One Last Sunrise

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A mud house with two rooms, thatch roof, and filled with memories

I have a home here in this country. It is less than five hundred meters from my parents’ house. When I travel from my house to places around and abroad, I miss the feel of tossing my bags in the corner of my house and sitting at my porch watching my family live their lives in front of me in my yard.

And my home isn’t in New York. In an apartment overlooking a yard with data and network.

My home is here in Sub Saharan Africa.

How can I leave this place after sinking my feet deep into its soil and planting the thread like fibers into its earth two years ago?

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where I cook my food and dry my dishes

I have extended the two room house that Peace Corps had recommended for the village to build for me. The house had a tall ceiling, built by my host father who is a hardworking carpenter and builder. I painted my walls bright blue, with yellow, gold, and green accents. My floors are waxed and citenge fabric are framed and hung on the wall.

When I first came to this country, people wondered how I could live in another country for two years. How you can adjust to the place that is so isolating and live on your own in a home that is so different from an apartment?

I made a decision: to not expect a home but to make it a home. To do everything in my power to make it a home. To paint it mine, to build it mine, to create a space where I can escape to even in the village.

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the sun meets me in the morning

So once everything had its place that I enjoy returning to, I realized that my house was mine. My hammer had its own space and my books had its own shelf. It is stupid to find your home just because you put up a shelf. But what life was present during that moment is the important part. My host mother helped me paint my walls because I really wanted to show how talented women were. My host father helped me hang shelves because I didn’t know how to put nails into a mud brick walls without it falling down because of the weight. And my host father joked about the amount of books I brought. He told me that reading must be the greatest escape in this quiet village.

He was wrong. My escape wasn’t my book but my family. They listened to my complaints and understood my problems. They let go of their worries on me and it doesn’t burden me.

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My first roommates

I made my home with my family. And laying here on the ground because I still don’t have furniture, allows me to see outside my door to the family that has taken me in. I hear English words that I have used and even Malayalam words I taught my family from my Indian heritage as the children rush around with my dog.

Cultural integration is my goal. My first goal in my service was to have a family here in this part of the world but what I didn’t realize was how hard it was going to be when I wake up and it is important to my goal as a future ambassador from my country to the country I serve to continue making peaceful connections and incredible relationships with the host nationals. It is important to teach your families and friends about your home family, your home town, your home state, and your home country but also about how different it was for you especially. How it was that you arrived in their world and what decision and choices your parents and friends and variables led you there. So when I worked hard for relationship with my village, I kept thinking of the future volunteers and how effective my service has been.

It was on my mind that I’d leave one day. Every sunrise and sunset, I would think about how I would deal with this and the truth is, I can’t deal with it. It will always be my home. It will always be where my feet settle and my heart lingered and instead of thinking of uprooting, I think of seedlings and cuttings where a part of my life will continue living without me. In their hearts, in their memories, and in their future, I was there and I will continue to live there.

But it doesn’t matter if the walls are sky blue, if the paint chips away, or if the lines of pencil that show how tall the children have grown fade away because I grew here, I lived here, and no matter how many sun rises happen without me, my last sunrise wouldn’t be the saddest one. Because I had too many days of life compared to one last day. So if nothing happens it means that an every day, normal daily life routine happened and that is just one fine to me.

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one day, I’ll have one last sunrise here

This is a place where I don’t feel alone
This is a place where I feel at home.
And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust………..
Out in the garden where we planted the seeds
There is a tree as old as me
Branches were sewn by the color of green
Ground had arose and passed its knees
By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top
I climbed the tree to see the world

“To Build A Home”
The Cinematic Orchestra

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Breastfeeding and the Importance of Nutrition

Good health for a child starts long before the child is born. In this concept of health, growing up in preventative, preparation first country where resources and officials have a public health sector that is widely used and implemented, the idea of a child’s health and nutrition is thought of constantly. From the moment of conception to TV and movies, it is a freak out mode to understanding, learning, denial, lots of angry IKEA moments, to finally acceptance and lots of wishing you napped more in your youth.

However, in many countries where public health and the insistence of certain “practices” or options for different birthing plans, or financial situations or birthing rooms or paint colors or naming the baby immediately are as new as the past 20 years, it is common for health to fail not because of lack of knowledge, or poverty but because of culture, and resources that are not there.

