Mwela Rock Art

Reading this Week:

  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  • The Lost World by Michael Crichton

We are in Kasama this week for some Peace Corps meetings, and we decided to take advantage of the time to see the Mwela Rock Art.

The Mwela Rock Art site is right outside the town of Kasama, and very walkable from most of it. Since we work here, we get in on the Zambia local rate of only 8 kwachaa, instead of $15 USD, which is quite a savings. The site is fairly gorgeous. It is in a series of rocky outcroppings that rise out of the surrounding plains in a weird kind of incongruous manner. It is easy to see why more primitive man would be attracted to the sites. Most of the outcroppings are easy to climb, it is is great to go to the top of the rocks and look out over the plains. You can see for miles into the rolling hills.

The man at the front entrance who takes the entry fee also acts as the tourguide. These men were extremely knowledgeable about the site and were great hosts. We initially tried to just find the art ourselves but this was not a good move. A lot of the art is hidden and not very noticeable, as you might expect after 10,000 years out in the weather. Once you know what you are looking for it is a bit easier. The paintings split into two categories – naturalistic and geometric. The naturalistic paintings were of local animals and birds and warthogs featured prominently. The geometric paintings consist of lines, and the guides told us the current conjecture is that these represented them counting the various types of animals that came through as a record for “collegues” to know about the game in the area.

We were also shown caves where the people who lived here slept, and it was obvious several were still used for that purpose occasionally. You can camp at the site for an extra fee, which is an idea I think would be cool just to carry on a millenia old tradition in that location. In a less awesome take on tradition though, the park was also covered in more modern grafitti, some of it over the ancient rock art itself. Zambia is doing a lot these days to protect its heritage and it is depressing to see some people not onboard with that message. But I highly recommend a visit to the caves to see the rock art and enjoy the views and weather. It is a place I will be going to again.

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PST

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Reading this Week:

  • A Short History of Zambia edited by Brian M. Fagan
  • Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo
  • Guerrilla Warfare by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
  • Roots by Alex Haley

The first three months of Peace Corps is Pre-Service Training, or PST. During this time, we weren’t yet Volunteers, merely Peace Corps Trainees. After a few days in a motel in Zambia, where we got some basic briefs on Zambian culture and signed some documents (usual government type stuff), we were bussed to Chongwe, where the bulk of PST occurs. This is a town about 30km outside of Lusaka. We were brought to the training facility, taught how to say “hello” in our local language, and sent off to meet our host families.

During PST, you are hosted by a host family. These people have the responsibility to give you a place to stay, to feed you, and provide you bath water. They also speak the local language you are assigned. My assigned language was Mambwe. My host family setup was unusual because my host family had two trainees, myself and another guy, because of how few available host families there were for Mambwe. That was convenient because it provided someone else to talk to, and we could help each other during our conversations in Mambwe.

We settled pretty quickly into a routine during PST. I would wake up early and study, because that was usually the only time I could motivate myself to put my head in the books. It was important to study, given how much language we needed to absorb in so little time. Eventually, around 0645, our yamayo (“mom” in Mambwe) would alert us she had water ready for us to wash our faces. After we washed our faces, it was time for breakfast. This was usually a fried egg, along with some instant coffee, then bread with peanut butter and jelly. Not quite a traditional Mambwe breakfast, but our host mom had hosted a number of volunteers and had adjusted to providing a more American morning meal.

After breakfast we would get our stuff ready and then head off for language training. This usually lasted about four hours. Training was done in groups of 3-5 (there were only 3 Mambwe trainees, but larger language groups were split up), each with a dedicated instructor. Four hours is a long time to study anything, but necessary to learn so much language in so short a time. After language it would be back to our host family for lunch, and then off to the training center for technical training. Since we were Rural Aquaculture Promotion volunteers, most of this was fish farming. A big chunk of time during PST was also learning various core Peace Corps topics, which sometimes went on a little ad naseum. The afternoon training sessions were about three hours, and mixed lectures or hands-on training with fish farming.

