Sarah’s Guest Blog Post

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May 2013

ZAMBIA! Where to begin…more than a year in planning for this Iowa State reunion of friends/African adventure and it’s done in a flash! The ISU reunion of the three of us was nothing short of incredible – we had years to catch up on.

When I arrived in Livingstone, I had come from spending two wonderful months in South Africa. I knew Zambia was going to be spectacular and the two were going to be different, but no matter how much you read or are told, it doesn’t compare to seeing with your own eyes. And here’s what we saw…

Livingstone – Victoria Falls. We visited just after rainy season finished and the falls were pouring so hard that when the water comes crashing down, the sheer volume and power of the falls throws the water back up into the air and rains down on top of you while standing opposite the falls. It feels like a hurricane. An AWESOME hurricane. Walking parallel to the falls on the Zambian side you get less of a “picturesque view” of the falls, but you gain so much more in the experience; walking through sheets of rain you can really feel the force of the Mosi-oa-Tunya. This was one of my top highlights in all of Zambia.

Near Chingola – Chimfunshi Chimpanzee orphanage. Now when I was told we were to go “walking with chimps” I imagined us each holding the hand of a chimpanzee and delicately walking through the lush forest as we awe in the wonder of evolution (insert choral music). I don’t know where or how my brain conjured this one up, but what we experienced was even better than the daydream of an idea I had. We arrive, get dressed in jumpsuits, and are instructed to put cookies and chips in our pockets to attract the chimps. As we walk to the enclosure we see a very, very large and angry chimp pacing in the front of the enclosure. The very idea of trying to “walk” with this guy, let alone attract him with my baited pockets is frightening, no, terrifying. However with the travel gods on our side, he was not let into our enclosure. After we enter the enclosure they open the gates and about 6 chimps come walking out. They know we’re carrying forbidden treats and immediately bee-line for us. We have chimps diving into our pockets, climbing on our fronts and heads. It was magical. We then follow them through their daily routine of walking to their favorite tree, watching the younger one find his swing in the trees and scrounging for termite mounds to break and eat. Getting that close and staying that long with the chimps really let us get a knack for their personalities; it makes it impossible to refute evolution. The enclosures we were in with the chimps were a few acres large. And there are 6 enclosures for over 100 chimps. The animals are not kept here for our entertainment. They have been rescued from circuses, homes who kept them as pets, and other such abusive and unnatural environments. These chimps have come as far as Argentina and Saudi Arabia to find a rehabilitation center for them. As they cannot be returned to the wild, this is the best place for them, where they are matched with other chimps to form a cohort and live as normal as a life as possible.

Near Mpika – Hot Springs. It’s a genuine hot spring – where the hot water bubbles up beneath the sand floor of a muscle-melting pool. It took a full day and a half to get there, but it was well worth it.

Zambia is a truly developing place. There are villages we saw that live amongst the baboons, giraffes, elephants and so many other beautiful animals, yet Lusaka (Zambia’s capital city) maintains even more commercialism and advertising than I saw in Cape Town, South Africa due to its new-found wealth in copper mining. Zambians maintain their roots to the animals, the land and their lifestyles, but are somewhere caught in the middle of industrialization and traditional life in the villages, making the economic gap and other social dilemmas between Zambians a new battle. We often think that providing underdeveloped countries with better means of farming, health care and education is essential to a nation’s people and well-being – which it is, but we must remember there is a difference between those to live on sustenance and those who struggle. What once was sustenance living and fewer possessions transforms into larger problem of wanting more in circumstances that don’t allow. And those who once had enough for a standard lifestyle are now playing catch-up with the elites of society because what was once available for their past, standard lifestyle is either no longer available or exists at elevated costs because of the advancement of commercialism, industry and policy.

There is a story that involves two men. This story simplifies the push and pull of the developing world and sustenance living – which is the exact conflict Zambia is working with today. It is a difference in beliefs between those who believe further industrialization and capitalism will lead to “the ideal life”, and those who believe in preserving otherwise self-reliant and thriving communities and people. The story:

One man is a fisherman sitting under a tree, napping, at noon. Another man comes by and says, “What are you doing? You should be out fishing!”

The fisherman replies, “I did go fishing this morning, and I caught what I need for the day.”

The man says, “Well, you should go out and catch more fish!”

Fisherman: “Why would I do that?”

Man: “So you could sell the fish.”

Fisherman: “Why would I do that?”

Man: “So you can earn more money by selling the fish.”

Fisherman: “Why would I do that?”

Man: “So you could buy another boat to catch even more fish.”

Fisherman: “Why would I do that?”

Man: “So you can earn even more money from the even more fish you catch and then hire people to go fishing for you.”

Fisherman: “Why would I do that?”

Man: “So you could relax.”

Fisherman: “What do you think I’m doing now?”

 

Chimpanzee Orphanage!

Chimpanzee Orphanage!

The 3 of us going for a hike near the Chimpanzee Orphanage

The 3 of us going for a hike near the Chimpanzee Orphanage

Hot springs!!

