Last Thoughts

I woke up early at 4:30 in the morning and lay in bed unable to go back to bed. It was my last time to lay in the most uncomfortable mattress I ever owned and to hear the early morning noises of my village. As I was gathering my things, my family came to my door just as the sun was beginning to lighten the sky. I had spent the previous afternoon, my last in Loto village, pounding imbalala (peanuts) and cikanda root and bending over a flaming brazier to finally learn how to cook one of my favorite Zambian snacks. Then I walked around to say goodbye to counterparts and neighbors. In the house across from me where I had attended two funerals, one of which was a baby, on my last day I found inside the home a newborn baby born that same day surrounded by happy family members. Life happens, and then it moves on. At dinner I volunteered to make the nshima for the first time since I moved to Loto as my sisters and Bamaayo finished up cooking up Lulu. It was her time, just like its my time to move on from Peace Corps and Zambian life. I will miss eating nshima with my family, sitting outside on a reed mat, grabbing food with our hands and sharing nshima from the same bowl. In the early morning light, I walked along the dirt road, getting ready to say final goodbyes to my family, when all the kids that live closest to me came running out of their homes just to say “mwende mutende” (travel in peace) and “mwende bwino” (travel well) to me. I won’t know these kids as adults or even as teenagers but I only wish the best for them in the future. My family and neighbors had graciously presented me with gifts of bananas and imbalala to take with me to Mansa. Living 5K from the tarmac though, it was necessary that Ba Gladys had to help me bike everything to the road and waited with me until I got on a minibus, leaving behind my home, my family, my friends, my pupils and my cat of two years. Shalenipo (goodbye) and  shale mutende (stay well) Loto!

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athletics

These are the ways Athletics (a.k.a. track and field) is different in a Zambian school than in America:

-The track is makeshift and so are the lanes. It is usually made with hoes, by the school children a couple days before the competition (actually not so different from the track we had at Waiakea High while we were there!)

-The kids are not really told the rules of each race, like when or if you can or should switch lanes.

-My fellow Loto teachers were literally handing out bubble gum to the kids as they lined up for their race – choking hazard!

-There is no warm-ups and definitely not cool downs. One of the Loto boys was given about a five second warning that he was racing in the 1,200m race. He had to quickly change his clothes as the other comepetitors were already toeing the line!

-There isn’t more than a couple weeks of “training” before the competition. Much less any sort of racing “strategy”. The kids just run their little hearts out and usually fare pretty well. If they hit a wall usually every other kid in the race is also hitting the wall at the same time. Watching them reminded me of Steve Prefontaine’s famous quote: “to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”.

-The kids as they finish their race are cheered on by their classmates who crowd the finish line. They run straight into this crowd (I mean ZERO space between the finish tape and the crowd of supporters!) and into the arms of their friends who help them off the track.

-Jumps aren’t measured accurately but more of  a guesstimate.

-Batons are just crude sticks cut off trees just before the relay races.

-The kids don’t really hydrate. Plus they walk up to 12k to get to the competition that same morning and up to 12k to get back to their homes after the competition.

-My school had no team uniforms for the kids – much less shorts for girls or shoes for either sex.

But even though there are so many differences – the bottom line is that its running and it is one of the most basic sports that can really be done anywhere without all the fancy equipment. Plus its my favorite sport! I had a blast cheering on the kids that I had run around my village with and they impressed me so much with how they did. Two years ago when I first visited my school and village before I swore in as a volunteer I watched the Athletics competition (only held in the first term of each school year) and I watched it again right before finishing up my time in the village. I enjoyed the experience so much more because I knew the kids that were out there competing and knew more or less what races to expect to witness. This time I didn’t feel like someone who was lost and unsure what was going on but someone who was included and involved with the event. Full circle!

I did my last long bike trip a couple weeks ago with Stephanie:

Day 1: 60km from my village to Stephanie’s village
Day 2: 80km roundtrip from Steph’s village to Mumbaluma Falls and back. Put that on our bucket list during community entry and crossed it off in community exit!)
Day 3: 53km from Stephanie’s village to Ryeon’s village.

Needless to say, after that trip I was completely over bike riding (my butt was completely over it)  and will be biking no more that 30km in a day from there on out.

