Monday, May 05, 2008



I know, you're stunned that I'm posting twice in the same day!

Things have changed, definitely for the better!

On Friday I had a meeting with the Migration Health Manager from the International Organization for Migration. They want me to come and work with them as their Counter Trafficking Program Assistant! I'm so excited about this work and just thrilled at the fact that I was in the right place at the right time to take the opportunity.

Things are not exactly set in stone yet. I have to meet some Peace Corps criteria, since the position is a Peace Corps Extension, which shouldn't be a problem. When everything is final, I'll be living in Kabulonga, WITH BLESSED!!! (FINALLY!!!) So we're still working out details. All you need to really know for now is that things are great!!! My parents have more details, so get in touch with them until I can update you further.

Hugs hugs hugs!!!



Muli shani bonse? “moo-lee sha-nee” = how are you?“bone-say” = everyone

I know I haven’t done this in way too long (I think that’s how all of my blog entries start, huh?), but I’m in Lusaka now and have my own computer, so I might as well get cracking on this business.

I’m in Lusaka for my Close of Service Conference this week. It is sheer madness that in less than sixteen weeks I’ll be done in the village and moving on to . . . well, that part is still up in the air – it’s the story of my life. I’m looking forward to an extension in Lusaka working with the National AIDS Council to support the coordination of all HIV & AIDS, STI, and TB efforts taking place in the province. However, it is possible that Peace Corps might not be offering me a Lusaka extension and they may send me to one of the other provincial capitols to do the same job. Should that happen, I may end my service with Peace Corps in August and exercise my right to a residence permit in Zambia by finding a job here for another one year while we wait for Blessed’s immigrant visa to the States. After all, I could stand to be making more than $8 a day. Either way, we should be coming home in the fall of 2009 as previously planned. We’re both looking forward to our arrival in the States in a big way, and wish it could happen sooner. I miss everyone so much, and B can’t wait to meet everyone.
My village life has been going pretty well, thanks to my efforts to ensure that I’ll be very busy up until – at least – mid-June. Lea and I have been making a collective effort to try to bring mobile counseling and testing services to our district for a week to test somewhere in the realm of 600 people for HIV. Our funding source changed their criteria just as we were submitting our proposal and we no longer qualify for their funding. So, we’ve been in limbo on that front for some time now. However, I think I may have found the answer to our dilemma last week. We should be finding out this week if another organization is going to help us. My house made it through the rainy season, and I am therefore going to remain in it until I leave in August. I should have taken a photo of the new one so you could all see its dilapidated state. I believe there is a tree growing up inside of it, but I can’t really get close enough to see because there is chest-high grass growing all around it. Needless to say, Peace Corps is not replacing my site with a new volunteer when I leave, which has made my work feel kind of pointless. I can’t wait for August.

The HIV testing sensitization campaign I am carrying out with the community counselors at my clinic should be keeping me busy up until my family comes for yet another vacation on the African continent. Yes, my parents, Annette, Tia and Tad are coming for a vacation in Zanzibar (an island off the coast of Tanzania). They’re (*nuts*) INCREDIBLE! I can’t believe they scheduled this vacation so that Blessed and I could be part of Bennett Family Vacation 2008. I have wanted to go to Zanzibar since the time I lived in Cape Town. Zanzibar is paradise – with the added bonus of enough history to keep Mark Bennett happy and sane! I’m really looking forward to slathering mass amounts of SPF 75 on myself while reading, walking, exploring, and having massages on the beach. After a few days of that I’m looking forward to venturing out on the rest of the island to tour the spice plantations, take the slave tour, eat fresh cashews and pineapples, have a pair of shoes made, eat tons of really fresh shellfish, go to some museums, and maybe go back to the beach.

As if Tanzania weren’t vacation enough, my parents, Annette, Blessed and I will return to Lusaka for a couple of days before taking off on a 4-day, 5-night canoe safari in the Lower Zambezi National Park. I’m really looking forward to visiting this part of Zambia, since I have not yet been. It is generally very hot there, but we’ll be visiting in the cold season – I’m no meteorologist or anything, but I’m sure that means it will be perfect! Yes, we will take ample photos for your enjoyment. Upon our return to Lusaka we’ll spend some time just enjoying each other’s company before they return to the States. It will be another great opportunity for son-in-law/parents-in-law bonding – as if they need it, they’re all nuts about each other already. I’m really excited for Blessed. Just last week he and his friend Vundukai were given funding for a youth empowerment/HIV prevention/mobile VCT project they have been planning for several months. I’m so proud of B. He is working so hard. They should be commencing the training of twenty peer educators sometime next month. This month is all about making letterhead, opening the bank account (which takes a ridiculously long time), and registering the organization; all this while he continues his coursework for his diploma in Education. He’s a pretty busy guy right now, which unfortunately means he won’t be spending much time with me in the village in the next sixteen weeks. That will be hard. I can’t wait to move to Lusaka, where we can finally share something more like a home than my mud hut in Kanyembo.

I’m really eager to hear about what is going on “that side.” I made Barack Obama cookies (dark, milk, and white chocolate) in honor of the Pennsylvania Primary, but I suppose it didn’t do the trick. Anyway, they were delicious and I’m thinking if the people of Pennsylvania had only tasted them . . .

PORCIA -- Blessed and I congratulate you SANA (very much) on Jordan’s healthy birth. We expect photos when they become available. I remember when Jessica and I came to visit you in the nursery at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, OMG I feel OLD!

I did have the pleasure of hearing Avery’s (my marvelous year and a half old niece) “diarrhea” song this week. Thank God for cellular phone technology! Other than that, I’m feeling a little bit out of touch. Maybe a trip to the movies would help, Blessed and I plan on seeing Vantage Point tonight. I’m pretty excited, even though I have no clue what it’s about.

