Animal Husbandry Workshop

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Reading this Week:

  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (I think it would be a lot less interesting for anyone without leadership experience at sea)

This past week I attended the Animal Husbandry Workshop. I played this workshop a little differently, and instead of inviting someone from my village as a counterpart, I invited a guy I knew from town. He helps out several cooperatives in the area, and I thought of him especially because one of the cooperatives is interested in improved goat production. In my own village, I am hoping to invite him down to do some lessons which are more effective due to his finer understanding of local farming systems, obviously far better local language skills, and the automatic respect Zambian farmers have for other Zambian farmers. He actually showed up, unlike some other counterparts I have had, so there is that as well.

The biggest thing I think in any of these workshops isn’t so much the actual information we deliver via lecture, but the opportunity for the counterparts to see different examples of farming systems away from their own community. You can talk a lot about how to set up a farming system but it is way better just to show it to someone. We spent most of the week at Misamfu Agricultural Research Station, a facility operated by the Zambian government down near Kasama. They keep a variety of animals there, and also have a host of improved agricultural practices.

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Counterparts crowded around a goat house.

On the animal side at Misamfu we mostly learned about goats and chickens. They had a rather large chicken production facility, and they also had a large goat setup. Their stuff is all very nice and represents the sort of ideal of animal raising, but it is all very achievable in a village setting. That is especially true if a farmer starts small and works their way up.

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A (currently dry) dip tank used to get rid of pests from goats.

Besides the animals at Misamfu, we talked about conservation farming practices. I was disappointed to learn most of the conservation farming practices they use are more ideal for flat land, which doesn’t describe any of the land near me in Mbala. The whole area up there is a series of valleys are you descend toward Lake Tanganyika, itself a Great Rift Valley, uh, valley that is just filled with water. Still, the techniques they teach about intercropping and the concepts of improving the soil via green manure and compost are still very applicable.

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A conservation farming test plot. Here they were growing groundnuts and pigeon pea together using conservation farming techniques.

Besides Misamfu, we also visited a lodge in Kasama. The draw there was officially the fact that they keep bees, but they also have several extremely cute dogs that are hungry for attention.

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The other exciting place we went was to Mr. Siame’s farm. “Farm” is a bit of a misnomer; he has a small plot of land, but he uses some very intensive farming techniques, along with integration, to produce a whole lot in just a little space. He keeps a variety of animals, including ducks, turkeys, guinea fowl, chickens, goats, pigs, and rabbits. They are all right next to his house on one side.

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Even more exciting for me, which I kept pointing out to people, is the garden he keeps on the other side of his house. The garden is in close proximity to the animals, which means it is easy for him to use animal manure as fertilizer. And, in turn, it is easy for him to use the products of the garden to help feed his animals. The garden is beautifully set up, with a live fence/hedge, followed by the actual garden area, and then lined entirely with various types of fruit trees. That is a whole wide range of food products right in his own back yard, providing different types of food at different times throughout the year. It’s pretty awesome. And although he is retired now, he was doing much the same thing back when he was a full time teacher! He was so passionate about his work and the things he did that I really hope it inspires a lot of the counterparts to at least start toward something similar.

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Mr. Siame with his awesome garden in the background.

I am really glad I got to go to the Animal Husbandry Workshop this year. I got to see a lot of examples of different ways to implement and combine agricultural systems and the counterparts had great discussions on raising animals, integration, and also HIV. I can’t wait to convince some people to raise more animals, better.

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Being a PST Trainer

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Reading this week:

  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

This past week I got to travel back down to Chongwe to help train the new intake of RAP Volunteers. Every week during PST they bring down one or two currently serving volunteers in order to help out with training and to give the new PCTs some perspective on how their service will go. I was excited to go down because I always like to have a hand in training the new guys in any job I have, and I was excited to share some of the stuff I learned.

This week was pond staking week. They had briefly learned how to stake a pond the previous week, but this week was all about the hands-on. On Monday, when I showed up to training, the first thing we did was stake ponds. They split into small groups of all PCTs and staked some ponds while I wandered around and offered some pointers. I have staked a pond or two in my day at this point so I had some tips to share. Plus it is always funny to pass on the random stuff our trainers focused on, and in this case I taught more than one person the clove hitch.

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On Wednesday they had another practice day at staking, but they switched up locations in order to give them some practice on a new spot. They did fine. This all was in preparation for their big practicum which occurred on Saturday. For this, each PCT was supposed to bring a member of their host family, and then the host family would help them stake the pond. This served to give every PCT a helper (it’s hard to stake a pond by yourself and you ideally have three people) as they staked ponds without the help of other PCTs. More importantly, it also gave the PCTs practice explaining pond staking to someone who had probably never staked a pond before, and also gave their host families a chance to learn about what the PCTs do out there in the field. They have only recently started bringing host families to events like this, and it is a lot of fun to show them the work they are helping to support when the PCTs become full-fledged PCVs.

