Saturday, September 20, 2014

Noise Pollution

We have rented a house in a new neighborhood of Chalata. The area was recently designated for new development and plots are sold fairly inexpensively on the condition that the owner begin building within a year and the houses must all be modern houses and no mud huts. This area was designated about the same time that the government initiated a new loan program for teachers in which they can essentially get a loan with no questions asked. So, many of the teachers in Chalata have taken out loans and built or are building houses in this new neighborhood. Most of them have completed their own houses and are also completing rental houses for income generation. While, Zambians need options for loans and better banking services, I do not think this is the best system. When teachers receive loans, without having to make a plan for repayment, they will likely default on the loan in the end. The idea of renting out houses as a stable way to generate income and repay the $15,000 loan is unlikely to succeed as there are not that many potential renters and few can afford to pay a reasonable price. My husband and I are obviously an exception to this. We happened to relocate to Chalata right as a few teachers were finishing these modern rental houses and naturally the $100 of rent per month is nothing for us compared to what we would pay back home in the states. We chose the one house that includes access to water from the landlord's pump/tank and quickly moved in. We were happy to move into this nice 3 bedroom house that even has electricity. We also thought that living with relatively well-off neighbors, most of whom are educated and work as teachers, would be convenient. Despite the many rules for the neighborhood, there is little real enforcement so we still find some "village problems" that we had hoped to avoid. For example, one neighbor refuses to adhere to the rule that chickens must be penned and he allows his 4 hens, 12 chicks, and rooster to roam the area in search of food so that he doesn't have to buy feed for them. The problem with this is that the chickens quickly find all the gardens and help themselves. We lost all of our papaya seeds, and other seedlings to chickens and now the garden beds we prepared remain empty until we can find a solution to the chicken problem. If we want to plant, we would have to pay for a fence or use hanging pots all because one selfish man refuses to follow the rule that would benefit not only me, but all my other neighbors who have gardens as well. I have threatened the man, by saying that if I find his chicken in my garden again, I will eat it for dinner, but he must not believe me because they still roam free. I am currently in the process of training my cat to kill the chicks and chase the adults away, hopefully it will help some. In the meantime, my husband just throws rocks at them whenever he sees them in the yard. In addition to the chicken issue, we have had a huge noise issue. Because the source of water is very near to our house and in particular, our bedroom window, there are frequently people gathering outside our window waiting to fill buckets and jerrycans. They usually greet each other and gossip a bit, which doesn't bother me. However, many of them like to entertain themselves by listening to music on their phones. In America, when one listens to music on a phone in public, one would use headphones, but not here. They turn on the music as loud as it will possibly go. By music, I should clarify that it is really just noise. "Zampop," the preferred genre of music is excessive bass, annoying fake sounding tricks from the keyboard and random words spoken in a variety of local languages and's terrible. In addition the speakers on the cheap phones here are not made for musical enjoyment and begin screeching at the high volumes. Unfortunately, the noise issue has been the biggest cultural difference to overcome. Zambians actually think it is kind and generous to play their music as loud as possible because this gives everyone else the opportunity to enjoy it as well. Using headphones or reducing the volume, is almost considered selfish. No one would think for a minute, that their choice of music and their poor quality speakers might not be enjoyed at 6:00 in the morning. No, I can't do anything about the culture here and I won't begin to try, but I do desperately seek to set rules for my own yard. I constantly, walk out to the water tank and ask people to reduce the volume of their music while they are in my yard. I usually blame it on my husband sleeping, or say he is not feeling well, but mostly I just don't care to listen to your terrible noise from inside my own house. If I want to hear music, I will select my own preferred songs and will play them on my own, good quality Samsung, phone at a volume which allows me to hear fine, but cannot be heard at any of the neighboring houses.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mzungu Prices

