A few minutes ago, here at Peace Corps office in Lusaka, Andrew and I rang the bell and are now officially Returned Peace Corps volunteers. Finally! 27 months has flown by and I’ll resist the urge to wax poetic. I’m in the same blogging situation I’ve been all along; behind on updates, behind on pictures, entries in my journal never transcribed. Such is the nature of blogging without technology, I suppose. I’d love to keep writing; we’ll see where the future takes us and the most appropriate outlet for that.

But here we are! Tonight we fly out to Beijing via Dubai to start our travels. Our first full day in China is my birthday; my sister asked me what I wanted and I said a haircut. And for my husband to get a haircut.

While in China we’re going to explore Beijing and also going on an excursion to the Zhangye Danxia landform. Really excited about that! From China we’re headed to Istanbul, where we’re meeting up with a friend of Andrew’s from college, then going with him to Rhodes and Athens. From Athens we fly to Belgrade, Serbia, where we’re meeting Rose, who stayed with my family as an exchange student; then to Rose’s home of Brcko in Bosnia and Herzegovina. From there to Zagreb, Croatia, where our other former exchange student, Maja lives. After Croatia we are taking a train (according to rumor, a very beautiful one) to Vienna, where Andrew has friends. We’ll travel within Austria for awhile, then fly to Rome to meet my friend Jess from St. Lawrence, who works for the FAO there. After Rome we fly to Paris and train to Poitiers, where we’re staying for a couple days with a couple we met here in Zambia, who are the founders of a charity. After Poitiers we are spending 4 weeks on 2 different organic farms in the Normandy area – working in exchange for room and board through WWOOF France. Finally home in the middle of July!

There’s so much I wanted to write about before we left – the final weeks in our village, the big lunch we had with our host family, all the thoughts and ruminations about Peace Corps, Zambia, everything. But yet again time and computer access hasn’t allowed, and the whirlwind continues as we leave for a new continent tonight.

Here is what I know: we just completed a goal years in the making. I miss cooking rustic, wood-fired, availability-driven  food already. Our replacement posts today or within the next day or two; I’m so happy that the turnover was quick. Everything is surreal. I hope I haven’t overpacked.

It’s time to go, to pack, to say goodbyes. Can’t wait to see all of you soon!

 

One of our counterparts farms: orange trees, cabbages, maize drying for harvest.

One of our counterparts farms: orange trees, cabbages, maize drying for harvest.

The last few weeks have had some pretty big ups and downs in terms of the rabbit project. Bad news first, I suppose.

We had two adult rabbits get extremely sick. The first was Barbie, who is undebatedly my favorite rabbit and our most productive doe. I noticed it one morning – she had diarrhea and was listless. She was so wean she couldn’t hold herself up; rabbits usually kind of perch on their hind legs. Barbie was slouched over, weight on her belly, unable to move herself away from where she was having diarrhea or clean herself up. She looked awful.

Even worse, she had 7 kits – 6 of her own, 1 of Bonnie’s she was fostering – that were 3 weeks old. Too young to wean, but we didn’t want them anywhere near her, fearful of contagion. We tried putting them with another mother but immediately learned mothers won’t foster kits after the first couple days after birth; the other mothers freaked out and tried to attack the new kits. We put them into the weaning hutch, feeling morose.

Diarrhea in a rabbit is serious. Usually fatal. I was already in tears about losing her, but Andrew suggested the Oral Rehydration Salts we have stocked in our own medical kits. I opened a pack and every hour or so would dampen a finger tip and rub the salts on the inside of her mouth. She hated that; her jerking her head away was the only sign there was any life left in her at all. It was a cold, rainy day and I wrapped her in one of my old shirts to keep her warm. We made her a bed of dried grass and changed it every couple hours so she could be at least a little bit cleaner. We also positioned her and her water so she could drink from it without moving.

Things were looking really bleak, but the hours passed with no change. Later that afternoon, I was doing yoga in the house and Andrew stuck his head in and announced Barbie was eating kale leaves. Her appetite increased first gradually, then rapidly, and her manure returned to normal within a day. And that was that. Seriously. She was fine.

I estimate she lost about 20% of her body weight during the brief illness; a major stress for a nursing mother. But after a couple days we felt confident she was okay, and probably not contagious, so we were actually able to put her back with the kits, who managed the separation well. We weaned them from there – they were totally weaned by 4 weeks which is really early, but they looked great and Barbie was really thin so we just let that happen.

Bonnie got sick five or six days later. Exact same symptoms so we jumped right into save-her mode. She also had kits but they were over 4 weeks old and were already being partially weaned. Although she just gave birth to a litter of 10 (although 2 died in the first couple days) we’ve had a suspicion she’s an older doe. Her coat is less glossy and she’s a bit ornery.  This illness didn’t go as well as Barbie’s. She was dead within an hour of us noticing she was sick.

