11/16/2014

Why Explore Space?

In 1970, a volunteer nurse in Zambia wrote to the associate director of NASA, asking how, with so much poverty, starvation, and strife, in the world, they could be spending billions of dollars on space exploration. This past week, nearly half a century later, man put a lander on a comet, for the first time.

I'm about to join the Peace Corps; I'm about to be a volunteer in Zambia, as well. Yet, I don't share the sentiment of my caretaking predecessor. Now, more than ever, I feel the words of the director, Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, ring true. I'll let him take it from here:

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as "Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!" In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that traveling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

Before trying to describe in more detail how our space program is contributing to the solution of our Earthly problems, I would like to relate briefly a supposedly true story, which may help support the argument. About 400 years ago, there lived a count in a small town in Germany. He was one of the benign counts, and he gave a large part of his income to the poor in his town. This was much appreciated, because poverty was abundant during medieval times, and there were epidemics of the plague which ravaged the country frequently. One day, the count met a strange man. He had a workbench and little laboratory in his house, and he labored hard during the daytime so that he could afford a few hours every evening to work in his laboratory. He ground small lenses from pieces of glass; he mounted the lenses in tubes, and he used these gadgets to look at very small objects. The count was particularly fascinated by the tiny creatures that could be observed with the strong magnification, and which he had never seen before. He invited the man to move with his laboratory to the castle, to become a member of the count's household, and to devote henceforth all his time to the development and perfection of his optical gadgets as a special employee of the count.

The townspeople, however, became angry when they realized that the count was wasting his money, as they thought, on a stunt without purpose. "We are suffering from this plague," they said, "while he is paying that man for a useless hobby!" But the count remained firm. "I give you as much as I can afford," he said, "but I will also support this man and his work, because I know that someday something will come out of it!"

Indeed, something very good came out of this work, and also out of similar work done by others at other places: the microscope. It is well known that the microscope has contributed more than any other invention to the progress of medicine, and that the elimination of the plague and many other contagious diseases from most parts of the world is largely a result of studies which the microscope made possible.

The count, by retaining some of his spending money for research and discovery, contributed far more to the relief of human suffering than he could have contributed by giving all he could possibly spare to his plague-ridden community.

The situation which we are facing today is similar in many respects. The President of the United States is spending about 200 billion dollars in his yearly budget. This money goes to health, education, welfare, urban renewal, highways, transportation, foreign aid, defense, conservation, science, agriculture and many installations inside and outside the country. About 1.6 percent of this national budget was allocated to space exploration this year. The space program includes Project Apollo, and many other smaller projects in space physics, space astronomy, space biology, planetary projects, Earth resources projects, and space engineering. To make this expenditure for the space program possible, the average American taxpayer with 10,000 dollars income per year is paying about 30 tax dollars for space. The rest of his income, 9,970 dollars, remains for his subsistence, his recreation, his savings, his other taxes, and all his other expenditures.

You will probably ask now: "Why don't you take 5 or 3 or 1 dollar out of the 30 space dollars which the average American taxpayer is paying, and send these dollars to the hungry children?" To answer this question, I have to explain briefly how the economy of this country works. The situation is very similar in other countries. The government consists of a number of departments (Interior, Justice, Health, Education and Welfare, Transportation, Defense, and others) and the bureaus (National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others). All of them prepare their yearly budgets according to their assigned missions, and each of them must defend its budget against extremely severe screening by congressional committees, and against heavy pressure for economy from the Bureau of the Budget and the President. When the funds are finally appropriated by Congress, they can be spent only for the line items specified and approved in the budget.

The budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, naturally, can contain only items directly related to aeronautics and space. If this budget were not approved by Congress, the funds proposed for it would not be available for something else; they would simply not be levied from the taxpayer, unless one of the other budgets had obtained approval for a specific increase which would then absorb the funds not spent for space. You realize from this brief discourse that support for hungry children, or rather a support in addition to what the United States is already contributing to this very worthy cause in the form of foreign aid, can be obtained only if the appropriate department submits a budget line item for this purpose, and if this line item is then approved by Congress.

You may ask now whether I personally would be in favor of such a move by our government. My answer is an emphatic yes. Indeed, I would not mind at all if my annual taxes were increased by a number of dollars for the purpose of feeding hungry children, wherever they may live.

I know that all of my friends feel the same way. However, we could not bring such a program to life merely by desisting from making plans for voyages to Mars. On the contrary, I even believe that by working for the space program I can make some contribution to the relief and eventual solution of such grave problems as poverty and hunger on Earth. Basic to the hunger problem are two functions: the production of food and the distribution of food. Food production by agriculture, cattle ranching, ocean fishing and other large-scale operations is efficient in some parts of the world, but drastically deficient in many others. For example, large areas of land could be utilized far better if efficient methods of watershed control, fertilizer use, weather forecasting, fertility assessment, plantation programming, field selection, planting habits, timing of cultivation, crop survey and harvest planning were applied.

The best tool for the improvement of all these functions, undoubtedly, is the artificial Earth satellite. Circling the globe at a high altitude, it can screen wide areas of land within a short time; it can observe and measure a large variety of factors indicating the status and condition of crops, soil, droughts, rainfall, snow cover, etc., and it can radio this information to ground stations for appropriate use. It has been estimated that even a modest system of Earth satellites equipped with Earth resources, sensors, working within a program for worldwide agricultural improvements, will increase the yearly crops by an equivalent of many billions of dollars.

The distribution of the food to the needy is a completely different problem. The question is not so much one of shipping volume, it is one of international cooperation. The ruler of a small nation may feel very uneasy about the prospect of having large quantities of food shipped into his country by a large nation, simply because he fears that along with the food there may also be an import of influence and foreign power. Efficient relief from hunger, I am afraid, will not come before the boundaries between nations have become less divisive than they are today. I do not believe that space flight will accomplish this miracle over night. However, the space program is certainly among the most promising and powerful agents working in this direction.

Let me only remind you of the recent near-tragedy of Apollo 13. When the time of the crucial reentry of the astronauts approached, the Soviet Union discontinued all Russian radio transmissions in the frequency bands used by the Apollo Project in order to avoid any possible interference, and Russian ships stationed themselves in the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in case an emergency rescue would become necessary. Had the astronaut capsule touched down near a Russian ship, the Russians would undoubtedly have expended as much care and effort in their rescue as if Russian cosmonauts had returned from a space trip. If Russian space travelers should ever be in a similar emergency situation, Americans would do the same without any doubt.

Higher food production through survey and assessment from orbit, and better food distribution through improved international relations, are only two examples of how profoundly the space program will impact life on Earth. I would like to quote two other examples: stimulation of technological development, and generation of scientific knowledge.

The requirements for high precision and for extreme reliability which must be imposed upon the components of a moon-traveling spacecraft are entirely unprecedented in the history of engineering. The development of systems which meet these severe requirements has provided us a unique opportunity to find new material and methods, to invent better technical systems, to manufacturing procedures, to lengthen the lifetimes of instruments, and even to discover new laws of nature.

All this newly acquired technical knowledge is also available for application to Earth-bound technologies. Every year, about a thousand technical innovations generated in the space program find their ways into our Earthly technology where they lead to better kitchen appliances and farm equipment, better sewing machines and radios, better ships and airplanes, better weather forecasting and storm warning, better communications, better medical instruments, better utensils and tools for everyday life. Presumably, you will ask now why we must develop first a life support system for our moon-traveling astronauts, before we can build a remote-reading sensor system for heart patients. The answer is simple: significant progress in the solutions of technical problems is frequently made not by a direct approach, but by first setting a goal of high challenge which offers a strong motivation for innovative work, which fires the imagination and spurs men to expend their best efforts, and which acts as a catalyst by including chains of other reactions.

Spaceflight without any doubt is playing exactly this role. The voyage to Mars will certainly not be a direct source of food for the hungry. However, it will lead to so many new technologies and capabilities that the spin-offs from this project alone will be worth many times the cost of its implementation.

Besides the need for new technologies, there is a continuing great need for new basic knowledge in the sciences if we wish to improve the conditions of human life on Earth. We need more knowledge in physics and chemistry, in biology and physiology, and very particularly in medicine to cope with all these problems which threaten man's life: hunger, disease, contamination of food and water, pollution of the environment.

