Hi everyone! I left off last time on a bit of a low note. Basically I have a crazy man in my village harassing me and threatening to burn down my house while I am inside sleeping. Peace Corps pulled me out of my village or safety and security reasons in late November, and in mid-December I had a meeting with Peace Corps staff in Lusaka to determine what to do.
In my meeting, I expressed my desire to return to my village. I am so attached to my home and the people that I interact with every day, the idea of leaving so suddenly is unwelcome. The staff I talked with understood, and we agreed that I could go back to the village as long as we hired a guard to watch over my house during the night. Satisfied with this outcome, I boarded a plane the next day for a vacation to Europe!!
I met my friend Abby in Paris for a 2 week trip to Paris, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, and Madrid. We had an AMAZING time!! We arrived in Paris in the morning of Dec. 16, and took off immediately to see the sites. We had a great day wandering through Paris, going to the top of the eiffel tower at sunset, eating delicious food and drinking plenty of wine. Abby got a crepe from a street vendor (an obvious must in Paris) and we walked through the streets that were all decorated for the holidays with thousands of lights and Christmas trees. We went to bed at a reasonable hour, because the next day we had to catch a flight to ROME!!
We were beyond excited to visit Rome, and when we landed we checked into our hostel and immediately set off for some lunch (and more wine) and afterwards found our way to the Trevi fountain. Ok, I’ll admit it. I had no idea what the Trevi fountain was. Abby was pretty appalled that I had no idea what it was, but when I saw it I realized I had seen it a few times in movies and pictures before. Apparently it is one of the most famous fountains in the world… my bad. Tradition holds that if you throw a coin in the fountain, you are ensured a trip back to Rome. As Abby and I both tossed our coins in the fountain, I was also told that a second and third coin would mean you would marry a Roman. I went ahead and threw a few extra coins in there, just to cover all my bases ;)
The next day we spent the day at the Vatican, which was incredible! We learned a TON of history, and it was all incredibly fascinating. We got to see the Sistine Chapel, and learned about the hidden meanings of Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling and back wall. It was surreal to learn all of this history and then go in and SEE the real thing ourselves! I didn’t realize that is Sistine Chapel was also where the next Pope gets chosen from- when a Pope dies the Catholic big wigs lock themselves in there until a new Pope is chosen. We also went into St. Peter’s Basilica, which was amazing. Nothing about the Vatican disappoints, everything is absolutely stunning.
The next day, it was time to check something off my life’s bucket list: the Colosseum. I have wanted to see this piece of history since I was a kid, and actually standing there next to it was such a crazy feeling! It’s true, I was close to shedding a tear or two, but I pulled it together. :) The United States is such a young country, our history is so fresh. Standing next to this building that was built from 72-80A.D… absolutely incredible. We just don’t have that kind of history back home!
The way ancient Rome and modern Rome are melded together absolutely blows my mind. You can be on a busy street with lots of traffic, and look to your left and see these ruins from thousands of years ago standing next to a local coffee shop or bank. Everything is mixed together, I have never experienced anything like it before. Driving by a 2,000 year old building laced with an incredible history on your way to work? No big deal. We also took a tour of the Roman Forum, which was basically the heart of ancient Rome, and the very spot that Rome was founded. Absolutely beautiful.
Needless to say, Abby and I loved Rome. We could have easily spent another week there, but we had plenty more to do and see on our trip, so we jumped a train for a quick stop in Venice!
Venice is so unique, and we spent our day literally getting lost in the maze of streets and canals that make up the city. There are no cars or motorcycles, the only kind of motor we saw the entire time we were there was attached to a boat. Venice also has some of the best shops we saw during our trip! We couldn’t resist plenty of window shopping, and every little shop was different from the last. For dinner, we ate at a picturesque little restaurant along the main canal where Abby got her seafood fix, and I had some delicious pasta… (and wine, of course).
Next stop was Barcelona, where we were saying goodbye to hostels and trying out couchsurfing for the first time. Couchsurfing is a website that connects travelers to locals who are willing to open up their homes to people passing through. We decided to give it a try, and found a host in Barcelona to stay with for a couple days. We got lucky for our first couchsurfing experience, and stayed with a great guy who took us out with all of his friends to truly experience Spanish culture. We ate tapas, met tons of really great people, and stayed out til the wee hours of the morning. We ended up getting invited to our host’s family Christmas, so we had a very memorable Christmas as “foster children” of this big, Spanish family. Barcelona was definitely the most difficult city to leave, and we made some great friendships while we were there… but Madrid was calling us!
We also couchsurfed in Madrid, and stayed with some other international guys who were living in Madrid. One from Peru, Brazil, and UK. Our stay in Madrid was shorter, but Madrid is a beautiful city and we explored all the must-see’s as well as checked out a great art museum filled with Picassos. Spain. Was. Amazing.
That brings us back to Paris. We had one more day in Paris before Abby flew to Uganda for a month, and I flew back to Zambia. We were feeling thoroughly lazy on this last day, and didn’t do much of anything… which is exactly how we wanted it. Our trip to Europe was amazing, and I am so glad I let her talk me into going. Definitely worth it :)
When I got back to Zambia, it was back to reality for me. I rang in the new year with some friends, and then got a call to head into the Peace Corps office to meet with some staff members again. When I got there, I was told that they had ended up deciding that I should not return to my site after all. It was determined that it was just too much of a risk since this crazy man was still on the loose since the police let him go. Disappointed, I headed back to Mansa to get things in order. To be honest, there was still a part of me thinking that we should have given this one more chance. If anything happened or this guy bothered me again, then at that point I should be pulled out permanently. However, yesterday I went with Peace Corps to my site to talk to my counterpart and community about things, and we were told that the man has come by my house several times. He has also been acting aggressive towards my counterpart, using foul language and chewing him out whenever he sees him because he blames him for me not being around. This indicated to me that this behavior would not stop, and that it really is not safe for me to be in my community anymore. As sad as I am, I am glad that I was at least given this bit of closure. Now I feel better about not going back, because I can see that it just wouldn’t be safe as long as this man is around.
So, Peace Corps is now looking into alternative assignments for me. I don’t anticipate that anything will happen for several weeks unfortunately, so to avoid sitting around the office all day, I will be helping to train the new fisheries volunteers for a week in Lusaka. Also, Abby is coming to Zambia at the end of this month, so that will be a welcome distraction. We won’t have my village to hang out in as originally planned, but we are going to spend some time in a friend’s village and see some beautiful parts of Zambia in the process. Hopefully by my next blog, I will be able to report where I will be heading for the remaining 9 months of my service. Cross your fingers it is somewhere awesome :)
P.S.- Abby has literally all of the pictures we took in Europe, so when she gets to Zambia I will get them from her and, assuming I can get fast enough internet, post some.