I was sad, but practicality kicked in. We were going to butcher a rabbit that day with our neighbors anyway. We had 2 rabbits instead. When Andrew cleaned and gutted the piece of meat formerly known as Bonnie, the intestines were swollen to about 8 times their normal size, a clear sign of her illness. Also her lungs had dark gray spots all over them; I need to look that up but clearly a longer running disease that might have been impacting her health overall.

I’ll write in another post about our luncheon with the neighbors; I like a little bit of separation between the animal that has a name and the hunk of meat we put seasoning on. Bonnie was a breeding rabbit; one of the ones we allow ourselves to pet and name and get fond of. That was hard.

That day was hectic and busy. It was weird to finally settle down at night and try to process what had happened, allow myself to feel sad about the rabbit, and recognize the poor thing was already in my stomach.

Ah, carnivory. This is all part of the farming game. I have no desire to be a vegetarian (although I think meat should be eaten in small quantities of excellent quality only), and believe deeply in naturally and humanely grown meat. This whole project has been a projection of that; the belief of nourishment coming from an animal that was healthily raised and humanely slaughtered. But it was different with Bonnie. I felt badly she was sick. But what can you do? She was old and clearly unwell. The incident allowed us to have a feast with our neighbors and the chronically protein-deprived kids, who eat meat perhaps a couple times a month, got a large piece of meat each.

Anyway, onward to more bad news. We had fatalities with community members rabbits. The first was a female rabbit who chewed the fastening on her floorboards; a piece of bamboo got loose and she essentially got hanged. This happened to one of the guys with whom we’ve worked for the duration of our service. It was a failure of management on his part, but also a freak accident. We had an extra female baby rabbit, and we replaced the one that died. The other fatalities happened to a family who had just gotten their first two rabbits. Literally, a day and a half earlier. A dog managed to scratch its way into the bamboo hutch, eventually loostening the floorboards and getting into the hutch. Both babies were gone in the morning.

Okay, this is crazy. CRAZY. I mean, it’s awful. The poor little things. But I cannot fathom how nobody heard the dog going at it at night. It must have taken at least an hour of hard scratching  – a large, determined dog up on its back legs – to get anything loostenend at all. The hutch was right up against the family’s house. Homes here are open; there’s usually a 6-inch gap between the walls and the roof. You can hear anything.

To be frank, the guy whose rabbits they were has been a thorn in our side for the duration of our service. I didn’t really want to give him rabbits, but he did the necessary work and attended the necessary trainings so there wasn’t really anything we could do. We did not replace those rabbits. We couldn’t; we didn’t have any left. This happened the day before we left.

People are furious about the dog. If it’s identified, it’ll probably be taken out. I don’t like thinking about that. I love dogs, but they are large and I’d rather not have one roaming the village that knows those meter-tall bamboo houses have tasty, fuzzy nuggets inside.

Okay, that’s enough doom and gloom for now. On to the good news!

We chose to not confiscate the rabbits that we were thinking about taking away. We had a long discussion with the owner about her plan for management when she goes away to town for her training as a clinic worker. It helps that her brother just got rabbits, too. They live next to each other and can work out an arrangement. She had someone make her a new house and the rabbits already look much better.

Two families have welcomed their first round of kits! Marjorie, our closest friend and neighbor, had kits on April 7.  Three were born; one stillborn. The two remain are enormous and healthy.

 

The morning Marjorie's rabbit kindled we check out the mama and kits. See the fur nest inside the box?

The morning Marjorie’s rabbit kindled we check out the mama and kits. See the fur nest inside the box?

The next day, a family in the next village over welcomed 5 kits, all of whom are doing great. I wish we started this projet earlier so we could see people have more success, but getting to share in these family’s excitement was a treat nonetheless.

The other great rabbit news is that we managed to wean 19 kits with no mortality, despite Barbie getting sick and Bonnie dying. We have had mortality with literally every litter we’ve weaned. So to wean three litters of kits together with no death was a really nice suprise.

Wanda and Bonnie's kits, 5 weeks

Wanda and Bonnie’s kits, 5 weeks

 

 

Barbie's kits, 4 weeks

Barbie’s kits, 4 weeks

 

Hungry Barbie a week after her illness and me elated she's okay.

Hungry Barbie a week after her illness and me elated she’s okay.

Dear friends and family, it’s official. On Monday late morning, Andrew and I packed up and left Sandangombe for good. All of our belongings (most of which were books for the provincial house library, sheets for the house, a bag of miscellaneous goods for Mike, and a bunch of (funky smelling) stuff for the Free Box) plus five rabbits – three for Mike, two for our language instructor Joyce, and a chicken, fit into a small sedan easily. There was enough room to see out the back the cluster of friends and neighbors who came to see us off, double waving and jumping up and down from the base of the huge tree outside our house.

I have lots to say but it’s all simmering in my mind for now. At the moment the priorities are more logistical – finishing up reports, creating resumes, planning our coming months of travel – but I hope I have time to write before we get swept away into new languages, foods, cultures, and people.

Maybe I’m a little scared to blog, too. It’s easier to be busy, rather than think about the fact of being newly homeless and out of a job (as planned as these things may have been) and in the process of saying one forever-goodbye after another. It’s all a lot.