Saturday went mostly fine. All the ponds were good; they were scored out of 20 but 2 bonus points were available, and of everyone I scored they all got 22/20, except for one PCT who got 21/20 because she had forgotten how to do the evacuation point and just guessed. She guessed mostly correctly. Right at the end of the pond staking it started to rain and we all got soaked, but we got it done.

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PCTs during a non-pond-staking training exercise.

During the rest of the training I offered my own perspectives and experiences about what I had seen over the past year. The other major thing I offered during training was my site presentation. Every PCV that comes down to help with training gives a presentation on the work they have done and their site. The PCTs enjoy seeing people’s sites and it gives a lot of ideas about the things they could do and ways to improve their work and their site. My big message, however, was to convey accurate expectations of success. Like all sorts of jobs where you are there to help people out, your productivity in terms of things like ponds staked and fish stocked only partially depends on you; you need to have people willing and eager to do the work. If a lot of people want to build fish ponds you will help build a lot of fish ponds, but if no one wants to build fish ponds despite you getting out there and telling people the Good News of the Gospel of Aquaculture, then you aren’t going to build any fish ponds and that is not your fault!

They understandably tend to send PCVs down to training who have done a lot of aquaculture work, so that gives PCTs the impression that everyone works super hard and does all sorts of things while at site. That’s not always accurate. The first two generations of volunteers at my site couldn’t get anyone to build a fish pond, and they’re digging them now but they were also reminded that I am the last volunteer they are going to get. Success in Peace Corps service can be defined in a lot of ways, but you can’t focus on just easy to measure metrics like square meters of fish ponds started during your service. Just being in the village helps to accomplish goals 2 and 3, learning about your host nation and teaching your host nation about America. So that was my big message and I hoped I conveyed it. That was the biggest lesson I learned during community entry and I just hope these guys don’t have to wait that long to figure it out.

Malaria Bike Tour

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Group photo after teaching about malaria.

Reading this week:

  • The Autobiography of Malcom X as told to Alex Haley
  • Crossed Wires: Vol 1 by Iris Jay

This past week I participated in the Mbala Malaria Bike Tour. Bike tours are a pretty popular Peace Corps Zambia activity and the concept is pretty simple: a bunch of volunteers get together and bike to each other’s site, hosting programs at local schools or clinics. The advantages are that doing a program in a big group of volunteers is a lot more fun, spreads out the work, and creates excitement when a whole bunch of volunteers roll into town to teach about malaria. It was all organized by our fearless leader, Maggie.

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For our bike tour, we visited four volunteer’s sites, all centered around Mbala itself. At each site we visited the local school for the program. Most of our activities were based off the PC Skillz [sic] Malaria manual. These programs use soccer-based games to teach about malaria. Our target audience was pupils in grades 5-9 generally.

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This is “Bed Net Ball,” run by the other volunteers. The sheet is a mosquito net, and first they use the sheet to toss a soccer ball (the mosquito) up in the air. The pupils have to get under the “mosquito net” before the “mosquito” comes back down.

The general program was to bike to the next volunteer’s site in the morning, eat lunch, and then commence the program at around 1400. For me, I got to visit a side of Mbala district I haven’t been to and got to see more of the most beautiful district in Zambia. Plus, it’s always pretty fun to visit other volunteer’s sites, check out their houses, and play with their dogs.

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Most of the schools put a lot of prepwork in for our visit. Before our program began, we would be treated to a skit about malaria, or in one case a personalized welcome song from the school choir, which was impressive. They were universally educational and pretty funny as well.

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Personalized welcome song from the school choir.

For the activities, we worked in pairs to run stations. On each day we had a total of three stations, and the pupils rotated around learning about malaria. As we went along, my station wound up evolving. The first day we played a true/false game about various malaria myths. That wasn’t really interactive enough, so the next day we ditched that to play a risk factors game. In the risk factors game, the pupils dribble a soccer ball around cones (in our case, rocks) that represent risks for getting malaria: not sleeping under a mosquito net, not finishing your medication if you get malaria, not removing stagnant water, and not cutting your grass. On the first round, if they hit a rock with the ball, they have to do jumping jacks. On the second round, if they hit a rock with the ball, the whole team has to do jumping jacks. The students are more careful not to hit the rocks on the second round, and the lesson is that not taking malaria precautions increases risk for the entire community, not just themselves. When people think about the risk to the entire community, they are more careful.

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Busting some malaria myths via true/false.

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Risk factors game.

On the third and fourth days, I switched stations and helped teach “Health Ball.” In this game, the students try to pass to each other either a soccer ball or a much smaller rubber ball without the ball touching the ground. The soccer ball is easier, and that represents going to the clinic to get medicine to treat malaria. The small rubber ball represents going to a traditional healer or just staying home and hoping to get better, like it was just a cold. The message is to always go to the clinic!

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An extra game, “Mosquitoes & People” (aka Sharks & Minnows); the arch is the mosquito net that the pupils have to get under before the mosquito gets them.

All in all the bike tour was a lot of fun and we managed to reach over 400 students and teach them about malaria. Some of the stuff was things they had heard before, but repeating the message never hurts and we did do some mythbusting of common malaria myths. The real goal is to get the pupils to go home and tell their parents and family about what they learned to help reach the whole community. Hopefully we get to do more bike tours in the future and teach about even more topics.