Here in Zambia, us foreigners like to joke about what we call mzungu prices. Mzungu literally refers to a foreigner, but is almost exclusively used for Americans and Europeans (even Asians are usually put into a different category.) While the term itself is mostly used to refer to our race, it is become associated with a class difference as well. All mzungu are assumed to be rich and therefore, local Zambians often see us as a money-making opportunity. When going to a market or hiring a taxi, you may find that the price quoted to a mzungu is much higher than the price for a local. Of course this system is extremely frustrating for those of us who live in Zambia, especially if you are a volunteer living off a meager salary. When one knows the system and learns the fair price for items, it is much easier to haggle and get the local price instead of the mzungu price, but you must always be vigilant or you will be taken advantage of. As soon as you speak in the local language and mention that you know the normal price, you will usually be offered the fair deal, but the original price is almost always ridiculously high. In order to illustrate this concept, I must use an example that was recently shared with me by a friend. This friend of mine is half Asian and half African. Her husband is half African and half European. When the two of them applied for their marriage permit here in Zambia, they encountered an issue. The government office actually has two different official prices for marriage permits, one for Mzungu and one for black Zambians. The officials had no idea which price to charge for two people that were half in each category. Each official went to their supervisor until my friend was finally sent to the most senior official in the entire office. After much discussion, she even offered to pay the mzungu price, which was significantly higher, 300 kwacha instead of 50. The official refused the higher price saying it was not possible to charge a non-mzungu the 300 kwacha, but also refused the lower price as neither of them were 100% black Zambians despite having resident status and everything. Finally, the officials determined an innovative solution of splitting the difference at 175 kwacha which was quickly agreed upon by my friend in an effort to save time. Still this presented an issue of writing the official receipt for a non-standard price. The moral of this story is that mzungu prices are real and they exist on multiple different levels. And as a foreigner, especially a white foreigner, living or travelling in Zambia, you must always be cautious in order to avoid paying double or triple the normal price.

Friday, August 29, 2014

On Becoming a Hoarder (again)

I am reinitiating my old Peace Corps blog about life in Zambia. I am no longer in Peace Corps, but am living in Zambia about 12 kilometers from my old village. I have started an NGO and am working to send orphan students to secondary school. More information on this can be found at our website And now back to blogging about life in Zambia... During my Peace Corps service I sort of became a hoarder which is not uncommon, at least for volunteers in Zambia. When things are so difficult to obtain, you suddenly start seeing every object as potentially useful. It becomes difficult to throw anything out because it might someday be useful and also because you become more conscious of your waste when you have to dig a trash pit yourself and burn the items every so often rather than just leaving them at the curb for the trash pick-up: out of sight, out of mind. After moving into our new house with only the bare minimum of household supplies, a few buckets, a few pots/pans, a few dishes, 3 chairs, and 2 small folding tables, we were forced to be somewhat resourceful. Already, we have sewn some curtains from cheap cloth and built shelves for the pantry. As we accumulate what would normally be considered trash, we have held onto these valuable items and turned them into really useful things. For example: the light bulb boxes make good pen holders, the plastic coke bottles can become fly traps, former bottles of oil are used for fetching/storing water, the peanut butter jar is now home to papaya seeds. For the most part this reusing of materials is incredibly resourceful and beneficial for the environment. However, I will be the first to admit that there is a tipping point at which this behavior can go too far. Now when I shop at the grocery, instead of bringing my own reusable bags, I encourage the cashier to use as many bags as possible so that I can have enough trash bags and not have to purchase any. And yes, I am well aware that this isn’t the most environmentally friendly behavior, but it gets worse. That empty glass bottle of Heinz 57 ketchup that we just finished seemed like a priceless gem. I carefully washed it and found a spot for it on our pantry shelf. What will I do with it, you ask. I have no idea, but it seems way too potentially valuable just to throw away. This is where I start heading down a slippery slope of someday waking to find the spare bedroom full of potentially useful items that I have no use for, but feel they are too valuable to simply discard. Thankfully, this time around, Aaron and I have each other so hopefully we will be able to keep each other in check, but maybe we will just become twice as bad as before, who knows? In the meantime I have put most of the items I’ve saved so far to good use and I remain with only a few saved for future use.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The move