We need more young men and women who choose science as a career and we need better support for those scientists who have the talent and the determination to engage in fruitful research work. Challenging research objectives must be available, and sufficient support for research projects must be provided. Again, the space program with its wonderful opportunities to engage in truly magnificent research studies of moons and planets, of physics and astronomy, of biology and medicine is an almost ideal catalyst which induces the reaction between the motivation for scientific work, opportunities to observe exciting phenomena of nature, and material support needed to carry out the research effort.

Among all the activities which are directed, controlled, and funded by the American government, the space program is certainly the most visible and probably the most debated activity, although it consumes only 1.6 percent of the total national budget, and 3 per mille (less than one-third of 1 percent) of the gross national product. As a stimulant and catalyst for the development of new technologies, and for research in the basic sciences, it is unparalleled by any other activity. In this respect, we may even say that the space program is taking over a function which for three or four thousand years has been the sad prerogative of wars.

How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-traveling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

Although our space program seems to lead us away from our Earth and out toward the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars, I believe that none of these celestial objects will find as much attention and study by space scientists as our Earth. It will become a better Earth, not only because of all the new technological and scientific knowledge which we will apply to the betterment of life, but also because we are developing a far deeper appreciation of our Earth, of life, and of man.

The photograph which I enclose with this letter shows a view of our Earth as seen from Apollo 8 when it orbited the moon at Christmas, 1968. Of all the many wonderful results of the space program so far, this picture may be the most important one. It opened our eyes to the fact that our Earth is a beautiful and most precious island in an unlimited void, and that there is no other place for us to live but the thin surface layer of our planet, bordered by the bleak nothingness of space. Never before did so many people recognize how limited our Earth really is, and how perilous it would be to tamper with its ecological balance. Ever since this picture was first published, voices have become louder and louder warning of the grave problems that confront man in our times: pollution, hunger, poverty, urban living, food production, water control, overpopulation. It is certainly not by accident that we begin to see the tremendous tasks waiting for us at a time when the young space age has provided us the first good look at our own planet.

Very fortunately though, the space age not only holds out a mirror in which we can see ourselves, it also provides us with the technologies, the challenge, the motivation, and even with the optimism to attack these tasks with confidence. What we learn in our space program, I believe, is fully supporting what Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he said: "I am looking at the future with concern, but with good hope."

My very best wishes will always be with you, and with your children.

Very sincerely yours,

Ernst Stuhlinger

Associate Director for Science

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.


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11/04/2014

Redesign: Living Up to My Degree

I graduated from Clemson University, in August, with a degree in Computer Science and Business. In spite of the former, this site hasn't been updated, functionally or aesthetically, since near its inception, in late 2011.

A few months back, when I was hitchhiking to Pennsylvania, I saw a driver look my site up on his smartphone. The mobile experience was terrible! The interwebs has progressed a lot in the past three years, and the fact that my blog looked like utter rubbish on an iPhone was embarrassing. Google really didn't have any good options (I'm using their Blogger platform), so I decided to build my own.

List of Notable Changes:
  • Fully Responsive: The site looks, works, and feels the same, on desktop, tablet, and phone.
  • Navigation and Search Bar: Can be toggled in and out of view (upper right hand corner).
  • Comment System: Has reverted back to the original system, so some of the more recent comments, using Google+, are no longer visible.
There are some features of the old site that I will miss. Clicking on a post now brings you to another page, as opposed to opening a modal dialogue containing the story. Pop up windows, of any sort, just don't translate well to mobile, though. Also, I've done away with infinite scrolling; there are now seven posts per page. I needed a place to put the ads (that I use to support this site), and the best place, given the template I was working with, seemed to be the footer. 

Everything from the favicon to the logo got a redesign, but I tried to stick with the original spirit of the old site. Also, the color palette was kept nearly identical. Please, let me know if there are any problems with the new site, and feedback (whether positive or negative) is always welcome. Let me know in a comment below!

To another three wonderful years! 

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Anders Norén


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10/16/2014

Falconry: My First Hunt

Falconry Show
When I was rather young, somewhere in the single digits, I went to Brookgreen Gardens with my parents and grandparents. There was a falconry show there. I think I almost pooped my pants. It was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. Fast forward to last fall, I'm 21. Savannah (whom I later hitchhiked to Key West with and raced against in a triathlon) and I were at a renaissance festival. Don't hate. As soon as we got an itinerary for the day's events, there were two things that I had to see 1) Joisting 2) Falconry.

Joisting turned out to be alright. It was a highly staged and theatrical performance, so as an adult, it didn't really live up to my adolescent expectations. After a glass of mead, which wasn't quite as good as my own, we headed off to the falconry show. It also started out very tongue and cheek. A few bad jokes here, a bit of of pandering to the audience there. Then the birds came out. Honestly, if all the show was was a hawk sitting on the stage for 30 minutes, I would have been happy. Just seeing the creatures up close is mesmerizing. But no, there were raptors flying everywhere: crisscrossing overhead, landing on perches, soaring in the air, dive-bombing for food. I was a kid again.

If I were there by myself, I probably would have stayed and watched the show again. I tried talking to one of the apprentices, afterwards, but he was only fourteen and wearing a little, red gnome hat. I couldn't take him seriously. As soon as I got home though, I googled "how to get into falconry." And talk about barriers to entry!

In order to even hold a bird, you have become a licensed apprentice. This requires passing a test, administered by DNR, building an 8'x8'x8' cage called a mew, and the even more difficult task, finding an experienced falconer (general or master) to sponsor you. There are maybe a dozen of them in the entire state. So which came first, the falconer or the egg?
Falconry Association

These roadblocks were too much to handle, at the time. I was a senior at Clemson University living in a tipi, and there was no way it was going to happen, then. But now, with my plans to sail to the caribbean canceled, I have the time... sort of.

Getting into falconry, I'm learning, is not just a passing fancy. Most birds used in the sport are caught, at a year old, in the wild. They're undomesticated; they're raptors. Thus, they rightly don't trust humans. Their handler is, in most cases, the sole exception. They're the only anthropoid the bird can trust, and even then, it's fleeting.

So, in order for me to really get into falconry, train and work with a bird one-on-one, I'd have to be committed to them for at least a year. Given that I'm joining the Peace Corps, in February, and the fact that they'd probably frown upon a Peace Corps Volunteer bring a hawk to Zambia, I can't start working on my apprenticeship, just yet. But I was able to go and see a hunt for the first time.

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that Athena, a two year old red tailed hawk, didn't just soar away, when she was untethered, in the middle of the woods. Yes, she flew to a nearby tree, but she followed us. As we moved through the thicket, shaking the underbrush and vines in nearby foliage, she was there, scanning the limbs and branches for signs of life. Squirrel and rabbit are the main bounty for falconers, in these parts of the country. The game usually gets stuck in the freezer though, for the raptor to later eat. And this brings us to crux of the whole thing. Food.

Food is the corner stone, brick, mortar, and foundation of this entire relationship. Sure, if I'd stopped feeding LitteCat, at the tipi, she would have eventually abscond, but a raptor, they have no loyalty, no care beyond the present state of their stomachs. If Athena had gotten hold of a squirrel and flow to the top of an old oak, she wouldn't have come down when she was called. It's not like a dog, where you can slowly get rid of the treat and they'll still sit. If there isn't food, they'll not coming; if they're not hungry, they're not coming.

Let me just take this moment to say, "NO. Falconers do not starve their birds." An emaciated raptor would make for a terrible hunter, just as a fat one would. I think we, as modern humans, have lost site of the one-to-one correlation that hard work and a meal have, in nature. Most go to the office, read emails, talk by the water cooler, surf the web, and somewhere in there do the thing that is their 'job'. Then, they wait two weeks, open the mail box, open an envelope, drive to the bank, and fill out a deposit slip. Finally, there's a visit to a restaurant or trip to a grocery store, the food is neatly packaged and presented, and then a plastic card is read by magnets.

A raptor feels the sensation of hunger, works its tail feathers off chasing its prey, and then soothes it's appetite with that animal's flesh, right then and there. If the bird is not hungry, it does not hunt. It doesn't need to. So part of falconry, a rather large part actually, is weight management. Birds of prey are no different than humans.
Fat Man Marathon
He would never be able to chase down an antelope.
This point is driven home by the fact that, if conditions were so bad, the raptor could literally just fly away! Only master falconers can imprint on a chick, so by and large, the only thing keeping them there is this willing partnership. Athena was out there to hunt, and we were there to help.

Roughly 80% of all raptors die in their first year of life (RaptorInstitute.org), and a large part of that is due to inexperience. Since falconers only take birds during their inaugural year, it gives the youngsters a chance to improve. So even though Athena went 0-3, on our hunt, she still got fed, unlike her unkept counterparts.

