Time is There.

As I begin to explain the greatness of this country, the beauty of its resources and its grace, and as I begin to call this place a home, a resting place for my head, with a bed and almost over hundreds books read, a family, a nest, a treasure of love, great food, and routine, time woke me up and I saw that my time is coming to a close.

It hurts as 2016 started and I realized my Christmas with them would be my last Christmas with my host family. That after two birthdays, the next one would not be celebrated with an entire village singing my name. I see my close as my host mom cries seeing my house and thinking how any one else could live where I, Megha lives. How could she call someone’s name and not see my face, she says to me.

Its the brilliance of this program that the success is not in the tangible physical evidences but in the connections, the small glimpses of change and the brilliance radiates out because of our choice to give our time.

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I remind people who have given their time up to help me that they are valued, loved, and are the change that Zambia needs. They are the nameless plenty who strive to work hard and wish to be recognized but will never be accepted. They are the ones who give me their time and instead of staring at the oddity of the foreigner, extends their hand and greets me. They are the brilliance that radiates out. The connection that would hold me to the end of my service and the flecks of light that will shine when I dust off the memory of my time here.

Time is that resource that is constantly available and coming towards us but always rushing away and swept out. It is constant as is change. And the beautiful thing is, giving my time to this community is the gift that we Peace Corp volunteers and any volunteers of any organization and any country give for our peers and friends of our community. Our community, the world.

 

Time is plentiful. It will. Even if it runs out for you, it is constantly there and giving up that phrase, “I don’t have time,” is the first step. Because taking that time, and making connections with people that transcend distance, space, and income is important. It is important because it is one more person who is on your side. Who could make a difference because you made a difference for them.

 

Because you said hello. Because you were patient with their flaws and thought them your own. Because you decided to come to a country and try your best, they will see that trying the best is beneficial. I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted. And it makes me regret a lot. But never do I regret my choices to try and work my hardest, no matter what had happened in the last year.

 

Because I have gained love from people who are not related to me. I am loved by people who see me as their own. They don’t need me to save them, or do their programs. They made a friend and I made some friends and we worked together to make a difference where we could. And that’s more than I could ever ask for.

 

Take time. You have a lot of it. Don’t say you do don’t because maybe it’s not really important to you. It’s there if you just try. It’s there, that brilliant radiance of humans capable of love and connection that goes beyond lines, borders, countries, and blood.

 

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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.

The Halfway Point

The halfway period comes with many questions and discussions. 
The chance to assess your past year. 
The time to readjust for the next year. 
The place to see where you have grown and the areas you wish to invigorate. 
This past year was a struggle for a standard. Standard for my clinic to stick to. Standard of work hours and what I am “supposed” to do. A standard was difficult to adjust to and make and keep the same. I am always fighting and starting from the beginning. With projects and people and I forget a year has passed. 
A Project in Process: Maternity Ward 
As a community with many issues with maternal and infants, we assessed a need for a maternity ward. 

But first we need support. 
So we started the meeting with the district. As a community that is already slow with an environmental health officer’s house. We have not shown a great deal of evidence of work in our village. But our heart is strong and we are pushing faster. Even our nurse has applied to push this along. 
We had another meeting this week to help us start the project to get the backing of the district health office. We started going house to house to collect give kwatcha per family to buy cement for a foundation. 
During these door to door meetings, I will also be talking and trying to complete this year’s malaria prevention challenge: 10,000 bed net challenge. While teaching about malaria and mosquito nets, I hope to have checked as many nets as I can. 
So far we have less than twenty houses with about two to three bed spaces checked so far.
Every part of the village is led by a headman under the charge of a chief. And we have agreed with them that each would buy two bags of cement. The headmen had a deadline and those who did not give by that date, would have their subjects in their zone charged for coming to the clinic. 
I did not like the latter agreement because then mothers and children suffer but the village knows it’s people best because the subjects forced to pay started to push their headmen to be proactive. 
Their subjects will benefit from this maternity ward and completion of the environmental health officer’s house. And the headmen should be involved in their community and subjects’ lives and well being.  
We will start making cement blocks soon to start this maternity ward. And the community enjoyed seeing their contribution put into an actual development than wondering where their money has ended. 
I will take pictures once things start moving and show the whole process. I am also writing a grant to help aid this and move this faster. And that also I will talk about in the future. 
The change in kwatcha 
As peace corps volunteer, we do not get paid in dollars. We are paid in the local currency. As we came into country, five kwatcha was to one dollar. Now it is up to twelve kwatcha to an hour. Everything has doubled. As we buy more things, supplies, and teaching tools for camps, workshops, trainings, and personal use, everything has doubled. It has caused great trouble on our part as workers in the village who earn such a pay. But we still strive cause our job is so important to us. Volunteers still buy as much as they can for their students and their trainees. It’s the fact that we as volunteers do more.
The stories of what we do despite hardships like these are my point. Transport, money and especially volunteers to help are the top problems and we still go over and beyond for our work. 
All of us have great kids who make us laugh right outside our door steps. 
All of us have great success stories that we see and can bring tears to our eyes. 
We have inspirational women in our stories and men who work hard for their communities. 
We have great moments of success and long roads of struggles and volunteers don’t stop. 
We don’t stop. Peace corp volunteers are a special group of people who does not let struggle ruin their experience. Nor do they throw away a second of joy as null and void. 