I will be soon giving away Marley’s last litter (while I’m around anyways) – this time it was four kitties and their names are Chibi (the runt), Cheeto (orange and a tubster), Cimo and Cine (“cimocine” means “same” and these two are look alike twins). They’ve been cute but they’ll go to good homes within my village. I am sure if Marley keeps this up my village will be overrun with Marley’s progeny.

When I get back to my village on Monday…10 days to go!

23 days left in loto

I officially have less than a month left in Loto village. Come April 4th I will be leaving Loto and possibly leaving forever. As excited as I am for my travel plans post-Peace Corps, there is an incredible sadness that washes over me when I think of the relationships I have formed with my host family, teachers and pupils or the beautiful places I have been to over the past two years. These people and places I have seen during my Zambian life, I literally may never see again. Ah. Emotional. BUT that is why I am making soaking in the last days here my top priority.

Two unfortunate things: 1) my camera completely died. 2) my 4GB memory card with about 4 months worth of pictures. If you know me even a little bit, you know I love my camera and taking pictures! I act as if its not photographically documented, it didn’t happen. Although, if two years in Zambia has taught me anything, it is that IT CAN ALWAYS BE WORSE. Losing a material possession that can be replaced? Annoying and expensive, yes but not tragic. Losing about 800 + pictures was a bummer but I still have those memories stored in my head – those events still happened even without the photographic evidence. So bottom line, it sucks that I will be experiencing the last 3 weeks without my own camera to document my village, family, friends and hut but without a camera stuck to my hand and up to my face I can fully sit back and soak in the last village moments without worrying about missing a shot.

sort of solid/tentative travel plans post-Peace Corps aka COS trip

The adventure starts with Kenya: “ring out” at Peace Corps headquarters and then jumping on a plane to Nairobi April 11th!
Ethiopia: googling Ethiopian food is what sealed the deal for us going!
Morocco: checking out North Africa and hopping on a ferry to Europe!
Spain: sangria! paella!  
Portugal: not sure yet, but probably something related to food will get me excited!
France: ditto
Italy: ITALIAN FOOD!
Greece: The first time I watched “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” convinced me I need to go
Germany: Beer! Spaetzl! Haribo Gummy Factory!
Amsterdam: It’s going to be a WILD TIME according to Carole Taylor
South Korea: Arriving June 16th and meeting up with Steve, my parents, Tomo and Mike!

Will be back in Hawaii on July 2nd! It’s a lot but I have been dreaming of this Europe trip since before I even left for Peace Corps. Plus who knows when or if I will ever get an opportunity like this again. Seize the moment!

F*** it baby we’re in zanzibar

For my last holiday as a peace corps volunteer in Zambia, I went big…Zanzibar big! I travelled with fellow volunteers Steve, Ryeon, and Mickeve. It started with 72 hours in a first class cabin on the TAZARA train from Kapiri, Zambia to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. For 72 hours in a train in Africa it really wasn’t bad. In fact, it was an awesome experience. Four people to a cabin with a two bunk bed type situation, it was an adventure. At nights when Mickeve and I were sleeping on the top it felt like  roller coaster – sometimes I was airborne, others it felt like the train was going to fly off the tracks! But we finally arrived and these are the highlights:

PLANE
Not realizing that when we crossed the border over to Tanzania, the clocks all jump ahead one hour we were taking our slow sweet time in Dar es Salaam after getting off the train. We thought we had an hour until the last ferry to Zanzibar. WRONG. We had no time! We get to the ferry dock minutes after the last ferry of the day leaves. We are then informed that for only 20 USD more we could take a plane. Since we’d probably spend the same amount just spending the night in Dar anyways, we decided to take a plane. Peace Corps volunteers getting fancy! First time I’ve ever been in such a tiny of a plane (all I kept seeing in my mind was Grey’s Anatomy season finale with the plane crash) but a 15 minute plane ride over a 2 hour ferry ride? Heck yes it was worth it! Plus we got to experience the ferry ride on the way back, along with all the seasick folk who lost their breakfasts.

