6/18/2015

Second Generation

Ever since my third day in Zambia, Friday February 13th to be exact, I've wanted Bradley Well's site. The moment I heard about him and his work with aquaponics, that's all I wanted. I'm not a dogmatic or superstitious man and outside of the possibility of quantum determinism, I don't place much faith in fate or destiny, but it just felt right. In order to truly understand this yearning, I'll need to take you all the way back to last September, before I even knew where Zambia was.

I was hichhiking from Ohio to Pensilvania, after having graduated college and gone sailing with my uncle.
My second ride was a rather hippie fellow named Josh. He used to grow hydroponic weed, but then, at 22, he and his girlfriend had a kid. After getting busted for drug running, he wanting to be a responsible father, so he gave up the marijuana trade and went into aquaculture, fish farming. If you gave a brief physical description of me: male, tan, in his 20's, rather skinny, long brown hair usually in a pony tail, a thin mustache and goatee, you would also be describing Josh. It was rather uncanny.
There were definitely differences though, ideologically . He's more worried about natural, organic, and GMO free than the fact that he's consuming sugar water and inhaling tobacco smoke. Josh is also very into perpetual motion; I'm rather a fan of physics. But I did really enjoy our conversation on aquaculture and aquaponics. It was something that, given more time, I would have wanted to do at the tipi.
Excerpt from Hitchhiking to Pennsylvania

At this point in my life, I thought I was going to return to Ohio, help move a boat to Annapolis, Maryland, sail with my aunt and uncle to the Briish Virgin Islands, fly home, and then leave with Peace Corps for Vanuatu, an island in the South Pacific, to teach computer literacy... None of these events ever came to pass.

My and and uncle bailed on me and so did the Peace Corps. But it turns out that the US federal government can have more of a heart than my own flesh and blood, at times. My placement officer asked me something along the lines of, "Have you ever heard of aquaculture?"
And my response was, "You mean like aquaponics?"
This was a mere week after my ride with Josh, and with that, I was invited to the Peace Corps Zambia under the Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) program.

Not wanting to get my heart broken by bureaucracy, once more, I didn't put too much research into my new assignment, with the exception of a book I bought myself for Christmas entitled Aquaponic Gardening, by Silvia Bernstein. Ever since I was little, I've been interested in closed-loop systems, but unlike bio-domes or perpetual motion machines, aquaponics systems actually work.

Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). The best applications for aquaponics is backyard gardening, especially in environments where water is scarce.

Brad's site was in Eastern Province, arguably one of the most arid regions in the country. At the beginning of Pre-Service training (PST), they don't tell you your sites, but they do tell you what language you will be learning and from that it was possible to deduce where you will be going. Along with Brian, Jonathan, and Melissa, I was assigned to Nyanja, the predominant language in Eastern.

With that set, now all I had to do was convince the RAP tech team to put me at Brad's site. My first ever interaction with the tech team was actually at fly in, when I told them I was interested in Brad's work, but I figured it could just be coincidence that I was in Eastern. As I later found out though, I was originally slated to be a Bemba speaker, but due more than likely to my request, I was switched to Nyanja instead.

The four sites, from north to south, were Morgan's, which Brian was destine for, Brad's, which both Melissa and I were gaming for, Holly's, who requested a guy but none of us wanted, and the rice site, which they were considering me or Jonathan for.

And then, before we knew it, it was time for the big day, site placement. They'd drawn a large map of Zambia on the floor of our classroom shelter and passed out blind folds. We all lined up and one-by-one they led us to our sites. Before I even uncovered my eyes, I knew where I was going. I was placed at Brad's site.

Two weeks later, the names and places of my assignment became a reality. All the Peace Corp Trainees (PCTs) were to spend a weekend at their site-to-be. Brad was there the first night, and honestly, other than the fact that he near yeld at the village headman, when he tried to talk to me about fixing the well, I don't remember much else about him. A few days later, we were staying at the same house in town and he spoke all of a handful of words to me the two days we were there. It was boarder line rude and a little baffling.

