Swear In

Peace Corps Zambia
Starting the second week of Pre-Service Training, I went in forty minutes early everyday, for additional, one-on-one language training. All of the PCV's assured us that no one was ever held back, for not doing well on their LPI (language proficiency exam), "Everyone passes." But still, I wanted to do so on my own merit and learn the language. The minimum score to pass is Intermediate Mid.
The levels are: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished, each broken down further to Low, Mid, and High.
Intermediate- Mid
Can participate in simple conversations about some survival needs and social traditions. Can discuss topics beyond basic survival, such as personal history and leisure time activities.
Beginning to use correct basic grammar constructions such as subject-verb and noun-adjective agreement.
It turns out that this year, Peace Corps Zambia decided to, completely unannounced, crack down on the LPI. In years past, several trainees would score Advanced Mid or higher. The best score this year was Intermediate High. I scored Intermediate Mid, but six out of the twenty-six, in our intake, did not.

Sadly, Jonathan, from my language group, was one of those six. It was probably due more to the fact that he's an extreme introvert and can't ramble on about himself like I can, either in English or Chinyanja. So he's being forced, along with the five others, to stay in Chongwe for another week of Pre-Service Training.

This had a major impact on group moral, the past couple of weeks. Those who did not pass were still allowed to swear in, at the ambassador's house, but it was very bitter sweet. The twenty of us who did pass were all very excited to get to our sites and, even more so, ecstatic to be done with PST. Yet, we couldn't really celebrate, without feeling like we were rubbing it in.

It's great to finally be an actual Peace Corps Volunteer, but it also sucks to leave one of the best friends that I've made, thus far, behind. Brian, Melissa, and I have spent the last few days in Chipata, buying supplies to bring to our respective sites: mattress, tables, chairs, bed frame, hand tools, bags of concrete, solar set-up, cutlery, tableware, plastic bins, pots, pans, shelves, and stoves. The italicized items I bought off of Brad, who I am replacing, so they are already at site (fingers crossed).

My favorite item purchased: a custom-made standing height grill, constructed from scrap metal in the town market.

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Site Placement

Peace Corps Zambia
As I'd hoped, since learning about Brad's site at fly in, I'm going to be replacing him. I'll be living with the Chewa, in Kalichelo Village, about thirty kilometers on the tarmac from Chipata and another 10 km down a dirt road. My house is a stone's throw away from my gracious host, Lackson Ngoma. He, his wife, Avon, and their eight children are really my only neighbors, besides the swine, cattle, goats, and poultry that also inhabit the family farm. The site is incredibly beautiful and about a ten minute walk from the village proper.

The only issue I foresee, both at home and for my service, is water. The rainy season hasn't been all that, well, rainy, for the past three years, and this year has been particularly dry. Unless a farmer is extremely committed and diligent, a rarity in subsistence farming, Zambian culture, I don't believe aquaculture will be all too viable, in my area. One such outlier though is my counterpart, Paul Phiri. In the future, I will probably have an entire post simply entitled "Paul." He's amazing.

At the moment, I am tempted to list all of the mindblowing attributes about the man: he cooks, he knows how much revenue a crop will yield, he finished grade 12 at the age of 18. I could go on and on. Yet, nine weeks ago, I don't think I could have fully grasped the magnitude of even those three claims. I guess that is why I am here, living this way, to gain such insight, but when I had a man sitting across from me who's intelligent enough to be a PhD in horticulture or an executive at the ag company that supplies him his seeds, the totality of culture really hit me in an entirely new way, to the point where I had to ask him, "Why are you here?"

And the answer was 22. Paul is the bread winner, well nshima winner, for twenty-two other people. His own words, he has "a nuclear family of five," but between his mother, nieces, nephews, and a multitude of others, he has twenty-two mouths to feed. And so, he farms and works free-lance with NGO's, with the time he has to spare. Some things are universal, I suppose. Social work doesn't pay well, no matter where you are.

