frustrations don’t come easy

Struggles are not something people like writing about. But it has to be said. 

I wish I was a spectacular volunteer that solved all of my village’s problems and was easily and efficiently doing and making strides that were not possible before my arrival. 

Every choice I make has a snowball effect consequence(s). Every program is not something that will last. It is a win for now. It is a high and incredibly exciting to be busy but then it ends and all you helped is local and static and done. 

My girls club ended the last month. Three of my girls still got married or are in the process of getting set up. Two of them skips school to help harvest for their parents. And some of the parents don’t like the little girls learning from the Amercan without older students to buffer. 

My Neighborhood health committee nearest to my clinic was forced to dissolve. My clinic staff was forcing people out and trying to get new people elected. Except there is no one who enjoys or even wants to do the volunteer work. Why volunteer for no money? Why be hungry and miss lunch to tally and weigh the babies of mothers who walked since five to the clinic for their children? People especially from the committee has seen me working a lot with Violet and now comes up to me faking interest and asking for books and saying they’d be coming around to pick them up so I would choose them to accompany me to a workshop and be reimbursed greatly by Peace Corps. 

My mothers are all I work for.  My clinic staff do not care. Especially about education. No one cares about working for the benefit of all except for Violet. Except that even she has a family and gets into gossip and fights with reluctant staff. I am lost most days. Feeling like an ultimate failure. 

Zanzibar Mania

I missed traveling after many  weeks of working and moving around for trainings. And we had planned this trip for months and it had used up all of my money. 

We booked flights but we decided against taking a train back as it was incredibly common for thievery especially amongst our volunteers. 

Arriving there after being sick for six days was hard on me but I was overjoyed. Incredibly overjoyed.  

We of course are going to an island coming from a land locked country. We were ready! 

Walking through corridors so tightly hugging Stonetown which was so different to the open red soil wide plains we are used to. 

Finding humid air and heat so stron that  

go after what your heart desires most

Moving around for every day has been the delight of a working career. Being busy in a delightful job is rewarding and stressful. We have started daily work and meetings and briefings that I’m exhausted by the time I get home. But progress is amazing.  We have started weekly talks- three times a week. With me present as a side along. For prenatal and postnatal counseling and family planning or contraceptive ways to help woman gain back their life instead of consecutive pregnancies. This is my plan as education should be provided at a hospital, not just treatment. Institutionalize and become part of the clinic. 

  

One NHC group is actually using the training and making me proud. Did village inspections. And still working hard without lots of support from families. Roscah is my favorite member to work with as she is always smiling and happy and incredibly fun to work with. She and I have a girls club at her school and a HIV club as well to bolster health awareness and education as well as prevention of diseases. And she is a blast to teach with!! 

Lotus By The Dam

We trekked out to the Lunchu dam so close to Violet’s house one day. We talked about the recent child marriages that were being arranged in the last few weeks. 

Three girls under seventeen were getting married off. The issue of why young girls and the plans of parents were so different from a different country. Men enjoyed different things. And girls had parents with needs and younger children with even more needs. 

The dam came into view but I couldn’t see the structure as the grasses had completely covered it. People fished the entire area and lotus flowers bloomed in this wildflower season. 

I enjoyed for the first time fishing in a lake. Three of my brothers taught me how to cast and tie a line and bait a hook. I couldn’t catch a fish but they said that it was only practice. I got to take pictures instead and revel in my new fishing skills. 

Honey by the liters 

It’s bee hive harvesting time! And I used that time to give a workshop about starting more hives! As a gift I was given six liters of real natural honey straight from the beeswax! I started this project to promote more income generating activities for farmers to start hives. 

It was difficult at first but people soon got confident at working with bees and building colonies and transferring hives that go loose. Even harvesting was a training day and it was frightening. But I got six liters at the end as gifts and I don’t think i have time to finish them!!

I am extending my house to now include a solar shower room with water going into my garden of veggies. I am working with a local church in a union to give me workers for money for their church fund to build their church. I was first regretting this when violet explained the importance of need vs. want. Some wants are always picked over needs. But then you always pick your need or what you should do rather than what you want and violet taught me a word. 