Well, I miss you all so much and I send all my love and lots of hugs. Be well, keep me informed and updated about your lives (now I can’t say I haven’t done the same). TAG! YOU’RE IT!

Hugs n’ smooches,


Monday, February 18, 2008

How you can make a difference in Zambia!

Hi everyone!

I'm so sorry I haven't written in a long time. Even at this moment, I don't have the time to write much, or catch you up on all that's happened since my last entry. My deepest apologies.

I just wanted to update you all about my friend Lea's clinic project. It is now posted on the Peace Corps Partnership Projects website. Lea has directions on how to donate posted on her blog:

Information on the project can be found here on my blog in the post titled "Lea's Clinic Project" and can also be found by reading about the project on Lea's blog. Please consider making a donation. I understand that not everyone is in a position to donate, but you can do a lot just by informing others about this wonderful opportunity to help people in Zambia, a country that needs all the help it can get, a country that I have come to love greatly. This project will be nothing short of a complete success, but they cannot begin the work until all of the money has been raised.

Sorry again for the lack of posts lately. I promise an exciting update is coming soon!

Much love and thanks for considering making a donation!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lea's Clinic Project

I just want to let all of you know that Lea (my ama-twin, bridesmaid, neighbor, colleague, and extraordinary friend) is planning a major project to build and staff a new clinic in her enormous catchment area. The project was just approved as a Peace Corps Partnership Project and will soon be detailed under the link “Donate to Peace Corps Projects” on the right-hand toolbar of this page.

There is serious need for this clinic, the building for which was started some time back before Lea and I came to Nchelenge District. Lea’s catchment area spans 65km (40.4 miles) along Lake Mweru and another 30km (18.6 miles) away from the lake, and serves over 30,000 people with only two staff – one nurse and one Environmental Health Technician. There are villages in Lea’s area where people are expected to cycle or walk for 58km (36 miles) to get treatment at the existing clinic.

I hope you all find this inadequacy as appalling as I do and that you’ll be able to do whatever you can to support this project. They need to raise $27,100 to complete the infrastructure. The Luapula Provincial Health Office and Nchelenge District Health Management Team have committed to providing staff, supplies, and medications for this clinic once the infrastructure is complete. Your contributions will be tax-deductible and can be made in any amount with a credit card on-line through the Peace Corps Partnership website (click on the “Donate to Peace Corps Projects” link on the right toolbar).

Having spent a significant amount of time with Lea and her counterparts in her area, I can tell you that this project will be nothing short of a total success. Please offer whatever support you can offer and let your friends and family know about this opportunity to help people right here in my district of Zambia.


Muli shani bonse mukwai? Ndemifuluka sana sana sana!! Ndesubila fyonse cisuuma sana ku America. Nkalamimona nombalinefye! (How are you everyone? I am missing you very very very much!! I hope everything is great in America. I will be seeing you just soon!)

Many apologies, this update is long overdue. The Internet has been out for a month or so in Mansa, and my recent trip to Lusaka went by fast fast, leaving me no time to adequately greet you all. I hope all is well with all of you. I'm missing everyone in America-Land, and very happy to report, for anyone who hasn't spoken to my mother in the last 72 hours, that I'M COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!!! I'm so excited! It will be hard to leave Blessed here for our first married Christmas, but the visa restrictions are just too firm and unattainable at this juncture. He's been so incredibly supportive and I'm so thankful that he is willing to give me up for a chance to be together with family and friends this Christmas. In case you haven’t noticed or heard, I love him so much. I can’t wait for the opportunity for all of you to meet him too.

A bunch of things have happened since the last time I wrote. My community is building a new house for me in the village. As of one week ago, when I left for Mansa, it still had no hint of a roof. I would be absolutely shocked if I return to it on Saturday and nothing has been done, although such things have been known to happen before. The chieftainess has ordered the headmen that have not been helping on it to bring grass and poles for construction of the roof. However, for days after that mandate nothing happened. I have enough faith in the traditional leadership in my area (don’t ask me why, I have very little reason to feel this confidence) that they will get the roof on before the rain comes and melts the uncovered bricks back into the earth from which they came, that I purchased two pockets of cement to finish my floors (a sizable investment for me). Hopefully this will not be in vain.

I have big plans for my new house. It’s about the size of a postage stamp, so I pretty much had to start planning when it was still at foundation level. I’ll plastic the inside of the roof to make it leak-proof, and screw in hooks to hang our bikes from the beams (of course, both of these rely on the assumption that I will get a roof at all). Once the floors are finished, I’ll smear the walls with mud to smooth them out and then lyme to “paint” them bright white. It will be nice to have everything feel so new and maybe even a little bit clean, or cleaner. I’m not sure what will happen with the amenities. I may have to “ablute” at my current house (about 85 meters away) or at my neighbors’ house (now only 15 – 20 meters away), because you can’t sink a toilet in the rainy season, and my biggest priority at the moment is my roof. (Don’t forget, I used my neighbors’ latrine for the first 2 ½ months I was at my site – I wonder how long it will take for the community to provide me with privy this time around . . . ???) I’ll also be in need of a new bathing shelter – worry not, I built the current one together with my neighbor and have the know-how to do it again if absolutely necessary.

In other news, married life is great. Blessed and I have been fortunate to get over the who’s-gonna-do-what-housework syndrome, and we’re both feeling a lot better about life as a result. We’ll both be really psyched to live in America and not have to worry about who is going to light the charcoal in the braiser, who will draw the water, or who will break their back and wash the clothing by hand for 2-3 hours . . . so psyched . . . so, so psyched.