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The Stevenson Road

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A crudely cropped (sorry Lake Rukwa) map of the Nyasa-Tanganyika Plateau and the Stevenson Road (in black); better version available here.

The Stevenson Road is a neat little piece of history that is pretty intimate with the overall history of Mbala. The Stevenson Road was a road that ran from the north end of Lake Malawi (then Lake Nyasa) to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika. It went through Mbala (then Abercorn), helping to make Mbala the major center in the north of British southern Africa.

The intrigue behind the construction of the Stevenson Road is detailed in the paper “Commerce, Christianity, and the Creation of the Stevenson Road,” and the history of the road is intimately tied with the London Missionary Society and of course my favorite ship from the area, the SS Good News. The road was the brainchild of James Stevenson and James Stewart. Stevenson was a Glasgow manufacturer and a donor for church activities in Africa. Stewart was a civil engineer working in Africa at the time. At the time, the main route to get to Lake Tanganyika was to travel overland from Dar Es Salaam on the coast to Ujiji, a town towards the north end of the lake. This route was controlled by the Arab traders (in this area, really Muslims of African descent). One of the major tasks of the London Missionary Society was to combat the slave trade controlled by these traders, though this was also the major route for ivory in this area. The major impetus for Stevenson and Stewart, however, was to create a route free from Arab control with which they could steal away the ivory trade.

Stewart and Stevenson approached the London Missionary Society in order to secure early customers for their road until they could take over the ivory trade from the Arab traders to the north. Stevenson offered the Society a large donation in exchange for help building the road and an exclusive contract to carry Society goods to their missions in the Lake Tanganyika area. The London Missionary Society was reluctant to agree to give up the Dar-Ujiji route because they had a successful mission along that route. However, another potential donor, Robert Arthington, had offered a donation contingent on the Society launching a steamship on Lake Tanganyika. The Society was a bit fed up with all these donations that came with conditions, they saw a solution to both their problems by agreeing to launch a steamship, and telling Stevenson that they would transport the ship via the new Nyasa-Tanganyika road. This ship was, of course, the SS Good News. With an early cargo guaranteed over the road, Stewart and Stevenson began construction.

The Stevenson road route, besides drawing business away from the Arab traders, had some other advantages. From the mouth of the Shire river on the Indian Ocean to the top of Lake Tanganyika, it was possible to traverse 1400 miles into Africa with only 275 miles of it overland via the Stevenson Road. This route was plied by the Livingstonia Trading Company of Central Africa (who’s first chairman was James Stevenson), which changed its name to the African Lakes Company when construction of the road commenced.

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The Dove, a ship of the African Lakes Company that plied Lake Nyasa and the Shire River; picture from Rhodesiana Vol 33.

The route, as far as overland central Africa travel went in those days, was pretty okay. As described in “The Nyasa-Tanganyika Plateau,” the plateau is covered with a thin scrub jungle, with grass 4 or 5 feet high growing between trees 12 to 15 feet high. It is not sufficiently thick to prevent walking in any direction” (this is still pretty true). The plateau was usually billed as having less disease than more low-lying areas, and the reviews on this are mixed, with that same article noting more sickness than usual when the author went through (1899), but also noted that several Europeans had lived there for many years without suffering too much for it. The big advantage of the plateau was the lack of tsetse fly. On the Dar-Ujiji route, the presence of tsetse fly prevented the use of draft animals, therefore requiring the use of porters.

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Stevenson Road near Saisi, from “The Nyasa-Tanganyika Plateau.”

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Modern-day look at one of the better preserved stretches of the road near Mbala.

The history of the Stevenson Road seems pretty short. The Good News was the first major cargo over the road, transported in 1884. Ten years later, in 1894 it was still (as detailed in “Commerce”) in large chunks hypothetical, but had helped determine the northern border of Rhodesia, which paralleled the road to the north. Around that same time the British South Africa company was laying a telegraph line across the entire length of the African continent, following the Stevenson Road for part of its route (Rhodesiana Vol 33). There’s no solid timeline for its disappearance, though it seems it fell out of use when the British South Africa company managed to connect its holdings to the south to the holdings in this area.

Not a whole lot of the road still remains today. The general route is still in use from Lake Malawi to Lake Tanganyika, so portions of modern-day roads probably go over or parallel portions of the original road. According to the director of the Moto Moto Museum in Mbala, the best-preserved stretch of the road near Mbala is a portion that leads to the Mutabilike Cemetary just north of the town (this stretch pictured above). Mpulungu has taken over from Kituta Bay (the bays are next to each other) as the major port on the south end of Lake Tanganika. The upswing of that is although there is a modern, paved road leading into Mpulungu, the road into Kituta Bay is still, I suspect, the same dirt road that was the end of the Stevenson Road back in 1884. Since Kituta Bay is the modern-day resting place of the Good News, I think it all ties together quite nicely.

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End of the Stevenson Road at Kituta Bay, Lake Tanganyika.