NIGHT MARKET GARDEN
Just a five minute walk from Zanzibar Dorm Lodge where we stayed in Stone Town, there was a nightly street food market. Filled with delicious food, these were my favorites:
1. Zanzibar Mix soup: so good! no idea what it was made out of (the woman running the stand said mangoes…but we think there was miscommunication in that one) but the add-ins were so good! Boiled eggs, potatoes, bbq meat on a stick, fried cassava shavings, falafel…yum!
Beef Zanzibar “Pizza”: does not actually resemble a pizza whatsover but it tasted like mandoo!
Shwarma: If you ever go…the shwarma stand in the middle of the garden is the best. There’s usually always a line and there’s a talkative, energetic fellow running the show. I think the sauce is what makes it…real garlicky.
Sugar Cane Juice: Freshly pressed, mixed with lime and ginger. Super refreshing.
Tea Masala: This is the best chai hands down I’ve ever had! Perfect amount of spices, sugar and milk.

SPICE TOUR:
Did you know cinnamon comes from tree bark? We got to get to know exactly what plants spices come from and what they look like before we buy them in containers and shakers in the supermarket. Zanzibar is known for their spices and it was awesome to experience all the spices in their cooking after being used to Zambians strictly using salt only. The Zanzibar rice pilau was so so so tasty and Peace Corps Zambia volunteers tore it up! We even ate the leftovers from the group sitting next to us. There was also spinach in a coconut sauce and chapati to eat with it.

STONE TOWN:
Narrow alleyways, tall buildings, airy rooftop hangouts and big wooden doors with heavy bolt locks. Stone Town was a place you only really picture in stories that take place in very far away places. Traditionally, the bigger and more elaborate the carved design on the wooden door, the more affluent the person behind the door is.

KENDWA:
Located at the top of Zanzibar island, its only about a hour and a half drive from Stone Town. Whereas in Stone Town women need to take care to cover both their thighs and their shoulders, in Kendwa it is bodies in bikinis everywhere. The only really “resorty” area on the island, tourists visit this area to take full advantage of the beauty of the water and beach in the skimpiest amount of clothes. The ocean is a color of blue you can’t even describe which changes hue the further out you swim. It was so beautiful. Here, I spent my days lounging in the sand, throwing myself in the salty water, and seriously, just enjoying vacation. We also ate a ton of seafood  – fish and prawns, can’t go wrong!

SNORKELING:
A two hour boat ride in a wooden sailboat (a dhow) to a private island where we got to experience some of the clearest water I have ever seen. The ride there was a lot choppy though so 4 out of 7 of us in our group got pretty seasick. It was so worth it though when we arrived! Clear, CLEAR water to see plenty of fish and sea life. I am pretty sure I saw a humuhumunukunukuapua’a all the way in Zanzibar!

Too soon it was time to say goodbye to the Indian ocean, seafood, and spices and get back on the train to Zambia. This time the train wasn’t as much as an adventure as it was a challenge of our endurance. We attempted to get tickets a bit late and were left with a second class ticket. A second class cabin has 6 spots to sleep in….we had 7 of us traveling back to Zambia together! It was cramped but we all made it back safe and sound. I can’t believe it is already 2014 and that my Peace Corps service ends in three months. Here’s to 2014 – I don’t know how it will end but it definitely started off right with friends, food and the ocean!

bats, crows and blister beetles…OH MY

I can’t believe its already December! The last half of November was certainly eventful which explains why it flew by. First was the big bat migration (although it was explained to us that “gathering” might be a better word to use) at Kasanka National Park. It is arguably one of the largest mammal migrations in the world. Usually I don’t like things in large numbers but I have to admit this was pretty cool. It was like a belated Halloween with thousands of bats flying over our heads on the last night…pictures don’t do it justice.

Secondly, this is…
How a camping trip can start off horribly wrong: picking the one weekend that every expat from Lusaka also decides to camp at the same spot, a crow scattering all of your food that you carried in all over the ground and specifically eating your snacks from an America package, expats burning down adjacent insaka to your tent in the middle of the night, and rainy season deciding to truly start the same weekend.

How a camping trip can end on the highest note ever: one of the aforementioned expats reminding you that there are generous and thoughtful people in the world and donating the rest of their food (their amazing, delicious food i.e. yogurt, chips, cheese, steak, bread, pastrami, cookies, sriracha sauce, gin/tonic etc) to the peace corps volunteer cause, remembering what is really important…loving the company you have on the camping trip and enjoying every second of the experience. Good, bad, these are the experiences that will be memorable years down the line. Keep this in mind: things can always get worse….but then things can also get better. Real better.