B and I have been doing a lot of HIV/AIDS meetings in my catchment area since he moved in after the wedding. We’ve now completed all of the meetings, which were held in 10 separate villages in our area, and we’ve managed to reach 400 new people that I’ve never worked with before – pretty exciting for me, and for PEPFAR. As a result of some of those meetings, I’ve found some new women’s groups with which to work – teaching them how to make compost manure to use instead of fertilizer, and how to make nutritious foods from soya beans. My extraordinary friend Lea came to help facilitate the soya demonstration, and as a result it was a complete success. I’ve finally been able to work with the Agriculture Extension Agents in my catchment area and they’ve been a great help with keeping people interested in compost and sustainable agricultural practices. It is one thing for an American – read OUTSIDER – to come and suggest you use garlic, tobacco, chili peppers, and soap as an insecticide, it is another thing altogether if the guy who normally sells you chemical fertilizer and insecticides to indorse it too!

The past week all of the volunteers have been in Mansa for a PEPFAR HIV/AIDS training for volunteers and their counterparts. Lea and I facilitated it together with Dr. Bowa, the Peace Corps PEPFAR Director from Lusaka. Everyone seemed to enjoy the training, which ended with on-site VCT on Thursday afternoon. My counterpart, Mr. Bupe, was great and we got to do a bunch of planning for potential upcoming projects. We had the chance to do some initial planning for a district-wide mobile VCT event to take place in May. It will hopefully include six days with testing in six different locations in Nchelenge District. More to come as this planning unfolds into something more substantial . . .

I’m pretty tired as a result of planning and facilitating and logistic-ating this workshop all week. I’m looking forward to going back to the village for a little bit of rest and relaxation. (We completed the HIV prevention meetings before Blessed and I left for Mansa last week, so I’ll go back to a clean slate – I forget what stress feels like sometimes).

Blessed will remain in Lusaka until Monday or Tuesday and then proceed to Luanshya to rehearse for Raven and Joshua’s wedding on Saturday the 27th. She caught the bouquet at our wedding (really . . . um . . . we didn’t plan it or anything) and they got engaged just a week or so later when she was leaving to go back to the States. Blessed and Lea are both on the “line up” and need to be there to rehearse so the rest of us can be thoroughly entertained, I mean, that’s their job as the bridal party, right? When in Zambia. . . A great many congratulations to Mr. & Mrs. Joshua Chitalo and their families.

So, my friends, I’m so excited to see you all in December/January when I come home to Vermont. I hope to get to see as many of you as possible. I’ll just be home for about two weeks and then I’ll have to come back to the “grindstone.” I’m trying to save the rest of my vacation days so Blessed and I can take a honeymoon in Zanzibar.

Much love and many hugs to you all,


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A spinster no longer

Hey People!

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve written. My deepest apologies, I’ve been a little bit busy. . .

I’M MARRIED!!! Yes, I found a keeper and promised to have and to hold him until death do us part. It’s pretty wonderful and exciting. You may now call me Mrs. Ngoma, if you so wish. Although I’m keeping Bennett at least until I return back on US soil. Exchanging my original documents through the postal service is not something I’m prepared to do at this time. The marriage certificate proudly states that I, Elizabeth Bennett, am no longer a “spinster” just as Blessed is no longer a “bachelor.” People in my village have been telling me all along that at age 24, I should really be married with two or three kids by now. At least by now a bit of the pressure is off.

Blessed and I are so happy and we owe everyone a tremendous thank you for all your support. We especially want to thank our families and our friends who made July 2nd such an amazing and wonderful, memorable day. WE LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH!!! For those who could not make it, we will find a way to celebrate the whole thing again in America-land when the time comes. “Yes please!!!” And Jessica, your presence was felt in the love and care with which you helped me prepare in spirit. Thank you so much.

I hope you’ll all get a chance to be visually stimulated by the few photos I’ve included here, as well as those posted by Lea and Katey King. I understand they, along with Kara and Mekkin, have posted several “snaps” from the wedding. Thank you all so much for taking so many wonderful photos! We have basket-loads of memories thanks to you all! I won’t thank the jerk of a photographer, who although he took several lovely prints, stole Beth’s camera. That was some bad karma in your direction Ba Mudala, really bad.

The photos I’m posting are from a long stretch of events since the last time I posted anything to this blog, beginning with several snaps of my Girls’ Camp in Kanyembo. It was a huge success, judging by the marked improvement in the pre- and post-test scores of the participants, and the 41 people who volunteered for HIV tests at the VCT Event that finished off the week. I was really pleased with the way everything went and am very thankful to the PARVEN Foundation for all of their hard work to make it all happen. Mwabombeni Mukwai!!!

Other photos in this new set are from the wonderful pseudo-honeymoon we shared with my family and friends. We had an amazing few weeks with an amazing group of people! Ten of us (Mom, Dad, Tia, Annette, Tad, Beth, Kara, Mekkin, Blessed, and myself) traveled to Livingstone the day after the wedding. After a messy breakdown in our tired minibus, (which actually could have been much messier – we broke down in the “ACID CONTAMINATED AREA” outside of Mazabuka) we arrived in Livingstone in the literal middle of the night. We spent the greater part of the following day at Victoria Falls and enjoyed being TOTALLY drenched by the spray, a cascade in its own right, after which we hiked down into the Boiling Pot to enjoy the sights of crazy people bungee jumping from the bridge. “No, thank you.” That night we had dinner at the NGOMA Zanga restaurant where the masses got to see Annette shake it like a Polaroid picture. The memories will live on and on. . .