To implement policy and fine tune it after and management is a long process. Here in Zambia, women are used to listening to nurses but they are also used to being told to go home after two hours of delivery. There is no recovery room because there is another girl waiting for a bed to squeeze out and scream in quiet while nurses yell at you for not being prepared when being prepared was never in your lessons.

No one teaches you how to give birth or what a baby needs and that bleach is expensive and that babies need more than a bath bucket, towels, hats and crocheted blankets. That’s what they know because they watch their families and their communities prepare and deal with so many situations ad they come but never planning ahead. They have to. They do not have constant incomes or constant variables that help get constant yearly incomes that allow the same amount of maize to be grown and harvested and sold that allows for “planning.”

They are not victims. The mothers of my village are not ignorant, or stupid or no excuse for you to state the words, “these people are likes this especially those used to this poverty.” I don’t care what you think needs explaining on why they don’t follow the “good” book of advice that your mothers and health teachers have convinced you to do. But they are not those girls who do not care. They do not have the means to care because things are handled differently than our mothers have taught us and our society has shaped us into different people. I don’t think we are better but it is easier for us to be better.

We have internet at our fingertips. No one has to stand at the base of a tree on a hill. We have expert advice and incredible upload and download speeds that allow for constant chat and feedback that is immediate. We live in a world where if we do not get an answer back, we seek out an answer or a faster response. Complaint cards were because of us. Comment emails started from the first American who decided to speak our mind. But in the world, where comments were never possible and no solution arose but continuity and constant were the culture, these women have grown in this world of not expecting there to be more. There is no other site with a different opinion or another nurse close enough for a different method. There is one choice. Get help when you can, if you can. Done.

Nutrition is something you cannot prepare for when your food comes during certain times of the year and if and only if, the rain was constant, the soil was dry but mineral rich, the workers plenty, and the seed strong.

And when kale and Vitamin E is so unavailable unless it is part of the year, or when you have the great vegetables but you have to cook it well to kill the diarrhea causing germ that grow from the soil that would harm your growing baby. You cook constant foods that exist all year round that fed you and satisfied your hunger as a child. You didn’t know they were nutrient vacant, dense, but it was filling and it energized you and filled you up and fatten you. And here, FAT is GOOD. It is STRONG. IT IS TOUGH. IT is here ALL YEAR ROUND.

So a breastfeeding campaign to get mothers to sign to feed their children for six months straight on only breast milk is a challenge. It is important, yes but you have day care and pumps and refrigeration and affordable formula mix and you don’t have to carry your child on your back after carrying your child for nine months in your stomach for years to come. These women are the epitome of strength and to breast feed for as many times as required for six months is so incredibly difficult to ask for, not even do.

Breast feeding campaigns begin with education on the importance of a good foundation of nutrition and those who attend make the time because they want to lay down that foundation and those that do not attend are not rejecting the knowledge but instead accepts the evidence that everyone around them didn’t have six straight months of breast milk but still grew up fine.

They are not rejecting knowledge, nor are they bad mothers. They are change that needs to be seen and then only will they can see the benefits. So when I started this project, I thought one person who tried would be a great win. Instead I had six women under the age of 24 try for six months. Until the fifth month, were their mothers tried to integrate slight foods like porridge and peanut sauce and softened nshima and they trust their mothers that their children will be happier with different foods than watery milk that may also have stopped flowing.

Five babies grew increasingly to the notice of so many women who have seen the change. They see that they can try harder for their child and they are ready to try. To see for themselves that they can do as better as their counterparts have done. And the one who listened to old fashioned knowledge and didn’t ask more questions were asked why she lagged behind while her fellow friends excelled. She wanted to try, she said. Of course, she loved her baby but she was not wrong. She wasn’t that convinced as the others were but people could see the difference. She still fed her baby great nutrient rich recipes when he could eat and he caught up but it was shown that her life was normal before I came in. Everything she would’ve done without me teaching would’ve not been noticed or even considered wrong but what every mother does.

 

My job was not to tell them they did something wrong but to help them see that they can do better and realize that they have choices. Not just to do what is done but to choose between and grow from the freedom of choice.