Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Crisis Averted

We found a way. Where there is a will there is a way. I'm funded again and ready to save some small vulnerable children. I'm too too happy. I'll tell you all about it in a couple weeks.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Brief Stop at Frustration Station

I am a volunteer. I operate from a house made of mud and grass. I am two to three hours away from a computer and internet. So when I do work that requires the use of such things it is more difficult and time consuming than usual. Yet their are certain things that necessitate these additional hardships.

I, for instance, planned and organized for a camp for ophans and vulnerable children. It was difficult and it required a lot of diligence, but I persisted because I believe in what this camp could do and be for these kids. Now I was approved and simply waiting for the money to be deposited into my account. But since someone is smiting me for my judging comments about various famous peoples poor choices in attire--I'm just guessing thats why I would be smited--two weeks before the camp begins I am informed that they withdrew my check. No money. NO MONEY!

What frustrates me is that people who are canceling checks don't understand that I live in house made of mud and grass two to three hours from civilization. They don't understand that I committed my own money, time, and sanity to completing this project, all in good faith that I was going to be receiving the money to fund this adventure in saving children. After they decided to cancel my check they picked up their dry cleaning, sat down to a night of TEVO'd "Lost" and ordered in Chinese. After I found out I was nearly in tears followed by the grim thoughts of telling my counterparts and a seven year old orphan that this was canceled. So hats off to Washington and hats off to beaurucracy for their work in the fields of being unclear and just completely unthoughtful.

If you say by whatever by-laws and provisions that you can't fund something than don't approve it. You can't renege. And you can't renege in Africa days before a program starts. With any luck someone at this office will figure out how to make this work before I have to pull the cord. But for me it's too late. My confidence is shaken and I can't see a way back.

(on the upside I'm not ill and I still love Zambia and the idea of what I'm doing)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Life and Times