Icikondamoyo- the one which the heart loves. Going after what you want. You can live a simple life only gaining the basic necessities or chase after what you desire. To have high expectations and have obstacles facing it down every which way instead of choosing simpler paths with fewer walls to climb. And that is the truer life. To not just settle but push yourself to gain what is difficult and what is farther from your reach because it is a wish from inside. 

This wish is hoping for family and then seeing Chanda running to me. Hugging me tightly in the morning and then at my return with wet hands. Her eyes as they glance at me. 

“When you are sitting still, you start thinking of home.”  When you let your mind slacken, you think of escaping. One year ago, I was not a Bemba tribe Lunchu citizen named Mapalo. I was waiting. And wishing of escaping. 

When you find yourself restless with no work, start moving, as my Violet says. Do not wait to be happy. Do not wait to be successful or wealthy. Get out there and start moving and working to get things moving and your plans set to be accomplished. Do not wait or linger any longer. 

Two weeks straight, I did not have a free day and I felt blood pumping into me fueling my and the village’s plans into motion. I felt incredible. 

But I am a year into my service and I know now that this is over as soon as I come to grips that it is almost there. When I finally get used to the idea of being here for as a long as a year, only months will be left and most will be spent outside from my host family and Violet and her family, getting ready to leave and setting up for the next. So all this moving will feel hollow as it will only be moving to the next challenge. 

The challenge however is that Lunchu village and I will no longer share a future after this service. That I do not truly belong in Lunchu. I do, for now. But not truly. Not forever. 

Hearing the children scream my name in unison and knowing it won’t last made my heart clamp up but a sad reminder that I am blessed to hear my name on their lips and forever in their memories but that my heart has other plans. Many others for the future but not possible to have and also keep Lunchu. 

My heart clamped tighter and I ground my teeth to hold back my tears. I had to answer my kids waiting at my door, patiently waiting for me to pull away my curtain with a smile and a warm hello. 

I had been working almost every day so far and moving alongside and watching wild flowers bloom in a perfect month of May and I could not believe how brilliant Zambia felt. It is home for now and it felt beautiful and warm. Right now, it is blessed and has invited me home. My work is not done and I have much farther to climb with my job and my personal growth. And I have changed and still changing…

But my heart pounds hard for what it desires and no way am I going to settle for less.

You Can Be A Volunteer But You Can’t Do This Without us. 

Friends here in Peace Corps are not static. They are not long lasting, daily adventures, high school dramas, and lockers shared or roommates for life. We meet in a hotel, then fly on a plane, forced into many training sessions until we are sworn in as volunteers and we separate for the next two years. There, we are then pushed into a group that is in our province filled with volunteers of different ages of service as some are only 4 months away from completion, others are 9 months away, and the closest of age are nearing their half service mark as you have started the beginning of yours.

You will see your friends from training again. You are not lost from them forever but everyone notices the shift. You came in together and had experiences in the beginning but everyone’s service is different. Different by the village, the province, the area, and the moment. Timing of the country and its history and of the people even change your experience. 

And though projects maybe met with same conflicts, we grow differently. People you’ve met before leaves and the new friends that come in do not know who came before. 

Fades for you and begins for them. But when you meet it is with a fervor and a deep happiness to have met someone of your own. Someone who is understanding of what you face and evidence that living in a distant country is possible. Evidence that having different experiences that no one else can understand is actually a bonding reason to the tenth degree. 

I learned quickly coming into this that I could do it with people I came in with. But they too suffered and  we needed older volunteers to show is that traveling and existing as a volunteer could be more than surviving, even thriving. 

You can do this. Seeing older volunteers meet you and see them leave and then to meet new volunteers and say goodbye is a ritual. It is a mark of adaptation. That this is a journey that constantly feels uphill and isolating but a community of people who understands this path. 

At the beginning and at the end. 

You need us and we need you. 