Our return to Lusaka brought little rest as we forged on to Mfuwe in the Eastern Province for some excellent game viewing. Although we got a very late start and got lost a bit on the way, arriving at o’dark thirty (aka five o’clock in the AM), we truly enjoyed our accommodation and the many encounters with animals during our stay. We stayed at Flat Dogs Camp just outside the gates of South Luangwa National Park. “Outside the gates” doesn’t really describe the reality of the situation. The park has no fence or man-made boundary surrounding it, so the animals venture outside and into the contiguous areas. We had elephants at a 20-foot distance from our tents and I was even blessed with the opportunity to step in monkey poo. By the way, a big thanks to my loving mother for cleaning that business off my bare foot. Can you feel the love? The hippos made their hippo noises all night long, and my parents had early awakenings by the monkeys and elephants that came complimentary with their tree house. Yep, it was just as awesome as it sounds. On our game drives inside the park we saw giraffes, elephants, a leopard, lions, zebras, about a zillion kinds of antelope, hippos, warthogs, mongoose, hyenas, crocodiles, on and on and on. It was incredible. Definitely the best safari I’ve experienced. If you get a chance, go. And fly.

Upon return to Lusaka we saw off Tad, Beth, Annette and Tia. Our journey continued to my site. We drove the 8 hour trip to Mansa, where we stayed in a brand new guest house. Not sure how I ended up with something’s entire eyebrow in my breakfast sausage. I suppose that my stomach must be increasingly made-of-steel. Remarkably, by the time we arrived and settled in Kanyembo, everyone was sick except me and my dad. We managed a few fun experiences, including a short cruise on Lake Mweru and a full morning of chitenge shopping – resulting in a bit of chitenge wear returning to two of the most fashionable closets in Boston and Seattle respectively. We were greeted by several members of the Kanyembo community who were eager to meet Ba Maayo and Ba Taata, as well as Bana and Bashi Bwinga (The Mother and Father of the Wedding = Blessed and myself). We even got a chance to witness a bit of work being done on what will eventually (hopefully before the rainy season begins) be my, strike that, our new house. I like how married life means that everything that was once “mine” is now “ours.”

“Our Three Weeks of Glory,” as Blessed is calling it, was a really wonderful way for him to get to know his new American family and vice versa. I knew they would like each other, but never anticipated the bonds that would be made in those three weeks. They just seem to absolutely adore each other. Chawama SANA! We’ve settled back into the house in Kanyembo and the community is so happy to have us back. They’re all excited about having Blessed around and it is funny how much more a part of the community I feel now that we’re living there together as a married couple. The work we are planning to do together is getting me very excited and we’re about to get very busy. I am especially looking forward to the Home Based Care trainings we are about to do throughout the catchment area, as well as the Life Skills teacher training we have planned for the end of August.

We were really lucky to have the opportunity to go to the Mutomboko Ceremony at the very end of July. The traditional ceremony happens each year to celebrate the battle victories of the Lunda people in Luapula Province. (I’m told you can access more information on One aspect of the ceremony begins in my catchment area in Kanyembo, so we were able to see all of the events as they unfolded. My chieftainess plays a big role in the events and even got to dance the Mutomboko dance this year as the first woman ever to do so. She was awarded uproarious applause. Blessed attended the ceremony last year and knew all the important events to photograph, resulting in a very thorough pictorial representation of the entire weekend. We divided our time among friends from both Blessed’s experience and mine, pitching a tent with the Peace Corps crowd at a soon-to-open orphanage. I even got to meet my soon-to-be neighbor, Leo, who will be joining Lea and I in Nchelenge District by the end of this month. The orphanage promises to be really amazing and just so you all know, they are excepting volunteers from all over the world. I can get details for anyone who is interested.

Please enjoy all of OUR new photos. I wish I could share all of them with you, but they are slow to upload and the Internet in Mansa is too expensive to get everything to you all at once. I’m sure there will be a way to access all of the wedding photos compiled from all those who attended (for all I know with my limited Internet access, you’ve already seen all the photos and are thinking how behind I am), and when I know the details I’ll link it up to this business.

***for example, Tia's photos:

All of my love and thanks to everyone reading,


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hello America-land

Muli shani bonse mukwai? (How are you all?)

I just posted new photos. Check them out.

I’m sitting here, not sure what to write about. So, I’ll write about the three main things on my mind lately. This will inevitably turn into one of my flow of consciousness musings. So, here it is, in no particular order (if they were to present themselves to me in order, I’d probably be a lot more able to deal with each and every nuance in a much more Virgo fashion), I present the stirrings of my brain:

Topic #1
MY HOUSE: My house is indeed going to fall down. Last time I wrote, I told you there was a crazy lot of termite damage in the roof beams. I returned to my site from that Easter hiatus to find all of the termite "stuff" (it’s better we just use "stuff" since I’m absolutely not sure what that is and it’s better not to think about what it might be) had fallen from the one seriously damaged beam to show just how damaged it is. I think they’re trying to build their version of the New York City Subway in my roof. At first I thought they were well fed little buggers, but then I started to think they’re not getting any protein, hence the non-stop carb-o loading off my roof and walls.

So, how to deal with this problem? Well, your guess is as good as mine at this point. Peace Corps has given my community an ultimatum saying they need to come up with a plan in writing for what they’ll do to improve upon my housing situation - either build a new house as originally promised or fix up the one I’m in, which will inevitably fall over the minute they try to do any substantial work on it - by April 30th. Well, in the last month since I delivered this ultimatum letter to my community no one has called a meeting, no one has said more than a few murmurings about doing anything. Doesn’t look like they care enough about keeping me to do anything. They get a hard-working, motivated Peace Corps Volunteer for two years (and really six years as the rotation works out) and the house is supposed to be their community contribution toward keeping that Volunteer sheltered in her time in that village. We make less than $8 a day to live at the same standard as the people with whom we are working, but I think I’m not even up to par with them on my digs.