Other than agricultural projects, I do expect that I will be working with the school quite a bit. They just added computer literacy to the grade 9 testing curriculum, this year, so I've been brainstorming some ways of helping, in a sustainable manner. Also, Lackson's brother is the town carpender, and he does a lot of work for the school. The reason I mention this latter fact is that technicaly I'm not suppose to be doing any work, my first three months at site, (May, June, and July) during the Community Entry period. Thus, I can't file for grants, until August.

I can use my woodworking skills to build a table in May, but it won't be able to hold a video projector, so all 100 children in the classroom can actually see what the desktop of a computer looks like, until September, at the earliest. Their exams are in November.

As resentful as I may sound about these hamstrings, I do actually appreciate them, to some degree. The idea I have now, to use the same projector in school to generate income within the community, sounds great, but I was literally there for three days. We'll see if I still think it's a good idea, after three months.

My fellow Nyanja's have been placed as follows: Brain will be about 100km north of me, in Lundazi, Melissa 50km south, in Sinda, and Jonathan another 20km further south, in Petauke.

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Muli Bwanji!

Peace Corps Volunteer Zambia
That's "How are you?" in Chinyanja, the most widely spoken language in Eastern Provence of Zambia and the official language of Malawi. As I'd hoped, before first site visit, I'll be living in Eastern! I don't know my exact site placement just yet, but it is between Brad's aquaponics site, near Chipata, and a post farther south, close to Petauke, that's into integrated rice farming. I'm hoping for the former, but either way, it's going to be awesome!

Speaking of language, it has by far been the hardest thing for me, in Preservice Training. I've started going in 40 minutes early to get more study time in with our language trainer, Moses. The aquaculture work is going swimmingly, though. I've come up with an idea for circular ponds, that should be simpler to build than the current rectangular method. The RAP team and I are collaborating on developing it further. I'll keep you all posted!

My language group, who I spend up to three hours a day with, consists of all but one of the four other trainees I went to first site visit with:
Jonathan, an Asian American third culture kid who grew up in the Philippines. I actually roomed with him at fly in, in Philadelphia. He's extremely quiet, but during first site visit, we stayed up talking until 1am, contemplating the universe.
Melissa, a very down to earth girl who finally graduated from AmeriCorps to the the Peace Corps, after something like six years of service there.
Brian, a fellow South Carolinian and Clemson Alumni. It turns out that he and I actually met on three previous occasions (it's a small, small world, Virginia), and he also volunteered at The Center for Birds of Prey. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone, until they were all evacuated, due to the Ebola epidemic, and now, he is my host cousin.

He's my neighbor, in our home stay compound. His host dad and my host mom are brother and sister. Brian's host family is definitely the more nuclear, of the two, though. My host mom has two teenage sons and a random assortment of nieces, nephew, and drunk cousins meandering around her house, at any given time. I tend to just stay in my room or hangout on Brian's porch, if I'm home. But that in and of itself is a rare occurrence.

Jonathan, Brian, and another Peace Corps Trainee, Owen, who's dad was actually a Peace Corps Volunteer way back in the 1960's, tend to be out exploring, on our bikes, whenever there's a few hours of sunlight to spare. This has caused some friction with the training staff, over the definition of "far." As we're not suppose to travel "far" away from the training site, in Chongwe, but as 20 year old in-shape males with not-so shiny, not-so new mountain bikes, what exactly that means is still a little grey. We've asked for a map, with clear lines of demarcation.

Apparently, Chongwe has really developed quite rapidly, over just the past couple of years. The road to the training center wasn't tarmaced two years ago, and my host families just got electricity, last year. Jonathan's are still without power. Yet, the mobile networks are now robust enough for Brian to skype with his girlfriend back home (who've I've also met before). The world is flattening, and hopefully, I'll get to watch it occur, in rural Zambia, in the course of my service.

This brings me to a rather obvious point, it hasn't been eleven weeks, since my last post. It has only been four. Some trainees and volunteers are on the internet everyday, here. I don't want to do that. To me, at this point, once a month seems like the sweet spot, for how often I'd like to jack into the interwebs. This means, depending on when you send me a message and how fast the postal system is, your letters could reach me before your emails do!