Ten Months in Zambia

You cannot believe how much jet lag, whiplash, or complete amnesia I feel at this point in my service. Every month feels closer and arrives quicker but my mind keeps lagging behind. I felt in time during Sep-Nov but afterwards my mind became dragged along. I felt one month behind and then two and to this day, I feel as if I am in still in January.

Am I getting to the age in my life where life seems to fly by? But one person told me,

You are experiencing so much in so little time that you have so much to process.

Since January, my choices and movements have changed. Relationships were now built upon instead of forming new foundations. My work is being noticed and I am no longer the trainee but an accountable volunteer.

My months are being taken over by trainings, house days, visiting so many volunteers and so many guests that I feel as so little time is left for projects. And when I have time for projects, no one has time for me. And the days drift along.

It’s only a few hours till night, I say or it’s only a few hours till the next day. And the morning disappears and before long, it is already time to heat my bath water.

I’ve gotten sick. I’ve stopped biking as much because of the rain and finished more books but yet I still feel as I’ve done so much during my other days that I still feel exhausted at night.

Time and time again, I am so bewildered at the fact that it is freaking April. How has April began and with nutrition training for a week in Choma and a few days with the best friends at Victoria Falls afterwards, this month is nothing before May arrives. Then May comes with further plans and then a trip to Zanzibar in Tanzania. And then June appears. In June, there is a visit to other provinces and a whole week in the provincial house and July has arrived.

I blink and everything is flashing forward while my mind is still waiting for February to arrive. But my mind splashed to the surface and sped to the present when I saw something clear before me.

I’ve been in Zambia ten months but I’ve seen Asha for only eight months. Standing next to one of the kitchen beams where I had marked her height in August, she had grown to so much in the last eight months that the shoes she wore all day that had lights in the back were now not holding all of her foot. She danced and tried to stay in balance as her small shoes tried to hold up. Her lights didn’t work and they were frayed. I realized she has grown.

She no longer wants to be carried.  She doesn’t cry for her wants or if she falls. Her favorite words are “Awe,” (No) or “Nakanwa,” (I don’t want to). She shrugs her shoulders and becoming this little person who is no longer the runt of the grandchildren but as tall as the boys. She is still shy with me but not as a small baby but the shyness of a little girl.  I ask her many questions to teach her name and address and information in English and she feels so shy.

I have not noticed that little girl is no longer being fed food or rocked to sleep. I did not see that all this time, things have changed. I have changed. Why was my mind so set in the past?

My community sees me more of as a constant house guest and visitor for meals. I’ve started a partnership with a church hoping to renovate their church to provide me workers, bricks, and to extend my house for a flat rate fee that would go the church fund. Instead of paying for bricks and roofing and then for workers and more for extra work, I can get my house for a smaller fee and the church can get money for roofing and windows. And the work is supervised by three people I trust so much with incredible loyalty to me, experience in the fields of supervision, construction, and building standards according to Peace Corps.

And all through negotiation made in an afternoon laundry duty near the river in a short conversation.

So much has changed. Instead of being scared of people’s accountability, I know who to go to and with few words, get exactly what I want. So much has changed.

My mind still needs to catch up. But before long, it’ll only be months before I’m home. Hopefully by then, my mind will have moved on from Zambia. Or maybe it’s good that my mind takes its time.

Cause this is a once in a lifetime experience. Why not hold on to such a dream come true?

So Far!

I started with an NHC training workshop. Neighborhood Health Committees are group of volunteers elected by the community to lead and change and educate the community to better public and overall health. But if they are not trained and not able to educate, they are seated and doing nothing for the people.

That was how my community proposed a training week for all members. They called me and asked to set this up since I’m their volunteer in a big meeting where I planned out days to work schedules of the workshop with the secretaries of all zones and the budget for food and supplies with the treasurers.

The budget was 800Kwacha and easily manageable for food, posters, and supplies for all students. Except with my treasurers, we only spent 600.

But goodness, planning and inviting for only a workshop was a hassle. It was hard to widdle down money. It was hard to get people involved in planning to help them see the work and also their future possibilities of workshops they can manage without me.