Hot springs!!

YUM

YUM

 

OK, I’m embarrassed.

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I’m embarrassed because it has been so ridiculously long since I have posted a blog. I am embarrassed because I have electricity and my laptop and internet at my fingertips every day now, and I still haven’t posted. Sorry sorry…

The past 6 months or so since my last update have been crazy. So much has happened I couldn’t even begin to talk about everything, so let’s do a quick overview.

I am living on the Copperbelt in a big 3 bedroom flat with electricity. (Yup, I’m spoiled now.) I work at Chembe Bird Sanctuary, and in the past several months we have made BIG leaps towards our goals of reviving it. We have renovated the bathrooms, added showers, made new picnic tables and chairs, founds lots of local sponsors, pushed our membership numbers to record highs, and held an extremely successful fishing competition which attracted lots of people and bought in some money for more projects. I have about a week left, and then its time to pack up and move out. I’ll be in Lusaka for a week for final paperwork and things, and then my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer ends on Oct 18. I have absolutely no idea what is next, don’t ask. I believe I am the only person in my group who has yet to buy a plane ticket. However, things will fall into place. I’m sure of that. While I’m not so stoked to be back in time for an Iowa winter, I AM stoked to be back for the holiday season.

2 years, done. I remember getting ready to leave for Peace Corps and thinking 27 months was SO LONG. Here we are… Oct 1, 2013. The final 18 day stretch. It’s been a great ride, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds. And now that I have Peace Corps friends located all over the United States, I am anticipating some awesome road trips in my future, with maybe a little graduate school tied in there too.

Here are some photos from the last few months!

We went on the most AMAZING 4-wheeler safari for our COS Conference!

We went on the most AMAZING 4-wheeler safari for our COS Conference!

Fisherman out on the dam during our Chembe Fishing Competition!

Fisherman out on the dam during our Chembe Fishing Competition!

My "office."

My “office.”

Michelle’s Post!!

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Trip dates: March 27- April 20, 2013

Muli shani? (Bemba for “How are you?”). We said this phrase a lot to every passerby. They would get excited that I spoke Bemba and want more, but then I would have to disappoint them. Foreign language is not my forte. Jessica on the other hand, is amazing!

I knew from the moment Jessica heard that she was leaving, that I would need to visit. After almost two years of planning, I finally got to visit Jessica in her homeland =). You have already heard from Kelly about the layout of our trip and how she came to accompany me, so I will fill in a few spots and go in depth on a few experiences we had.

After 27 hours total travel just to get in the country, we finally arrived and I got to hug my long time friend! As you all know, seeing Jessica one or fewer times a year is not nearly enough. I miss her terribly so it was awesome to meet up with her again. We did not arrive in Lusaka until close to midnight so we headed straight to our beds. This was my first experience staying in a hostel and it was definitely not what I expected. Hmm, maybe I am not exactly sure what I expected… maybe a huge, dirty room with a lot of bunk beds and strangers. I didn’t realize that there were more options and great accommodations. Most of the nights we stayed in a hostel on this trip, we had a private 3-bed room. Definitely a great choice for travelers wanting to save money.

One thing you have to know about being in Zambia as a muzungu (white person) is that you pretty much always feel like you are on parade. You can become the center of attention quite easily as well as look like a dollar sign. We learned that unfortunately, many people see white people as money because of non-governmental organizations (NGO). NGO’s go in with the purpose of doing good, but end up being a giant handout of freebies and money. The free resources end up getting depleted quickly and then they want more. Many places in Africa have been targeted with this due to being third world countries. Because this has happened so many times to the people in Africa, many have just come to expect free things from muzungus. Especially in the rural areas.

Of course, we all know that malaria is a huge issue in Zambia. In the past, many families have been given huge quantities of mosquito nets, but not taught the importance of them or how to properly use one. They became fishing nets for a lot of them. In order to have an effective outreach in preventing malaria, it is really important for those who are bringing the mosquito nets to include teaching on it and even installation of it in the home. “Teach a man to fish” was a huge lesson I learned while on this trip.

We spent the first few days in Lusaka (the capital) and did most of our souvenir shopping at the Sunday market before we headed to Kazembe in Luapula province. Our plans in Kazembe were to stay at the orphanage and work with the local clinic to do community health teaching. Our focus was maternal and child health, but first we had to get there. Luckily, Jessica needed to head north to do some things anyway, so she decided to join us for a few days. This was definitely great, because not only did we get to spend more time with her, but she could also help us in the right direction. Buying a bus ticket at the bus station is a trip, let me tell you! The bus station is packed full of people and they all want to give you a taxi ride or sell you a ticket or sell you a watch or a phone case or a citenge or a banana or… (this list could go on forever). It would be quite an overwhelming experience if you didn’t know what you were doing, so thank God for Jessica.