I just moved into my new house on Thursday March 4th. The day consisted of getting up early, packing the things I had in Serenje, driving to Chalata to pick up my program director then driving up to Kafwa village. My director told the community members that they were taking me to a new villagesince Kafwa community didn't appear to work well with each other or with me. He gave one main example. Then the villagers blamed everything on me and said some hurtful things about me. After that I loaded up my belongings and said goodbye as quickly as possible because I just wanted to be out of there for good. On the way out we got my bike in Chalata and some money in Mkushi. I will admit I cried a bit on the way out and not because I was sad to leave, but because the people there were so mean. Despite all of that sadness, arriving at the new village was wonderful. The family was happy to see me and the house was finished and ready for me to move in. One of the mothers hugged me and said welcome home my daughter. And they really have treated me like one of their children all this week. The village is called Mikunku. The host father is originally from Zimbabwe so he speaks Shona, English, and now Bemba. He ahs two wives that are both amazingly sweet and helpful. They bring me food all the time and invite me to eat dinner with them. They planted two flower plants in my yard and are always trying to help me settle in and make sure I'm taken care of. There are several children around and one of the oldest girls, named Precious has been really helpful. She speaks English well and isn't shy about it so we usually speak in english for her to practice and I've helped her with some homework problems. She took me to the school on Tuesday to meet the headmaster and some teachers. So far everyone I've met has been really great. There are several people from Zimbabwe and they all sem to be really hard working which is awesome. I've also attended a women's club meeting last Friday. Unfortunately, I've only been in my village for 5 full days. I had to leave Wednesday morning to go to a meeting in Serenje. I was supposed to return on Thursday morning, but had to come to Lusaka instead for an appointment. Overall everything is great, this new village seems to be the complete opposite of the last one so I'm really looking forward to working there. Also, I'm planning to go up to Zanzibar for Easter with a few other volunteers, so I'm looking forward to that as well. UPDATE from 2014: After moving to my new house, I looked forward to enjoying the improved living situation, but fate had other plans. After just two weeks in my new home, I began experiencing health issues. I was sent to a few specialists in Lusaka before eventually being evacuated to DC for better treatment. I spent several weeks undergoing treatment before I realized that I would not be able to return to Zambia any time soon. Instead, I was medically separated in May. While, I hoped to someday be reinstated in the Peace Corps, God had other plans for me. I ended up working as a zookeeper, getting a masters degree in sustainable development, starting an NGO IIM International and marrying the love of my life. Currently, my husband (another RPCV from Zambia) and I are living in Zambia again and running IIM International which is able to do more for development in Zambia than we were able to accomplish during our short Peace Corps Services. Overall, I highly recommend Peace Corps to anyone interested, but I will warn you that it will change your life! In my case, despite all the hardships, I truly believe my life has been improved because of my time in the Peace Corps, even though it was cut short.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm still in Lusaka for now, but I've been cleared to go back and there is a PC vehicle going tomorrow that I was told I could get a ride with. I got approval from several people in PC, but I just talked to the driver and he says he doesn't think he will have room for me bc he already promised other volunteers that he would take them even though I was told last Friday that I could get a ride in this vehicle from his boss. I never talked to him personally bc I didn't have his number and I don't know him. He is the driver for a different province and he wants to take the volunteers from his province and told me to go with the driver from my own province, even though the driver from my province isn't going back until Monday and I am not allowed to stay that long. Sometimes I get overly frustrated dealing with PC staff. Not to mention m

Most of the people that I have been meeting with or talking with about the move and the issues at my site have been incredibly unsupportive and one person who is supposed to provide support to volunteers actually hasn't returned any of my phone calls or tried to talk to me in the past almost 2 weeks even though I told her I really needed help becuase everything was going so badly. It may sound horrible, but part of me thinks maybe they just want to leave me here in Lusaka or Serenje until I actually go stir crazy and decide to quit PC and just go home. Technically they shouldn't want volunteers to quit but in this case it would save them from having to move me and organize all of that. Which by the way they still don't have a date or a plan for my move. It kind-of would make sense not to bother planning anything if they are secretly hoping I will just go home so they don't have to deal with me. I don't really believe this yet, but it has crossed my mind, and it does potenitally explain the behaviour. When I met with another staff member to explain that I felt like they were just letting me fall through the cracks and not actually providing any support when I could really use some after dealing with really rough village issues for the past 2.5 months. Then at the end of the meeting with her she asked about my new site and then even implied that I wouldn't be as good of a volunteer as the person that I'm replaceing. I thought wow how is that for support when you need it. I'm getting really fed up with PC staff, but as of now I have no intention of quitting. I plan to stick it out and I really hope that if I ever do get to move to this new village, that things will get much better. I hope i will be able to work on projects and be in a village where at least someone actually wnats me there.