But we’re here – Solwezi – we’re healthy, we’re tired, we’re a few days away from being officially sworn-out Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and therefore a few days away from completing a goal that has been years in the making.

With just a few weeks left to go, the season of “lasts” is back upon us. 27 months ago, there were other lasts: last day of work. Last sushi date. Last yoga class. Last coffee/wine/dinner/hike date with X/Y/Z friend. Last day in our apartment. And the countdowns! 3 weeks until we leave! 28 months until we’re home! 4 months til we post!

It’s a new era of lasts and countdowns. As I write this, we’re in town for the last time before we pull ourselves from our village. We have 15 days left at site and 26 days left in Zambia. One month from today, we’ll be in Beijing. Two months from today, we’ll be in Vienna. Three months from today, we’ll be on an organic farm in France. Four months from today, we’ll probably be visiting family in Maine after having been home for a couple weeks.

I’m working on the last project I need to do before we return to the village (for the last time): a manual on keeping rabbits. I keep having conflicting views about it. Too much information. Too little information. Too simple language. Too complex language. So much second guessing! But, at the end of the day, I told people in our community we’d do it, and I will. There are plenty of people in our community that will understand it fully (good English language skills) and hopefully they can help out the people who don’t get it all. There’s only one person with rabbits who doesn’t speak any English at all; she’s the village grandmother, so to speak, and gets support and assistance from dozens of people to keep her rabbits anyway, so I’m not too concerned about that. Anyway, it’s all information we’ve covered (or will cover in our workshop next weekend – the last workshop…hey look! another last!), I just want people to have it all in hard copy.

As a side note, and not a good one, I believe we are going to be consfiscating rabbits for the first (and last!) time on Monday. That was the deal: we would give people a pair of breeding rabbits if they built a hutch and attended a training, but if they weren’t being taken care of we would be taking them back. I was really, really worried about this project in the beginning. I was afraid we’d see starving rabbits and rabbits harassed and hurt by dogs. Overall, I have been overwhelmingly happy with the care people are taking. But there is one woman whose rabbits are in unacceptable condition. We’ve talked to her about it before; she is a bright, forward-thinking woman and knows it’s a problem. She just doesn’t have time to manage them properly, as she is a clinic worker. Unfortunately her hutch was made with a poor grade of bamboo and has virtually disintegrated. It’s barely standing and the partition between the male and female is gone, so the two are together. This could lead to disastrous consequences if the female gets pregnant too young, but honestly both are so terribly malnourished they probably don’t have breeding on their minds. The woman has been gone a lot to attend health trainings, which really shouldn’t be a problem, but she’s failed to get someone to appropriately manage the rabbits in her absence. I’m really, really sad about this because she is a dear friend of mine and has helped us, primarily as a community mobilizer and translator, throughout our entire service. But unacceptable is unacceptable. She wasn’t home when we visisted the other day, so I left her a note: clean up this situation or we’re taking the rabbits on Monday.

I really hope she can make something happen. I want her to have them. But the current conditions are not okay. It’s an overall lack of sense of urgency, if that makes sense. Hopefully the note I left lights a fire under her you-know-what.

As weird as this may sound, it’s almost a relief that someone isn’t managing. It makes it real. I assumed we’d be troubleshooting, but we barely have been. I mean, there have been hundreds of small reminders. More grass. They need cleaner water. Sweep out the hutch more often. This piece of bamboo needs to be replaced. But this is the first real problem we’ve had (although it’s been ongoing).

Excitingly, two villager’s rabbits are expecting babies this weekend. Hooray! I hope it all goes well, as it’s not uncommon for a first-time mother to abandon a litter or her milk to not come in. Even though that’s considered normal, I don’t want people getting discouraged! So everyone, keep your fingers crossed for healthy litters born this weekend. If nothing else, the families who are waiting have prepared in top form: nesting boxes in place, dry grass for the female to create into a nest, plenty of clean water and fresh food. Cross those fingers!

Anyway, in these last weeks, this is the type of thing we’ve been doing. Checking up on projects that are ongoing – mostly rabbits, but also so-and-so’s lemon nursery (so they can bud oranges during the upcoming August/September); this person’s garden; that person’s fish pond; twisting people’s arms to weed the trees at the clinic’s orchard.

Oooh, my blood pressure just spiked. A goat ate on of the papayas at the clinic’s orchard; it wasn’t properly protected. The man whose goats roam the village (also, incidentally, the man in charge of making sure everyone’s goats are penned up) was supposed to protect those trees. Want to see a Peace Corps Zambia volunteer get irrationally angry? Mention the word “goats.” Nagging people to get those trees protected is another ongoing project. A goat doesn’t like, for example, citrus leaves, but when the rest of the vegetation dries up and is lit on fire (June-ish) they will find those leaves verrryyyy tempting.

Deep breath.