I know that I have been a poor poor blogger as of the last four months and I apologize. I can always fall back on the excuse that my nearest computer with internet is about 100k away but to be honest I just haven't really been inspired. However, I feel that I should, for the good of my family and friend who still are interested in my life, fill in the four month gap since I gave you Zambia's "top of the pops."
May was reasonably unremarkable. I was wickedly sick for about a week with some crazy staph infection. I couldn't be around anything light, i.e. the sun. At one point someone came in and toweled me down with cold water because I was a bit delirious. But, like usual, I bounced back and could not wallow in the self pity of illness for very long.
In June my doting and very thoughtful mother came to visit me in the deepest darkest jungles of Africa. We visited Victoria Falls, my shack sweet shack, and the Bangweulu Swamps to see one of the most rare and awkward birds on the planet. We were accompanied by the Crypt Keeper--our guide--and his trusty man with the plan Cuba. I would be lying to say that it was a perfect and stress free visit, but what can you expect? (What I really wanted to say is what can you expect it's Africa, but that so cliché' and the root of all problems was the crypt keeper who was actually Swedish ex-pat.)
Victoria Falls is deservingly one of the natural wonders of the world. If not to see me, I will tell you to visit Zambia to see the falls. You walk through the park on the Zambian side and across the knife edge bridge and it is what I would imagine being inside a washing machine is like. We were both wearing ponchos--rented for the low low price of a dollar twenty five-- and still ended up completely drenched. Luckily I was not dressed in all cotton khaki safari attire and my clothes dried relatively quickly, the same cannot be said for my mom. I'm sure that she will recommend renting flip flops for an additional dollar twenty five. For those of you with any experience at Cedar Point you may recall that bridge by the log water ride. You stand on the bridge when the log comes crashing down that last hill and you experience an almost equivalent soak factor. So obviously that’s fun. I really wanted to do the bungee jump into the gorge but I realized that would not be family friendly activity. I think it may still be exciting enough for my mom to know that I live here without me jumping off bridges.
Following my mothers emotional rollercoaster of a visit (which ended on a high note) I loitered in Lusaka for a bit. Then when I realized that I should be saving babies, as is the Peace Corps mission, and I made my way north and east to my village. It was just as it was when I left except colder. June is the cold season. Cold cold season. For the next month and a half I slept fully dressed with a winter hat on under two wool blankets with a fire going in the house. I pretty much kept my little fire thing going all day and sat inside my house to avoid the wind and colder cold outside. I read a few good books, Four Quarters of the Orange, Dreams of my Father, Harry Potter 5 and 6, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and others that I can't quite remember.
So on to July. As many know July is my favorite month. In Michigan it is the most superior month of the year. If I had to rank months in order of greatness, July would be on top--followed by September, December, May, April, October. Mainly I enjoy July so much because my birthday sits nicely in the middle. Also it is far enough after life ended for the summer and far enough away from life resuming for the fall. Everyone can be Huck Finn in July. So in July I took another little vacation and skipped down to Jo'Burg South Africa. It was a little of this and a little of that. I took my GRE exam, went shopping, relaxed, and stuffed myself full of delicious food and wine. The GRE was strange; I didn't even realize that I was finished when I was finished. Then your score just kind of pops up. I think that I did really well but I don't realy have anyone to compare it too. I actually have some anxiety about it. I feel like everyone in the States has prep courses and coaches and tutors for this exam and that they must all be scoring 1400 and above. The writing section, which I was the most unprepared for—since I don't find myself writing many critical assessments or essays in general—rattled me. It's even worse when I have to think about all those kids who take it right after undergrad or with the guidance of Kaplan.
South Africa is strange. There is just something not right. You can put your finger on it but at the same time you can't. Obviously, there are race issues, but it is the way that they are manifested in the public and public mind that is so strange. I was on vacation there with my boyfriend who is ethnically Zambian but culturally Norwegian and Zambian and a little bit of everything else along the way. He had racial epitaphs hurled at him in the restroom of a nice Irish Pub in a really nice shopping and eating center--which happens to be the same place that is currently hosting "The Lion King." People were looking at us walking around together with this kind of bizarre contemptuous awe. But other South Africans were really nice and couldn't believe their country mates behavior. Our taxi driver, as nice as he was, was undeniably a product of pre-aparthied. Racism is so ingrained into the culture. I wonder what it would be if more Americans visited South Africa. If seeing and experiencing a racism similar to our own would help us to make longer strides toward equality? Because honestly S.A. is the closest thing to a time warp today. Except that in S.A. it's absolute destitution astride huge shopping complexes and not indentured servants quarters behind sprawling manors.
It was disturbing, and I'm white. You can't be much more typical white than me; I look like the poster child for the Aryan nation—without the blind hate for Jews, Gypsies, Africans, and every other ethnic group except my own. All I was hearing was people talk about how they view the problem in that us vs. them mentality. The taxi driver actually said, "There was none of this hatred and violence during apartheid, everyone got along." Meanwhile I'm trying to keep my brain from exploding into a million pieces. Yeah, everyone got along during apartheid, really well from what they write in pre-post apartheid text books, until, oh black south Africans decided that it was messed up to be holed up into the worst land, and kept from economically achieving. But as long as no one getting to say that face to face everyone got along really well. While he was saying this I looked at Archie and I thought that he actually had thrown up in his mouth. The driver thought it was great that we were together and had "no problem with the blacks." For me, in my mind, I can't hold all of that together. People in that country have some tragically competing views on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And what’s worse is that I feel like I am not even entitled to empathize or be angry—at least as angry as—because what would I know I am the white oppressor. It's very true that I am not an ethnic minority and statistically am less likely to be pulled over, arrested, and harassed. But I have been pulled over three out of four times with my friend John when we were driving to the movies in Lansing. I know that we weren't speeding or breaking any other laws so it seemed pretty clear cut that it was racially motivated. (Not even to mention the fact that living in Africa and being white I can kind of get the idea of being a minority.) But because I'm not black I can't be angry or as angry as he was. I don't think that you should have to be "black enough" to have moral outrage about racial profiling. Enough about all that, I could go on and on...
August just came and went. I trained a bunch of my communities and Archie came to visit me in the bush. I finished the proposal I had been working on for the previous five months and submitted it. The proposal is for funding to host a week long camp for orphans and vulnerable children. This is the first major thing that I have coordinated in my life and I'm nervous. It will be the crowning achievement of my service--if I can pull it off without losing a child on the way or my mind in the process. I'm brining 21 kids and seven social counselors out of the district to an outdoor camp to learn about health, coping with loss, abuse, and other fun things. They will get to canoe, climb a rock wall, play games, and experience a different kind of lifestyle.
September is just staring to happen. I've taken a detour to Lusaka for a few days to relax with Archie before he goes gallivanting around the globe for work and I put my game face on and start preparing for the camp and start a mosquito net project with my community. So that’s about it for right now. I’m slowing putting together my defense against not going back to America. I bet you can’t wait to read that!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The True Spirit of Peace Corps

Just recently Peace Corps Zambia had there biannual provincial meetings. It is a time for the volunteers to come together and share their progress, concerns, and needs with a member of senior staff and fellow volunteers. In previous years the provincial meeting was quarterly. Then it was three and now, because administration has a fear—not dissimilar to communists—of large gatherings of volunteers, it has been reduced to two. The meeting was on Friday but everyone comes in a day early—at least.