Aside from that craziness I have been trying to enjoy my time here. I've seen two movies: Valentine's Day and the Princess and the Frog. I went to a really nice Italian restaurant for dinner once. I've had chinese, ice cream, cheese, fresh fruit, yogurt and so many other goodies. Yesterday I bought a really nice big soft rug that will be wonderful in my new house if I ever get there. As frustrated and disappointed as I have been lately, I'm trying to be positive and optimistic my planning things for my new village and think of how I will decorate and arrange furniture now that my house will be twice as big. On a happy note, I just found out that my cat is still alive and my old house has not been broken into yet. Luckily my counterpart is taking care of things for me there. Hopefully I will pick up my stuff and my kitty before anything bad happens to them. I know for sure I won't be able to move until Tuesday at the absolute earlier, but who knows if that will even work out. I wish I could leave this on a more positive not, but trust me the ice cream was a super plus and really did help make up for a lot of the bad stuff.

On a funnier note: When we went to the Italian restaurant, it seemed pretty nice for Zambia so like a trypical sit down restaurant in America. I walked up to the hostess and asked for a table for the three of us. She asked if I had a reservation, when I said no she gave me a look of disgust so I quickly said we don't mind waiting. She asked if we wanted to sit inside or outside so I said whichever is available but she said both were available. It turned out there was hardly anyone else at the restaurant at the time. Before I could choose she looked all three of us up and down with a nasty face as if she couldn't believe that we had the audacity to enter her restaurant dressed as we were. Now even though I had showered that day, my clothes had been worn for 3 days straight but still it was jeans, a black tank top and flip flops. She seemed most offended by the flip flops. Aside form my clothes not being so clean the fashion would have been perfectly acceptable in America. At this point I quickly requested a table outside and we chose one off in the corner away from potential stares at us PCVs that were clearly not very welcome there. I was a little shocked to have a Zambian woman look at me with such disgust as if I weren't good enough to be there. It was kind-of funny. Needless to say the service wasn't too great, but the food was delicious so overall well worth it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Harrassment is a constant here in Zambia. As a white person here you are life a fish in a fishbowl, you're entire life is for others to watch and there is almost no privacy except if you hide in your rock castle or mud hut. I mean I got used to the stares pretty quickly. And I did realize that if I were just chilling on my front porch back home in the US and I saw an elephant walk by I would be intrigued, I would obviously stare and maybe even sneak outside to get a better view, possibly even follow it a bit. Elephants are not native to America and you don't see them very often, certainly not right outside your house! I mean maybe you've seen them before at a zoo or circus or even just on tv/in a magazine, but never outside roaming around in your area. This is partly how I justify the otherwise rude behaviour of other Zambians toward white people, especially out in the villages. Anyway, aside from the staring which comes from everyone, although most common in chidlren, there is the harrassment from Zambian men. They almost always want to marry you, and not only do they act that way, they most often walk up to you as a perfect stranger and flat out declare that they want to marry you. Sometimes they just say "i want to marry a white woman." There are many different ways to deal with this. If I'm slightly annoyed I will usually just ignore them and walk away. If I get angry or if they act really inappropriate, I will call them stupid, rude, etc. tell them to shut up and go away, al in Bemba of course. However, when I'm in a good mood and not busy I will just mess with them which can be highly entertaining for myself. Sometimes I tell them seriously that I will marry them if they send 200 head of cattle to my father in America. Sometimes I say I will marry them if they will cook nshima for me, wash my clothes, collect water etc. (all the womens job) this really shocks them because one of the main reasons for getting a wife while you're young is so you don't have to do any of this for yourself. Sometimes I tell them I'm married and my husband will be very angry if he ever sees another man talking to me then at some point I shout a greeting to my "husband" and watch the man run. It my sound lame, but I live in a rural village so sometiems I'm pretty esperate for whatever source of entertainment I can get. Also, it helps to turn it into something fun, like a game, because then I don't get so frustrated with it all. Still, even with my overall good attitude towards the excess attention from almost every Zambian man, sometimes, I just want to be left alone. Unfortunately, I