Another project, so to speak, that is holistic and ongoing is getting our site prepared for the next volunteer. We replaced a guy who went out of his way to do what he could to make our move-in and adjustment easier, and we are determined to do the same. Letting people know who he is and when he’s coming, maintenance on the house, and walking that fine line of what is an important ongoing project that any LIFE volunteer should continue because there is community interest vs. projects being our own that he shouldn’t have to necessarily deal with. Another big one is making sure people understand he is his own volunteer and will make his own rules about projects (for example, we were giving out rabbits to people who built and trained, but that doesn’t mean he will; that’s his choice. From the flurry of hutches that are under construction, I think that message has gone across).

The recognition of being replaced, or perhaps leaving in general, forces oneself to look harshly and truly on what one has accomplished. For me personally, the biggest thing I need to deal with on a personal level is what I did to face the huge gender inequality issues our area faces. In recognition of these issues, we had, for about half a year and on multiple occasions, requested to Peace Corps that we be replaced by a woman, preferably an older woman. The decision, and rationale behind the decision, to replace us with another man indicated some major sexism within PC staff that was, to put it lightly, infuriating. But I won’t delve into that. We are being replaced by a kind, energetic and very motivated guy. What more can we ask for for our beloved community?

But, as I said, it forces me to look very clearly on what I’ve done as a woman; perhaps the only female volunteer Sandangombe village will ever see (projects stay in a community for three generations, athough I think our site is a great candidate for subsequent generations of Health volunteers). I’m struggling because I wish I’d done more. People say the way Andrew and I interact as equals, the way we divide our labor, is a huge eye opener and lesson for those in rural communities. Yet I feel I’ve failed. I didn’t reach out enough, didn’t get out of my shell enough. I could have done so much more.

…Yet is there any volunteer that leaves their community and doesn’t feel this way? A volunteer who is honest with him- or herself will recognize his or her list of failures as much longer than the list of successes. But with all the barriers to project success in communities like these – politics, weather, witchcraft, disease, GOATS, language, perceptions, jealousy, conflicting schedules, just to begin – we must mark our service by what we managed to accomplish rather than what we failed at.

What I can say for sure is that as this season of lasts winds down, I know the season reflection – lifelong thoughts, fears, worries and joys – is just beginning. Peace Corps service is a great reminder that to be at peace we must feel as though we did our best at whatever we did, and leave it at that. I could have been better in so many ways, but I did what I could. Now we prepare to pass the torch to the next volunteer, who will do what he can.

Back to the manual, I say!

This Kakompe village family's rabbit is due to give birth Sunday or Monday. She looks happy, well-fed, clean, and has a nesting box ready to go.

This Kakompe village family’s rabbit is due to give birth Sunday or Monday. She looks happy, well-fed, clean, and has a nesting box ready to go.

I have to post this.

 

I LOVE having chickens.

 

I love watching them scratch and peck and turn the compost. Fancy Chicken has mastered an impressive vertical jump in order to steal greens from the rabbits above her. Naked Chicken is working on it.

 

I love the fresh eggs. The yolks are a deep, rich yellow, and stay in one place when cracked into a pan rather than spreading out. They are so tasty and profoundly healthier than factory-farmed eggs.  We’ll be getting chickens in Vermont as soon as we can!

 

Fresh eggs, happy chickens and rabbits.

Fresh eggs, happy chickens and rabbits.

 

French toast with homemade wheat. Look at that rich yellow yolk penetration!

French toast with homemade wheat. Look at that rich yellow yolk penetration!

Don’t start your first animal husbandry project with an excessively cute critter. Start with something dumb, like chickens.

 

We have a rabbit named Second Site Visit. The idea was that she was the rabbit we’d raise to be nice and chubby, and she’d be our demonstration slaughtering rabbit during second site visit.

 

Well, second site visit has come and gone, and Second Site Visit is still here. Because when you raise a rabbit from birth on its own, it gets awfully friendly.

 

Luckily Second Site Visit has another productive life plan. She’ll be moving to Mike’s village to be one of his breeding rabbits. Thank goodness!

 

Me telling Second Site Visit "No, I will never eat you, never ever ever."

Me telling Second Site Visit “No, I will never eat you, never ever ever.”

(This post was written a couple weeks ago and has since been pondered, semi-edited, and embellished upon)

Energy.
Yesterday Andrew and I arrived at the Solwezi Provincial house after a long week. A long several weeks, in fact. We did what we normally do: stopped at the grocery store for the meat, yogurt and cheese that had been lacking in our diets for the past fortnight, grabbed a bottle of white wine to put in the fridge (normally we buy Savanna hard cider but the store was out) and settled in to the provincial house.
A shower is, after mail, dairy, and cold alcohol, a priority when in town. I went first, watching in morbid amusement as the first blast of water hit my feet, turning the white tub a deep reddish brown. After I had soaked my hair and was prepared to shampoo, I reached down to turn off the faucet.
Then I remembered: I’m not at site! This hot water won’t run out. I can leave it running while I lather up my hair. The water isn’t coming from a 25-liter jerry can that is strung up in a tree. We didn’t have to pump it. And even if I stay in the shower for half an hour, there will be plenty left for Andrew.
That momentary oversight, of when I almost deemed it necessary to turn off the water to wash my matted hair, amused me enough to remind me it’s time to write a post I’ve been mulling over for awhile.
Energy. Budgeting. Food. Waste. Conservation.