The Peace Corps powers-that-be in Mansa - that would be Raven, and Maneesh who is due to replace her any day now - came to discuss this issue with my neighbor, who surprise surprise told them "That is no problem. The community, they are going to build Libby a new house right behind my house." I don’t know which "community" he is referring to, since no one has said a word about this to me or to each other. I know he wants to keep me there in Kanyembo, but he can’t do all the work himself. Anyway, I’m going back to site tomorrow to assess the response to Raven’s new ultimatum: "We’ve already begun looking for a new site for Libby, so you better have a lot of bricks made by 30th April if you want to keep her here." Well, that was Wednesday, and I just don’t think they’ll have very much done in less than two weeks. She’s pretty frustrated that even her many trips to my village have not been able to get my community motivated to help me out. She gave them similar ultimatums when they didn’t build me a latrine or bath shelter for the first 2-3 months I was there. Even that didn’t help, because ultimately it was members of my Anti-AIDS Club who built me the latrine, and my neighbor and I worked together to build the bath shelter - not exactly a community-wide effort.
Clearly, this issue is still up in the air, but it does seem like I’ll be moving. However, that process will take a while, and I’m not sure exactly to where I would be moving. I’ll keep you updated. Now, moving right along to:

Topic #2
MY CAMP: Those of you who are paying attention have probably been wondering all along, Why hasn’t she said anything about that big, exciting camp she was supposed to be holding right now as this is being posted to her blog???

Well friends, this is Zambia. The funding didn’t come in time and we had to postpone. By now, I’ve received the funding and now we have an issue of rescheduling. I think I might have a good case for pushing back the start of the next term by one week in order to use the school as our only hope of a venue for this thing. I’ll have to go to the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS) at the Ministry of Education on Monday to plead to Mr. Bweupe. I think I’ll be able to make a good case that my participants will be learning more in one week of this camp than they would learn in the first week of classes anyway. Kids just don’t show up in the first week for some reason, and it’s pretty well accepted.

If all goes well with the DEBS we can hold the camp, but that doesn’t address our other HUGE problem. Our Mobile VCT Unit has cancelled, saying that Nchelenge is just too far for them to travel. So now I’m faced with finding new VCT counselors and test kits and get them to the same place at the same time, which hopefully will not be a total mess.

Hopefully the next time I write to you all I will have photos and stories galore about how enormously successful the whole thing was. Cross your fingers for me.

Topic #3
MY WEDDING a.k.a. OH YEAH, I’M GETTING MARRIED TOO: Easter was a delicate mix of running around Lusaka trying to do errands while tripping over the many public holidays surrounding April 8th. In Zambia they get Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter, and of course Easter Monday. So, clearly this was not the best time to be making wedding plans, although my vacation schedule required I do the best I can with what I have (using available resources wisely and sustainably is a fundamental of Peace Corps). So, we took the opportunity to do what every other Zambian with a few extra kwacha does during this period: we traveled to see family.
Blessed and I went to visit his family on the Copperbelt. I got to meet his mom, Ruth (but I’m supposed to call her Ba Maayo). She is a total stitch, so funny, and totally adorable. Blessed looks exactly like his mother, especially in profile. They could be twins if it wasn’t for the 42-year difference.

I was so worried about meeting her, not only because Blessed kept telling me that she doesn’t speak much English, but also because everyone else was giving me advice about what to do when meeting one’s Bapongoshi (in-laws). For example, I was told that I MUST wear a citenge when meeting my mother-in-law. I MUST NOT eat anything she serves me, unless she gives me money first. I MUST NOT speak, unless spoken to. And the list goes on. Well, if there had been a test in Bapongoshi 101, I think I would have failed. I’m more or less shocked I didn’t fail the practical. Blessed was no help to me as that day approached. What should I wear? What should I say? I don’t want to unknowingly offend your mother Blessed, help me out!!! He kept telling me I was being silly and that his mom is "not so traditional" and I should just be myself and she’ll like me. I took his advice seriously knowing full well that I could blame any mishaps directly on him. Well, all worked out beautifully. We got along just fine on a mixture of English and Bemba. I adore her. I asked Blessed, "do you think she likes me?" He said, "I don’t think so. . . . I know she likes you."

I also got to meet my "nieces" who might very well be older than me, I’m not quite sure, they’re at least my age. They call Blessed "Uncle Bleh" which I think is hysterical and they were testing out "Aunt Libby" "Auntie Elizabeth" and a few others, none of which have quite the same ring as "Uncle Bleh."

Back in Lusaka I got to meet Blessed’s Auntie Rose, who hosted us for a lovely afternoon in her lovely home in Long Acres. She is adorable and she’ll be a huge help with wedding plans. Her niece Tabatha was there too. Tabatha, interestingly enough, was born in none other than Northampton, Massachusetts (this planet is way too small) and having lived her life half in Zambia and half in Syracuse, New York, just moved back to Lusaka six years ago. She teaches at the International School in Lusaka where both of her children also attend. It was so cool to get to talk to her about weddings, since she is the perfect person to help us mix our two cultures into one celebration everyone will appreciate.

So, our Easter was an amalgamation of meeting family and running around Lusaka to see if anything was open, which it was not. I’ll be going back at the end of the month to make some more arrangements and try to finish our invitations and get them to the printers. Hopefully the May 1st holiday will not get in the way of all running smoothly this time around.

Okay, I’m pretty sure all of you in the Western world don’t have time to read all this, and those friends of mine sprinkled about the rest of the globe are probably paying too much for your internet access and probably gave up long ago. Thanks so much for being so great and reading my every thought. Many hugs to all of you back there in America-land and whatever other countries from which you may be reading this. Technology is something I no longer take for granted. You know I read in the New Yorker last night that Google is scanning every book ever published to create an entirely on-line library, or at least database or something. I still think I’m so tech-y and cutting edge for having an iPod Shuffle and solar battery charger in the village. I’m gonna be way behind when I return to that crazy place I call home.

Right, okay. Gotta go. So much love,

Daddy, I got the letter you sent and it made me cry. You’re so sweet and a wonderful writer. Thank you so much. I’m trying to get a birthday card out to you today. We’ll see when it gets there. Hugs.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Thank you SANA SANA

Hello Everyone!