Chitenge Designs and Business Plans 

I sketch a lot in my time off. Especially dress designs. I also love to join tailors in their work and get inspiration from the cloth they are working on. 
However, my designs are now being noticed. Since most are American style designs and not conservative traditional African dresses, more students are liking the designs. I started to help teach a few girls and guys interested in designing on how to use a sewing machine. With a pedal run machine like the one my grandfather used with a huge Singer script painted on the top, it was reminiscent and also great as these children wanted some chance to draw and design their own designs. I told them not to design the chitenge but use the colors to create different suits and dresses. 
It was beautiful watching them work. I let them keep their designs and gave them some sticky tack to let them hang them up on their walls for more motivation. I want them to keep drawing. Arts and music are important to individuality and expression and the lack of them is hard on a community. Celebrations cannot thrive without them obviously. But how they disappear after youth and expression is diluted to join the real work of early marriage, parenthood, and working long hours is a tragedy. 
I don’t know how I’d exist with my blues and classic rock and the always best 90’s hip hop. To exist without the starry night by Van Gogh giving me reason to find a sky just like it and in my search I have seen skies in many places and every one is better than the last and still magnificent.  
Cooking again but with real class

Matzo Ball Soup with Soya pieces, Garden Carrots 

     Matzo ball soup mix mixed with water boiling with garden vegetables and soya pieces for chicken was a delight when windy days wear you out. It’s so easy to make but you need to either have matzo meal to help make the soup dumplings. 
Chile Carrot Coconut Curry with Rice Noodles
This was a spicy dish cause I cut up serious chiles into here. Coconut milk help soothe it and plain rice noodles were delicious with carrots and curry. 
Banana Mango Masuku Applesauce with Granola crumble 
Making applesauce is so easy in a pan and adding an over ripe mango and banana took it to a new level. I then took cereal granola and toasted it on a pan with pecans and topped the sweet sauce with it. 

I got to cook so much while I was here and I am proud that I didn’t have sacrifice my hobby and one of the greatest pleasures of my life to “survive” out here. I still make cookies and breads. I make stews and fried food. I make cakes with avocado instead of butter. Chia powder instead of eggs. I

Still make stuff off the top of my head missing only one or two ingredients so still close. But cooking on charcoal outside, blowing to keep the fire hot and then keep constant heat or lower it when the coals are too much. 

I will be working toward building a foundation for a maternity ward and then starting a grant foundation for also donations to help our cause as soon as I can. This is hopefully the biggest and largest project Id be undertaking and I would be grateful if you can take the chance to tell as many friends and family about this great project. Who gets a chance to see where their charity really go to when it comes to donations? And this opportunity will benefit a real community in dire need to protect their women, teach, and prevent so many deaths. 

 Highlights of the Past Year  
 
    
       
   
    
 

Did I make the right choice?

I always believed that this choice of mine was a brave choice. I saw myself as the rising tourist who always watched the entire world now given a chance that I earned to go out there and make the entire story of my very own.

For the first time, everyone saw the bravery in my decision to live out here. To choose to be the outcast of my culture and the inspirational person I always wanted people to see. I was like, “Finally! I am living the dream I always wished for.” Instead of making the many steps and ‘one day knowing it will come true, I was there.

I was on track.

But the prices I have paid…

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The Zambian Team: Chipolopolo!! Exciting and nerve racking with millions of fans crowding the entrance and stadium and traffic for hours and hours!!!