So send me letters! Here's what my address, in Eastern, will be, for the next two years, come May:
Everett (Nemo) Pompeii/PCV
P.O. Box 510203
Chipata, Zambia
PS: The country that I was originally nominated to serve in, Vanuatu, was recently evacuated, by the Peace Corps, due to a massive cyclone. It's funny how life works out. Isn't it?

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Peace Corps: Pre-Service Training

On Monday, I flew from Charleston, SC to Philadelphia, PA, for staging. There, 27 RAP (Rural Aquaculture Promotion) volunteers met for an afternoon of meetings. Before all of that got underway, one of my best friends, Mirco, made his way from Bethlehem, where I'd hitchhiked to see him, in the fall, to meet me for lunch. It was great to see him, before I left (I love you, man!). In the morning, we all took a bus to JFK, loitered for quite a while, and then boarded a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa. 8,000 miles and 13 hours later, we were in Africa!

The final leg was a short, one and a half hour flight to Lusaka. The newly elected president of Zambia was arriving at the same time as we were. There were no gates and private airplanes were parked on the same tarmac we taxied down. This is the capital city.

Since then, we've been at a hotel compound, learning the ABC's of Zambia. On Sunday, I will be visiting an aquaculture site, with four other trainees, in the Central Province. Soon thereafter, I will be getting my language assignment. There is a volunteer in the Eastern Province, Brad, who has been researching aquaponics, the integration of aquaponics and hydroponics. His service ends in April, and I've expressed my interested in taking over his position. If that ends up being the case, I'll be assigned to Chipata.

For the proceeding 11 weeks, I'll be in pre-service training, learning my language (whichever it may be) and all about fish farming. I won't be on the internet, during that time, but you're welcome to write me!

Apparently there has been a 400% increase in applications to the Peace Corps, since the new application system. How far will you go?

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Write Me!

Tomorrow, I take the next step on my journey to becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. I will be flying to Philadelphia for a day of training, and soon thereafter, I will be on my way to Lusaka, Zambia, for three months of training.

During that time, please, write me at:
Everett (Nemo) Pompeii/PCT
Peace Corps
P.O. Box 50707
Lusaka, Zambia
I'll post my permanent address, when I get it. You may also email me, and I use Google Voice for my phone service, so you may text me as well. Both digital methods may be quicker than good ole post but not instantaneous. I won't have reliable internet, while learning how to fish farm, and depending on where I am placed, that may be the case, for the entirety of my service.

Also, sign up for my mailing list! It's really the easiest way to keep up with me.

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Peace Corps: Itinerary

Peace Corps PCV
When I received my initial Peace Corps nomination, for Vanuatu, I went on a knowledge spree. I read just about everything I could get my hands on about the country. I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole so deep that I eventually ended up at Kevin Bacon. I subscribed to daily updates about the country on Google News. As much as I tried not to, I started to fall in love with the country.

So, in September, when this 'relationship' fell through, I was rather heart broken. Sure, I had Zambia as my rebound, and yes, it had only ever been long distance. But I adored Vanuatu. I had told so many people that I was going there. I had learned so much about it. Yet, in a single phone call, it was all over.

My Peace Corps Recruiter had warned me not to fall in love, but look at her...
Peace Corps Volunteer Vanuatu
She's so beautiful!
Yet, I had to try and move on. My new assignment was fish farming in Zambia, and I had my hesitations. Not about being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa or the aquaculture program, but about getting my heart set on another country that I wasn't going to end up serving in. Zambia looked like an amazing place, but I didn't want to get too invested, in case things didn't work out again.

So yes, I did change my Google News subscriptions from Vanuatu to Zambia, but other than that, I really didn't take much stock in learning about the country, beyond the Peace Corps Zambia Welcome Book. In some instances, I even avoided such information. Apparently, there is a sizable falconry community there, but I did not broach the subject with any of the Master Falconers I was learning from. This went on for over three months until, at long last, I received my Final Medical Clearance.