First, before I get into anything else, I just want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for all the packages I got this month. Amazing. Aunt Eve and fam, I hadn’t really even realized how much I miss Trader Joes. Sydney, the little corn shaped candy thing was interesting. I am wearing the necklace now and can’t wait to use my chopsticks!!! Not to mention those other strawberry flavored things, they were great!!! Jess, that is enough seeds to make my garden amazing for next year. Unfortunately, we’ve had an incredible drought and my garden is more or less ruined (not even a single watermelon, beet, pea, or pepper – someone stole my okra – the maize has been “just a bit okay” and I’ve eaten a few cherry tomatoes). Anyway, I am way excited for next year. Tia, I’m so excited about the Burt’s Bees stuff and the book lights!!! Momma, the Christmas Chex mix made it here in outstanding form and was so tasty (and gone in two days – everyone was “enjoying”) and the beef jerky is totally exciting. So, thank you all tons!!! As I was opening them I was saying how it’s just like Christmas, then I realized they were probably sent at Christmas time and that was the intent. So, mission accomplished. Thanks a bundle.

Okay, moving on. It was determined on Wednesday that my house is definitely/probably going to fall over and Peace Corps is going to try to assist me with getting my community to either build me a new house (like they initially promised) or seriously fix up the one I’m in. I’ve had a crazy new bat infestation and the termites are devouring my roof and bricks. Pretty sure if I try to put in the windows I have planned, that the walls will just fall over. I’m not sure why, but Zambians always respond to this kind of thing with an “everything is going to be just fine” approach. One of my favorite/least favorite things about the “Zamblish” language is that they do not use the word “won’t.” Rather, they always use “can’t” where “won’t” would be a more appropriate word choice. Example:
“If you install the lock in this way, the children will be able to lock me inside my house!”
“No, no, no. They can’t.”
“But, they CAN.”
“No, they can’t.”
“But here, watch this. . . . See? They CAN.”
“Ah, no. They can’t.”
I’m sure they’re going to tell me that my house “can’t” fall down. I’ll try to persuade them with evidence that it really potentially CAN, and by the end of April I should have some more news on that front.

Right, so April. . . . I am planning a Girls’ Camp in my village. It is a girls empowerment and HIV prevention camp for one week April 15 – 21. I was approved for the 24million kwacha to carry out this project and I am pretty excited about my committee, who actually seem to want to work for the good of their community. A lot of volunteers do girls’ camps, boys’ camps, sports camps, etc. The beauty of this one is I’m working with PARVEN Foundation (an organization started by two Peace Corps Volunteers that works on income generating activities with commercial sex workers), based in Mansa. They’re sending the facilitators, which means the whole thing can happen in Bemba, and we can have break-away sessions every afternoon (with headmen, parents, teachers, and boys). The other thing of beauty is that we’re having a mobile VCT unit coming to test as many people as possible for HIV. So, I’m pretty excited and it’s going to be awesome!!! That’s pretty much the only work I’ll be able to do between now and then.

This week I was really busy. I’ve been in Mansa since last Friday. We held a Luapula-wide training for Peace Corps Counterparts working under the Ministry of Health. The counterparts facilitated sessions and presented project ideas to share across the province. It went really well. We ended yesterday with mobile VCT. I think 13 of our 25 participants were tested, and several had been tested before. So we were really pleased with the outcome. The training as a whole was pretty awesome. If only I could find a counterpart to work with in my village . . . well, that’s another story.

At the end of this LONG stint in Mansa, I am so ready to head back to my site tomorrow (bats and all). I’ve never spent this much time in Mansa before and it is pretty disorienting. We had a going away party for my friend Shannon. She is going back to the States on Tuesday. I can’t even imagine what that is like after such an intense experience living in Zambia for more than two years. It was a costume party, with costumes assigned by Shannon. Mine was an ‘80s work-out instructor. I rocked it. Photos to come.

I’m eating really tasty food (when I go back to the village, they will tell me that I look like I’ve been “enjoying” in Mansa – basically one of many ways Zambians have of telling you that you’re looking fat [it’s a compliment, but still slightly obnoxious]). We’ve been having family dinners at the house all week and they’ve been really amazing. Homemade ravioli, endless guacomole with homemade tortilla chips, you get the point. I’m sure I have gained back a few pounds this week. Time to go back to the village.

I am getting increasingly more and more excited about the upcoming visit (and oh yeah, wedding) in July. I’ve been thinking about it every chance I get and I’ve never been so psyched about anything in my whole life. Who knew that I’d be getting married, and that two of my best friends in the whole world would be coming all the way across the ocean to visit me in my mud hut in Africa??? This was not even on the radar when I left the States. Madness.

Many thanks to all those who’ve sent their congratulations. The news has traveled like wildfire through the Peace Corps Zambia grapevine. I’ve also heard from some people that they heard from their mom or friend in the States that I was getting married. Yes, friends it’s true. And clearly this means I’m a celebrity of sorts on the Internet. Woo-hoo!