The total bus trip to Kazembe was 15 hours long. The first 20 minutes were great. The three of us got seats on the top level at the front of the bus. We had a great view and leg room and air conditioning, but then they shut the air off. I think they just teased us long enough so we couldn’t get off the bus and catch another. It was quite uncomfortable with the sun beating down on us in the middle of the afternoon, especially for these Iowans who just left 30 degree weather. Once evening came, it cooled off and was more bearable, but still not comfortable to sit in a bus for that long. By the end of our journey though, we were missing that bus ride, because the next three later on in our trip were terrible (more on this later)!

We arrived in Kazembe at 6am Monday, April 1st. That day was spent touring and meeting people at the orphanage. The orphanage is laid out well. They hire nannies from the local village and also raise chickens, goats and ducks. Their goal is to be self-sustaining. At our visit they had 27 children in the orphanage including a three month old named Samuel. He had been brought in two weeks prior weighing in at less than six pounds. I fell in love with that kid instantly. He was a three month old stuck in a newborn’s body. He was gaining weight and showing his personality by the time we met him, but still needed to stay on a strict feeding schedule. To give his main caretaker a break, I offered to watch him all night. I fed him every three hours and I can see how being a mother would be exhausting. It was so completely worth it though to wake up to his smiling face the next morning. It was one of the best birthday presents I could have asked for!

Yes, yes, I got to celebrate my 28th birthday on April 3 in Africa. It was amazing. Kelly and Jessica offered to make me a birthday lunch and when I went in to go eat I got surprised with 27 little kids singing me “Happy Birthday!” They even managed to whip up a cake for me. It looked a little sad and melty after the candles burned down too quickly, but I can’t even describe how delicious it was. I don’t know what Jessica put in that cake, but it was heavenly.

Samuel wishing me a happy birthday!!

Samuel wishing me a happy birthday!!

While in Kazembe, we gave numerous talks, some even as simple as proper handwashing. We talked with the nannies in the orphanage, a few different groups in two different villages, including a group of traditional midwives. Now there are many things I love about my job, but one of them is that we all have babies the same. For those of you who don’t know, Kelly and I work as labor and delivery nurses at a hospital in Des Moines that mostly serves the underprivileged and underserved. This includes families from all walks of life and all parts of the world. There are many cultural differences, but in the end we all have babies the same way and the bond between mother and child never ceases to amaze me. Where I am getting at here, is that our talk with the midwives was really neat. They haven’t had formal education, they have learned it all through the years actually doing the work. They were all older and have probably seen more deliveries than I have, yet they only know what they have seen and when there are problems, people get infections or die. They are very street smart, but lack some book knowledge. Our talk consisted of a lot of anatomy and just how things work in the female body, but we also wanted to discuss some things that result in death or injury. The leading cause of maternal death in Africa is post partum hemorrhage. Immediately after delivery, mothers are at a greater risk of bleeding. The more babies you have, the more you bleed because your uterus does not go back to normal as quickly. We taught them some things that can be done to help decrease bleeding. By the end, they asked a lot of great questions and seemed to enjoy having us there. We were teaching a man to fish, but in return they taught us many great skills. Back home, we have all these tools to help us in healthcare including: fetal heart monitors, ultrasounds and dopplers. In Kazembe, they have never heard of these things. They use their bare hands to feel the position and gestational age of the baby. They put their ear up to a wooden fetascope that is placed on the women’s abdomen to listen to heart tones. Kelly and I had the opportunity to work alongside these traditional midwives and learn some techniques that will make us better nurses.

Us posing with the traditional midwives. They were cool ladies!

Us posing with the traditional midwives. They were cool ladies!

Working with the clinic in Kazembe was a neat experience. They are so overwhelmed with patients and there are just a few of them doing all of the work, but they are good at it. They have asked the government for assistance, but they are told that they are in the same boat as everyone else. They delivered over 1,300 babies in 2012 with only one educated nurse midwife and the rest were volunteer traditional midwives with no formal training. We met some lifelong friends at this clinic and I hope to be able to help them with their equipment and funding in the future.

I keep thinking of so much I can write about, but this is already getting long so I will try to speed it up and hit some of the major things.

On April 10th, we had to say goodbye to all of our new friends and the sweet kids in the orphanage to head back to Lusaka for a couple of days. We would be meeting up with Jessica again since she left a few days after our arrival at Kazembe. This bus ride was not quite as nice as the first. Our 15 hour bus ride was cramped, hot, and I was in the middle of Kelly and a few different people that got on and off and different stops along the way. There was little leg room because of the people sitting and laying on the floor in front of us. I can definitely see why bus accidents in Zambia are deadly.

We stayed in Lusaka until April 12, then took a bus seven hours to Livingstone (where we would be staying the rest of our trip). However, while we were waiting at the hostel for our taxi, we met a guy who claimed to know Dandy Crazy (a Zambian pop star). He said he would also be traveling to Livingstone that day for a concert that was taking place there that night. He even introduced Jessica to the Dandy Crazy’s backup dancers. He offered to get us in to the concert for free later that night. This whole thing was sort of unbelievable so we left wondering if he would actually call us.

