do some shopping and get additional visa pages at the U.S. Embassy before we all went on safari in east Zambia. As I arrived that night, the volunteers were doing a different type of bragging than in Rwanda…. “Well, I got here on one mini-bus ride from my village for 3,000 Kwatcha, then I got a hitch all the way to Lusaka and the driver bought us lunch. He even went out of his way to drop me off.” Response: “Wow…Okay, you win.” All the guys circled around the group nodded their heads in agreement. (By the way, 3,000 Kwatcha is about sixty cents.) And so my Zambia experience, a different kind of experience, began.

One thing to understand is that the Peace Corps Volunteers in Zambia make about 50,000 Kwatcha or ten dollars per day. Even though the Peace Corps advises them not to hitch hike it is done with a “nod, nod, wink” because some volunteers live so far out in the bush there is not even an option of a minibus to their village. Volunteers get a little extra travel money to attend their “required meetings” to the capital city but not “per diem” as we would in the states. So their money does not go very far in covering the costs of the expensive capitol of Lusaka. I can tell you all first hand that there is no “travel-gate” during this Peace Corps conference. The guest house can fit twenty people in rooms normally. The Peace Corps fit all thirty-two fisheries volunteers in this guest house. The hotel had to add beds to rooms and dismantle the reception area to make a sleeping porch room with several beds. At first, volunteers were not excited about the sleeping porch accommodations. However, the hotel tried to sweeten the pot by offering volunteers who opted for the sleeping porch either five beers or a free movie pass per day. Needless to say the reception area was happily occupied. Peace corps paid about sixty dollars per room. So again…No “travel-gate” here….If only our country could be this frugal in the rest of its spending then I am sure we would not have a 14 trillion dollar deficit. My suggestion, let the Peace Corps organization approve all spending.

I stayed with Scott and Gina and my sheets were in tatters. I quickly learned that a few Kwatcha or twenty to sixty cents per day with staff went a long way. I think Gina, Scott and I shared the cleanest room in the place. At least our room was the only room that was cleaned everyday. I even received new sheets.