I had just spent the last couple of days inhabiting his life: living in his house, meeting those he had lived and worked with over the past two years, yet he cared not to approach me about any of it. To some degree though, I was relieved. I had bought a lot of the things off of him that he was to leave at the house, yet I had a lot of things I knew it was not wise to say.

His aquaponics work was incredibly disappointing. The project was highly under-researched. Brad used blue shipping barrels, and when I asked him if we was basing his work off of barrel-ponics, he responded "What? I've never heard of it." Literally the first result on Google that you get, when you search any logical combination of "barrels" and  "aquaponics" is barrel-ponics. It's the preeminent aquaponics system in developing countries, and it was designed specifically for use in sub-saharan Africa. His systems are utter failures. They are either completely out of use or have simply become giant potted plants. Funding was not the issue. He returned more than enough money (nearly 25% of his total budget) that could have fixed all of the problems to Peace Corps, when his project was "completed." All of the massive mistakes that he made could have been solved with just a bit of research.

So why didn't Brad research a project before getting federal grant money for it? I have no idea.

There are three wells near my home. The closest is the well that Brad paid 700 kwatcha to have dug, so he could more easily water his garden. This never really panned out though because even at 10 meters deep, it barely holds 10 liters of water, on a good day in the Rainy Season. The second well is a meter deep, open air hole in the ground, that's dug in the dambo next to a stream, one kilometer down a steep hill from my house. This is currently where my/Brad's water comes from.

There's a third well, though. It's only about 200m from my house, on a straight and even path. It's cemented and lined and by my calculations has over 3,000 liters of water in it. It use to be the village well, but then, when the village moved, it fell out of use. By the time the village expanded back out to need use of it again, the water had soured and the bottom was full of sticks, lovingly thrown in by the local children.

Why didn't Brad just help clean out this well, instead of building an inferior new one? I have no idea.

Then there's Akran. One of his daughters, Dedra, is deaf. Brad apparently spent a lot of time at Akran's. He was his counterpart for the ill-fated aquaponics project. Yet, this eleven year old girl had never been to school, and there's a hearing impaired/special ed program less than 20 km down the road.

Why didn't Brad try to help get this girl in school? I have no idea.

Though all of these thoughts were my own in early May and on through June, I bit my tongue until now. If you know me, you know this is no small feat. But the conclusion that I've come to is that it does not matter. Though the only tangible work that Brad has done here is a farce, it's a farce that has led me here, to a beautiful site, to a caring host family, to motivated counterparts, and an amazing community, all within biking distance of Chipata.

There's nothing I can do to change what Brad did or didn't do, as a volunteer, but I can relish and be happy for what this odd path, from the roadside in Ohio, over nine months ago, to watching the sunrise over the distant hills in Kalichero has brought me. Here.

And so far, I love it here.


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5/03/2015

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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4/12/2015

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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3/14/2015

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
Africa 
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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2/13/2015

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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2/08/2015

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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1/12/2015

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
http://www.sonesta.com/philadelphia
SCHEDULE:
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
INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT ITINERARY:
10 FEB 15 - TUESDAY
AIR UNITED AIRLINES FLT:7226 UNITED ECONOMY LUNCH
NEW YORK JFK-JOHANNESBURG OPERATED BY SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS
LV NEW YORK JFK 1040A EQP: AIRBUS A340-300
DEPART: TERMINAL 4 15HR 00MIN
11 FEB 15 - WEDNESDAY
AR JOHANNESBURG 840A NON-STOP
AIR SOUTH AFRICAN FLT:62 ECONOMY LUNCH
LV JOHANNESBURG 1030A EQP: BOEING 737-800
DEPART: TERMINAL B 02HR 00MIN
AR LUSAKA 1230P NON-STOP

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Source: Teouma Bay Shikanda


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