Provincials are a celebration and testimony of volunteers’ survival and fortitude in situations of adversity. Historically, a theme is chosen and extravagant meals are formed from meager resources, like the pilgrims at Thanksgiving, stone soup, or water into wine (maybe that last one is a stretch.) Midway through 2006 a wave of Brave New World thinking came through PC Zam-rock in an attempt to homogenize us and steal our soul by banning themes, posting photos in the house, having murals, and—I’m pretty sure—that any gathering of more than five of us ladies made the place a brothel. Luckily, some soul survived and we were allowed to have themes again.

Our festivities began Thursday with an Iron Chef competition. The special ingredients were bacon, eggs, and sweet potatoes. Being the head chef, I decided that egg rolls, spinach bacon quiche, egg plant parmesan, sweet potato pie, and banana cream pie would be the menu. It was a success of taste. The judges didn’t want to have to choose a winner so they made us have a dance off after. As our song we choose “I don’t feel like dancing” by the Scissor Sisters. Team Mukushi (the other district in Central Province) choose Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Although their routine was funnier than ours it was not actually a dance and eventually they could deny team Serenje the “W” no longer.

Our theme for Friday night—post meeting/business—was “Murder Mystery.” We all picked characters and dressed accordingly. A murderer was chosen at random and the poster to indicate that you died was posted and the game began. In between all of this was dancing and a great deal of suspicion. Who could it be? The over the top yoga instructor? The 80’s pop star? The bike cop? Maybe the handsome butler or leggy maid? But we danced the night away as one by one we were assassinated to the stylings of Michael Jackson. Turns out it was the yoga instructor and if our dance party hadn’t taken over we would have recognized her cunning and caught her for sure.

However, the moment that most caught me that night was when we were all dancing together (the 18 of us) to MJ’s eternal song “Man in the Mirror.” Here is a group of people who moved to a developing country to work in the bush dressed up in silly costumes singing their hearts out. I mean we were into it. Maybe it was our childhood memories of listening to MJ in the backseat creeping up on us but it looked like a televised evangelical church service. Eyes were closed, fists were pumping, hands were being held. It was almost certainly the most intense five minutes and 19 seconds I’d had in a long time. There are few things more intense than 20 something 20 somethings acting out their feelings in a focused way.

I really think that “Man in the Mirror” is the spirit of what Peace Corps is about. More than a few of us are smart enough to be making plenty of money in the states where MJ’s novelty is in his constant state of weird. The mirrors where we could be would not be small, round, made of plastic, and cost the equivalent of 30 cents, and they certainly wouldn’t tell us to make a change—unless it was to the cut and color of our hair.

“I’m going to make a change
For once in my life
It’s going to feel real good
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

As I turned the collar on my
favorite winter coat
This wind is blowing my mind
I see the kids in the street
Without enough to eat
Who am I to be blind
Pretending not to see their needs…

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to make a change…

If you wanna make the world a better place
take a look at yourself and make that change…

Gotta make that change,
jamone…man in the mirror…
Take a look at yourself
and then make that change”

MJ, too much.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

When "One" Is Not Better Than Nothing

I have noticed a trend around me recently that people really believe that "one is better than nothing." I've decided that there a few things that really your better of with nothing than one. What I've seen most often is one shoe. One flip-flop--or "tropical" as they are known here--one tennis shoe, or oddly enough one women's dress sandal (that he borrowed from his sister in Malawi.) This cannot be comfortable. It also is the scene out of nightmares for me. Showing up at school with no shoes or one shoe. When you lose a shoe in the mud, Do you leave the other one on and keep walking? One glove is also a favorite, but there is an argument for that being better than nothing. *For the other hot styles from the streets and villages of Zambia read on!*

What is currently disturbing my life is only having one earphone of a pair. I can think of few things more annoying than one ear piece not working or not working well. Your listening experience is lopsided and it messes up the whole feng shui of you world. It's like when all of a sudden in the middle of the night time BBC news brief (when I'm cooking dinner and can't just up and readjust) that the station crackles and is replaced with Kenny G elevator music--and I briefly contemplate putting my hands to the flame to distract my rage. Also a rat/mouse chewed through one sock of my last nice pair of running socks. Can't run with just one, it throws the whole balance off, it could get dangerous.