Everyday had a schedule. Everyone had to attend all sessions to earn their certificate. I heard excuses but still I stuck to the rule. And they complied.

    

First, development and  structure. Importance of community participatory analysis tools to see the most needed and most important help that is wanted. Then, basic to advanced project development and action planning that will help them focus their attentions and tasks and energy. Then courses through water and sanitation, malaria, maternal health and full day of in depth HIV/AIDS.

We even had a guest speaker who was a fellow community member who was born in Lunchu but grew up in Sweden who told us about her struggle with HIV and how with ARVs, her husband is not infected and her two older children are also not infected. It brought my members out from village misconceptions to a true face to face education about HIV.

We learned that day that AIDS is not a disease but a status of condition. That one can be infected but can also be born. That people can survive and live prosperous fulfilling lives with ARVs. My members loved that day the most when we reflected on the workshop because they learned to find answers and not hold onto just misconceptions.

They all graduated and were awarded certificates for a great participation, motivation and incredible effort. I did not do this project alone. And that was the greater accomplishment.

Malaria surveying 

Next, came house to house surveying of mosquito net checks. I only went with one NHC zone around to survey house net usage and maintenance.  They and I gave talks to those who did not hang and in a day I almost talked to thirty-six families.

Nutrition Club

This a bimonthly club that is set out to teach and train nutrition in the community. So far attendance is poor but my counterpart Violet is always there for support.   I hope to boost his and help get better outreach  but high hopes!

That’s it so far!

Annie Bwalya: My Zambian Mother

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Integration is key in this volunteer life. It is essential for survival, individuality, and development. Two years of work can be beneficial for the volunteer and the village if integration is there.

My mother, Annie Bwalya or Banamulenga (mother of Mulenga, her oldest) is key to my survival in Zambia, especially inside a village as isolating as mine. Not isolation related to distance from a city but isolation from same cultures as my own.

My mother is actually a mother of mine. Volunteers usually feel close to their families or respect them or don’t even have a relationship. I am actually a child in this family. Since I am unmarried and still considered living in the property of my parents, I am the casuli or the baby of the family. (Even though my youngest host sister is 21).

My host mother is not my host. That’s my counterpart Violet’s job as host. To make sure I got everything and answer my requests, etc., etc. She is a good host. My mom is truly my mom.

My first three months here I felt distant from her feeling scared that we will never be close because of language difficulties. She spoke Bemba and though I understood and comprehended it well, speaking was difficult so I answered usually in English. The first few weeks I spoke through my English speaking brethren or Violet. My bataata or father and me just have a professional relationship and since he was always quiet, we kept apart. Granted, he always protects me like a quiet dad though he is always respectful to me. But my mother…she was the one who talks and wanted to try with me.

Thus, the first month was difficult. Until the first week of the hottest month of the year came around and I was so hot and tired from being under the dizzying sun even though I was inside the clinic ALLL day and I came home early.

I ate hot nshima burning my fingertips and fresh fish and Zambian green leafy vegetables called rape cut up and cooked with tomatoes. I was full and the migraine that was now pounding my temples and my jawline was growing at the sight of the hot sun and I laid down on the reedmat. And that was uncomfortable cause I was trying to sleep on a hard ground and it was too warm and instantly, I saw the shade on my mother’s lap and fell asleep on it. I woke up an hour later and she was combing my hair and trying to braid it. I tried to get up to not impose on her time anymore but she pushed me back down and said:

Megha, the sun is still out and it will hurt you more. Rest, you walk too much. You are my daughter now, my Zambian daughter. So sleep. Work later.

She said in Bemba and smoothed my hair. I fell asleep and woke up, relieved of my headache. This became my ritual every time it was hot. Whenever she would nap inside the Insaka, I would join her.

The greatest gift to this joint venture was that I found out is that she understands English. We can both talk our languages and understand each other. Soon, everything came to the table.

Indian culture. Women, school, and marriage in America and India. My plans for Lunchu and what Lunchu is ready for.