The experience of being able to see her quest for food, though unsuccessfully, was grand. Hopefully, I'll be able to make it out on a few more hunts, a little closer to home. These birds are amazing creatures, and it is incredible to watch them work symbiotically with humans, as they have for over 4,000 years... when they feel like it, that is.

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Royal Faires SC Falconry Association Perez Hilton


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10/07/2014

Passport Photos

Passport Photos
How much do you think the above photos should cost? Nine 2"x2" standard ID photos. $5? $10? Try $65, plus tax.

Passport photos are one of those parts of traveling abroad that should be inexpensive, but they're not. The Peace Corps requires me to send in two copies, the Zambian Embassy requires me to send in an additional two, and I also need an additional five spare sets, when I land. I've had these sorts of photos taken at drug stores, the post office, and even a little kiosk in a Parisian metro station. The former though, is by far the worst, and somehow, I always seem to forget that fact.

I went up to the CVS at the top of my street:

Do you all do passport photos?
"Yep, we do," responded the overweight sales clerk as she pulled out a decrepit old Kodak point and shoot.
How much does it cost?
"Thirteen bucks for two copies."

Now I'm just going to interrupt here to point out that it is 39¢ to print a standard, 3.5"x5" photograph, at this same location, using the same machines. So the only real difference here is the that this lady is going to ask me to stand against a wall, push a button with her chubby finger, and then put an SD card into the same machine that prints regular photos. So in the age of selfies and SnapChat, I'm paying $12.61 for someone to take my picture.

Alright, and what if I want four photos?
There was a rather long pause as she struggled with the mental arithmetic, "Twenty-six dollars."
So there isn't any kind of discount? You'll have already take the photograph.
"It don't work that way."

I then sit down at their do-it-yourself kiosks. On the far right is an ID photos option. The icon shows nine photos on a page.

How much does this cost?
"Oh, I don't know, but you don't want to do that."
Why not?
"It don't work right."
So you're telling me that your product doesn't work?
"Nah, it's just it ain't good."
Other than you taking the photo and me taking the photo, what's the difference?
"I, ah.. I don't know. Most people come back and have us do it because it don't work right."
What!

I went across the street to their duopolistic cohort, Wallgreen's, and they only wanted to charge me $55.

If I was in a rush or if I was a technological luddite, I might accept this fate and pay the exorbitant cost for her fat fingers to hit a button, but I didn't. I know how to use image editing software, so even if the kiosk just "don't work right," I could make a 3.5"x5" image that has two 2"x2" photos on it. Then come back and print it out. There's an even easier way to do it, though, that's less tech savvy. You could get nine wallet size photos, which are 2.5"x2.5". The key is to make sure the original photo is a little zoomed out, to accommodate for the half inch of cropping required. Use a straight edge, make a few cuts, and you're good to go.

It costs $4, including tax.

The State Department has a useful tool for cropping your own photos, before you bring them to the kiosk: http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/passports/FIG_cropper.swf

Also, if you're a member of AAA or have a good post office in your area, they'll do them for free.

If you're interested in becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, checkout my post on how to join the Peace Corps.



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9/30/2014

Peace Corps: Zambia

Peace Corps Volunteer Zambia
If you didn't care to read my last post, about sailing, hitchhiking, and backpacking for a month, or you gave up, after the first 5,000 words, you might not know that I'm no longer traveling to Vanuatu, with the Peace Corps. Instead, I'm going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. 
Zambia Peace Corps Volunteer
I'm going to be volunteering in the Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) program. I'll be living in a tribal village, biking 20 miles a day, and helping the locals to create and maintain sustainable, productive fish farming operations. My official job title is "Rural Fish Culture Extension Agent." Try and fit that on a business card!

My departure date is set for February 9th. I'll have two days of staging, in the US, and then on February 11th, literally a year to the day from when I received my nomination, I'll be flying to Zambia.  From then until the end of April, I'll be in training and living with a host family, in the capital city of Lusaka. After that, it's off to my village! (Wherever that may be.)

Below, I've attached my volunteer assignment description. It helped to answer almost all of my questions, so if you're still trying to understand exactly what I'll be doing, give it a read. There is also a Peace Corps Zambia Welcome Book that has even more information about the country I'll be serving in.

If you think this all sounds as awesome as I do, checkout my post on how to join The Peace Corps!

Peace Corps | Zambia

VOLUNTEER ASSIGNMENT DESCRIPTION:
Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP)

This document is intended to give an overview of the project you are invited to work on in the Peace Corps. For more detailed information about Zambia and living there, please read the Welcome Book via the link included with your invitation and check out the related Web sites referenced in the welcome book.

For further information about serving as a Rural Fish Culture Extension Agent in Zambia, call the Country Desk Officer for Zambia at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., (9AM to 5PM, EST):

Toll-free: 1-888-888-8888, press 8, then extension 8888; or directly at (888) 888-8888 or via email at email@peacecorps.gov

A NOTE FROM THE PROGRAM MANAGER

I am very pleased to take this opportunity to welcome you to the Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) project. I can imagine the anticipation that you must be feeling as you prepare for this endeavor. The most important encouragement that I can offer is to assure you that if you have the motivation, you will have every opportunity for success in all of its related definitions to Peace Corps in this project.

The RAP project experience begins with a thorough and practical training period of eleven weeks to ensure your preparedness for your assignment. Following that, you will be posted to a rural village that has been prepared for your arrival. From that point you will find yourself in the midst of a community that has awaited your arrival and is ready to begin work.

A RAP Volunteer’s work may be characterized by long hours spent with individual farmers and groups teaching them about fish farming and integrated agriculture. On a typical day, you start by heading out on bike to meet the farmers, sometimes up to 20 kilometers away (time to learn the metric system!). The work area is very rural, with little to nothing modern in sight. Your own home will be a basic small clay brick structure with a thatched roof. You will see the fruits of your efforts; first in the form of constructed fishponds, then in the harvests of fish, and ultimately in the lifestyle changes based on that production. It is a very satisfying feeling.

To date, several hundred Volunteers have worked in the RAP project. These Volunteers have laid a promising foundation for you to work from and build upon for future RAP Volunteers. Your assignment will be more challenging than ever as we hope you will surpass our current achievements.

You have made a good decision in electing to come to Zambia. We are all looking forward to meeting you.


Think Fish,

Cleopher Bweupe

Project Manager RAP

PEACE CORPS ZAMBIA HISTORY

The Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) project was developed by Peace Corps/Zambia in response to a request from the Zambian Department of Fisheries (DoF) for human resource assistance in the aquaculture sector. This assistance began in June 1996 with a needs assessment. The report gave positive and encouraging results, and so the first project plan was drawn up, and Pre-Service Training for the project was completed with 20 new RAP Volunteers. Since then, over 364 Volunteers have joined the project, which now works in six provinces of Zambia.

Since inception, the project plan has undergone a number of revisions and, currently, the focus of RAP is to promote aquaculture as a food security and income generating activity for small- scale farmers and farmer organizations (cooperatives, associations, clubs). RAP Volunteers work with local farmers to transfer knowledge and skills in fish farming, integrated agricultural production, income generation and group capacity building.

Over the years, project farmers have successfully increased their fish productivity and annual farm incomes from integrated fish farming. Aquaculture has assisted in bringing irrigation to previously dry villages, bringing notions of integrated agriculture to villages, and have encouraged farmers to plant crops and vegetable gardens near ponds. Given the high poverty levels in rural Zambia, Volunteer efforts are directly contributing towards creating a sustainable source of income and nutrition for many households.

As a PCV you will be expected to serve in a manner that is in keeping with Peace Corps' approach to development. Peace Corps defines development as any process that promotes the dignity of people and their capacity to improve their own lives. Our approach is to help people develop their capacity to improve their own lives. We do not want to create dependences. We do not look to build monuments. We are interested in building relationships that can result in individuals and communities taking the lead in improving their standard of living, health and well-being.

An important aspect of your service will be the relationships you build with members of your community. To ensure that your work builds local capacity, we expect you to work with counterparts. Counterparts are people you work with proactively to transfer skills in an effort to learn from one another. Counterparts may be local farmers, agricultural extension staff, community development workers, or school teachers. Your role will be to work alongside them as co-trainers, co-facilitators and co-planners. At times you will also serve in the roles of change agent and mentor to your counterparts and community. You will always be in the role of learner, as you absorb information about your new home, your work, your new culture and your community.