Oh yeah, Kundalila Falls, where we camped…absolutely beautiful!

Thirdly, Blister Beetle: The blister beetle is a brightly colored insect that is attracted to artificial light at night. When disturbed or injured, the beetle secretes (I think “spray” is a better verb) a substance containing cantharidin, an acid that causes a severe (TRUTH) reaction when it comes in contact with the skin or mucous membranes. Ingestion of a whole blister beetle is often fatal (ACK) Typical signs and symptoms after contact with a blister beetle includes redness (yes), itching (after its healed), burning (yes yes and YES), and painful blistering of the skin (VERY true). The blister eventually ruptures and the skin underneath the blister flakes off. (Much like a more painful sunburn)
Peace Corps Medical Handbook

I know all this first hand because I was attacked by a blister beetle (nope, I don’t think “attack” is too dramatic of a word…not at all) on my neck and part of my shoulder after Thanksgiving. What I thought was just a slightly irritating rash eventually became so painful I couldn’t sleep. It looked and felt so gross! I had so many Zambians comment and stare at it. Bleh. It was probably one of the more unpleasant things I had to experience in my life. Now that the skin has all peeled off, the new skin in that spot just looks slightly red and is a bit itchy….but from what it was till now, I think my neck/shoulder looks good as new!

Well everyone, Happy Holidays! I’ll soon be headed to Zanzibar for vacation, starting with a three day long train ride!

*As of today I have 4 months left of my Peace Corps service!

Mid Mid Twenties

It’s been a long time (sorry Grandma!) but the past 5 weeks has been a good time!

First some random observations that I want to share with you:
Observation #1 Most of the clothes people in my village (and villages all around Zambia) are secondhand from around the world, including of course, America. I have seen boys wearing shirts that say “pretty princess” and once saw a Loto student donning a shirt that said “its hard being the only gay in the village”. Very ironic for a Zambian child living in an actual village in a country where homosexuality is technically illegal. Over my time here I’ve even seen a Dole Plantation shirt and a UH Manoa shirt! You know all that spare change you leave in the pockets of your jackets and pants? Well they make it all the way to Africa. I know this because I’ve had so many Zambians approach me asking how much a nickel is worth in Zambian currency. I am absolutely terrible at math so I could only ballpark it. I was probably way off…five kwacha is about a dollar sooooo five cents is what…?

Observation #2 The only container I am comfortable carrying by myself to fetch water is a 2.5 L container. Everything else I cheat and use my bicycle…okay, if completely forced I will carry a 10 L bucket on my head Zambian woman style but I usually end up drenched by the time I reach my hut (not so bad if its a hot day). On one particular morning as I walked to the stream with my 2.5 L container I passed some Zambian women neighbors also carrying 2.5 L in addition to carrying 20 L jerry cans on their heads. Children were carrying heavier containers than me. I think I saw a three year old carrying a 2.5 L container. Zambian women are strong. Like crazy strong. They fetch water in the morning, work in the fields (which they walk to far, far away), they scrub clothes clean with their hands (whereas I merely pathetically rub my clothes together to create some suds), they stir nshima with one hand (not easy!) and then they fetch more water at the end of the day. Not only do they carry water on their heads but also firewood, logs, huge bundles of grass…anything that would make me collapse to the ground in two steps they carry and for long distances. Zambian women, 22 months later and I am still in awe of you.

Events of the past five weeks!
Event #1 A storm blew through Loto marking the beginning of rainy season. Hurricane-like force winds and driving rain flooded my house and threw open windows after Steve and I closed them. Once the storm passed we went outside to find roofs partly blown off, trees felled and surprisingly…my cimbusu roof completely torn off and laying next to the mud brick structure. I had a roofless cimbusu for about 24 hours. Everyone can see you enter the cimbusu and standing there before you crouch down slowly to use the bathroom…shame! My bathing shelter has also since collapsed because of the storm but has yet to be fixed. Blah.