My mother became my source of comfort. She checked in on me. She tried out my food. She taught me how to cook certain Zambian dishes even though she was already out the door for church. She called me Megha and not Madame or Mapalo. She calls me also baby girl or my casuli. She tells Joe my brother off for not being there for me or helping me. And yells at him for teasing me. (That doesn’t stop him but he’s my older brother, what do you expect?)

She has become my family in Zambia. When I away, she has become my daily caller. Though I feel like a child when she calls, for the first time I feel taken care of. I feel like the baby who is always considered and never forgotten. The baby girl that everyone coos and fawns over. She makes me feel accomplished when I learn new things and boosts my motivation to get out and teach her new things. I have never felt like this in my life. Not many people search for specifically me for my point of view, my benefits and what I can provide or if they can help me. But my Bamaayo treats me as her baby without actually coddling me. And I don’t call her Bamaayo.

I call her Ma or to tease my brother, who calls her, “Maamieee!!” (He’s 26 and seriously a stay at home slacker, gosh). She has learned more about my job than anyone. She knows my favorites more than any Zambian And she is the reason I call Lunchu my home.

My mother. That’s what she is. Not my host. Not my neighbor. My mother who keeps the keys to my house. Reminds me to close my doors. Feeds my dog because she also loves him. Rubs my forehead when my migraines come every few days. She is what I see first every morning.

Silent and covered in a citenge over a five a.m. fire with nothing cooking as she warms up, watching me sweep my floor from her Insaka. She smiles a slight smile to the dimples that dip in her cheeks as smooth cracks form around her eyes. I don’t say a word as I let out a sleepy smile and tired feet to join her. I sit next to her and warm my toes next to the fire.

My mom opens her citenge blanket and wraps it around my shoulder and I crawl in and lay my face on her soft shoulder right about the time she lets out a wide and long yawn. It’s five AM and the darkness is seeping out of us as the sunlight won’t come for another five minutes. And though, my bed is far away and my day is going to be hectic, for right now, for five minutes, I am safe and warm next to my mom.

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Best Day In My Service So Far

Starting my service was difficult as the rainy season took people away. My counterparts proved their worth when some of them disappeared into the weeding of their fields while others found time for me and community development. It was astonishing how much the lack of involvement can take down your motivation. And i devolved into an insider. I kept to myself but I needed to keep busy. I needed to get somewhere to call home. So I got busy.

First came mild training. One on one talks and training and teaching led to seeing who is active and interested. And those who kept me waiting and pretended to know their “job”, I lost my patience and told off. I got tired. This is years of my life and I wasn’t going to hide away.

For the first three months of my service, the standard NHC member in my village would do the following:
• only be present during under five week or one day a month where mothers bring their toddlers for vaccinations and weighing
• do not talk during those days only to quickly direct the women out and gone after weigh ins and reporting immunizations.
• do not report papers and charts of ages of children who reported to the under five to the clinic after the day is over.

That was it. An NHC is more than that. They are the link for the community to the clinic. They are the public health sector to the community development.

But this February everything has changed. The new elections has brought my counterpart and best friend and partner, Violet from treasure to chairperson. In one month, the NHC is now attending “mandatory” NHC training I am hosting, have to give health education during village inspections, and fully be active, available and ready to take care of the community clinic.

This Thursday, I saw them do three skits about malaria and the frightening distance (7km) they can carry malaria from one person to another. And then the relationship of malaria to open containers of water to water sanitation. I saw them talk and participate and use my health charts one in English and translate them to BEMBA. I was so astounded that only job that day was sitting under a roof so the rain didn’t get me. I did nothing. The reports were in. The clinic was happy. Food was made and I went home early after a whole day of nothing for me. I trained them to speak in public and they learned the information from training I gave them and with the leadership and scariness of Violet, the 2015 NHC of the clinic might be exceptional.

A Week And Three Funerals

The last week and half have been tough.

Community is important in Zambia and funerals are attended by everyone. It is a community event and everyone helps to mourn the dead. It is also a great way to meet friends and community and even experience a different denominational pastor preaching a funny or moving speech.