YOUR PRIMARY DUTIES

The RAP project supports Zambia’s Department of Fisheries’ strategy of improving rural livelihoods through promoting aquaculture as an activity from which farmers earn income, supplement their nutrition and improve food security. Therefore, the purpose of the RAP project is to assist smallholder rural farmers to apply new and improved aquaculture practices that sustainably increase fish production, consumption and incomes.

As a fish culture extension agent, you will be working with Zambian fish farmers. Generally speaking, your primary duties will be to help the communities initiate and improve their fish ponds, improve management, increase fish production, integrate aquaculture with agriculture, increase incomes from ponds, and strengthen fish farming groups.

Below is a description of your primary tasks in helping to promote aquaculture in Zambia:

1: Increase quantity and quality of fish ponds

Train and coach farmers and groups to apply appropriate site assessment, construction and renovation techniques to initiate or improve their fish ponds:
  • assess their community and farm resources and needs for aquaculture development.
  • assess the benefits and feasibility of initiating or improving their fish ponds in a manner
  • most appropriate for their terrain, water and resource availability.
  • apply techniques for site selection, surveying, staking, construction and/or renovation of fish ponds.
  • implement farmer-to-farmer exchanges (farm visits, field days and workshops) taking advantage of the “model” farmers to train others in improved pond construction and renovations.

2: Improve pond management and fish production

Train and guide farmers to apply improved sustainable aquaculture management practices (such as pond preparation and harvesting, stocking with appropriate fish species and rates, and management techniques) to increase their yields of fish:
  • employ the primary production goal to attain 2-3 tons fish/hectare/year.
  • stock their ponds with improved fish species from recommended sources of fingerling suppliers such as Department of Fisheries stations or other farmers.
  • design pond management systems for individual farmers capitalizing on their family resources and activities.
  • improve aquaculture practices concerning stocking, management and harvesting of ponds.
  • regularly and completely harvest their fish ponds.

3: Integrate aquaculture with other farming systems

Train and coach farmers to integrate fish ponds with other farming systems, enhancing sustainable and efficient re-cycling of on-farm by-products as inputs for aquaculture:
  • assess the benefits and feasibility of adopting integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) approaches (such as planting gardens, fruit trees or leguminous plants near ponds; re- circulating crop by-products, using household kitchen waste and animal manure as fish feed/compost material; using pond mud as garden fertilizer, etc.).
  • establish a plan for integrating at least one other farming activity with their fish ponds.
  • use community assessment tools to identify gender roles of family members and how their daily/seasonal activities may facilitate integration of aquaculture with other farm activities.
  • introduce or improve integration of farming systems.

4: Increase incomes from aquaculture

Train and coach farmer s, groups and women clubs to apply basic small business skills to increase incomes from aquaculture and use fish for household consumption:
  • make a plan for managing their pond(s) for “household consumption” and/or for “income.”
  • conduct a simple market survey and make a plan for selling fish from the business pond.
  • establish a basic production plan for the business and home consumption pond(s).
  • write a simple budget, maintain basic records for inputs and outputs, and calculate profit for the income generation ponds.
  • consult with household on reinvestment of profits from the IGA pond.
  • retain some fish for household consumption from the IGA ponds and regularly hook out from the consumption pond.

5: Organize fish farming groups

Promote sustainability of fish farming through facilitating the formation and organization of aquaculture groups (cooperatives, associations, clubs, and informal groups):
  • introduce the value and benefits of group work for self empowerment.
  • organize technical meetings for sharing experiences on a regular basis.
  • combine efforts with the aim of facilitating the speeding up of pond construction task or jointly used irrigation furrows/dams.
  • source commonly needed inputs such as fish seed, equipment for feed manufacture and tools like nets, scales, etc, which are unaffordable for an individual farmer to procure.
  • facilitate group trainings like PCV-to-farmer and farmer-to-farmer events (exchange visits, field days and workshops) taking advantage of the model farmers to train others in pond management.
  • standardize pricing of fish, fish seed and implement joint marketing survey and marketing planning especially for larger bulk buyers of fish.
  • establish village-based fish seed producer(s) either as a group or with individual model members.
  • network with the Department of Cooperatives or other development facilitators for special trainings in leadership, planning and organizational management.
  • officially register the groups with the government as a club, cooperative or association.
  • apply project design and management skills to assess needs, set goals, establish action plans and implement projects that support fish farming needs of members .

6: Establish sustainable local fish seed production centers

Assist fish farming groups to establish local fish seed production ponds that supply quality fingerlings to their members and other farmers.
  • hold group trainings in fish seed production techniques.
  • combine efforts in the construction and management of fish seed production ponds.
  • procure equipment required for fish seed harvesting and transportation.
  • source initial quality broodstocks for stocking the seed production ponds.
  • harvest, distribute and sell quality fish seeds to their members and other farmers in community.
A great deal of cultural sensitivity and a knowledge of extension techniques will be necessary as you encourage farmers to engage in fish farming and advise them on all aspects of fish culture. As an extensionist, good communication skills are a must. You will be required to learn and communicate in a local Zambian language. You will receive eleven weeks of intensive language, technical and cross-cultural training in Zambia. A certain proficiency in all training areas is required before swearing-in as a Volunteer. Failure to pass the training requirements may result in your returning home.

During the course of your service you will submit quarterly reports to the Project Manager and a summary copy to your district supervisor, which is the Fisheries Officer in your district. This will help Peace Corps assess that your work is on track, measure yours and other RAP Volunteers’ long term impact and provide you with individualized follow-up and support.

One of the exciting parts of your professional work is to participate in the Peace Corps monitoring, reporting, and evaluation (MRE) process. All Volunteers receive training on the Peace Corps MRE tracking and reporting system. Each Volunteer regularly reports MRE information and this information is summarized to describe overall progress of the project. This important MRE system helps Peace Corps improve its programming and report its accomplishments. The opportunity to learn and practice professional monitoring and evaluation skills are some of the many valued benefits of Peace Corps service

All Peace Corps Volunteers in Zambia are expected to attain and practice the following core competencies: commitment to professionalism and personal well-being, the facilitation of sustainable community development, and integration into the community.

The most successful Volunteers are those who apply these core competencies daily, especially striving to integrate into their community. Continuous language learning, cultural exploration and a deep respect for Zambians are crucial to community integration and your successful service.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR SECONDARY/ COMMUNITY PROJECTS

To ensure that the Peace Corps is playing its part in the important global effort to stem the spread of the disease, all Volunteers serving in Africa, in every sector, will be trained to be advocates and educators for HIV/AIDS prevention. You will receive training in HIV/AIDS education and prevention during pre- service training and/or in-service training sessions, which will include sessions that address specific cross-cultural issues. After receiving this training, you will be encouraged to work with your host country partners to develop activities that integrate HIV/AIDS education into your primary work.

Volunteers have also been involved in promoting gender issues both in their primary work and sometimes as secondary activities. For example, Volunteers organize an annual girl’s leadership week during which young promising youth from villages meet in provincial capitals and are exposed to different learning opportunities related to leadership. Some volunteers establish girl or boy clubs in schools where they teach HIV/AIDS and life skills to the youth.

Volunteers are also encouraged to engage in activities that support Peace Corps cross-sectoral priorities including Stomping Out Malaria in Africa and promoting food security. Training on these activities will also be provided.

WORKING CONDITIONS

Available Resources:

An all-terrain bicycle will be provided for transportation. You will receive bicycle riding and maintenance experience during pre-service training. You will be expected to be conscious of the dangers and safe riding/maintenance of a bicycle to ensure its reliability and your safety. Volunteers in RAP commonly ride over 100 kilometers/week over extremely rough terrain. This is necessary to cover their work zones of roughly 1,600 square kilometers.

RAP takes pride in advocating appropriate technology. Participating farmers have all the resources necessary to begin their fish farming effort. The RAP Volunteer brings the essential missing commodity—knowledge.

Location of Job:

You will be posted to a village in one of the provinces that RAP currently works in: Northern, Luapula, Central, Eastern, Southern or Northwestern. RAP Volunteers are responsible for an area of 1,600 square kilometers, or 20 kilometers out in any direction from their base village. The provinces where RAP concentrates are all located in the northern portion of the country, where rainfall is highest.

Working Hours:

As a Peace Corps Volunteer you will be expected to be on call practically 24/7. This idea relates to the varied nature of your assignment. Your main goal will be within the fisheries parameters. In addition, you will be occupied with the second and third goals of every Peace Corps Volunteer: sharing your culture with your Zambian colleagues, and learning about theirs. These goals dictate striving to integrate into your new community and becoming a part of it.