The bus ride was again hot and completely uncomfortable, but at least we arrived safely despite the bull that got loose and ran right in front of our bus. By the time we made it to our hostel in Livingstone, we were wiped. The last thing any of us wanted to do was go anywhere, but how many times are you in Africa and get the opportunity to go to a Zampop concert? We couldn’t pass up the opportunity when he actually called us, but we certainly weren’t going to get dressed up for it. I seriously wore a t-shirt and sweatpants because I felt so lazy and Jessica vowed not to change out of her tank top and yoga capris.

Ok, so I am about to tell you all a story that will be very hard to believe and harder to believe yet because we have no pictures to prove any of it. Jessica warned us that Livingstone is full of pick-pocketers that thrive off the tourists, so to not bring anything along and that includes your phone/camera. So off we go, with this guy we met that knows Dandy Crazy and is going to be getting us into the concert for free. However, on the way, Jessica notices that he is not going the right way toward the event. She asks where we are going and he responds that we are going to pick up Dandy Crazy! We were in shock! This began as us getting in to a concert for free, but now we were picking up the star!

Before we knew it, we were sitting in the back of the van with Dandy Crazy and five of the most beautiful Zambian women all dressed up for the event. Now, just keep in mind… I am in my sweatpants and haven’t showered in two days. I was immediately regretting my laziness when I found myself as part of the entourage. We drove through this locked gate into this huge crowd all awaiting the arrival of Dandy Crazy. It was completely surreal. People looking in through the windows and trying to open the doors. Oh my goodness. Then we hear the announcement and the doors open and we are supposed to get out. Ummmm, I’m in my sweatpants! One by one, each of the beautiful Zambian women get out, then it’s our turn. The muzungus in all our glory and filth! We definitely got some looks! Then we were led to a VIP section where we spent the rest of the night enjoying our first, free Zampop event. Just another day in the life of Jessica. This kind of stuff happens to her all the time!

Since discussions began about me visiting Jessica in Zambia, we had decided that we were going to bungee jump at Victoria Falls. We had gone skydiving together back in the states a few years ago so we thought we could endure this together as well. It was the end of the rainy season so the water was at its highest. The day before our planned jump, we watched some other jumpers. I’m not sure if this freaked me out more or not. I had been experiencing quite a bit of anxiety just while thinking about the jump and actually looking at exactly what I would be doing was terrifying.

Finally, the day had arrived. On April 14, we made our way to the falls. Not only would we be bungee jumping, but also gorge swinging and zip lining. We started with the easiest one first. Kelly, Jess and I zip lined from Zambia to Zimbabwe, then trekked up to the bridge to prepare for our jumps; however, once we got there, Kelly would be taking over as photographer. She was brave enough to zip line but not dumb enough to jump off a bridge! The bungee jump was extremely scary from beginning to end. I think I hesitated right before I jumped because instead of jumping out three meters into a dive I bent my knees and kind of fell over the edge. Because of my poor jump, I ended up going under the bridge for longer than expected. This is why Kelly thought I was a goner when they pulled up the empty hoist from the jumper ahead of me at just the right time =). Hanging upside down under a rushing river was very distracting. Thrilling, but absolutely terrifying. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to jump off the bridge a second time after that, but I sure did!

The gorge swing was a much different experience. You jump off the bridge right side up and fall 111 meters into a full blown swinging motion. The fall is way more intense than the bungee, but once you were swinging, it was indescribable. Beauty I will never forget. That I would do again, the bungee- ehhhh, not so sure.

Ready? Set? Jump!

Ready? Set? Jump!

Don't fall in!!

Don’t fall in!!

Definitely something I had to do while visiting Africa was go on safari! Jessica is no stranger to animals, so she was fun to have around and point things out. Our safari guide got a kick out of her knowledge! We saw so many wild animals and they were literally inches away from us. A very, very cool experience. And again, it’s just another day in the life of Jessica so, of course (while we were on lunch break) why wouldn’t a French couple randomly break out a tight rope and start juggling? Each of us got a chance to try our skills at tight roping. It was a lot of fun and not quite as easy as it looks.

One of our French friends killin’ it on the tightrope.

One of our French friends killin’ it on the tightrope.

Ugh, have I written enough? Are you all awake? I know that I am super blessed to have made this trip to visit Jessica on her amazing journey, so I wanted to share as much as I could with those of you who won’t get this opportunity. Jessica is doing amazing things there and fits right in. I heard several Zambians refer to her as being a Zambian now. They are proud to have her in their country and community. I mentioned that I miss her like crazy, but she belongs in Africa! At least for now.

P.S. By the way, the last bus ride back to Lusaka to catch our plane was just as hot and sticky and uncomfortable as the rest! Even though this trip totaled 6 days of travel, 4 on bus and 2 on plane, this was totally worth it! Thanks for accommodating us and for showing us a great time, Jessica! You’re a great hostess.

-Michelle

Updates: Transitioning into the next chapter

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Hi everyone! I finally have a blog for you that is full of updates!