Violet got a motorcar for me as I could not walk anymore and I started to lighten up when the funeral turned into watching the community unfold after a burial. That’s when I saw Violet’s cousin from Lusaka take a chicken.

She is taking the chicken to Lusaka, Megha. The chicken no longer wants to be a village girl. It wants to live in the big city. When you go back to the biggest city in the world, I will also give you a chicken for you and Shawnie.

Yes, she knows my nicknames for my brothers.

Funerals are also for greetings. It is custom for one to greet everyone one by one. You say good morning to every person and shake their hands and ask their day and how their home was. It is not small talk. It is actual community catch-up. And when Violet was daydreaming and some older grandmothers tried to get her attention, one slapped her arm and got her to greet her after she said,

You’re not greeting me as if I am doing dirty things to your husband at night.

The grandmother stuck her tongue and my eyes popped almost out as Violet laughed so hard. At a funeral and speaking like this was common amongst the women but most especially with the oldest women. I was so surprised my mouth was open and the grandmother with a head full of white curls winked at me.

She helped me forget how much this week was hard on me. Funerals are common in my village. With the high rate of early and teen pregnancy and constant pregnancy, most deaths are mothers. Young mothers or first mothers. Or mothers having their seventh pregnancy or ninth miscarriage. This week was hard for me

The first funeral was for a twenty six year old mother of four. Two girls and twin boys of fourteen months. Infection of the new pregnancy caused her to bleed without stopping. She died as she went from a hospital in Lusaka and her body was sent up for the funeral. Her two daughters help fetch water for me and play games with my nephew. She was 26 and also in my women’s nutrition club. I cried.

Three days later, another woman passed. After a infection started on her C-section and she was referred from hospital to hospital, she died before she could get help. She left four kids with the oldest at 6. She was 24. One year older than me and the quietest girl I ever spent time with. So shy because she thought her English was never good and yet she came to my Saturday English classes with a baby on her back and a petite notebook writing down everything I wrote in chalk. She died. One year older than me and four more kids than I have and she died. I also cried.

The third funeral. Was the next day.
And it was mother of six who died during delivery. Violet needed help with the delivery as the nurse was on holiday and the mother was walking around trying to induce labor. She went into labor quickly only to fall unconscious. But constriction of blood and high blood pressure………………..

She died.

I walked almost eighteen kilometers to her home and then two kilometers to her gravesite. I cried.

Three mothers. Infections and delivery. Maternal deaths are so high in my village that it is getting hard for me. Hard for me to make friends with women my age knowing tomorrow I might say goodbye to one of them. It is getting hard to see them getting pregnant again. It is getting harder and harder to see them in a box leaving children in a community who would be taken care of totally by the mothers in the family than the father. It is hard to see the husband lost for words when he is only in his twenties and talks about how he imagined their old lives together as he cries over his wife’s grave. How parents thank people for coming so far to escort their daughters’ souls to their graves.

It is getting so hard to see in this part of the world, more mothers, younger than many back home, will never see their children grow up or to show them as in the case of my silent English student, that no matter how old or how busy, they can still learn.

Book List for the First Year

I love doing book reviews but it can be incredibly stressful. So I will write a list of books of first year of service.

January 

  1. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  2. Self Inflicted Wounds Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation by Aisha Tyler
  3. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
    I am reading the sequel Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 
  4. The Constant Queen
  5. I Sat Down By The River Pheadra and Wept by Paulo Coelho
  6. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
  7. The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
  8. Kitchen Myths (Peter Aitken)
  9. Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive On Ideas Alone (Bo Burnham) 
  10. Beware of the Dog (Roald Dahl) 
  11. Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Jeff Lindsay)
  12. A Shadow in Summer, Shadow and Betrayal Series (Daniel Abraham)
  13. Starfire (B.V. Larson and Thomas LeMay)
  14. End of Secrets (Ryan Quinn) 
  15. Cutting For Stone (Abraham Verghese)
  16. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen