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!