Cultural Attitudes and Customs in the Workplace:

Many RAP Volunteers comment on needing to adapt to a foreign work ethic. The attitudes and customs of the people with whom you will be working are as different and complex as the culture itself. Your tendency might be to pick out one or two habits of your work mates and concentrate on them without recognizing that they are aspects of the greater situation. In time you should strive to interpret the culture rather than work based on isolated actions. The key to success is ultimately flexibility and an open mind.

As a Volunteer, THE COMMUNITY WILL LOOK TO YOU TO PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH. You will be seen as a role model by many and you will be expected to uphold high standards of behavior. If you are going to use alcohol, it will be very important to do so responsibly, and preferably not at your site. If you are going to be in an intimate relationship, it will be imperative that you practice safe sex. Your presence in the community will change the community. Your behaviors around nutrition and health care will need to be in line with the health messages you are conveying to your community.

Dress Code:

As a RAP Volunteer and extension agent, you will be expected to conform to a local standard of dress as represented by other local extension workers. This is generally trousers and a decent shirt for men and either trousers or a knee-length skirt and shirt/blouse for women. As RAP Volunteers spend most of their time in the field it is advisable to bring clothing that is respectable but field oriented. Footwear appropriate to much walking and biking is a necessity.

One of the challenges of finding your place as a Volunteer is simultaneously fitting into the local culture, maintaining your own cultural identity, and acting like a professional. It is not an easy act to balance, and we can only provide you with some guidelines to dress and behave accordingly. While some of your counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this will be due to economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their “best.” A foreigner wearing raggedy, unkempt clothing is more likely to be considered an affront.

Zambians regard dress and appearance as part of one’s respect for one another. They value neatness of appearance, which is much more important than being “stylish.” You are expected to dress appropriately, whether you are in training, traveling, or on the job. Not doing so may jeopardize your credibility and that of the entire program.

Dress guidelines have been formalized based not only on advice from Zambians, but also on the experiences of current Volunteers. Dresses and skirts should fall below the knees. Appropriate undergarments should be worn, including slips. Spaghetti tops for women worn by themselves are inappropriate unless covered with a short or long sleeved shirt, coat or jacket. Skin-tight sports shorts or trousers are inappropriate but may be worn inside a skirt or dress when riding bicycles. Men and women should wear shorts only at home, when exercising, or when doing work where Zambian counterparts are also wearing them. If shorts are worn in public, they should be of “walking” length. Hair should be clean and combed, and beards should be neatly trimmed. Men should never wear a hat indoors unless custom in the area allows, and they should always be removed when speaking to an elder. Sunglasses should also be removed indoors.

PC training staff will send you back to your home-stay to dress appropriately if you come to class in what they will consider culturally or professionally inappropriate dressings.

Long hair, unconventional hairdos, blatant tattoos, and facial piercings are not culturally appropriate and may negatively affect community integration. Facial piercings are considered inappropriate and should not be worn during Volunteer service. Tattoos should be covered with clothing. If you have any of these appearance characteristics, a decision to go without them for the duration of your Peace Corps service should be made prior to accepting the invitation to serve in Zambia.

PREPARATIONS REQUIRED BEFORE DEPARTING THE US

You are required to provide certified true copies of your diplomas or degrees upon acceptance and clearance for this assignment. These documents are used for obtaining work permits from immigration department in Zambia. You are also expected to present ten (10) passport size pictures of yourself upon arrival in-country. In addition, you are encouraged to bring a tent and sleeping bag/pad for use during your service in Zambia.

TRAINING FOR YOUR JOB

Peace Corps provides eleven weeks of per-service training (PST) in the form of Community Based Training (CBT) to give you the opportunity to begin your immersion into the local language and village life from the day you arrive. You will live with a host family in a village near the training site. Language classes will be held in the village and your host will help you a great deal in learning the language and the culture. Peace Corps/Zambia will require a high level of competency in the local language before you swear-in as a Volunteer. The technical training will be held both at the training site and in your villages with the rest of your language cluster group. Technical training also includes trainee-directed assignments. There will be a lot of practical work that will give you an opportunity to mirror some of the activities you might undertake in your actual assignment.

Once you have a basis in local language, the emphasis of training will begin to shift towards technical training. This will include an orientation to aquacultural and agricultural practices in Zambia. More specific technical training will include the following: site selection, pond construction, stocking rates, pond management, feeds, composting, associated agricultural activities, harvesting, marketing, farm business management, extension methodology, working with farmer associations, nutrition, diseases, and the biology and culture of Tilapia. Integrated throughout the training program will be sessions on personal health care in Zambia, cross-cultural issues, development issues, and Zambia's culture and history. Pre-Service Training for RAP is rigorous. There is little private time and little individual space.

For the first three months after training you will be undertaking the community-entry process in your village. Community integration, language learning and intentional relationship building will be key learning activities that you initiate during this time. About 3 months after PST you will have a 1.5 week long In-Service Training (IST) workshop to follow up on technical skills you may need plus additional training on HIV/AIDS programming. One year into your service you will attend a mid-term conference (MTC) to check in on your service and to hold individual meetings with your Project Manager. The final formal training is the Close of Service (COS) conference held 3 months before the end of your service.

The most successful PCVs are those who strive to integrate into their community and take on the learner role throughout their service. Continuous language learning, cultural exploration and a deep respect for Zambians are crucial to community integration and successful service. Peace Corps Zambia encourages you to continue your language acquisition after PST by providing a tutoring reimbursement program.

LIVING CONDITIONS

You will work primarily at the village level. RAP Volunteers live in villages where you will find neither plumbing nor electricity, but rather earthen houses lighted by kerosene lamps with meals cooked over wood or charcoal. Drinking/washing water may need to be carried from as far as 20 minutes away on foot.

Some sites will be very isolated. The closest Volunteer may be 40 kilometers away. Transportation from your post to your provincial capital may take a full day and will generally be by crowded and dusty forms of public transportation. It may take two days by crowded, overland public transportation or train to reach the capital city, Lusaka. Some Volunteers walk or ride their bikes up to 30 kilometers to catch a ride at a main road.

Mail will be slow -- taking on average about four to six weeks from the US to Volunteer sites, and there may be no cell phone service in your village; however, goods (foods and personal supplies) and services (transport, communications) are usually available in district centers. Many volunteers choose to bring a personal laptop with them to Zambia as internet is available both at the provincial Peace Corps resource centers, as well as via your cell phone provider if you select to purchase this service. In addition to the provincial resource centers, email access may be available in larger towns and cities. We encourage you to bring laptops, netbooks, or smartphones (unlocked) if you have them, but at the same time, Peace Corps can accept no responsibility if they are lost, damaged, or stolen.

You will receive occasional visits from Peace Corps and project staff. Your access to American foods may be very limited, but you will soon become familiar and ultimately enamored by "nshima, cabbage and kapenta" as well as other staple foods of Zambia like local leaf sauces and dried fish. Fruits are difficult to obtain and can be expensive; vegetable variety is generally good but can be seasonally difficult. Meat is scarcely found/eaten by Volunteers in the field. Patience, flexibility and tolerance will be very important on your part. The local cuisine, customs and expectations are very different from your own, and if you are not prepared to make some major adjustments in your lifestyle you will very likely experience a great deal of frustration.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES AND REWARDS

Please reference the Welcome Book for more detailed information regarding diversity and cross-cultural issues, and safety and security in the Peace Corps.

Challenges are many, ranging from personal to cultural. Learning to accept the culture and work constructively within its norms can be frustrating for Volunteers. It may provoke mental hardship. Physical hardship will be there too, as you face an illness you are not used to, or push yourself to bike long distances on a daily basis, or struggle to assure your basic nutrition. Many Volunteers have difficulty coming to an understanding of what development means outside of their own expectations.

The challenges of village living can be hard on your back. Daily activities such as sitting on low stools, bending over to cook over a fire, riding a bike on bumpy paths and carrying water can all contribute to back problems. Prepare yourself ahead of time by integrating back strengthening exercises into your daily life now. Your back will thank you for it later.

The rewards must be as diversified as the challenges or more so. Some Volunteers find it rewarding enough to be out of their familiar environment for two years. Others find satisfaction in making meaningful relationships with people in their new communities. Some base their fulfillment purely in terms of achievement of the RAP objectives. All Volunteers who finish their service acknowledge growth in different ways: in worldliness, in knowledge, in maturity, in experience, in flexibility. All Volunteers gain an experience that is irreplaceable and unique.