After the afternoon training, it was back to our homestays for a bath and then dinner. The bath was a bucket bath. Yamayo provided a large bucket of hot water, which then you pour over yourself with a cup in order to bathe. Then it was dinner time. After dinner we usually sat around for an hour or more, trying to practice and speak in Mambwe. This was probably when we learned our most Mambwe. After talking for a while, we would go back to our huts to study and some and then sleep. Quite the routine.

Usually Saturday afternoons and Sundays we would have off. These were spent doing things like laundry, or else all of us trainees would hang out and the local bar or in town. This was a good time to hang out and built a real sense of comraderie among all the trainees. It was also a great way to relax from all the studying during the week.

Eventually training culminated in swear-in, held at the Peace Corps Zambia headquarters in Lusaka. The US Ambassador came along with the local Chief and Chiefteness and the Minister of Agriculture. The weirdest thing I learned is that we swear to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States, which I suppose is probably standard for government employees that have to take an oath, but I think that’ll be an interesting conflict if a Peace Corps member ever meets an enemy, foreign or domestic. But after swear-in, that was that: we were volunteers!

Staging

Reading this week:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clake
  • 2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke
  • False Economy by Alan Beattie
  • The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol

    Once my background check finally cleared (I have to correct myself every time from thinking of it as my “security clearance”), I could actually begin joining the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a delightfully government affair, which felt comfortingly familiar. The details of where and when to show up and who to contact for travel arrangements came via email. The first part of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer is staging, which occurs in Philadelphia. I was to travel by train, which I thought was just quaint. So on February 11th my parents (I had, by this time, moved once more out of my apartment and back into their basement) dropped me off on the train and off I was to Philly.

    Upon arrival to Philly and the hotel, it was easy to spot the soon-to-be Peace Corps Trainees (you don’t become a Volunteer, PCV in the parlance, until swear-in, which follows pre-service training, aka PST) (back in the Nuclear Navy, it’s contrary to [C/T] the Submarine Interior Communications Manual [Sub-IC Manual] to speak acronyms [with minor exception], and this is a policy I firmly believe [because I have been brainwashed to believe so] that everyone should adopt): they were the people with too much luggage and looked like they were contemplating a beard. I got my room key and found I already had a roommate, the first fellow trainee I was to meet. Staging was full of the standard get-to-know-you-but-I-probably-won’t-remember-you-right-away-because-there-are-70-of-us conversations, which I always find entertaining if a bit stressful. Luckily we were all issued nametags that we wore pretty consistently, so with some effort I quickly got to know names and faces.

    There was a short meeting the first night to make sure we were all alive, and a gentle warning to stay that way. On the first night, as on the next two nights, we all went out for dinner in various groups to meet our new friends and look around Philly while we had the chance. We were all pretty acutely aware that this was our last taste of America for a while, an so diets were pointedly varied. It was also cold in Philly, being February, and I was glad it was going to be my last taste of that.

    Staging began in earnest the next day. Staging was comprised of a series of briefs about various aspects of culture and Peace Corps policies, and some stuff about the logistics of getting 70 people to Zambia safely. The one somewhat frustrating part about Staging is that it is fairly vague; the staff are reluctant to answer country-specific questions because, while they are all returned volunteers (RPCVs), Zambia isn’t their particular area of expertise. So while there was a great deal of content about how to deal with living in a new culture generally, there wasn’t anything about Zambia specifically. So by and large the briefs were uneventful, but interspersed with ice-breaker activities.

    One thing I learned is that the average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer is 28 1/2. That put me exactly average. Based on my group though, it seems that average comes from a large number of people straight out of college (some with advanced degrees), and a small number of retirees pulling the average up, with a smattering of people in-between (like me). Before staging, I had pondered the likely demographics, so that was good to get that question answered.