Event #2 Every year my birthday is a reminder of how lucky I am to always have such wonderful, amazing and beautiful people around me to make me feel 200x more special than I deserve! This year was no exception with eight peace corps volunteers coming to my site to help me celebrate with 10 L of homemade tea wine. This is by far the most people to ever coem to my site on their own free will! To be fair a one hour walk to get to my village is daunting. Steve surprised me with a bag full of TACO BELL SAUCE! I don’t know if you know this about me but Taco Bell is right up there with one of the places most likely to make me obese (Costco pizza is a close second) Love Taco Bell! Did you know they have a verde sauce now? Taco Bell, we’ve been out of touch for too long! Luapula RED girls gave me two †ailored citenge dresses and Carole gave me a carving to “creep” my hut out with from Mozambique. There was also tons of delicious sweets cause my friends know me so well! We then moved the party to Ntumbacushi waterfalls, my favorite place in all of Zambia and camped for three nights. Perfect way to start my 27th year with awesome friends!

Event #3 On October 31st was VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing for HIV) day at Loto. The actual day was planned about a month prior with New Start (an NGO based in Mansa) but this has actually been in the works for a year without me realizing it. I was worried that I hadn’t done enough to promote the day or desensitized the community enough but on the actual day I noticed that so many of the older pupils were enthusiastic about getting tested and knew its importance. Even though New Start had hoped for older community members and couples to get tested I found it encouraging to see grade 6-9 pupils lining up for VCT (in Zambia grade 6-9 ages can range from 12-20+ years) I think its a step in the right direction for an AIDS free generation. If at this younger age they aren’t afraid to get tested or feel the same stigma the older generation associates VCT with, then more people will be willing to get tested as they get older and more sexually active, know their status, get help and not spread HIV unknowingly or keep their status negative. Also Mr. Katuta, my grassroot soccer counterpart and fellow Loto teacher commented that from grade 1 teachers preach and educate pupils about HIV and knowing your status but with clinics 7km away many puils never have the chance to get tested. VCT day was a real life lesson for the pupils. Pupils knew what VCT was but now were able to experience it and really understand what it entails. The highlight was when Saviour as he was grinning after learning his status, turned to me as we walked from the New Start tents and said “Madam you’re doing good”. That 100% made it all worth it! All the HIV lessons through GLOW, Grassroot Soccer and Under 5 Clinics…all paid off! In the end VCT is just voluntary so the number of people who got tested only added up to 41. A small number, with about half being pupils and half being community members but I’m looking at it as a success. That is 41 people on October 31st that now know their HIV status!

How to get mangoes: It’s mango season again!

Step 1: Half heartedly (or in my case actually) throw a green mango in the tree to knock down ripe mangoes. Preferably barely hit any leaves.

Step 2: Shame faced, wait for a Zambian child to take pity on you and collect 10 for you.

Step 3: Enjoy.

Some of my best memories of Loto will be standing under a mango tree laughing with Loto kids as sweet mango juice runs down our chins…they taste even better cause they’re abundant and free!

Lastly, a big mahalo to Puna Hongwanji for the donations to Loto pupils. I’m saving them as prizes for the closing assembly on December 6th where the pupils are awarded for their high test scores and attendance. The thoughtful messages were also very encouraging and I feel the aloha all the way in Zambia! Thank you for supporting my students’ education and me during my peace corps service!

Unless = if…not

…did you know that? I didn’t! I mean it makes sense but its something you never really think about right? Well, apparently unless you’re Steve Choe. Peace Corps Zambia’s RED program gave us all of RED volunteers a “Understanding and Using English Grammar” books and it has been a total lifeline for me to explain to grade 9 pupils why we say or write things the way we do in the English language in preparation for the national grade 9 exam. As an American we can instantly understand when something is correct or incorrect but it is so hard to explain why that is. Coming from Hawaii and growing up around pidgin English makes it even more difficult for me…sometimes even trying to figure out if something is proper English or not. Just ask Eva! When she was here she helped me check the grade 9 mock exam. It makes me wonder if I could have even passed sometimes! It’s been so nice to have this book clearly lay out the rules of English for me to make it easier to teach to grade 9. I was asked once in a letter from Amanda if I liked my position and job responsibilities in Peace Corps better than while I was in JET. Comparing being an ALT (assistant language teacher) at Chikuho Board of Education office that often just assisted a Japanese teacher to teach and make English class a little bit fun(ner) to being an English teacher volunteer with my own classes and being responsible for my own lesson plans its hard to decide which I like better. In the end it feels incomparable as its just completely different experiences but I do feel lately that I am re-learning English grammar rules along with my pupils!