Fun facts since I have last updated you all:

-I have been SO lucky to have a bunch of friends from back home visit me!
-I got to see a leopard on safari, which was a first for me. And it was AMAZING.
-I got electrocuted. And I don’t mean a minor shock. I mean I got ELECTROCUTED. It was pretty awful and for the next couple of weeks I kept making Michelle use her stethoscope to check my heart rhythm to make sure it wasn’t out of whack, lol.
-I checked another thing off my bucket list and bungee jumped!! And it was through and through the most terrifying thing I have ever done. Then I climbed back up the bridge and jumped off again to do the gorge swing! So. Awesome.
-I had my first allergic reaction, and it caused me to break out in the worst case of hives imaginable. After being bedridden for 2 days, I got a shot in the booty and washed all my clothes and they went away. Apparently I’m quite allergic to the laundry soap that was used on my clothes last.

In other news, I HAVE A NEW ASSIGNMENT!! I am now based in Copperbelt province, which is where all the big copper mines are in the country. I will be living in a small mining town about 15km outside of Kitwe, which is the 2nd biggest city in Zambia, after Lusaka. I just spent some time up there looking for a place to live and getting acquainted with everything. Finding a place was much more difficult than anticipated, but in one afternoon of desperation, (aka aimlessly walking the streets asking people if they know of any places available for rent) I found the perfect place. It is in a safe compound, in a safe part of town, with lots of space and a great landlord. I officially move in in a couple weeks! So crazy that I am going from living in a hut in the village to a 3 bedroom flat with electricity and running water! I started getting involved in some of the work I will be doing, and I think I am really going to like it. Plus, after only being in Kitwe for 24 hours, I met a great group of ex-pats who invited me out for a BBQ and fishing all weekend. Even though there aren’t many Peace Corps Volunteers on the Copperbelt (After I move here, there will be 3 in the entire province) I feel like I will have no shortage of friends and people to hang out with.

So I am sure you are all asking, “What exactly are you doing over there in the Copperbelt??” The answer is so ridiculous, sometimes I feel like I need to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming. Essentially, I will be managing a national park from the ground up. Yeah, I know. Unbelievable.

There is a place called Chembe Bird Sanctuary on the Copperbelt, which is recognized as a national park in Zambia. It is a small, beautiful piece of land which has never really been managed before. The Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia is in charge of the area, but due to lack of manpower and resources, they have been very limited in what they can do with it. As a result, poaching has become a severe problem, and Chembe is not fulfilling its potential. It could be turned into a beautiful place for Zambians to go on the weekends for camping, BBQing, and sustainable fishing. As it is, people are just going in and exploiting the resources there. Having a Peace Corps Volunteer work with Chembe is perfect because they need someone around full time to work towards reviving the park, and they don’t have to pay me a salary :) As they put it to me, “You are starting with a dead park. We need you to revive it.” This is going to be an amazing experience for me, and I am going to learn so much… I feel so lucky to have this opportunity fall into place! Where else would I be given an opportunity like this?? This is huge.

So, my Peace Corps contract ends October 18, 2013. I will be applying to extend that contract, either for 6 months or a year. Not sure how long I will be here yet, I won’t find out for sure until July. I just know that I need to dedicate some time to this project and do what I can to revive this park, as well as learn as much as possible from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Africa is a tough place to leave.

Kelly’s Guest Blog!

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Here is Kelly’s guest blog from her visit to Zambia, Michelle’s is coming soon!! (As in tomorrow!!) Also, I promise to post my own update within the next 48 hours, so get ready for a lot of Chronicles From A Mud Hut action!

Hello fellow friends and loves of Jessica. Jess asks all Zam visitors to submit a guest blog, so here goes nothing…
I actually met Jessica through Michelle. Michelle and I work together as RN’s in the Family Birthing Unit at Broadlawns in Des Moines. It had always been a dream of mine to do volunteer work abroad, my eyes were set on either India or Africa. During a slow shift at work, Michelle mentioned an upcoming trip she was planning to visit her friend in Zambia. She was wanting a travel buddy and had yet to find one. Her plan was to incorporate some service work into her trip because she has been on missions in the past and they are a passion of hers. It was a no brainer that we should take on this adventure together…the wheels were set into motion.

Over the next few months of planning via Facebook Chat and email, Jessica and I became friends. I felt as if I knew her well even before stepping off the plane in Lusaka. I’m sure this doesn’t surprise any of you at all. That’s just Jessica.


Michelle and I planned a 3.5 week stay in Zambia. Half of the time staying and volunteering at an orphanage in Kazembe and doing clinic work (a contact Jessica had made for us) , the other half would be spent experiencing Africa with our favorite AmZam <= part American, part Zambian, Jess.


Our first days in Lusaka were spent exchanging money, purchasing bus tickets, and dipping our toes in the culture. It was evident right away that Jessica loves Zambia. Her enthusiasm translated into a crash course in food, friends, Peace Corps and beyond; and FUN, we were eventually part of a Zambian pop stars entourage! 


