014: Community Entry Report

It happen, it really happen, Chelsi thought to herself sitting with her computer in her lap, on a reclining chair on the front porch of the Prov house.  She had just finished her first three months as a volunteer and completed the process Peace Corps referred to as Community Entry, a three month period in which new volunteers are forbidden from taking vacation, attending workshops and visiting the Prov house. A period most volunteer report experiencing as the worst, remembering as the best and weeds out those that cut out for the volunteer life.  Now that it was over Chelsi was feeling freer, more like an actual volunteer.  Today had been her first full day using the house, a simple one story house made up of 15 beds where volunteers could come up to four days a month to complete work requiring computers but also socialize with other volunteers and keep their moral going, a retreat from village life.  Relaxing in the shade she thought about her first three months.  It hadn’t felt terrible as other volunteers reported theirs being.  Sure there where events, happenings, times that really left me rattled but nothing that really made me feel like I should quit.  She felt like her biggest challenge was feeling she would get when people would come and ask for her things.   It was mostly her host family, they would ask consumptive things, like food or candles, it was easiest to tell them ‘No, I’m here for the whole community, I can’t give food to the whole community, I can’t give food to you.’ But when they asked for non-consumptive things like her hammer, it was harder to say no, after all it would be returned she thought.  And if I want them to do favors for me like feed my dog when I’m gone, perhaps I should do some favors for them.  But after other members of the community started telling her that she should not be lending out her things that she should be telling them to buy their own and other volunteers repeatedly warned her about being taken advantage of by her host family she started to feel the discomfort of the pull between saying yes and saying no.
Hold on,’ Chelsi called from her bed where she was reading.  When she came through the door way, being sure to duck because her roof had yet to be lifted, she saw her 30 year old host brother standing on her porch. ‘Is there something I can do for you?’
‘I am asking for your hammer.’ The pit of Chelsi’s stomach dropped, this was the eighth time in two weeks, and her generosity was starting to wear thin.
‘If you need a hammer so much, why don’t you just go buy one?’ the subject triggered tone of her voice to strain, stretching under her rising level of aggravation. 
‘I don’t have money.’
‘I know that isn’t true, you just built yourself a new house, iron sheets and all. You had money for that you could have bought a hammer.’ She was practically yelling at him now.  His face had change from carefree to blank, almost scared looking.  Embarrassment and contrition started to seep in under aggravation and anxiety. ‘I just don’t understand, you hired someone to lay the bricks for you, then tell me you don’t have money. It doesn’t make any sense.’ She was trying to force some calmness into her voice.  Her host brother remain speechless. ‘I’ll let you borrow it,’ she was cracking down, ‘I just don’t understand, you should have bought a hammer when you had the money.’ She stepped back into the house and grabbed the hammer and a spent mouse trap.  She thrust them at him.  ‘Bring it back when you’re done.’ He walked off without saying anything, she was left feeling sour and nauseous from the mix of emotions.  What’s he going to do when he’s not living next a volunteer, she wished she had told him. 
The position of Peace Corps volunteer is a mix of work and lifestyle, a perfect balance Chelsi was still working to perfect.  All in all she genuinely enjoyed her job and adjust to the conditions pretty easily, but she was glad to finally be taking a break from the constant person to person contact and scrutiny that was life living in the village.  This first day at the Prov house was the beginning of a month long absence from her village that would be filled with 10 of In-Service Training or IST, in the capital Lusaka than another 10 days of vacation in Malawi, plus a few travel days.  Before arriving in the Lusaka, she was asked by her Peace Corps supervisor to reflect and write up a short report about Fish Farming and other activities in her village so Peace Corps could monitor changes in communities over time.  It was what she was working on, sitting out on the porch, thinking about the last three months and over the course of an hour came up with this:
I’m stationed in Kamijiji, in the greater Sandan’gombe area.  The largest villages are Sandan’gombe and Mitukutuku which numerous other smaller villages scattered about.  There are clinics and primary schools in Mitukutuku and Sandan’ombe with a community school, grades 1-5 in Kamijiji.  There is an estimated 4,000 people in the area.  Main sources of income for the villagers include growing maize and sweet potato but I would say making charcoal is many families primary source.  Few villagers raise other animals, sheep and broiler chicken for sale, but village chickens and goats are common.  I have seen about 18 fish ponds in the area but only nine are really being managed for production.  I can attribute poor management among many to a loss of interest but others have also sighted lack of resources in the form of feed to being a barrier to production. Under sized fish, fish that not growing to “plate” size have discouraged many farmer. Availability of high quality fingerlings is part of the problem.  Right now one farmer is digging two new ponds to join two existing ponds in the hopes of setting up a fingerling production of the four most common fish being farmed in Zambia, Three-spotted bream, green headed breams, red breasted breams and Nile bream.  We are looking for brood stock for green headed and red breasted.  A separate co-op in the area has also recently applied for a grant to started producing fish feed and I have been working with them to create as sustainable business plan with locally sourced inputs and solar power machines to increase income generation of the area at large.  There has been a lot of expressed interest in digging ponds by more than a dozen villagers who are new to fish farming but so far only one farmer has started digging and he should be ready to stock in September.  There is a mixed wetland just east of the villages, which would lend itself as a great area for fish farming.; ground water fed, and spring fed resulting in small streams of runoff that keep the area wetted all year round.
I have been approached about interest in other program areas as well including that of gardening.  Currently kitchen gardens are spares, and very few people garden as a source of income.  Because of the water availability in the wetland the possibility of integrating gardening with fish farming is great, where soil type will allow for gardens.  I have taught in two schools, Mitukutuku and Kimikolwe about composting and plan to expanding a gardening program to interested villagers. Each school services about 600 plus students.    The second greatest interest is in the raising of broiler chickens, for sale in Solwezi followed by the keeping of rabbits.  Two groups have gotten together and expressed interest in learning to produce baked goods for income generation and I think I will be teaming up with another volunteer to produce a baking programs using ingredients easily acquired in the village.  There have been a smaller number of villagers interested in fruit tree and fruit production.  Interest among villagers in Peace Corps programs have to do with income generation for products to be sold in Solwezi.  My catchment area is located a mere 10 kilometers from town. 
The in Mitukutuku would be a good place for HIV/AIDs intervention programs and the clinic, staffed three people plus one community health worker, runs a pretty good extension in to the other villages which would also be provide good extension for HIV and nutrition intervention. 
Because of the proximity to town the area has been developing/growing “quickly” with people from across the country.  All of the villagers I have encountered are some denomination of christan with people attending service about twice a week and chorus groups meeting nearly every evening.  The predominate pass time, especially among men, is drinking. Villagers aquire their drinking water from a variety of sources including borehole, cemented wells and springs, based on their proximity of each source. 
The village I am stationed in, Kamijiji, is poorly organized, while the areas of Mitukutuku and Sandan’gombe have a few well respected community organizers and active headman, making these areas much easier to work in that my “home base.” There is no village market with all products to be sold being transported, mainly by bike or canter, to Solwezi.  Biking to town takes about two hours depending on the route and there are one bush road, referred to as the short cut, that cyclist and canters use to transport people and products, mostly charcoal, to town.  The bike to the tarmac is about 45 minutes from my site. The stretch of road between the shortcut turn off and the tarmac is mostly by the few people that live on that stretch of road and large gravel trucks from a quarry that is on that stretch. There is one lodge, Wamami Lodge which is frequented mostly be professional types from town and offers the only restaurant and grid powered electricity in the area. 

Categories: Drama | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “014: Community Entry Report

  1. Jean Thomas

    Great to hear from you, Chelsi. Whew! What an experience. Congratulations on reaching 3 months!


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