discovered today that there is essentially no where you can go where you can avoid this unwanted attention. I'm currently in Lusaka, and actually there are a lot of white people around, especially in the neighborhood that I am staying in and around the shopping center where I spent most of the day. So with more options you think some of the attention might be diverted and in fact it probably is, but apparently there is still plenty to go around. The reason I bring this up is because I went to church today (It was actually I great church and I really enjoyed being able to fellowship with so many other christians, Zambians, Indians, Asians, and even other mzungus but I'll talk about that more some other time, if I remember.) This boy sat down next to me, like a high schooler-later he told me he was 16. And he started chatting about the church and I gave yes or no responses to his questions without ever looking away from the stage trying to give the signal that i didn't want to be rude, but i was trying to listen to the service. Then he when we were told to introduce ourselves to people around us he told me his name and asked for mine so I told him. After greeting a few other people we all sat down and a few minutes later this kid leans over and says "I thought your name would be summer" I said "no" and cringed a little because i do hate the Zambian tendency to say I thought that... and keep insisting that they thought whatever even though they've already been told that what they thought was wrong so they should just stop talking about it! (I beleive I've already discussed that in a previous blog.) Then I sat for a full minute wondering where the summer thing came from, then he leans over agian and says "because you're so hot." All I could say was wow, and not in an excited tone at all. Usually zambians are very direct in this matter and just flat out say the want to marry you, even if they don't know you at all. I've never heard any sort of pick up line, so I was pretty surprised here, even if it is Lusakaland. As much as I love cheasy pick up lines, and I've actually never heard that one before, I was very annoyed that he was being to chatty in church. I then had to tell him to please be quiet so i could listen to the service. That shut him up for the remainder of the service and as soon as he started chatting again on the way out I just said look kid you're like 15, thats far too young, go look for someone your own age. I don't think I full convinced him that I was actually in my 20s but o well, I walked fast fast and he got ost in the crowd. Really I just couldn't beleive that in church of all places I would be bothered like that. I mean maybe before or after the service, but during it...really?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

OK to start with I have had some issues with my village. Some of them have been occurring off and on since I moved in, but some new ones have sprouted as well. My villagers don’t care about learning new things or working with me and rarely can I get anyone to show up to workshops, even when they are the ones that requested the workshop in the first place. Also, my family constantly begs for food and money, lately they have been starving again so the begging is worse than usual. They actually called Peace Corps and said that I am a bad volunteer and that they want a new one (they didn’t tell PC but they were really upset because I wasn’t there to beg food from when they really needed it.) It has been very difficult on me personally to know that my host family doesn’t want me there and that even the village as a whole doesn’t care whether they have a volunteer or not although they do like to brag that a mzungu lives in their village. In addition to all this I had an unfortunate incident occur on my compound that seriously threatened the safety of my counterpart. After that I have not felt safe staying on that compound and seeing as there is so little work opportunity in the area, PC staff and I have agreed that I should move to a different village. I will be moving about 100km south on the Great North RD so I will be the same distance from Mkushi, just the other direction, much closer to Lusaka, and farther from the PC house in Serenje. I am very excited about this village. I have heard great things about it and I was able to visit last week, I met the host father and two counterparts. Everyone is awesome and they seem excited about havi9ng me there, the house is nice and there are lots of cute little kitties around. I have already packed up al my belongings and left my village, almost for good. I will return to pick my things, and my cat before moving to my new site and at the same time, PC will tell my village that I am moving for good. So far they don’t know. I couldn’t tell them because it’s very likely that they would have stolen as much of my stuff as possible before I left. I am disappointed that I have to move, but the only two really good things about my previous village were the scenery and my counterpart. Overall, I am very excited about my new village and the opportunities for actually starting projects and working with the villagers.