A few weeks ago, fellow Vermonter and St. Lawrence University graduate Katie Spring wrote in her blog An Intentional Wildness (so sorry, can’t code hyperlinks on this computer, find this lovely blog at http://kathrynspring.wordpress.com ):

A deep appreciation is cultivated through the act of hauling water. I know the energy it takes to fill a glass, to fill a basin for washing, to pour a cup of tea. So much of the connection is lost with faucets–the energy it takes to spurt water from the pipe becomes a distant memory too easy to forget. But fill a bucket, carry it inside, and you will pause when you pour that water out. 

I loved Katie’s post because it puts words behind the deep, visceral learning experience I’ve had during Peace Corps. That of energy; the physicality of understanding how we, as humans, access what we need.

Please forgive me as I grapple with this in written words; these are thoughts that flitter through my mind and this is the first time I’ve tried to put them into sentences.

Water is the easiest resource to explain. To get water our water, Andrew takes three 20-liter jerry cans to the well on his bicycle. Two are held together by a string and put over the bar of the bike; the other one is strapped onto the bike rack. Andrew rides the bike 500 meters to the borehole, where he waits in line for his turn at pumping. I believe it takes approximately 175 pumps to fill a 20-liter can; this estimation is from a week ago when I, for once, did the pumping. This number will increase as the gaskets on the borehole get more worn out; as it is there is major water loss at the seams. I learned I can pump 50 times before I need a break. I’ll have to ask Andrew; I bet after all the practice he has no problem filling a can without resting.

Once the pumping is complete, Andrew loads the jerry can onto his bike and pushes it 500 meters back home, where I hold the bike while he offloads them. The amount of time this process takes depends on the line; at least 20 minutes; sometimes up to 45 or an hour.

That’s for 60 liters. We use 20 or 25 for bathing daily. 10 for washing dishes. 5-8 for washing our hands. Cooking may take 5-10 depending on what we’re making. I cannot estimate our drinking water because it varies massively on the heat and our activity level. Laundry takes 40 liters; I was our clothes every 5 days or so. In the dry season, our various crops, nurseries and trees take 150-180 liters daily. Andrew hauls a lot of water.

We’ve gotten pretty clever, if I may say so myself, in saving water. Our brown dish-washing, hand-washing, tooth-brushing and cooking water gets saved for irrigation in the dry season. I know that the water it takes to cook a meal of pasta will, once cooled, water 2 tomato plants at the height of the hot, dry season in October. Dish and hand washing water saved for irrigation means one less load of water over three days that Andrew has to haul. The biggest water-dump is laundry; the detergents are too toxic to go into food crops.

In the rainy season our water needs are less, and we’ve been collecting it off of the tin roof of an abandoned house. Ten minutes of heavy rain will channel into a day’s worth of water for us; one day Andrew can have a break from the borehole. During rainy season he only has to pump once or twice in a week.

But we still know our resources are finite. Every evening as Andrew heats up bath water while I feed the rabbits, he asks me if I’m washing my hair that day. My answer will dictate how much water he heats up; will dictate how much wood we’ll burn and how many calories he’ll expend fanning the fire. This brings me back to my recent wanton shower at the provincial house. I almost turned the water off in order to use less, but then I realized I didn’t need to so I let it keep pouring for at least 10 minutes.

There must be some web site or online tool that calculates how much water one uses in a shower. But as I write this the Internet is down; I will type now and post later. However, I do know that I personally use far, far above 10 liters when showering anywhere but at our home in Sandang’ombe village, Solwezi, Zambia. A hot shower is, anywhere (including, and especially, our hung-from-a-tree shower at site), one of the great pleasures we have as humans. Is there anything more relaxing, more cleansing?

How does the water even get hot? At our site, 15 miles from the nearest source of electricity, we heat all of our water up, and do all of our cooking, on wood: either in the form of logs on an open fire or charcoal in a brazier. The charcoal must be purchased from any of a number of local charcoal producers. It’s cheap – about $3 for a two-month supply. But the environmental cost is high. Our area supplies most of the charcoal to Solwezi, a mining boom town with exponential population growth; where electricity is so expensive that even the people who have it cook on charcoal. Zambia has the world’s second highest rate of deforestation (after our neighbors to the north in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Northwestern province has some of the highest rates in the country (many other provinces don’t have enough forest left to chop down trees at the rate they’re going up here). As Forestry Extension Agents, one of our main roles is to encourage people to stop cutting down trees for charcoal to preserve the environment. Obviously it’s hypocritical for us to be purchasing and using charcoal. On the other hand, while we promote tree planting and sustainable forest harvest, the answer to Zambia’s deforestation problem is simply not the work we do on community levels. The use of charcoal in villages is a tiny sliver in a massive iceberg. Until electricity costs go down and the demand for charcoal in cities is reduced, how can we possibly blame destitute members of rural communities to make a living by producing charcoal?