So, I just wanted to prepare those of you who are coming for the big event (and those of you who just want to experience a little Peace Corps GOAL 3) with a little Bemba lesson. Study hard now, I want you all to wow the chitenges off Blessed’s family when you attend the big day. That’s right, we’re going to convince them you’re fluent. We should begin with greetings, arguably the very most important part of culture in Zambia:

MWASHIBUKENI MUKWAI (mwa-she-boo-kane-ey muh-qu-ai)
This is the morning greeting. It literally means “you have woken”
The response is:
EE MUKWAI (aaay muh-qu-ai) or ENDITA MUKWAI (en-dee-ta muh-qu-ai)
This just means “yes”
Then they might ask you:
MWASHIBUKA SHANI? (mwa-she-boo-ka sha-nee)
Litterally “how have you woken?”
You say:
BWINO (bwee-no), BWINO BWINO (bwee-no bwee-no), or TWACIBUKAFYE BWINO (twa-she-boo-ka-fee-ay bwee-no)
This means “good/fine,” “good good,” or, for the more adventurous, “we have woken just fine”
You can also return the question by adding:
NGA IMWE? (ing-ga eem-way)
It means “and you?” Wait for them to answer. They’ll either give you a “BWINO” or:
PANONO FYE (pah-no-no fee-ay)
It means “just a little” in literal translation, but if they say this they mean that they’ve woken sick or something is wrong. You rarely hear this one. If you do you should say:
CABIPA (cha-bee-pa) or CABIPA SANA (cha-bee-pa sah-nah)
To indicate that you’re sorry or very sorry (respectively).
If they, or you, say “BWINO” the appropriate response might be:
CAWAMA (chow-wa-ma) or CISUMA (chee-suu-ma)
Both of these mean, “it is beautiful” and are optional responses.

Here’s a much clearer dialogue:

Me: “Mwashibukeni Mukwai!” -- “You have woken!”
You: “Ee Mukwai.” -- “Yes.”
Me: “Mwashibuka shani?” -- “How was your waking?”
You: “Ah, bwino bwino fye! Nga imwe?” -- “Ah, just fine fine! And you?”
Me: “Twashibukafye bwino sana!” -- “We have woken just very fine!”

Bemba is a language that incorporates a lot of respect for those who are older or, for whatever reason, deserve a lot of respect (that’s the whole point of the MUKWAI – it is additional respect, it can’t be translated into any English equivalent). So when you refer to someone with respect, you use the same form as for 2nd person plural. So, as I understand it, you answer on behalf of many other people so as not to assume that you are being afforded all this extra respect. So, rather than saying “I’ve woken just very fine,” you say “We’ve woken just very fine!” It’s an awesome language and I love it!!! I’m getting pretty good at understanding, but I honestly don’t give myself enough experience in speaking. I promise to work on it and wow you when you come.

Fear not my friends, there are more lessons to come. For now allow me to end this lengthy flow-of-consciousness entry by saying: I MISS YOU ALL SANA SANAFYE (just very very much). I hope that all is well with everyone “that side” (another Zam-ism). Thank you again for the letters and the packages. I’ve been so spoiled. You are all tooooooo good to me! Think good thoughts for me that my funding comes through in time for my Girls’ Camp in April (always a challenge), and that my house doesn’t fall down before another/better solution arises. I promise that all will be well by the time my visitors arrive at the end of June!!! (Oh, my gosh, that’s so soon, yet so far away at the same time.) I love you all and send you hugs (sana sana).

Much love,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A few choice photos

This is the beach where we stayed on Christmas Day, before moving into our posh upscale beach resort place the following day. I love my options.

This is from our minibus ride to Nsenga Bay on Lake Malawi on Christmas Day. We went through the most beautiful mountains and valleys.

Blessed and I went to Victoria Falls on New Year's Day. It was so beautiful.

This is my favorite photo I took on my vacation.

Sitting Around Time

Muli shani bonse mukwai? (How are you all?)

First, I have to say thank you soooo much to all of those who have been sending me packages, letters, photos, emails, well-wishes, and to those of you who go out of your way to call me (and then put up with crappy reception, cutting out, and the 2-5 second delay that make those calls so magical). I love all of the warm support and love I get from home and without those elements of communication and generosity I don't know in what shape I would be.

Check out the new photos I posted yesterday on the flickr account. They're the others from my vacation that wouldn't load fast enough back in January (I spent 94,000 kwatcha at the Internet cafe that day and nearly fell over when I heard my total at the counter -- that's $23.50, but it is a ton of money when you consider my "living allowance" @ approximately $200 a month).

At present, I am in Lusaka on medical travel. I have had some issues with dizziness and low blood pressure lately and they wanted to evaluate me. In the meantime, during my travel to Lusaka I developed some "runny stomach" and was having feverish chills and body pains. My diagnosis . . . MALARIA!!!!???!!! The quick test said no and the Peace Corps doctor put me on an antibiotic I had blood work done on Tuesday and I am still waiting for the results. They'll supposedly be here in about 20 minutes, but I always have to factor in the reality that this is Zambia and nothing is ever back in 20 minutes. My first directive was to come back Tuesday afternoon, then Wednesday morning, then Wednesday afternoon, then this morning and now I am waiting for "12:30" I suspect that I'll still be waiting for some time to come.

In the meantime they've switched my malaria prophilaxis from Mefloquine (the one that is making my hair fall out and giving me a multitude of sleep "issues" inclusive of occasional insomnia and hallucinations [such as ants crawling all over my bed, bees burrowing into my walls and creating some crazy ooze dripping out, etc]) to Doxicycline. Surprisingly enough, I'm not excited about this switch. Hair grows back. Now I have a new handful of side effects to consider: potential yeast infections, extra sensitivity to the sun and sun rashes, and general concerns about being on an antibiotic for the next 18 months.


Okay, I've just returned from receiving my test results. I take back everything I said about the "20 minutes" thing. Turns out I had giardia, but as it also turns out there's a magic pill for that too. So I just popped the 3rd antibiotic treatment of the day. Yeast infection here I come! My understanding of giardia is that it's a bacterial parasite that lives in your intestines and flares up in the form of intense diarrhea for three or four days before hybernating dormant in your intestines again, until it becomes stressed again and your symptoms return. Really glad I just killed it with four magic little pills.

So my blood pressure thing appears to have manifest itself as a result of the Mefloquine. My full blood count shows that in fact I am eating a propper diet (even as I've lost 55 pounds since coming to Zambia in June) and my hemoglobin is just fine. My doctor says that my body just isn't yet accustomed to "the new Libby."