As fate would have it, Jessica was not yet settled into her new Peace Corp post, so she was able to spend a few days with us in Kazembe at the orphanage before returning to Lusaka. I won't go into great detail about our time in Kazembe. What I will tell you is that it forever changed my life. The disparities in income and resources are indescribable, and yet, despite their challenges, Zambians are kind, happy, and welcoming. Twenty traditional midwives traveled from 16 different villages to talk with Michelle and I about maternal health. Not because they had to, or were being paid to, but because they WANTED to. They were gracious and receptive; this was a highlight of my experience.


Luapula province, which is where Jess had been posted, is BEAUTIFUL country. The clinical officer and nurse midwife from the clinic we worked with invited us to Braai (bbq) at some waterfalls before we left Kazembe. The falls are nearly untouched there. Parking spaces are marked with boulders, there are no guard rails, and visitors may swim in the falls at their own risk. AND WE DID! It was amazing!! They also hosted us to their church and had us to their home for a traditional Zambian meal. Friendships are valued in Zambia and we were blessed to form many.


After wrapping up our service, and bidding a tearful farewell to the babes at Kazembe Orphanage, we set off to see what the Southern Province had to offer. Livingstone is home to Victoria Falls, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. No cliches, it is AWE INSPIRING. I was literally moved to tears by the power of it. Jess and Michelle had a different reaction to its power, they were inspired to jump 111 meters, not once but TWICE, off the bridge over the Zambezi. For a split second I thought I had lost my friend to the water, it was terrifying without the thrill! Check Michelle’s blog for details.


No trip to Africa is complete without a safari, so we skipped the border to Botswana for another experience of a lifetime. Chobe National Park Highlights: Waking up to lions roaring at 3am with nothing separating you but a tent, being arms length from an African elephant, tight rope walking with a couple from France (yes, you read that right), and of course, watching a dung beetle roll a dung ball.


At the end of our trip I found myself not wanting to leave. Africa has a way of seeping into you and making you a part of the landscape. I completely understand Jessica’s love of this wild yet peaceful place, you can feel that she is a part of it when you're around her. Jess recently posted a quote that wraps up my African experience… "If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa – twice" -R. Elliot


Don't mind if I do, see you again in October 2013. <3

Malaria in Africa

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Hey everyone,

I promise to blog soon with plenty of exciting updates, but I wanted to take a quick time out and talk about an important issue here in Africa.

It seems that when people back home think about what issues people face in Africa, the big things that come to mind are HIV/AIDS, poverty, malnutrition, etc. People in America are aware of the existence of Malaria, but how much do you really know about it? Because Malaria doesn’t exist in the United States, there is a disconnect for us Americans when we talk about it. We don’t have to worry about it. We don’t have to worry that our children may die before the age of 5 because of malaria, or that our baby will be stillborn because we contracted malaria during pregnancy. Before I came to Zambia I didn’t know much about Malaria aside from the basics; it is caused by mosquitos, it makes you really sick, and I never want to have it.

Unfortunately Malaria can often be deadly, and due to the high occurrence of Malaria here in Africa, the number of deaths from it annually is staggering. The World Health Organization estimates that there were 1.2 million deaths from Malaria worldwide in 2010. Over 90% of those deaths were in Africa. Over 90%!! In Zambia alone last year, there were 4.2 million cases of Malaria, resulting in upwards of 8,000 deaths. Let me also mention that the population of Zambia sits at a little less than 13.5 million. For a country with a population that small to have such a high number of Malaria cases is terrifying.

The Zambia page on the UNICEF website (http://www.unicef.org/zambia/5109_8454.html) says that Malaria causes 35-50% of mortality in children under five years and 20% of maternal mortality. Of all the people who die of Malaria in Zambia, 50% or more are children under 5.

Malaria is both preventable and treatable. The problem lies in accessibility. Some people live massive distances from health clinics with no method of transportation, others can’t afford insecticide-treated mosquito nets to sleep under. In recent years, funding for combating Malaria has increased exponentially thanks to several organizations worldwide, and the results have been extremely positive. However, we still have a long way to go.

Peace Corps has created an initiative called Stomping out Malaria in Africa which uses strategic partnerships, targets training Volunteers and intelligent use of information technology to support the local malaria prevention efforts of over 3,000 Volunteers in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria IS preventable, so let’s work together to STOMP IT OUT!!! I encourage you to think about what you can do to raise awareness about Malaria, and to help make our world 100% Malaria free.

For more information go to http://www.stompoutmalaria.org and follow Stomp activities at http://www.facebook.com/StompOutMalaria.

These kids should NOT have to worry about Malaria!

These kids should NOT have to worry about Malaria!

Special Guest Blog from Abby!!