The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV positive people and working with training staff, office staff and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength, so that you can continue to be of service to your community.

COMMENTS FROM VOLUNTEERS

“It’s currently the rainy season in Zambia, meaning my thatch roof is leaking in approximately 97 places, I am constantly covered with mud from riding my bike 20 km everyday, and I think I saw a goat float down my bush path after an exceptionally heavy rain storm. It’s times like this that I love it here! Yes, there are tough times and moments of utter insanity, but where else can you live in a mud hut, eating off the land without even a trace of the “modern conveniences” that so much of the world has come to love? I work with 25 different farmers to integrate fish farming in an attempt to create a better farming system which will in turn increase the families’ level of nutrition and promote income generation. After the initial building of the project ponds I have now started focusing on pond management and marketing strategies as well as how to better integrate the entire farming system of field crops, gardens and animal husbandry projects. The RAP project in Zambia is the last of its kind in Africa and I am happy and proud to be a part of it. There is ample amount of work and extreme amounts of fun to be had.”

“I live and work in Chipundu village in the Northern Province of Zambia. My primary project is to promote fish farming as a means of income and nutrition in the village. Most of my work in the past year has focused on construction of project standard fishponds. Now that many farmers with whom I work have completed fishponds my work is changing to teaching proper management techniques. I was very lucky to be chosen for the RAP program in Zambia. The work is plentiful and extremely satisfying. The living condition for PCVs in Zambia is what I always dreamed Peace Corps to be like. I live in a mud hut with a grass roof 20 kilometers away from running water or electricity. The Zambian people are some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Because the work produces concrete results for the farmers and their families, I believe fish farming is going to be successful in Zambia for many years. It is a great job in a great place.”

“Initial indications show that the work potential is very high. In just a short four weeks at post we have renovated and stocked a pond, harvested another, designed and built two rabbit cages, initiated a water passageway system using bamboo, looked into the feasibility of building a canal system for the irrigation of fields, and spoke to numerous people about fisheries and the potential in the area. Enthusiasm is high. Barring rain I usually see two farmers per day- one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We are using Trek mountain bikes as transport and I see the potential of working in a radius of 15 - 20 kilometers from my house. (The first few times out on the bike were very painful).”

“The RAP program is one of the best. You get results after being at site for just a few months, and your villagers love you. Fish is one of their favorite foods, and it is often hard to get or not very fresh. You will live in a small village either in Northwestern, Northern, Central, or Luapula. I am from Northern so I am biased and think it is the best. You will have to learn one of the local languages (Bemba, Lunda, or Kaonde)... we have a whole lot of Bembas, of which I am one. You will be sent quickly into the bush for a few days so that you get your feet wet. It is normally a good time. Then you will have 5 weeks of training. The trainers will pump you full of tech stuff and some Language trainers will get your Bemba, Lunda, or Kaonde up to par. Then you will be sent into the bush with your trainers again for two weeks and get some more hands on training. Then a final two weeks of training... then you will be posted. Everything you need to know will be given to you... no worries. You will be teaching small-scale farmers how to dig earthen ponds. You will be biking to these farmers houses and helping out with what you can. But not to worry, after training you have lots of free time to read, listen to tunes, and hang out with neighbors.”

Congrats on your invitation to serve in Zambia!

Volunteer Assignment Description | Peace Corps Zambia

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Mikaela in Zambia Zambia Embassy Peace Corps Zambia


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9/18/2014

With the Wind: From Sailboats to Sub-Saharan

Sick to my stomach, clutching the toilet as the boat heaves for the thousandth time, I vomit. Stomach acid runs up the back of my throat and into my nose. I'm crying out of sheer reflex, and there's no end in sight. The waves are only supposed to get worse throughout the night.
This. This was my fear. I've made all these plans to go sailing with my aunt and uncle, Karen and Matt respectively, and my body simply says, "No." That, no matter how hard I tried, no matter what patches, pills, herbs, or roots I put into my body, it just would say, "No."


At this point, you might be thinking that I'm the kind of person who gets nauseous at the IMAX, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I love roller coasters and amusement park rides. I've only ever been remotely motion sick twice, once when I was reading in the back of a van with no AC that was traversing mountain roads in Australia in 90 degree heat. And the second was when I was in a private airplane that was doing incredibly tight circles for a half hour while we awaited permission to land. They were trying to conserve fuel, so we were pulling Gs with our holding pattern. In neither case did I come close to blowing chunks. I just felt a bit dizzy and that soon passed. Atop that, I was raised on the water, in Charleston, and I never had a problem there either. Yet, I had this fear that my body would just say, "No."


The morning after my graduation, I headed north with Matt and Karen. The plan was to do a two week shakedown cruise to the North Channel, from Cleveland, Ohio. It took a few days for final preparations and provisioning. A week after I got my diploma though, we set sail.

A majority of the trip up there was, regrettably, spent motoring. The wind was blowing from the north, when we set out, so we would have been trying to sail to weather while also fighting the current as we went up two rivers, the St. Clair and the Detroit. My watch was set from four until eight, in both am and pm. I loved it! When I woke up, in the early morning, the stars were still up. I got to watch the sunrise over the watery horizon and enjoy the early hours of dawn. In the evenings, I was on watch through dinner, which helped to pass the time, and I got to see the sunset and dusk take over the sky, before heading down to my birth to rest.  
Governor's Bay at Sunset
The only place we stayed for more than a single night the entire voyage was Presque Isle, Michigan. The marina had courtesy bikes, so I was able to cycle all over the "almost island". The small town had two lighthouses, both over a hundred years old and one still in commission. The only other port of note was Mackinac Island. It was once a military base and is now a giant tourist trap. But it is a nice tourist trap. No cars are allowed on the island, so all traffic is pedestrian, bicycle, or horse drawn. In the winter, when Lake Huron freezes over, you can snowmobile to other islands, but at that point, the population has dropped from its summer time high of 20,000-30,000 to a quaint 500-600.


Just like when I hitchhiked to Maine last year, I felt this odd desire to visit in their arctic off-season, after the summertime rush, when the locals were actually doing the things that they enjoyed. Maybe I'm just a naive southern boy who'd freeze his ass off, but during the peak months, there are more seasonal workers in places like Macinac Island and Par Harbor than there are locals. We also docked in: Port Huron, Mackinaw City, and Put-in-Bay, and laid anchor in Governor's Bay and a few other anchorages around the North Channel.

I didn't get seasick. I learned a lot, and I was a very hospitable crew member, but still the "No" came. Since the inception of the idea of me sailing with my aunt and uncle to the Caribbean, it had been under the pretense of me being a student, a sailor in training. I had done a little sailing with scouts, I got my merit badge, and some with the Clemson sailing club, but I still had much to learn.


For one reason or another though, Matt decided to give me the boot and give my spot to a more experienced friend, who's been sailing longer than I've been alive. He did offer that, if I paid to fly down, take a puddle jumper, and a boat taxi, I could join them in the British Virgin Islands. I said "thanks but no thanks", out right. That completely kills the sense of adventure and puts me in the same category as the wives who see cruising as simply an extended vacation.

After all of that, I went to go visit one of my best friends, Mirco. The last time I'd seen him, I had just graduated high school, and I was backpacking and CouchSurfing through Europe. He's doing an exchange program at Lehigh University, to kick start his masters degree in theoretical physics, and I wanted to go see him.
I left my uncle's house the morning after we got back from the shakedown cruise. I took the same bus to Akron that I took hitchhiking up there, earlier in the summer. The bus dropped me off down near I-80, The Ohio Turnpike, and I walked around the tollbooth to get to my first spot. There's kind of a risk and reward to hitching on toll road on-ramps. All of the traffic has to slow down to pay the toll and stay at a moderately low speed, as all of the lanes merge back into just a few. But, there are toll plaza rent-a-cops who are a lot less friendly than actual state troopers, whom they threaten to call. And no matter how cool the cops are, if the turnpike guy wants to charge you for "trespassing," he can.

My first ride, Bruce, picked me up rather quickly. He is the vice president of a software consulting firm. Our conversation was one of those where I don't know if he's just a quiet guy, or he just thinks I'm an idiot. Either way, as soon as Bruce pulled over to let me out, before the tollbooth at his exit, a State Trooper was parked behind us. Damn.

