So, we've just finished our fourth week of training. I'm still incredibly non-functional in Bemba, which is a little frustrating, but it's coming I suppose. My family, as I've mentioned before, speaks English very well, so it hasn't been a problem, but I think at this point I'm going to have to ask them to stop. Otherwise it's never going to sink in. Other than that, everything's going great with my homestay family. They're very adamant that I should feel free to do whatever, come and go whenever, and ask for anything I need or any food I want. I haven't really taken advantage of that though, at least as far as food and asking for stuff goes. I just eat whatever's given to to me. I'm actually even starting to like nshima (never thought I'd say that). The only thing I'm having a hard time eating is the fish. Great, huh? Especially considering I'm supposed to be a fish farmer. The thing is, it's not that I don't like the way it tastes, the problem is, the whole fish is basically put on the plate, and you have to pick it apart, remove the bones, gills, fins, etc, and I'm so afraid of eating the bones and the fish are so small to start with (about 6 inches long) that by the time I'm done picking out the parts I'm not going to eat, there's not really that much left to eat. It's just too much work for me.
Anyway, as far as technical classes go, we've had some really great field based sessions. There was a whole week essentially where we had to bike out to a farmer's site every afternoon for class. I love my bike by the way. It's a really sweet blue mountain bike (and it's even better now that our accessories, like helmets, patch kits, pumps, etc have come in... the helmet I had originally didn't clip, it had to be tied on and it sort of smelled like something pissed in it). But yeah, the paths are pretty fun. It's definitely not a trip down a paved road. There's generally some interesting obstacle, like a dam, pond, or log bridge that needs to be crossed every few hundred meters and even when it's just a dirt path, it's often so narrow and windy that it's really hard to actually pedal. At times you have to just walk it. But considering I've never done much biking, I'd say I'm picking it up pretty well. There was one session we had where 80% of the class got lost on the way there and ended up showing up about an hour late (they did find a really sweet waterfall that has since been quite the popular spot to go back to... the path there from my homestay makes for a beautiful run). But yeah, we had an afternoon of site selection, one of pond staking and then last friday we actually got to try and dig a pond. In the 3 hours we had we really didn't make that much of a dent, but it was definitely a lot of fun. I learned that I'm extremely weak. Either that or wet clay is extremely heavy. Because I definitely could not lift a full bucket of dirt and move it anywhere by myself. Carol and I had to pick it up together and move it outside of the area we were digging. By the end it essentially turned into a mud fight though (for 4 or 5 of us anyway). I came home absolutely covered in mud. My homestay mother just shook her head and some something to the effect that I was worse than their 4-year old daughter as far as coming home dirty. I don't comform to traditional Zambia woman's roles very well. (As a side note... it took her about a half hour just to wash that one tshirt I was wearing... but it is white again)
One really cool thing that's happened lately was on the 4th of July (I'm not sure if the date was a coincidence or not) we had a Zambian cultural day. This basically entailed all the mothers from the homestays coming to the training center and preparing an entire array of traditional Zambian dishes. We were supposed to go around and observe how it was all made. That only lasted for about 30 minutes, but during that time, a couple of notable things happened. About 6 or 7 chickens needed to be killed so we could eat and two of them were killed by two of the trainees in my group. This basically entails standing with one foot on the chicken's legs, the other on its wings and holding it's head with one hand while you cut through its throat with the other. Let me just say... it's quite the bloody event. After the head comes off, you have to keep standing on it because otherwise it will get up and run away, but while you're standing on it, it's basically convulsing and blood is spurting out of it's neck. I'm just glad I didn't have to do it, not so much because i would mind killing it, but because I wouldn't want to have to worry about how much I was torturing the poor thing becasue I wasn't strong enough to get the knife through the neck inthe first couple slices. The other interesting part was pounding ground nuts. I have so much respect for women in Zambia. Cooking is hard work! I was tired after about 30 seconds and I hardly made a dent in what needed to be smashed. (I know at my homestay my mother tries to get me to stir the nshima sometimes and it's so thick I can hardly do it for more than a few stirs before I have to hand the spoon back to her because I'm afraid I'm going to burn it or ruin it and then there won't be any dinner). After the observing was over, we pretty much left the women to finish everything while the trainees and trainers played volleyball. (I must say, I was not expecting to play volleyball for a few years, but I'm very happy I have). When it came time to eat, all the mothers lined up their dishes along a wall and we basically walked down with a plate and got a little sample of everything. Of special note: I ate a caterpillar. I didn't want to, but that was the dish my mother was making (no she doesn't make it at home) and I felt bad not trying one. So I told her to pick out the very best one for me, which I think just turned out to be the biggest one (it was about the size of my thumb). And after this past semester at Williams, and my new found hatred for caterpillars, I really never thought I would be eating one. But yeah, it was so fried up that it was mostly just crunchy with no taste. I know a lot of people said it was the most disgusting thing they've ever had, but I didn't mind it that much. I also wouldn't say I liked it, and I definitely didn't go back for seconds, but oh well... maybe if I get really hungry some day and that's all I can find. I also got to eat impala. One of the current PCV's killed one and roasted it up. The meat was really tough, but it was good. Other than that there were a variety of vegetables and meats (chicken, fish, beef), nshima made out of mealy meal and casava and some local beverages. They're not alcoholic (although there are local beers) and I thought they would be more like juice, but they were really a lot like vomit in taste, smell and consistency, so I didn't have too much of that.
After the feast all the volunteers got together and basically just hung out around a fire and toasted up some marshmellows and played some good ol' American music. There weren't any fireworks and we weren't in the U.S. but I'd say it was a pretty damn good 4th of July.
As for the next few weeks: We leave for our second site visit on the 17th. I'm still not sure where I'm eventually going to be posted, but they have to tell me before then because I get my site visit in the province I will eventually be posted in. I pushing for Northern, but I'd be happy with anywhere in Zambia. This whole place is amazing. But yeah, that will be for two weeks, so if I don't get back to Kitwe next weekend, I won't be posting or emailing again until the very end of July/beginning of August, just so no one gets worried. Well, that's all for now... I'm going to see if I can wrestle technology into letting me post some pictures somewhere that you can all see. I'll let you know how that goes.