Regardless, we keep our charcoal use to a minimum. The other way to get fuel is for Andrew to go into the bush to collect firewood. We are unique in our community in that we use dead, dried (or as dry as it can be when it rains most days) wood. We like it because it burns hotter and cleaner. It took me awhile to understand why rural Zambians chop down live trees for fuel – it kills the tree and produces choking amounts of smoke. However, I now understand that this slow-burning green wood is the only way to keep a fire hot overnight. When people are finished cooking, they cover the wood in ash to insulate it, and, in the morning, the coals are usually hot enough to be reignited. Andrew and I use hunks of paraffin fire starter and a cigarette lighter multiple times a day to light our hot, clean fire. These items are financially unobtainable to most people in our community.

Another way to light a fire is to collect hot coals from a neighbor and transfer them to your own fire. This is a very common practice. The morning after heavy, heavy rains, Andrew and I are sometimes the only people in the village with fire. Our neighbor’s son comes by our house with a small sheet of metal and asks us for hot coals. He then lights his family’s fire from our coals, and other families collect coals from them. Gradually the whole village’s fires are lit.

A drawback to our preference for clean, hot-burning fuel is that it burns quickly. Andrew goes into the bush to collect firewood at least once a week. The biggest fuel burner is our big wood-fired oven. It takes a ton of wood, but is heavily insulated and will stay hot for around 16 hours. Due to the labor and materials involved in getting it going, we consolidate all of our baking, and get creative in the ways we can use the oven to save other resources. Typically we spend an entire afternoon at least once a week just using the oven. We always bake some sort of bread; enough for 4 days or so. If we have an egg and sugar, we make a small batch of cookies or brownies. We roast a tray of vegetables and eat them with fresh bread for lunch. As the oven starts to cool down, we put in a pot of beans – enough for 3 or 4 meals – and let them slow cook. The same goes for soybeans for the rabbits and chickens. We may wrap sweet potatoes in tin foil and leave them in the coals overnight for breakfast the next day. At times we’ve dried chili peppers or wild bush mushrooms in the oven to preserve a harvest. We even heat up our bath water in the oven. Anything to get our wood’s worth!

After the oven has been fired up, we have food. Lots of food. And virtually no means of preserving it. We switch from bake-mode to eat-mode; planning meals so we eat all the beans before they get funky and all the bread before it gets moldy or stale. In the past week, when we had three Trainees at our site for their Second Site Visit, my planning and budgeting got off and there was some excess food from baking – both beans and bread. We gave a big bowl of beans to our neighbor, but even then we ended up throwing some out. I was really bothered by this, and it made me think of how very, very much food we threw away in America, even though we had a refrigerator. By American standards, for a group of five people to throw away two stale bread heels and a cup of cooked beans in a week is barely considered wasteful. But it’s been months since any of these precious (raw materials purchased with minimal funds, hauled in on a bicycle, and cooked using labor-intensive resources) food items got thrown away at our home.

Maybe it should be, but this is no “eat up, there are starving children in Africa” phenomenon. We no longer waste food because we cannot afford to. We’re on a tight budget, but the labor of getting food is the biggest limiting factor. We go into town every two or three weeks.

The final bit of this rumination is trash. Is there anything less romantic? But the trash issue has struck me hardest. Forgive me for what I’m about to say, but it’s the truth.

For the past 2 years, I’ve been burning every piece of trash we’ve created.

Yep. Paper, plastic. Excess metal goes down the toilet. We have a 3- or 4-foot deep pit for trash; once a week or so I take the bag that’s been collecting in our house, light it on fire, and drop it in. I monitor and stir it so it all burns, but not too closely because the smell of burning plastic gives me a headache.

It’s horrible, and I’m not proud of it, but it’s a reality of living somewhere with no public waste disposal system. The beautiful rural road that takes us away from Solwezi and into the bush where our village is has, in the past year or so, become a preferred site for trash dump from the city. There are piles of sick, smelly garbage on the side of the road; plastic bags blowing around in the air, catching on trees and in people’s fields. I’m sure it’s illegal, but that’s why our road – so close to the city, but so very, very rural – is a chosen spot. It’s disgusting.

We are learning. We are choosy with what we buy and how we use it. We take reusable bags to the grocery store and market, and reuse what plastic grocery bags we do get over and over (their final life is as trash bags). Whenever a product is available packaged in paper or cardboard, we take that. We throw out only one small grocery bag of trash per week. However, I must admit burning these bags has gotten more unbearable with time, as the bulk of them is plastic. Through the months I’ve learned how to reduce the amount of trash that goes into that bag. Kleenex goes into our vermiculture box. I use oatmeal boxes, flour bags, envelopes, and useless paper to mulch in the garden. And, of course, anything that can be composted gets tossed in the pit under the rabbit hutch (where it attracts bugs, and the chickens scratch for the bugs and turn up the compost and it makes a lovely rich black healthy topdresser for the garden…oh beauty!). Most metal finds a use; the cans of dried milk are our primary metal trash and are perfect for at the base of the legs of rabbit hutches to protect from termites and fire ants. It’s the plastic that gets us. Pasta bags, lentil bags, overused grocery bags, tape.