To this day, I can say that I am a different person. This choice made me strong. It made me talk to different people. I have become headstrong, confident, and goal-oriented. What people said didn’t matter and what people thought of me did not phase me.

I have grown under this experience. However, I lost so much more and sometimes I wonder if I deserved such a price or if it was worth for all this loss?

To get an idea, I have lost friends. I have lost people who I have been with most of my life. Some even didn’t say a final goodbye. And others…their goodbyes were too painful and I wish they left like a ghost with a whisper and a soft gust grazing my face.

People don’t wonder about sacrifice. How much of your life have you had to let go? Friends that tell you that you aren’t part of their life any more because they are in the next phase of their lives and I am still growing. Or I am still this or they are not. Or that because they do not understand me anymore or that I am different.

Life skills you gain versus the relationships you’ve fostered. That is the main issue I am going through.

My family has constantly shown me that support is always there when I call but they also fade into their own lives and effort is too difficult when daily life gets in the way. It is so easy to get me all the way over here in Africa. To forget what I do and what am doing. And then to grow without me…. is normal.

Even married couples grow apart. Friends grow apart. Life in America versus a life in Africa = two different perspectives. Inside jokes, growth, personality…so much is different. I should’ve expected this. Then why does it still hurt? Why does it feel I lost so much of my roots and the relationships that keep me grounded?

I have to do things on my own now. I have less support and people to run to and I am not saying this is difficult. Being here has helped me gain that confidence and strength but without relationships, I am alone. Strong and confident but alone.

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Some things are worth sacrifice.

Maybe I’ll make lasting friends one day. Or more friends again. Or be happy. But it all seems like a possibility. People here are wonderful and I have served and worked my best but I felt uprooted. I feel lost, looking for nutrients and something to hold on. I don’t feel good.

My puppy is a year old!

I feel this as a question of sacrifice for ourselves. Do you feel ready to change your life? Do you feel ready to give up what you love the most to change who you are to the point where it feels as if the sacrifice hurt more than it gave? Are you okay with feeling unhappy about your choice for as long as it can hurt you and make you feel as if that doubt will never fade?

We will grow through this. At least once, we will feel lonely and tired and frustrated. We will feel scared. We will talk to ourselves. We will feel as we will never laugh as we did every again, ecstatic and breathless and in moments where it feels as if the happiness and thrill will never end. We will feel as if happiness will never seep into our pores and linger everyday, ever again where we feel an air of reassured bliss.

Will we ever get those relationships again?

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The wondrous child that greets me everytime I come home

New experiences may scare you. New challenges that force you to let you go will frighten you. It frightened me. However, the choice I made changed me. It changed me into the woman I always wanted to be. An independent, grown woman with charm, a beautiful smile, and a beautiful heart to go with it. I made great first impressions but sometimes if I didn’t, who I am shows through and wins people eventually. And I don’t worry as much or not frightened as much because I am strong and sure that it will get better with my own help.

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Not only does my life have brightened but my personality and mind have brightened. I know what I seek in my life.

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This is the baby that was named after me. Meghan Ann Bwalya or Megha/ MeMe for short. A beautiful baby.

I can see in myself and find strength and brilliance more than I have ever in my life. I know who I am and what role I play in this world.

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larger than life, this one

This experience has given me a chance to find so much. And even if I have it not completed, it is farther than I have ever reached in the past.

This is the face of bliss. The joy that she gets from me coming home and the feeling of seeing her would never be in my memories if I didn’t jump. I lost so much. Friends, loves, life, and growth with people I love. I lost so much I cannot even believe I went through. Tears and pain and aching hearts. Wishes I wanted so badly that finally came true were pushed aside because I’d just rather be happy. For one day, for one day, feel that bliss again. That feeling of happiness soaking in your pores, seeping into your spirit. I lost so much.

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a model in disguise

I lost some peace and gained fear. I gained uncertainty and anxiety. I lost a team to run to when that anxiety and uncertainty mixed with fear. I have a mirror that I remind myself of all I have went through and how much I’ve grown.

I am not afraid. I am stronger than I am afraid.

Look at these faces. I don’t think I can convince myself until I leave this experience that I have gained more than I have lost because right now it seems like I am alone. But looking down at these shows how much you gain when you let go of what you have lost. Let go and let more of the new but beautiful rain down. Make space for the tomorrow filled with uncertainty, both good and bad.

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joy, pure amazing beautiful joy