    Staging came to an end in the wee hours of the 14th. At I think 0200 we were loaded onto a bus and sent off to JFK Airport. Holding staging in Philly, and then bussing us to JFK, is apprently the most cost-effective way of doing things. Since it is about a two hour drive to New York, we all subsequently piled out of the bus at about 0400, and then waited two hours for the airport to open. Like I said, the snuggly warmth of government operations. Eventually though, with the usual various adventures and various grades of coffee one finds in airports, we managed to get all of us loaded on a place headed for Kenneth Kaunda Airport (via Johannesburg). Next stop – Zambia.

    I joined the Peace Corps

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    Currently reading:

    • Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
    • False Economy by Alan Beattie
    • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway

    The first time I considered joining the Peace Corps was senior year of high school. I didn’t know what it was, but it was during that listless time when I hadn’t been accepted to any colleges (and didn’t really want to go to college, anyway) and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. One friend of mine had written down on this life goals poster thing that she wanted to join the Peace Corps, and I said I might want to do that too.
    A decade later, after I had gotten out of the Navy, I was again listless and not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I think I have detailed some of those feelings on this blog. Without review of my own blog, I spent a good chunk of time last year pursuing a 3rd Mate’s License, along with applying to the Peace Corps and various other jobs. In the fall, at nearly the same time, I was accepted into the Peace Corps and to a job at Amazon Web Services (AWS). It was probably lucky for me that the Peace Corps invitation came through just before the AWS gig, otherwise I probably would have rejected the Peace Corps in favor of a steady paycheck and boring time in Northern Virginia (NoVa is actually a pretty great place to live, for the record, and once that Silver Line extension finishes it’s going to be even better). Instead, I accepted both and worked at AWS for four months before departing for the Peace Corps. Without much detail, my time at AWS was really great and it was very encouraging to know that I had a skillset that was desirable in the civilian job market. It was a major morale booster to discover I could survive as a contributing member of society outside of uniform (debates on my contribution to society inside of uniform notwithstanding) and outside of my parent’s basement. I would recommend working for AWS to anyone.

    Jumping back, in the fall of last year I was accepted into the Peace Corps. I got in on my first application, which is sometimes unusual. Your odds go up a lot, I think, if you mark down that you are willing to go anywhere. I actually specified anywhere that wasn’t cold, and that I was interested in anything but teaching, and to that end I received acceptance into the Rural Aquaculture Promotion program in Zambia. When I received the invitation, I went on the Peace Corps Zambia website and read the FAQs. The very first question is “Will I be living in a mud hut?” I thought the answer was going to be something along the lines of “you know, Africa is really a developed place with things like skyscrapers and you’re a bit of a dick for assuming that you’ll be living in a mud hut,” but instead the answer was “you bet your sweet ass you will” (paraphrased) and I was sold. I waited a day to think it all over to be sure and emailed back that I would like to accept the invitation. Adventure, here I come.

    As is my wont, I like to keep things under wraps, and therefore no one knew about my intentions to join the Peace Corps except those people who wrote recommendation letters for me. My next task was therefore telling my mom about my life plans and why I wouldn’t be hanging around her basement (she prefers the term “guest room”) so much. I had actually waited until I got the job at AWS and told her about that first, and then explained “and in February, I’ll be throwing all that away and moving to Africa [ed note: Africa isn’t a country!] with the Peace Corps.” Her reaction was less than enthusiastic but accepting in that motherly way where your kids are doing something crazy instead of maybe combing their hair and settling down with a nice girl somewhere close so she can visit the grandkids. She took care of the whole “tell everyone else in the family” thing, and I settled down to save some money working for AWS and eat as much ramen (the good stuff, at ramen shops) as I could before heading off into the Peace Corps.

    To that end, to do some obligatory blog stuff, apologies to my non-existant audience for not writing recently. Pat in the World is now very specifically Pat in the Northern Province of Zambia Promoting Fish Farming, and my goal is a blog post every Sunday detailing my adventures here and my journey (ugh, describing things as a “journey”) all the way from nuclear-powered warships to a mud hut with a pretty sweet solar setup if I do say so myself. I am already a far happier person than I was a year and a half ago, still on the boat and only knowing that I didn’t want to do that anymore. Thanks for reading!