Other news: I went to Lusaka last week to get a swine flu vaccination and I was able to stay with a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Eastern Province in Zambia, her husband and son so it was really awesome to visit with them and we had good conversations. Also, I saw Avatar, ate a giant fudge brownie ice cream sundae, pizza, delicious pasta, and so much more. It was a nice relaxing few days. Now I am back in Lusaka already for an appointment tomorrow and then I should be headed home Saturday morning. And by home I mean the house in Serenje because I’m currently semi-homeless. I think the current plan is to move into my new home on Monday or Tuesday of this week, which will be nice.

I can’t even remember the last time that I updated my blog, but that’s all I can think of for updates. The new volunteer intake just arrived this afternoon so they will be in training for the next few months and then sent to site the end of April. We are supposed to get a lot f new volunteers in Central Province so that is exciting and we are all looking forward to meeting them eventually.

Seeing as this has been a fairly serious update, I will leave you with a lighter anecdote of how I made 3 little girls, about 8 years old run away screaming and crying as if they had seen a ghost. I was biking back from Chalata and I saw three young girls walking towards me. As I got even with them, they stopped and began running alongside my bike, the opposite direction than they were actually traveling. I was going a bit slow because it was up a hill and I didn’t mind them “racing” me as children often like to do. Then two girls started reaching out to grab at my bag that was tied onto my bike carrier. At the same time the third girl reached out for the plastic bag of green peppers hanging on my handle bars (so they wouldn’t get smashed) and she hit my gear. I shouted “awe notukwikata” no don’t touch/grab. They giggled and started whispering about me speaking lala (the local dialect of bemba). As soon as they were over that they began grabbing again and this time at my shirt. I had had enough so I slammed on my brakes and they could barely move aside quick enough not to run into the bike. At the same time I shouted AWE!!!!! In a stern tone and after a split second of initial shock, as I was about to drop my bike and chase after them, they all turned and ran like mad in the opposite direction, screaming and crying like they had just seen a ghost. Looking back, it’s pretty pathetic that I made 3 little girls cry like that and the worst part of it is that I don’t feel guilty at all, in fact, I was actually a little impressed with myself. Sometimes I feel like I get a little to mean here and am more willing to yell at people and be harsh. I don’t really like that I seem to be becoming a meaner person, but you have to be harsh with people here or they will just take advantage of you because you are a white foreigner.

On a positive note: I taught my counterpart and another villager about HIV in an impromptu session. They asked me to teach them and I tried to set a date, but they said let’s do it now, and even though I wasn’t prepared, I decided to wing it as much as possible because I know they likelihood of them showing up at another time is very slim. I wasn’t sure where to start so I turned the tables and asked what they already knew about HIV/AIDS and I was able to clear up some misconceptions. Then I asked them what else they wanted to know and basically just answered questions. It was interactive and specific to what they wanted to know so I think it went well. I even taught them about proper condom use and how to demonstrate all these things so they could teach others as well. It was nice to actually teach something and it gave me a little hope because they both say they want to teach children in the school about HIV. They are planning a workshop and have gotten support from the Chalata clinic as well as condoms to distribute to the children. Although, condom use is the most commonly discussed aspect of HIV prevention, we generally encourage the ABC approach (Abstain, Be faithful, and Condomize) so we also had a lengthy discussion on the benefits of abstinence and monogamous relationships. Although these both have serious cultural barriers that make them nearly impossible here, I still encouraged the teachers to encourage students to at least consider them as options because they are more effective at preventing HIV than just relying on condoms while being very promiscuous. Even though I only taught two people, it was very encouraging to me and I do hope those people can pass on the correct information to other people. As small as it may seem, its nice to feel like I am potentially making a difference here.

Finally, I ate a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese for the first time in about one year and it was magical. Special shout out to Sherry and Vince for that!