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Hello friends and family of Jessica!  Jessica requested that all people who visit her write a guest entry on her Mudhut blog.  I returned from Zambia on February 14 so that makes me a little late in getting this posted, but better late than never so here goes:

 

My trip to Zambia was 2.5 weeks long and it was definitely a whirlwind vacation where we travelled from the northern-most point in Zambia to the southern-most point.  I flew in to Lusaka on January 26, and despite a slight hiccup in coordinating my pick-up time from the airport, my trip to visit Jessica hit the ground running.  Now, Jessica was technically in limbo at this time with her site placement so we were just a couple of nomads traveling around Zambia together.  Our first night we spent in Lusaka at a hostel and I was lucky enough to meet a ton of Peace Corps volunteers right away.  Most of the Peace Corps volunteers are generally what you would stereotypically expect:  open-minded, free spirited, incredibly welcoming, and a ton of fun.  I was immediately accepted as one of the group simply because I was a friend of Jessica’s, and I could happily sit all day listening to Jessica exchange crazy Zambia stories with her fellow colleagues.  There was definitely a learning curve to keep up with the various acronyms and slang used literally constantly.  For those of you going to visit her, here’s a quick crash course:  RAP  (aka rappers: Jessica’s placement working with fish farming), CHIP  (aka chippers: the health care volunteers), RED (aka reds: the education volunteers), LIFE (aka lifers:  the agriculture/environmental development volunteers), COS (close of service- or when people get to go home), and PCVL (the person that lives at the province houses and looks after the house and volunteers).  This is just a very small taste of the acronyms used.  There’s also tons of Zam-slang.  They basically just put Zam on the front of anything and it indicates that it’s not the typical version of the word that we’re used to.  Some examples include; Zam-bag, Zam-pop, Zam-text, etc.  But aside from the initial struggle to understand all the Peace Corps slang, it’s incredible to hear about what these people go through and see on a daily basis.  Being trapped in a hut by an 8 foot mamba snake, carrying a bike for miles (or kilometers) on a hot African day because of a flat tire, hitchhiking in the back of a truck full of farm animals, and spending several days in the hospital with crazy African illnesses were all unsurprising occurrences in these people’s lives.  I am not joking when I say that there are endless stories of things many of us cannot imagine living through that have become quite normal for Peace Corps volunteers. 

 

The next portion of our trip took us up north to Mbala and Mpulungu in northern Zambia to meet up with more Peace Corps volunteers, do some site seeing, and relax by a big beautiful lake, Lake Tanganyika (Lake Tang).  We started this trip hitchhiking.   Hitchhiking is something that has become quite commonplace and boring for Jessica, but being from America where hitchhiking is no longer safe and having never experienced it before, I was sooooooooooo excited to hitchhike for the first time!  I will admit that spending several hours on the side of the road waving your arm like a hula dancer at every car that passes can get a little boring (no, you don’t stick out your thumb when you Zam-hitch), but in general it was pretty exciting.  There was also a learning curve when it came to hitching in Zambia.  Rule number 1: you only hitch the good cars like BMW’s, Land Rovers, Cruisers, etc. while avoiding the slow and uncomfortable rides like semi’s, open-bed trucks, and packed cars.  After all, 2 white chicks hitching on the side of the road in rural Africa still need to maintain some standards!!  Rule number 2: know the sign language.  If someone twirls their finger in a circle it means “they are just staying within” (or just saying around town), if someone shakes their hand back and forth palm up it means there is nothing they can do for you, if they flash their lights it means they see you but probably aren’t going to stop to pick you up.  Rule number 3: don’t get disappointed when white drivers and women drivers NEVER pick you up.  Rule number 4: if a person is not going to charge you any money to ride in their car you are required to carry on a conversation with them and provide entertainment to them.  Needless to say, Jessica was an excellent hitcher.  Whenever we got a car to pull over she’d quickly run up to the car and start speaking to them in excellent Bemba and they would immediately start laughing and be delighted that a random white girl in rural Zambia knows a local language.  Now don’t let her fool you with modesty, her Bemba is actually pretty incredible and she is able to carry on decently long conversations with people and understand quite a bit.  This entertainment at her language skills certainly made people more likely to give us free hitches.

 

We spent a good deal of time up in Northern Province.  We had some fun-filled nights in Mbala where we watched the exciting Zambian football match against Burkina Faso in the African cup.  Unfortunately they tied, which meant they were eliminated from the tournament, but it was great to see how EVERYONE dressed up and cheered on Chipolopolo (the Zambian football team).  Before the match people would be walking down the streets yelling, “CHIPOLOPOLOOOOOO,” and after the match there were literally people crying with disappointment.  We also visited Jessica’s Peace Corps friend Mikaela’s village and spent the night in her hut.  Then we traveled up to Lake Tang in Mpulungu and enjoyed several beautiful and relaxing days by the water.