Well, now all of you know me a lot better. I guess even the strangers who occasionally read this business know me pretty well now. There are no secrets in Peace Corps. My appologies to any prospective Peace Corps Zambia trainees who may be reading this, it is not a good indicator of my overall happiness and general well-being in Zambia.


Okay, in other news. . .

Blessed and I are busy making plans for our July 2 wedding in Lusaka. People are rapidly finding out about this through the Peace Corps grapevine and I got a chance to sit with the Country Director yesterday to discuss issues of immigration and change of legal status, background checks, paperwork, Embassy, Consulate, Washington, 9/11, Patriot Act, what have you. As it turns out the process has just this past month become even more complex (and should I say limited?) As it also turns out, I'm not the only Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia who will be marrying a Zambian National this year. So it's all very interesting for the Peace Corps office who gets to help us navigate this ever morphing, changing, expanding web of government beaurocracy.

Paperwork asside, we've booked the Lilayi Lodge for our wedding and we're really excited. They took us on a game drive while we finalized the menus and details. We saw a 7-day old girraffe with its mother, wildebeast, kudu (antelope), eland (the mother of all antelope; it can weigh up to 1-ton), a ton of little monkeys, impala (little antelope), bush pig and warthog. So, it was a lovely day and we accomplished a lot.

Oh, that brings me to the not-so-perfect aspect of my life at present (as if the giardia wasn't enough). Blessed was transferred back to Lusaka to live and work from here now. So we are now a 12-hour bus ride apart (on a good day, if the bus runs on schedule). I'm trying to look at it with a positive attitude: He can do all the errands we need to do for the wedding! And, I can't think of the rest of the reasons why it's positive. He's going to be coordinating some mobile VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing for HIV) programs, so he should be coming to Luapula for three weeks sometime soon (hopefully March). He's also planning to come see me for Valentine's Day next week, and I'll be here in Lusaka for Easter, and again for some public holidays in May. I'll inevitably need to come to deal with immigration stuff in Lusaka at some point. My plan is to keep myself really busy between work and home improvements in the village. I just hope that the people in my village don't feel like I am abandoning them for all of these trips to Lusaka. Or that they will think I'm even more bwana (it means "boss" and is what you call people who have money) than they already know. (They just raised all of the bus fares in the country due to inflation. It was already unaffordable for the average Luapula resident to go to Mansa (their provincial capitol), let alone Lusaka.)

I digress. Blessed doesn't live in the BOMA anymore, so now Lea and I have few options for how to make ourselves feel comfortable there (we schlepped a bike and huge backpack around all day on Friday and ate ground nuts, fritters and Coke as our wholesome lunch). It's hard not to have a base in Nchelenge anymore, since I do a lot of my work from there. Kashikishi is 3km away and I can leave my bike with friends at their restaurant, and I can stay with Blessed's good friend and co-worker and his wife (I did this last Friday . . . he has a 1 1/2 year old little girl named Mwamba. She's really cute and Friday she called me "Uncle Mommy" I assume because she couldn't remember "Auntie").

My work is going . . . okay. Can't seem to get people very motivated. Still haven't found myself a village counterpart (someone to capacity build on virtually everything I know so that they can be "me" after I leave), which is basically a cardinal rule of Peace Corps (sustainability is our thing). On average my meetings start about 60 minutes late, if people show up at all. This is why I find my work in schools and in the BOMA more. The school is awesome because they're a captive audience and they still have to attend even though it is raining (yep, people own umbrellas and gumboots, but won't go outside in the rain -- I get a lot more privacy now that it's rainy season -- they also think that you get malaria from the rain and they won't let me go out in the rain either).

I guess my work is good, slow, frusterating, fun, awesome, or okay, based on the day or even the time of day you ask me. There are days I am so "busy" (it's a relative term for sure) that I totally exhaust myself and there are others where I can sit around and read the whole day. I get up between 6 and 7, weed in the garden, go have breakfast with my neighbors and wash dishes, go back home to sweep out my house, go draw water at the lagoon, come back and it is 9:30 or 10. I still have the entire day ahead of me. This is great on days where I have meetings all afternoon because it cuts my sitting around time down to about 2-3 hours as opposed to the whole day. I like Wednesdays because my neighbor and I will cycle to the bigger market (24km round trip - it's worth it to get veggies, fish, bread and bananas) at 6am and get back at about 9. Then every Wednesday afternoon I have Anti-AIDS Club. So Wednesdays are pretty consistently busy.

Anyway, in my "sitting around time" I am doing a lot of reading. So, if you want to send me some books I would love that. I decided I'm going to keep a list of all the titles I read in service, just because (I do a lot of things "just because" lately). Also because if I tell you what I've read, you won't send me duplicates. So far, of the books I've read since coming here, I can remember these:

A Million Little Pieces
Life of Pi
The Secret Life of Bees
The Da Vinci Code (finally)
Beyond the Sky and the Earth

um. . . I'm drawing a serious blank on the others. Cabipa (sorry).

Right now I'm reading My Pet Virus. I would recommend all of these. Especially Beyond the Sky and the Earth. It's about a Canadian woman who goes to volunteer teaching English in Bhutan (in the Himalayas) for two years. If you read it, you'll get an even more detailed vision of what I'm going through in Zambia, since almost everything she experiences parallells my life here. She writes beautifully. I'll be reading this one again before returning it to the PC library in Mansa.

Okay. I think I'm done for today. I've been writing this thing all day in between meetings and test results, etc. I'm thinking none of you in the States have enough time in your day to read all that I've written herein (is that a word? My English is getting bad over here). Sadly, since I'm in Lusaka at the office I have the same adequate supply of "sitting around time" as in the village. However, with free Internet, I can diversify what I do with said time.

Hugs and smooches to you all. Ndemifuluka SANA SANA bonse (I am missing you all a lot a lot). Nalimitemwa bonse (I love you all).

Much love,