Marley’s kitties are growing up and Marley has been bringing in dead rats for the kittens to eat. One early morning when my bedroom was still dark I kick something…hard. It flies across the room and hits a Zambag. Then in the early morning light I see legs. BIG legs. It was a dead, STIFF, cold, HUGE rat that was bigger than the kittens! Ugggggggggggggggggggh.

Completed the last round of the malaria net study last month. Even though it had been 6 months ago there were little things that have showed me that all that time had passed even though it doesn’t seem that long ago at all. At one of the households, the 90+ year old man I interviewed last time had passed away, a baby who had been born a few days before I came to check out their mosquito net is now a big baby of 6 months old and a man who had been single and lonely was very happy to tell me that he is now happily married. Speaking of which, as of TODAY I have SIX months left in Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer! If the last six months were any indication of how fast time is going to go…it’s going to fly by!

Missing Cimbusu and other adventures

Ever come home and all of a sudden not have a place to use the bathroom? I HAVE.

So its been awhile since I’ve updated…the longer I put it off the more time passes, the more I have to update and the more overwhelmed and the more procrastination sets in. So in attempt to shake off the laziness that hot season is causing, I’m just going to do it. Here it goes!

Eva Comes to Zambia

…for 18 days! She finished her JET contract and arrived on August 2nd! I hadn’t seen Eva since I left Japan two years ago when I finished JET. She was there through my entire year plus long Peace Corps application process and we had often joked that she would come to visit me in my African mud hut after she was done with JET (waaaay before I actually knew I would really live in an African country in an actual mud hut!) It was great that she had the opportunity to stay for such a long time cause we got to do everything I wanted her to do without any rush! She experienced Lusaka, my village, my school, camping at Ntumbacushi waterfalls, Samfya, Chobe Safari in Botswana and Livingstone. Highlights include staying at the world’s smallest “campsite” at Flintstone’s Backpackers in Lusaka for the lowest price of 10 kwacha a night, teaching a small Japanese culture lesson to my grade 9 kids and watching my grassroot soccer boys graduate the program, seeing a leopard on safari, white water rafting and ended it all with a classy afternoon at the Royal Livingstone for high tea. Perfect way to spend my August term break!

Marley has kittens round 2

While I was away with Eva, Marley had two kittens! Same coloring like twin mini-Marleys! So far they are super cute!

World Literacy Week

The opening week of school coincided with World Literacy Week. Our school encouraged kids to come after school to read books from the library. Any kids that came got their name on a poster and got to put stickers next to their name for every day that they came and read. The next Monday we rewarded the kids with small prizes and had some of the kids stand up at assembly and summarize their favorite books that they read. That same Monday after school all the teachers we were surprised to see even more students come to read books at the library after Literacy week had ended! On the last day of Literacy Week the grade 2 teacher and I had a fun reading competition between grade 2 and 3 with Bemba and English words. It was a close score up to the end but grade 3 managed to take home the win!

Cimbusu

After coming home from being on vacation with Eva I completely bike past my hut…because of more road widening my insaka was knocked over and all the trees AND my cimbusu were completely gone! I returned home to no place to use the toilet! It was totally knocked over and missing. All a part of the Peace Corps experience! Luckily, my community and PTA got together and worked hard to build me a new one. To dig a hole deep enough for a pit latrine with just a shovel and manpower…difficult! I helped for one afternoon and I am pretty sure everyone thought I was less of a help and more of a hindrance! I am happy to report that I got to use my brand new cimbusu for the first time last Thursday! Also difficult is chopping huge mango trees with just an ax. My first swing and I broke my Bataata’s ax! OOPS.

Second to last term before my service comes to an end!

