Monday, January 16, 2012

Cowboy Up

I'm a Peace Corps Cowboy
With my trusty bicycle and nalgene full of whiskey I take to the open road.
The cold rain pricks my skin but with this fire alight in me
I keep burning towards my freedom.
And unlike the trucks that pass me, on their way to the DRC
I've left everything in this country.

I'm a Peace Corps Cowboy
And I have so much joy.
As we dance in the moonlight our souls are ripped open by the rawness of this life.
Only nature understands this fight

But I'm a Peace Corps Cowboy
I don't want to be a ploy for wealth creation in a nation
That already has

And so forth I go
With only passion in tow each morning I greet the greater unknowns
And every exploding sunset is a finish line.
There is no point in beating my time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

An Ode to Hitching

Hitchhiking is where the human instinct to move, travel and journey becomes the opportunity to peer briefly into the bubble of all of these different lives you are normally oblivious to. I don't think people have considered the unfortunate state of a society where two people moving in the same direction cannot move together, where help is suspicious. But if you choose to so view it, hitchhiking in Zambia can be beautiful.

I've learned about trade with the DRC from South African truckers. I've learned Swahili from Tanzanian drivers. I've learned about the safari business and white commercial farmers. I've learned about the different government ministries and military service. I've learned how bribing is legitimized with inane traffic laws. I've learned about the movement of people and goods according to the geography of agricultural markets and flux of the seasons. I've learned about Chinese investment, mines and the logistics of vaccination campaigns. I've rode in curious comfort with MPs and in doubt with barrels of diesel and roofing sheets. Hitchhiking is truly an education. 

One of my most memorable hitches was trying to get home from a musical festival in Malawi. For a day my world overlapped with the amazing world of a young entrepreneurial couple with the first food truck in Malawi. They brought the idea back from their time in the UK as students. I rode in the back, snacking on left over sweeties and having a mobile dance party with sacks of potatoes, thinking how the gourmet food truck craze of bringing crepes with rare cheese to yoganistas at farmers markets has some how found its way to my bum self in the Malawian bush. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Food Dis-order

I never really knew how food was ordered in my mind, but apparently it was organized and its place subconsciously understood.
During training food sort of became the basis for all interaction with my Zambian family. Its why 8 women, 3 Zambian generations and a musungu gathered in a 6’ x 6’ mud hut wall papered with newspaper that had strange headlines about JuJu, Russian women and Chinese contractors.

It’s why after dinner if I was too full to move I would lie in the twin bed with my 3 sisters. If you weren’t laughing, you could hear the scratching legs of coackroaches on the newspapered walls, but we were always laughing. I would stare at my white arms like a swirl of milk in a cup of coffee limbs and imagine that this was a really, really, strange version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We are so poor and so happy.
If I wasn’t too full and they weren’t too tired, that eating turned into dancing. They always put this one song on repeat because it was my favorite and I guess as long as it was on I had to dance. My bare feet shuffled on the dinner crumbs stuck to the plastic floor.
My first 3 months in Zambia were anchored by dinner on that floor. I don’t know if it kept me stable or stuck, but either way it extinguished whatever order food had in my mind.
To say there wasn’t enough food would be an incomplete truth. “Ubwale” is the staple food of Zambia. Its maize flour boiled and scooped into lumps. Ubwale combined with the brute persuasion of BaMaayos is why if you are a woman and you come to Zambia, you will get fat.
You eat ubwale with relish. Relish is anything you eat with ubwale. The are some indicators of wealth here: tin roofs, a bicycle and more than one relish for dinner are big ones.
It was my understanding that the Peace Corps does some sensitivity training, encouraging the family to provide us with 2 relishes hopefully one with protein, and providing a stipend to do so.
So on the many nights 8 hungry Zambians shoveled down ubwale and greens and refused to touch the single serving of eggs or soya pieces until I had served myself, “food” got more and more disorderly. Instead of seeing it as something to eat, I saw that food as something I couldn’t eat especially when it would go to growing children instead.
Except then I started to get hungry. Really hungry. To this day I travel with peanut butter. I see myself as a 93 year old still packing peanut butter in the purse. There was one night before dinner I was in my hut eating pb and nutella in the dark straight with my pinky. It all felt very secretive. The shame of not wanting to share, the shame if BaMaayo thought she wasn’t feeding me enough, the shame of antisocially sucking on your pinky, all kept me on edge as I was worried my little sister would bust in any moment. When she called me for dinner I hurried out.
We ate like usual. I took my seat in the back corner up against the bed and everyone told me to stretch my legs even though there wasn’t ever any room to do so. And like every other night the youngest girls fumbled with the cheap Chinese batteries in the cheap Chinese made led lantern that was perpetually broken. The only setting the worked was the flashing red blue and green one.
Those flashing lights never seemed to phase the family in the same epileptic way as me. Breakfast and dinner were also times for inspection. Every pimple and every scratch was examined by BaMaayo for signs of illness. She could spot a cut from across the yard, rush over, grab my leg, and scold me.
Sometime that night, despite the mini rave atmosphere, my littlest sister, who was 12 saw a brown smudge between my pinky and ring fingers. She pointed and yelled “what. Is. That.” All of us turned our heads at the same time and arrived at the same terrifying thought. “Oh My God, she has shit on her hand!” I could see the collective horror and confusion in my family’s eyes. The same eyes pleaded for another explanation. Me looking equally surprised and muttering “hm that’s strange,” was not going to suffice.
“Umshile.” “Its Umushile.”
I had just learned that Bemba word for soil and had been planting trees that day, so in that second it seemed it was a good idea to say soil. It was not a good idea.
My sister grabbed my hand and smelled my claim, crying “No its chocolate.” 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


BaMaayo. Our mother.
If there ever was a perfect image of Africa as humankinds’ mother,
Our place of birth, fiercely nurtured and fiercely weaned,
Bamaayos are those pieces of that broken mirror.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Peace Corps training in Zambia looks like




Corn and Guava
Huts and Cooking
Huts and Kids


It is the rainy season in Zambia, but when we arrived a 3 week drought was dragging on. Our first night in our homestay village the rains finally came. Lying in bed hearing the rain is like being in the belly of a whale. It is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You can’t hear anything but water rushing, roaring, dripping. Everything sheltering me except for my mosquito net comes from the earth itself: clay walls and a grass thatch roof over a wooden frame. I have never felt so surrounded and so affected by the flux in intensity. Everytime a drop of water made it through into my mosquito net to land on my face was a shock- just the idea that the only place left to go was under my covers. Like when you were a little kid.

Zambia feels like the rain. It is an element of Earth. It is powerful, life giving and taking. It is tangible whether you want to feel it or not.