One very bad book is also not better than none. *refer to previous post on abusive book relationships* I could make up my own stories and I could be the next JK Rowling--who I've heard has amassed roughly a billion dollars as a result of the series. (A billion dollars is 1000 millions just to put it in perspective :)

On to the "Top Ten Hot and on Top Things in Zambia Now"
10. Acid Washed Jeans
9. Fake Crocs
8. Mr. Price clothing retail store
7. Westlife
6. One glove
5. The phrase "that's powerful"
4. J. Daniel Buckland--University of North Dakota swimming elite
3. Alpha Bar
2. Dolly Parton's Greatest Hits
1. Kenny Roger's Greatest Hits

I've had an untold amount of car rides that end up as Kenny Rogers sing-a -longs. They love it here. They sell Kenny Rogers tapes at every junction and in every market across the country. To be honest I'm not really a fan of that particular piece of Americana, but I'd rather it be Kenny Rogers on top of the charts than 50 Cent (who is biting at Kenn's heals.)

So, that was fun. I'll try and do it again on Sunday perhaps. "Stay Classy World"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Emily "Steak" and other mispronunciations

I am now fondly referred to by some as Ba Steak. They have a real problem "R's"--well and "L's" too. My friend named a baby in her village "Pearl." They brought the baby back a week later to rename her because they couldn't pronounce it. No body has asked me to name a baby yet but I think that I'm going to try for Pearl too.

I'm a big fan of reading three or four books at a time. Right now I'm reading "She's Come Undone," "World on Fire," and "The End of Oil." I don't think that I'm going to finish The first one. It is by Wally Lamb, who I've heard does good things. But the book is depressing and I just can't get into it. People have called me a quitter because I don't finish some books. I like to think that I don't like to stay in bad relationships, and why should books be excluded. The Wally Lamb book is an abusive book relationship. I don't like any book where parents die in tragic accidents (I'm sorry if I ruin the book for someone). Being brought to tears in my mud hut in the middle of Africa before I fall asleep is not a good relationship. Like I really need any more horrible thoughts of things happening to people I love at home. No thanks.

The other two books are great though. I think everyone should read them--or at least the cliff notes. They are really relevant to the current affairs of the world. I don't really know if people in America are tuned into the greater world yet. I feel like maybe they are starting. The BBC is doing a program on why the world hates America. It wasn't really as hard hitting as I hoped but it does have a second part to the program that is done from the perspective of Turkey. That could get interesting. If you are one of those who is still avoiding the current Geo-political wranglings I would recommend getting some news in your life.

Despite everything that is going on and everyone who apparently loathe Americans and the West's Imperialism people in Zambia really enjoy us. On the BBC program people in Venezuela said that they would rather live in Cuba than the US. Ouch. People in Zambia are always asking me to marry them, adopt them, or some way or another get them into America. I always ask, "so, what are you going o do when you get there?" They were appalled when I told them that my parents work at least 40 hours a week and as many as 60. People in the developing world (I can really only speak for Zambia I guess) have such a weird idea of America. The lifestyle in rural areas does not even compute to me much of the time. I wonder what an American CEO would do if they went to the village. May Peace Corps volunteers should have bring your favorite CEO to the village day. That would be cultural exchange. My mom is coming soon. I can't wait to see what she makes of it all considering that she has seen Latin America and Kenya already.

I hope this brief update keeps you satiated.

All the best!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Dentist and my other favorite things

I'm in Lusaka right now for Mid-term medical evaluation (following an amazing vacation to Malawi) and I was able to see the dentist for the first time in 16 or so months. I skipped all the way into one of the most sterile rooms I have ever seen outside the Peace Corps medical office. It was shiny and white with the distinct smell of antiseptic and fluoride. Needless to say I was in heaven. I felt a bit bad because I had just eaten lunch and I forgot my tooth brush and was unable to brush away the remnants of the bacon chicken sandwich I had eaten. It was a bit rougher than my usual hygienist but beggars and volunteers can't be choosers. It was discovered that I had a small cavity which will have to be filled at a later date. Bummer. Everything else medically checked out great. Good resting heart rate and good blood pressure. I don't think that I could be any healthier.

Today has been an amazing day. The sun was shining, but not too brightly. There was a nice breeze and every taxi driver gave me a fair price. Maybe there will even be hot showers at the back packer place where I'm staying at. There is this amazing new ice cream place in Lusaka that I think I'm going to visit tonight and celebrate my well being. Then I'm going to watch ESPN for as long as possible. If, after all that, I have any energy left I'll go dancing.

I have a bit of apologizing to do now. I posted a thank you to a few people that have kept in contact with me regularily only to get emails from a few others saying that they had sent things too. I'm really sorry because the mail system isn't exactly reliable or timely. If you ever send anything by mail it is best to warn me by way of email. It seems silly to email that you're mailing but that way I can know how many packages have been lost in the trans Atlantic postal void. It is really a shame and I'm really sorry. I hope that all of you have been getting letters and postcards from me as well, although they also go missing. If you have any address or cell number changes I would love to stay updated.

I hope everything your side is going good. I should be posting again sooner than later!!