65km

Yesterday a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Stephanie and I accomplished what we set out to do back in September – running 65 kilometers from her village to Mansa! Okay back story: Stephanie had read “Born to Run” and passed it along to me. I had just started getting back into running after a two year break from running because of a knee injury I got in Japan (running at night, while raining, with glasses on and falling in a hole!). As you read this book all you want to do is put it down and go for a long run! So back in September sitting in my hut reading this book made me realize that I had always took it for granted while I was running for Pacific University that I would eventually do a marathon after graduating, because I realized I was already 26 years old and still hadn’t ran anything longer than 15 miles at a time, much less completed a full marathon! Since I had just started training again I wasn’t that confident that I would be able to totally commit to training for a full marathon and didn’t want to put up the money for an entry fee (there is a marathon in Livingstone in July) then I had an epiphany…I don’t need to pay tons of money to run a far distance! That’s where the idea was born: running from Steph’s hut to Mansa in cold season. So we had from September to July to train for a 65 km run. We knew that we were just going to take our time, eat and drink water along the way with the help of our water girls Siobhan and Hannah. The main goal was just to finish the run. Friday morning we started off at 4:30 a.m. way before the sun was up. Siobhan and Hannah stayed back to pack up the bikes and fill water bottles and were going to meet us at our first meeting spot. We started running under a beautiful sky full of stars, it was completely dark except for the light from our headlamp and totally quiet. The first two hills out of Steph’s village are pretty big but because it was so dark it was the perfect time to run up it…you can’t dread something you can’t see! We passed our first meeting spot, but since we were still feeling really good we just kept going. Then we passed our second meeting point and still hadn’t seen our two water girls, we weren’t too concerned yet as we were still feeling fine. Just past our second point, Ryeon, who wasn’t coming the whole way with us, caught up to us and gave us a bottle of water and said that Hannah and Siobhan had left about 10 minutes after her so that they should be coming soon. So Steph and I keep running and eventually we see a figure in the distance. As we get closer I asked Steph “Is that Hannah? That looks like Hannah…but how? There’s no way, they didn’t pass us on their bikes did they??” That’s when I started worrying that a little over two hours into this run I was already hallucinating! Turns out, that Siobhan and Hannah got a hitch with their bicycles and passed us in transport which is why we hadn’t seen them, which means I wasn’t mentally losing it just yet! One of the highlights of the run was passing the marathon point of the mileage…and still having tons of energy! Now I know that I am fully capable of doing a marathon and am really looking forward to my first “real” marathon post Peace Corps service and establishing a PR! As we ran along, Steph and I talked about a million things, ranging from food to past experiences. We got tons of stares from Zambians, compliments like “amaka sana” (lots of energy) and “abakosa!” (they are strong!) and Forrest Gump moments where it seemed like every kid from the village we happen to be passing came running out to the road to join us and yell “HELLO!HELLO!HOWAREYOUHOWAREYOU???” We went through moments of silence when we ran out of things to say to each other, where all we could hear was our shoes hitting the tarmac and focused on one foot in front of the other, not because we were tired but just because things like our knees, feet or hips were just HURTING. Steph put if perfectly when she said she’s never felt like she’s had more energy but simply could not move any faster. We finally hit Mansa a whole lot earlier than we thought we were going to (we both thought we would arrive at the house late at night!) and was surprised to find a bunch of our fellow Peace Corps volunteers waiting outside of the house with signs and a makeshift finish line, cheering us on! Pasta, popcorn and a cold beer were waiting for us in the house. Seven hours and fifty minutes of running for 65 km was totally worth the fact that Steph and I were totally useless at walking and moving for the rest of the day! I am so proud of us and amazed that we set out to do this together 10 months ago and we accomplished it together – from start to finish!

Development Started

Much to my surprise, development has come to my site area! They started bulldozing my little dirt path to widen the road that passes through my village and onwards toward Mubende another village 13k off the tarmac. Selfishly, I was at first very bummed. I didn’t want change and I loved running and biking down my path and really feeling like I was really in the Zambian bush. The bulldozer was making my road look like a scene from “Fern Gully”! The next day at school I asked my grade 9 pupils to write their opinion on the “new” road for English class. They actually raised a lot of good points about the new road that I hadn’t thought of and praised the government for bringing tangible development to their community. A wider road means two cars coming from opposite directions can easily pass each other. Sick people and women about to give birth would have an easier time traveling the new road to reach the clinics. Farmers can carry more charcoal, cassava and maize on the back of their bicycles and travel to the markets to sell them faster and earn more money. After hearing the excited responses of my pupils and how much everyone supports the new road, I realized that the two years that I live within this community is just a blink of an eye to them and that in the long run this road will bring so much more development and positive change to those living around me. So I have changed my tune, I support the road and embracing the change! Unfortunately since then all construction on the road has stopped and has yet to reach my village. So I am still enjoying the bush path by my hut to run, but I am appreciating it even more everyday cause I know its days are numbered. No one can escape change, not even a sleepy little Zambian village 5k off the tarmac!