Luckily, the officer was really chill and, I think, new to the job. He told me that I had to be in front of the toll plaza, otherwise the rent-a-cops would complain. A very important thing to know about law enforcement officers, the thing they care about most is not having to deal with you. Sadly though, the cop didn't want to not deal with me enough to drive me 20 miles, to the next service station on the turnpike. I thought I was totally screwed. It's really easy hitching after a tollbooth but rather a daunting task before.

The Road Gods were on my side, though. They were doing construction on west bound on and off ramps, so they had to share one, using this computerized stop light system. Traffic was backed up for miles to get off on the exit. Hundreds of people were pissed about that fact; I couldn't have been happier.

It took a while for a driver to come around who hadn't pooped in their diaper about the gridlock. 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.


He was also nice enough to drive me out of his way, even though he was headed to a music festival in Youngstown. It was Labor Day Weekend, and the roads were gloriously busy. I looked into using Craig's List's Rideshare, but I was getting picked up far too quick, for it to be worth meeting up with these guys, on their "trip across nation."

My next ride, Mark, was going all the way to Boston, Massachusetts. Mirco doesn't have a car, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is just out of the scope of the northeast's public transportation system. Otherwise, I would have taken the ride all the way up there, met him, and seen our mutual friend Lauren (she just finished up at Harvard and is now doing a two year stint at Yale... she's not very bright). 

Mark works for Oracle, building data mining software. He got a degree in philosophy, math, and finally computer science, spending a grand total of seven years in undergrad. His conservatism rather surprised me though, being in the tech field and from the northeast, but we were able to have a really great dialogue. He rightly pointed out that, though we were rather far apart on several issues, it was nice that we were both still able to have a rational, civil discourse on the subjects at hand. Usually, I try to avoid such matters, when hitchhiking. You never know when an Ace The Treasure Hunter is going to go off on you.

The bonus of good conversation, when hitchhiking, is that the driver will generally, if you ask, take a route that is more in your favor than theirs. Usually this only amounts to a ten to fifteen minute difference for them, but it can mean hours for you. Mark was nice enough to take an alternate, longer route that put me on 476, a straight shot to Allentown. Had he not, I would have needed at least one more ride to get there, and that could take five minutes or five hours. It never hurts to ask. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten to experience my next ride, which was, undoubtedly, one of the more memorable I've had in a while.

Mike screeched to a halt to pick me up, before my bag was even in place. He was probably only in his forties yet he lacked all but his canine teeth. As I went to ask him where he was headed, his doberman pincher, Missy, tried to eat my face off from the backseat. I then noticed that Mike was also had a peg leg. At this point I think I should note that I was one good ride away from Allentown and there is a city bus from there to Bethlehem/Lehigh University. The sun was setting, and I wanted to be there for dinner.  So when a soft, feminine voice, barely audible over the traffic and Mike's saying "Come on an' get in!" emanated from the back seat, I foolishly hopped in.
I tried to go cruising,
but life said "NO, NO, NO."

That old run down Suburban took off like lightning bolt, the moment my door clicked shut. "We gots to get to Philly." Mike was saying. It was at that point I actually took note of who was in the backseat, keeping Missy from devouring my flesh, his eleven year old son, John. This was a relief. Mike didn't strike me as Father of the Year, but kids and the elderly usually mean you're safe.

Driving like an absolute mad man with his left leg, because the right was made of aluminum, Mike told me all about his days as a criminal and why John was the reason he gave it up. The boy's mother fell deep into drugs, and he manned up to take care of him. While in the car, for the brief time that I was, I could sense the damage caused by having a father like Mike, though. Was John actually better off than foster care or being adopted?

The parable of the dog in the back seat mirrors this question almost too perfectly. The reason he was driving recklessly down 476 was because they'd had to move out of the city. The reason for the move was the dog. They weren't allowed to have pets at their old apartment, but yet Mike still chose to get a snarling beast. When the neighbors finally got fed up, Mike chose to relocate the family instead of getting rid of Missy, the dog who harasses and bites his children to the point of bleeding. They moved for her, instead of putting her up for adoption.

I've been hitchhiking on the east coast so much that I have these moments of déjà vu that are only squelched when I pull out my map and see that I have actually been there before. Where Mike dropped me off, the Allentown service station, was such a place. Last time I was there, I caught a ride all the way up to New York City, and now, all I needed to do was get 10 miles.

The public transit system for the area, LANTA, sucks. Their website is near useless, the buses don't run remotely on time, and the squalid level is a solid nine. Thankfully, it was only $2, but I found my bus stop by mere chance, and it took 90 minutes to get to Lehigh. That means they were averaging just under 7 miles an hour, on-route. I missed dinner.

I spent the long weekend drinking, drinking, and making all the good bad decision at Lehigh University. That's apparently about all that they do there. I heard someone say that they have classrooms on campus for some reason, but nobody really goes in them. The last night that I was there, Mirco and I had some really great talks about life and the universe, which honestly isn't much different from how our conversations went back in 5th grade, just a little more informed.

The original plan was for me to head to Lauren's, but her schedule got too busy. So I went to see another Lauren's. My friend Lauren from Clemson works at the Rodale Institute. She's developing their animal husbandry program, and she gets to hangout with hogs, chickens, donkeys, oxen, goats, and sheep all day. It's only about forty-five minutes from Bethlehem, in Kutztown, so I said, "Sign me up!"
Chicken Farming
Eight black and one white chick... that's awkward

I left Mirco's at six in the morning and took the seven o'clock bus towards Allentown, so ten miles down the road and at eight thirty, I was hitchhiking to the Rodale Institute.

My first ride was Steve, an old retired fellow. I said I was going to Grim Road, and he said he could take me there. It turns out that there are two Grim Roads, and mine was ten minutes further. Steve was, by his own admission, just going home to lounge around, but did he take me just up the road? Nope.

And it worked out for the better. It was such a pretty day, and I was on a backcountry highway. So I just opted to start walking and enjoy the morning. I was in no rush. About three quarters of an hour into my stroll, a car pulled over up ahead of me. It was Zach.

Zach had just finished through hiking the AT. His backpack was still in the back seat! So I got to ask him about what it was like, and more importantly, where my dad and I should go, that coming week, when we backpacking. He suggested either New York state or Northern Virginia. He was a really awesome guy, and I gave him my actual contact information, not just my blog, which is rather rare.

For two days, I volunteered (which I guess is a pretty normal thing at Rodale) and helped Lauren take care of the animals and, much to her joy, organize her computer. 

Fun Fact: Electric fence clips have shockingly poor design.

Smelling like straw from the stables and hay from the (non-existant) horses, Lauren and I made are way down to her parents' house. Since, I had gotten to the Allentown service station, nearly a week before, my phone had slowly stopped connecting to network towers. At first I thought it was just Allentown or being on the farm, but it turns out, after two hours on the phone with tech support, a visit to a not-Verizon Verizon store, a "corporate" Verizon store, and an Apple store, that my SIM card reader had gone bad and no one wanted to give me a replacement.

"We can send one to you."
I'm traveling. I have no mailing address.
"We can overnight it where you're staying now."
I have to leave in the morning.
"Could you drive into this major city three hours out of the way and get it?"
I'm hitchhiking and on a budget.

Hitchhikers are a customer service representative's worst nightmare. (I would just like to take a moment here to thank Lauren's mother, if she's reading this, for all of her help and hospitality, as I tried to get this resolved.) So I left Valley Forge only able to connect over wifi. Because my father was heading up from the south, we went with the latter of Zach's options. He and I agreed to meet in Strasburg, Virginia and hike part of the AT in Shenandoah National Park.

Lauren's mom dropped me off at the Apple store, and when that failed, I walked over to the interstate. After traversing a rocky ledge, in order to get around the toll plaza, I was on I-76 heading towards Harrisburg. As soon as I hopped down from the ledge, before I even crossed the road to get to the right side, Keith had pulled over for me.

As I got into his truck, as he moved his New Testament out of the way. Keith is a baptist minister who followed a pastor down from Albany, New York to start a church in Pennsylvania. He works in construction, as a heavy equipment operator, in order to make ends meet. 

When Keith was younger, around my age, he really wanted to go out and just live in the woods for a couple of years. He never did it. You can still tell that he wants to, but he never will. The best he may do, by his own admission, is buy an RV, but that's not really his dream. A girlfriend turned into a wife, a wife turned into two kids, two kids turned into, "When I retire.", and "When I retire." will more than likely, will turn into "I'm too old to do it." He'll never truly live his dream.
Look Out For: Keith on American Ninja Warrior. He's going to tryout in Baltimore.
Keith turned out to be my only ride for the day, seeing as I set out late afternoon, but I was halfway to Harrisburg. There was a trucking company right next to the interchange, so I decided to sleep under the back of one of the trucks. They were up against the fence, so there was no worry about them backing over me. But that same fence turned around to bite me. While I was hopping over, it cut a three inch long gash across my left palm.