I know that, even in rural, beautiful Vermont, trash goes into landfills. Biodegradable and compostable items are as good as plastic in a landfill, where the lack of decomposing organisms translates to ever-growing piles. I knew this before we left, but faced with the harsh reality of needing to burn trash on a weekly basis, I think I’ll be a lot better about how much trash we generate. When faced with the smoky, oozy, fume-y task of making all your garbage disappear (ahem…be vaporized into the environment) you do anything you can to make there be less of it. Bigger bags of pasta are less plastic for more meals. Heavier-duty plastic bags means more uses. Reuse, reduce, buy in bulk, reuse, compost, make decisions carefully, and reuse again.

Again, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I burn our trash. I really don’t know ecologically if it’s better to burn plastic than to bury or leave it. I just can’t bear to see it blowing around the village. But it’s been a good lesson in the impact of the choices we made. And I know my experience is limited to the impact of water use and food planning. What about the unforeseen political and environmental costs of other types of energy…the fuel in our vehicles? Don’t get me started. I truly don’t know…but I ought to.

Thus ends this long, mismatched, and rambling post about energy. At the end of the day, I wanted to share how living in a low-tech environment for a couple years has brought me closer to our sources of energy.

But please, if you can, compost everything you humanly can. Reuse plastic, and reuse it again. Invest in some nice Pyrexlass containers and do away with Ziplock. Reuse, reuse, reuse.

Thank you!

 

Keeping it green.

Keeping it green.

As I mourned in a previous post, time is coming to an end. With the exception of last week, when we were hosting the trainees, time has been pretty mellow. We’ve finished off work at our clinic’s orchard (lemon, orange, grapefruit, guava, papaya, avocado, and passionfruit). And we’ve been looking after a LOT of baby rabbits.

As it stands now, we have 9 families in our community keeping rabbits. Two of them have females that have beed bred in the past two weeks; the does are due the first week of April. Three people are awaiting one more rabbit to complete their pair; two families are waiting for both rabbits, and I believe there are two other families working on their hutches.

We had some problems with litters about two months ago; several kits got sick from one litter, and we lost an entire litter of 6 shortly after. That was hard, but it was the doe’s first kindling, and it is not uncommon that a doe may abandon her first litter, or never get milk to feed them. The doe has since taken up residence at another volunteer’s house and recently gave birth to a healthy litter of 5 that is doing well.

All that being said, about a month and a half ago we got all 3 of our remaining females pregnant, wanting to ensure we could fufill our promises made to community members before going home. All three mamas gave birth on their 31st day of pregnancy, as has been typical here. And thus started what I shall call The Great Baby Rabbit Shuffle.

Stick with me, here.

All decisions were made on the following facts:

1. Rabbits only have 8 nipples

2. Does only feed their young perhaps twice a day for 1-2 minutes, so missing a feeding can be devastating

3. Rabbits are very open to fostering, or taking kits from another mother.

 

On Wednesday, March 12, Wanda gave birth to 5 kits in the mid morning.

On Friday, March 14 Bonnie gave birth to what appeared to be 9 kits in the mid afternoon. Rabbits grow at an alarming rate, so we were concerned about putting kits for fostering with Wanda, but we went for it. 2 of Bonnie’s kits were transferred into a nesting box with Wanda’s.

Wanda's 2-day old kit on left, Bonnie's 20-minute-old kit on right. A size comparison as we transferred two of Bonnie's to Wanda's for fostering.

Wanda’s 2-day old kit on left, Bonnie’s 20-minute-old kit on right. A size comparison as we transferred two of Bonnie’s to Wanda’s for fostering.

 

We actually found another kit in Bonnie’s nesting box two days later. It was dead and appeared to have been born so. It was just weird that it took us so long to find it. A second one died the next day, so Bonnie’s litter of 10 was down to 8, although she was only looking after 6.

On Thursday, March 20 Barbie kindled 6 kits. I was surprised by the litter size because Barbie was HUGE.

Barbie preparing her nest a couple days before kindling. Andrew's outside tying the box down so it doesn't flip.

Barbie preparing her nest a couple days before kindling. Andrew’s outside tying the box down so it doesn’t flip.

I guess one of the pro’s to a rabbit being enormous is that the kits come out enormous. Biggest I’ve ever seen. But the small-ish litter size opened up a new possibility: Barbie could foster kits, too. Bonnie’s kits were tiny at first, but had been looking good the last few days, but there was a clear runt.

Enormous size discrepancy in Bonnie's 6-day-old kits. Yet the smaller one still appears healthy and vigorous. The runt got placed with newborn kits and appears to be doing ok.

Enormous size discrepancy in Bonnie’s 6-day-old kits. Yet the smaller one still appears healthy and vigorous. The runt got placed with newborn kits and is doing ok.