 

We didn’t exactly have a set-in-stone plan for our travels, but one thing that I was certain I wanted to do was go to her village.  It was pretty important to me to see the place that she had spent the bulk of her time thus far and had caused her to fall in love with Zambia.  It was important particularly since she was going to be removed from her placement and I was probably going to be the only person from home that would be able to see it.  Despite being a “safety and security” risk, Peace Corps agreed to let us go there and stay the night as long as we hired a local villager to sleep outside the hut as a guard.  We packed up our overnight bags and some food (and a cheap bottle of wine) and hired a taxi to take us from Mansa to her village.  As we drove down the road to her ka-small-hut, children along the way recognized her and word quickly spread that BaJessica was back.  No those were not typos: they put Ba on the front of people’s names and they put ka (which means small in Bemba) on the front of anything that is small but they also still use small in the descriptor…  I don’t totally understand it, but that’s just a Zam-thing.  I am not exaggerating when I say that as we approached her hut literally 30 children came running along the dirt paths to greet her and began playing games for hours in her front yard.  She was basically the Pied Piper of small adorable poor African village kids.  If there was any question in anyone’s mind as to whether or not it was a good idea for Jessica to join the Peace Corps let me now expel any doubts:  Jessica was MADE to do this!  I have never seen her more in her element.  These villagers absolutely love her and the kids know that Jessica’s yard is a fun and safe place to play without fear of getting yelled at and kicked out.  The kids were fighting over who would do her dishes and go to fetch her water.  It nearly brought tears to my eyes watching her communicate with her village children who spoke little-to-no English, but they had found ways to completely understand each other.  It was absolutely clear that they all adore Jessica!  We danced, played soccer (those kids are incredible), jumped rope (which was nothing like our version of jump rope), and played rounders (a somewhat altered version of kickball).  

 

I also had the opportunity to meet a 16 year old boy in her village named Few Days (because at birth he was only expected to live a “few days”).  This boy had taken Jessica’s presence in his village as a learning opportunity to improve his English.  Apparently when she first arrived in her village he had somewhat limited English skills.  Jessica said he had come over almost every day when he was not away at school and he would ask question after question to improve his English as much as possible.  She told me that they had once had a very long talk about the meaning of the phrase “how have you been?” because he had never understood what that meant.  I noticed that when he came up to her hut while we were there he immediately asked, “BaJessica, how have you been?”  I talked with him for quite some time and his English was incredible!  Jessica told me that he would not have been able to carry on that conversation just over a year ago.  It was great to see that she’s made a real impact on this boy’s education, and he was definitely putting it into practice.  Yes, Jessica was assigned to her village to teach fish farming and I heard many of her fellow Peace Corps “rappers” express their frustrations at the slow progress of developing that industry, but it was clear to me that she is doing much more than just building some ponds with fish.  She’s teaching and sharing cultural exchange 24 hours a day with these people! 

 

Our time in the village was full of excitement for me!  Though it had become pretty run-of-the-mill for Jessica, I was thrilled at the novelty of cooking over coals, showering out of a bucket, and even peeing in a hole in the ground!  It’s all just a part of her village life and it’s incredible what has become normal for her.  Nothing in the village is easy or fast.  You realize how much we rely on technology in our daily lives, and clean definitely becomes a relative term when you are surrounded by bugs and orange dirt at all times! 

 

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a black cloud on our visit to her village.  When we arrived, we noticed that one of her windows had been broken into and that some things from her hut had been stolen.  This meant that safety and security was even more of a problem and we certainly couldn’t spend the night because of the risk it could potentially pose to both of us.  It was heart-wrenching to watch her tell her villagers that neither she, nor any other Peace Corps volunteer, would be coming back to the village and see her pack up the majority of her remaining belongings from her hut to take back to Mansa.  You could visibly see that her village head man was upset and didn’t fully understand why she couldn’t continue to live there.  I had become completely attached and in love with all her adorable village kids after spending only 5-6 hours there so I could only imagine the attachment she felt after knowing them for over a year.  It was sad to think that she may never see many of these children again, and it’s unfortunate that the selfish acts of a few people in her village will now make it so no one there will be able to benefit from the work of the Peace Corps.   

 

Despite the sad moments in her village, we had to pack up and finish the rest of our fun-filled travel in Zambia.  We decided to take a bus back down to Lusaka to ensure that we arrived at a decent time because Jessica needed to finish up studying for her GRE and take the test on that Saturday.  I’m certain that she rocked it, and immediately after she finished her test we hopped on a bus to Livingstone!  It was a perfect way to wrap up the trip.  We spent time with some more very fun and very welcoming Peace Corps volunteers.  Plus there was beautiful site seeing- I’d highly highly recommend seeing Victoria Falls during rainy season!  I’ve never seen anything quite like it; absolutely massive and beautiful.  We also did a cheetah walk where we literally pet and walked cheetahs (check out Jessica’s Facebook for some sweet pictures!).  Certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

 

Jessica was a perfect tour guide and it was truly a gift to see what her life is like in Zambia.  I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun, laughed so hard, or seen such amazing things in my life.  I hope many more of you get a chance to visit her! 

 

Take care, and send her some Velveeta cheese! :)

Abby Richards

 

 

Hitchhiking on a rainy day!!

Hitchhiking on a rainy day!!

 

Lake Tanganyika!

Lake Tanganyika!

 

SOAKED to the bone at Victoria Falls from all the spray!

SOAKED to the bone at Victoria Falls from all the spray!

 

....No caption needed.

….No caption needed.