Then, I went on a data deluge. The tribal and migratory history of the country/region is fascinating. The exact record of what all occurred can only be pieced together through linguistics and other anthropological studies, but it paints an amazing picture of the rich and diverse history of the tribes that make up Zambia.
Peace Corps Volunteer Zambia
This is why I'm not currently studying a tribal language. I have to wait until my first week of training/until I get assigned my post to know which of these 13 language groups I'll need to be focusing on. As of today, though, I can say with certainty when that is going to occur.

Greetings Everett:
The Staging Unit is looking forward to your arrival in Philadelphia, PA on February 9, 2015 for the Zambia staging event. Please read this email and the attachments carefully, as the information here will answer many of the questions you have regarding your final steps prior to departing for Zambia.
Your staging event will be a brief, yet intense orientation to the Peace Corps and the general demands of being a healthy, safe, and effective Volunteer. Since our time at staging is limited, you should come prepared by reading your Welcome Book, Volunteer Handbook, and the attached Peace Corps’ Approach to Safety and Security. Your attendance at all sessions is mandatory.
Please note that as a Trainee and Volunteer overseas, you will be expected to act and dress in keeping with your status as a professional and guest. At staging, business casual attire is required.
STAGING DATES: February 9, 2015 - February 10, 2015
REGISTRATION: 12:00 PM on February 9, 2015
STAGING HOTEL: Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia
1800 Market Street 19103
(215) 561-7500
February 9, 2015
12:00 PM: Registration
2:00 - 4:25 PM: Who We Are, What You Expect, What's Next
4:25 - 4:45 PM: Break
4:45 - 7:00 PM: What We Expect, Closing
February 10, 2015
2:00 AM: Check out of hotel
2:30 AM: Bus arrives for loading and departure to the airport

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Source: Teouma Bay Shikanda

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Peace Corps: Medical Clearance

Peace Corps USA
It's been nearly a year and a half since I decided to join the Peace Corps. The application process has been one of the most grueling and stressful experiences of my life. It makes the bureaucratic hoops I had to jump through to study abroad at Tohoku University, in Japan, look like grand archways I simply strolled under.

As mentioned in previous posts, after hearing nothing for nearly six months, my nomination was changed from the South Pacific to the Sub-Saharan. I'll be working with the Rural Aquaculture Promotion as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. I was and still am very excited about the assignment, but man, the paperwork, since...
Peace Corps Volunteer Invitation
This was just the beginning.
Once I accepted my formal invitation, the flood gates opened: passport, visa, updated resume, final transcripts, aspiration statement, press releases, a dozen digital documents/forms, two e-learning video classes, and the biggest doozy of them all, final medical clearance. I accepted my invitation on the 15th of September, and I completed all of my tasks before I flipped my calendar to October... with the sole exception of the latter. I was not medically cleared until this past Friday, the 19th of December.

The medical application process was a mind-numbing game of telephone between my physician, me, the Peace Corps Nurse, and the Peace Corps physician, in exactly that order. If the PC physician had a question, they didn't just call my doctor, even when invited to. They ask the nurse who in turn asked me, who in turn had to make another appointment to see my doctor. This is of course after waiting over a month for the PC physician to finally raise such a question.

Preferably, Peace Corps Invitees receive final medical clearance 60 days prior to their scheduled departure time. When I called, sort of worried that I was again, again waiting for a response from my PC physician, the lady on the other end reassured me that most of the other invitees in my class weren't medically cleared yet either. That was with 55 days to go!

Five days later, I finally got the all clear. I was like a kid on Christmas.
At the beginning of the new year, I should be getting flight information about staging and departure, currently scheduled for February 9th. Below are some useful charts from the Peace Corps Wiki on medical restrictions that can delay, limit, and/or inhibit your ability to serve, if you're looking to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Medical Delay Peace Corps Volunteer
Medical conditions that could limit your placement.
Medical Restrictions Peace Corps Volunteer
Medical conditions that could limit your placement.
Medical Unsupported Peace Corps Volunteer
Medical conditions that could not be supported.
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