 

So that’s the great shuffle to date: Bonnie has 5 kits of her original 10 (2 died, 3 being fostered). Wanda  has her original 5, plus 2 of Bonnie’s. Barbie has her original 6, plus 1 of Bonnie’s. All are doing fine so far and we hope they continue to do so…headed back to the village soon to check on them!

Culinary highlights…

 

Brilliant care package from Doug contained a coffee grinder and Cochran Family Slopeside Syrup. A rainy morning was made cheery by freshly ground coffee and banana whole-wheat pancakes with syrup.

Brilliant care package from Doug contained a coffee grinder and Cochran Family Slopeside Syrup. A rainy morning was made cheery by freshly ground coffee and banana whole-wheat pancakes with syrup.

 

Village sushi! Pineapple, carrot, cucumber, avocado, and canned salmon. The salmon was nasty. Everything else was delicious.

Village sushi! Pineapple, carrot, cucumber, avocado, and canned salmon. The salmon was nasty. Everything else was delicious.

 

Butternut squash ravioli with tomato sauce

Butternut squash ravioli with tomato sauce

 

Home-chicken omlette with cheese (from town) and tons of veggies; guacamole and pea sprouts up on top.

Home-chicken omlette with cheese (from town) and tons of veggies; guacamole and pea sprouts up on top.

 

Rabbit fajitas. Maple-chipotle BBQ sauce, pinapple salsa, and all the other goodies. Could barely taste the rabbit, but it was spectacular.

Rabbit fajitas. Maple-chipotle BBQ sauce, pinapple salsa, and all the other goodies. Could barely taste the rabbit, but it was spectacular.

 

Challah bread; happy Friday and happy French Toast!

Challah bread; happy Friday and happy French Toast!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s March 23, 2014. The various countdowns are on. Andrew and I have 38 days left in Zambia. 27 left at our site. Two months from now we’ll be in Greece; three months from now we’ll be in France; four months from now we’ll be home in Vermont. We’re in downsizing mode; getting rid of our belongings, from clothes to kitchen items to livestock.

Anyone who is close to me knows I am excited to go home. I’ve been jubilant at the thought of being so close to the end of this amazing experience that I craved for so long. I’m excited for our travels after Peace Corps. I’m excited to go home and see my friends; hike in Vermont’s foliage, find new jobs, move into an apartment, order takeout sushi. Andrew and I have a plan for what’s next, and we are psyched about it. I’ve been trying to temper that excitement with the fact I know how nostalgic I’ll be for these two years once they’re over. I know I’ll miss our humble village life forever.

This past week, though, the sadness hit me like a truck. We hosted the second site visit for the Kaonde trainees in our program; three volunteers-to-be including our replacement. And while it was a fun, exciting week, it made it clear to my soul instead of just my head that we are leaving soon. Very soon. I’m so happy for these trainees; they are at the beginning of a spectacular journey. And we won’t be here to see them experience it.

What is it about animals that channels this sadness? When Andrew and I left my childhood home at 3am on February 7, 2012 to go to the airport, I was holding it together alright until I turned around and saw our cat sitting there, gazing at the spectacle. That’s when I cried. Our cat’s great, but he’s just a cat, plus I knew he’d be well taken care of in our absence (thanks, Dad). But something about that simple animal funneled all my fears and sadnesses about leaving family and home and friends and familiarity. It’s the same as we leave again. I think about Barbie rabbit’s wiggly, sniffy nose as I approach her cage; she’s looking for a treat. Belly Boo the Cat jumping on my lap as I drink tea and read a book in the evening. Even the chickens, woefully unintelligent as they may be, with their low clucking as they nestle in to lay an egg. These are the things that are making me so sad. But, as much as I love the animals, it’s about people. I just cannot fathom the extent of the goodbyes. I. Will. Never. See. You. Again.

Ever.

I love the idea of seeing someone, anyone, from our village again. In this connected world, it’s totally possible. But Marjorie, my closest friend? She doesn’t have a PO Box. She’s never been on a computer. She doesn’t know what the Internet is. She doesn’t have a phone.

Many volunteers talk about returning to Zambia, but I am quite confident that neither of us ever will. It’s not the path we’re taking. I don’t know if we’ll ever be on this continent again. No, this has been a phase. A beautiful, exciting, wild phase. But we are moving on.

Which leaves behind unbearable goodbyes. A few days ago I watched Marjorie’s youngest son, Terry, run down a path. I remember him taking his first steps. The first time he clapped at me (traditional greeting). Now he mumbles sweet little phrases in English and Kaonde. I won’t see him go to school. I won’t see him become a big brother.

Never, ever again. In Peace Corps, we invest ourselves so deeply in our communities and the people in them. Then we leave.

This past week, we had several cultural activities for the Trainees so they could experience Kaonde culture. Here is Marjorie cracking up as I butcher the fine art of separating maize hull from grain.

 

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Keep us in your thoughts, friends and family. The next month is going to be a tough one. So much joy, so much sadness. The essence of transitions.