Nursing my wound, I set up camp on the cushy grass. Trucks were coming in and out throughout the night, so I didn't sleep all that well. On top of that, my hand was throbbing. In the morning, I just walked out, by the main office and around the fence. I swear, no one even noticed.

I decided to hitch the on-ramp where it has already started to connect to the interstate proper. This is a bit of a grey area legally, in some states, but it is a really helpful technique if the going is slow. It allows every car zooming past to see you, and more often than not, it's one of those already on the expressway that'll stop for you. The key is to make sure that they have ample time and space to pullover, around a quarter of a mile of straight roadway up ahead.

Bill, my first ride of the day, did just that. He went from 70 miles an hour to 0, for me. Bill is in his mid-fifties, early sixties and likes hiking in the Adirondacks. Like Keith, the day prior, he is also a devout Christian and was on his way to do a witnessing. I wasn't quite sure what all that entails, so when he invited me along, I used my inference skills and politely declined.

Back in the day though, Bill was also a vagabond and went by the travel name of Woody. In a decade, he'd racked up 80,000 miles by thumb. For a comparison, I'm at around 20,000 in the past four years. He was on the road a lot.
Bill got me to Harrisburg, and from the interchange he dropped me off at I had to walk a mile to the next exit. Rather quickly though, I got picked up by Darryl.

Darryl was on his way back from a few garage sales. He collects little glass bottles, and during the week he works as a truck driver for a small grocery chain. Of all the truckers I've met, he was one of the most down to earth. He and his wife adopted six children. Two are in prison, two are on unemployment, and the middle two are in the medical field/actually employed. He was nice enough to bring me across the Mason Dixon Line, all the way down to Maryland. Sadly though, the exit was horrendous. There was no where for cars to pull over, so I took the first ride that came, five miles to an interchange. Then, I had to walk on the side of the interstate to get to an actual exit.

On my way, I ran into the boys in blue. Not one, but four squad card responded. It was a little excessive. Thankfully, all of the troopers were nice.

"Did you know that it's illegal to walk on the side of the interstate?"
Nooo. I had no idea.
"Yeah, most people don't know it, but it's illegal."
Oh, ok. Thanks for letting me know.

Sometimes, it's just best to play dumb.
One of the four brought me down to the next exit/where I was walking to to begin with. I took a much needed bathroom break, and then snagged a quick ride from Rick into West Virginia. Rick was ex-military. He raises horses more for fun than for profit, and he's had a time share in the Bahamas since his honeymoon, many decades ago. He also got suckered into another one just a few years ago, down in the Virginia mountains, near where I was headed. Most of his other traveling is due to his wife's obsession with progressive rock.
Up until this point in the trip, nearly all of my rides had been of the 'dude alone in his car' variety, accept for peg-leg Mike and his son. Thus, it was a breath of feminine fresh air when Janet picked me up. She had passed by me, driven down to the Flying J, bought smokes and two hotdogs, driven back, picked me up, gave me the hotdogs, and then drove me to the Flying J. She was incredibly sweet, and she got me just over the boarder, into Virginia.

As we were exiting the interstate, I noticed a fellow hitchhiker on the on-ramp, so I took my time eating my hotdogs, hoping he would get picked up. It is hitchhiking courtesy, if someone is already thumbing it, to ask if it's ok to move after (but never before them) on the roadway.

Hey where are you headed to?
"Mhmhhhmh, Oklahoma."
Alright. I'm just headed down to Shenandoah.
"Hmmhmm two days. Hmmm yeah, mmmh been trying to make it down there."
Ok, been trying to make it for two days. It can be slow sometimes.
"Mhhh hmmm, I'm ah mhhh, need to ahh make it mmmh working at the faire hhmm."
Oh, the faire... is it ok if I just stand down there?
"Hmm mhhh mhh."
Great.

It's times like these that I say to myself, "No wonder so many people who pick me up tells me, 'I never pickup hitchhikers anymore.'" The Carny is chain smoking Marboros on the side of the road! Then, I'm standing there, with all of my teeth, smiling and waving at people.
Surprisingly quickly, a big red, lifted pickup truck pulled over and the driver, a lip full of tobaccy, offered the both of us a lift. It was only a few miles down the road, and it wasn't a good ride, by any means. But, I was tempted to take it. Hitchhiking anywhere near The Carney felt having your thumb out, while holding an axe, and wearing a pentagram t-shirt. It's just wasn't a good idea.

About ten minutes later a big blue truck did the Indecision Swerve:
Do we pick them up? (Starts to pull over) 
Eh, I don't know... (Back into the lane) 
Ah, but they need a ride. (Back to the shoulder)
Buuut... (Over into the lane)
Ah, might as well! (They're finally pulled over at the very end of the ramp)

I grab my bag, shout back to The Carny that they've stopped, and then run down to talk to them. The driver is Brandan and sitting shotgun is Dave. They're in their late and early twenties, respectively. Neither of them was quite keen on giving The Carny a ride, and after feeling that I'd done my fellow hitchhiker due diligence, I hope in.

To be quite honest, I was rather confused as to what was going on for about the first twenty minutes of the ride. They were headed south. I knew that. Then they put where I was going in the GPS; then they joked about going to DC, but I didn't know if they were serious. I got a good vibe from them though, so I didn't get too worried. Brandan, it turns out, is a pastor and Dave is his protégé.
Since my dad wan't going to meet me until the following evening, I accepted Brandan's invitation to stay the night and go to his service on Sunday, the next morning. He started up Canvas Church earlier this year, and it has grown so much that they are now in the process of moving to a larger space.

Brandan and his wife Kasie have a three year old son, Xander, and the church has a very young family feel to it. Back before the wife and kids, Brandan did mission work in Vanuatu, where I was nominated to serve in the Peace Corps. He showed me the bow and staff that they made for him and recounted tales of their national dish, lap-lap.

After service and a cookout, Dave ran me back down to Strasburg. I spent the rest of the afternoon book shopping. The Princess Bride and a collection of Chinese poetry were my choices for the trip. I found a neat little cafe to hangout in and befriended the staff. When my dad finally got there, we had dinner and then crashed at a hotel.


Little Hogback Lookout
By the time we got up, ate breakfast, did a Walmart run, got lost, got found, checked in at the ranger station, and parked the car it was mid-afternoon. We hiked a couple of miles and then camped next to a creek. The next day it rained, so we just sat around and read. Day three we made it down to one of the huts, and we got to talk to a few North to South through hikers. I saw a bear, as it strolled through camp. The final day, we hiked and stayed at a cabin. It was locked (as the map indicated), but we squatted on the front porch and enjoyed the fireplace/firewood that was there.

It was great being able to spend a week with my dad. It'd been five years since we did Philmont together, about 100 miles in 10 days, so he was a little out of practice. The cargo on his front weighed more the the pack on his back, if you catch my drift. Thus, he was the designated pace setter, so we only averaged about five miles a day. The distance covered really doesn't matter though. I'm just very appreciative that we got to spend that kind of time together.

The final morning, we hiked for a few hour and then hitchhiked out. It is one of the few times that the first car I stuck my thumb out for pulled over. The only other instances I can recall that happening is Stewart Island, New Zealand and 90 Mile Beach, Australia. Our vehicular patron was Brett, who did a day hike, while his wife was running a teaching session in town.

Once we got back where there was cell service, I checked my email, using my dad's phone, to see if the Peace Corps had finally sent my my formal invitation to Vanuatu. I'd been waiting over six months, since they last sent me anything, and the deadline for formal invitations was Monday, September 15th. It was Friday, September 12th. My placement officer, Drew, in the politest of terms, told me there was no way that I was going to Vanuatu. Even though I was one of the first to be nominated for my post, there were forty others who had been nominated as well and only four openings. Again, people with more years of experience than I've been alive got the position, over me.

After twenty minutes on the phone, we finally had a solution, Zambia. I wouldn't be using my IT skills, but I would still get the "classic Peace Corps experience," as Drew put it. It took until that Monday for my formal invitation to arrive, but on February 9th, 2015, I'm boarding a plane; I'm headed to Zambia.

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Mikaela in Zambia IMDb Canvas Church Google Maps


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