I’ve been enjoying term 2 at Loto so far! I have been feeling really busy with GLOW meetings, which Yvonne and Brice has been doing such an amazing job facilitating sessions. I have also started Grass Roots Soccer for the grade 6 and 7 boys at my school. Grass Roots Soccer is a program that started in South Africa. It uses soccer skills to teach about HIV/AIDS and has a lot of fun activities that teaches life skills. For example we just played limbo with the rope representing HIV. If they were not able to limbo under the rope it was like they “contracted HIV” and were out of the game. Each time the rope was lowered it represented a risky behaviour which made it harder to avoid HIV. They got a huge kick out of such a simple game and ended up learning a lot without realizing it. I feel like I’ve been so focused on the girls that the boys are excited to have a program just for them. I am really enjoying these sessions with both Loto’s boys and girls!

I got to represent “asian” peace corps volunteers at the diversity panel for the new Zambia peace corps trainees that flew in to country on Thursday! It was so nostalgic to see trainees fresh off the plane. Seems like just yesterday it was me! It is weird to be one of the older volunteers when I still feel so new! I even met one trainee who said she read my blog before coming to Zambia!

Last weekend a bunch of us went to Lumangwe and Kabwelume Falls which is a very isolated waterfalls in the northern part of Luapula. It was a little bit of a pain to get to, but it was so beautiful! It was like a mini Victoria Falls with no tourists! It was an awesome feeling knowing that I was getting to see something so pretty with my friends that not many people get to see. We drove right up to Lumangwe Falls but we had to walk a little more than 5k to get to Kabwelume Falls so we even got a nice hike through the bush too! We slept there in a lodge we had all to ourselves and dinner ended up being everyone throwing whatever they brought with them into the pot. Sweet potatoes, pasta, tomatoes, avocado, onions, soya pieces, cheese and soup mix made such a delicious dinner!

The past two Fridays was the Under Five Clinic in both Chiposa and Chifuba villages which are next to my village. Under Five Clinics serve Mothers and their children who are under five years of age. Babies are weighed to chart their growth, given immunizations and usually there is a health talk for the mothers. My PEPFAR counterpart Ba Rhoydah, Mrs. Nkandu a Loto teacher, the community health worker Ba Godfrey and I did the health talk on HIV/AIDS for the mothers and then ended the session with female condom demonstrations for those who were interested. Ba Rhoydah focused on basic knowledge of what HIV/AIDS is and how its transmitted, Ba Godfrey talked about prevention of HIV/AIDS, I talked about stigma, myths and the importance of HIV testing and Mrs. Nkandu talked about positive living. I was very proud of us, all working together to deliver a very effective lesson. I think the highlight of the experience was giving the female condom demonstration to the mothers. It was like a secret club because we had to do it in private in a room off to the side. The mothers crowded around and got a kick out of the wooden penis I had with me that Peace Corps gave us for condom demonstrations. I was surprised by the amount of women who were interested in trying female condoms and by the number of requests I got for them. We appointed point people to be distributors in their community and I went to the Lubunda Clinic to get more female condoms. I filled my bike basket with 80+ female condoms!

This morning, Stephanie, Ryeon and I went running for 3 hours! I am so proud of us and I am so happy that I feel really good about my training and my running these days! Ryeon is my new Peace Corps neighbor who took over for Norwood. She is asian, wears glasses, and likes to run. I thought our villages were going to get us confused, but so far that hasn’t really been the case! Since July 1st and 2nd are Zambian holidays, its a long weekend…then it will be fourth of July! I plan to thoroughly enjoy my (ka) small break!

(ka) is used to represent “small” in Icibemba. I think its funny that Zambians sometimes like to say “ka” AND “small” if they are speaking English!