my mamas and sister gave me nsimbo, village tattoos done with a razor blade and ash of the kalutenta plant. tonga women traditionally apply these as a sort of traditional medicine to help them attract a husband.

my mamas and sister gave me nsimbo, village tattoos done with a razor blade and ash of the kalutenta plant. tonga women traditionally apply these as a sort of traditional medicine to help them attract a husband.

i found a great cd of traditional tonga music at the house. here’s a track from that, about chief monze.

The Meaning of Home

My time in the village of Siamuleya has come to an end.

I pulled myself from my site on Friday. The last few days were surreal. I spent my time trying to balance between cleaning out my house, processing everything, spending time with family and friends, and taking time to just do absolutely nothing. I ate my weight in nshima and enjoyed my last bit of time speaking true, deep, village Tonga with my family.

I knew leaving would be hard, but it was different somehow than I expected; harder in different ways than I had anticipated. I am always so grateful for everything my family does for me- did for me, I suppose. Getting used to the past tense is still a strange feeling. With everything that my family provided for me over these two years, feeding me and helping me do my chores and teaching me a whole world of different culture and language, I never once expected them to give me more.

I, of course, gave them a truckload of things from my hut: sugar, cooking oil, peanut butter, beans, rice, salt, powdered milk, tomato soup mix, lanterns, shoes, a hat, a coloring book and crayons for my sisters, wire, soap, chlorine to purify drinking water, sponges, old containers, candles… They’re even going to be living in my nice, sturdy house until the next Volunteer comes. I gave them everything I thought they would like to have, and never thought twice about it. I didn’t need those things anymore, and my family did. It was a completely reflexive thought process.

My family had been visiting throughout the week and telling me they had no relish - any sort of flavored dish that the nshima is eaten with, and the expensive part of the meal for those families that don’t garden their own vegetables. I gave them what I could: my sack of beans that I was going to give to them anyways, a big bag of soya pieces, whatever vegetables I had on hand… For my last meal in the village, dinner on Thursday night, my mamas made a delicious spread of soya pieces, beans, and fried veg. They cooked so much food, because they knew it was my last dinner with them.

After dinner, we sat and talked for a long time, enjoying the peaceful dark of the night. I told them about the houses back home, how they stack stories on top of each other, and about skyscrapers, because there are so many people in the cities that we need to build on top of our selves in order to not run out of space. I laughed with the kids as Thandiwe pretended to exorcise Smokey while he laughed and swung around by her hands.

My heart started to break when the girls had to go to bed, so they could get up for school the next morning. One by one, my sisters came over to give me a hug and say, “Mweende kabotu,” wishing me safe travels on my way home. Thandiwe, Mutinta, Beatrice, and Medess, who all look so much older than they did two short years ago; strong, smart, quick to laugh, and so beautiful.

Mama Evi told me they had something to give me. She went into the house and came back with a simple chitenge, the type costing the equivalent of about one dollar. She handed it to me and said quietly, “We have nothing to give you.” After all I had given her that day; after all of the food I had been able to offload so effortlessly; after all the things I owned that I could afford not to have to bring back home with me; after they had been without relish for a week, along with mama having to pay for an unforeseen trip to Pemba to sign up to receive fertilizer for her women’s group; after all of that, she simply stated that they had nothing that could ever compare to what I had given them.

It was too much for me. I had to tell them that I was tired and had to go to bed. I thanked them for dinner and told them I would see them in the morning, and went back to my hut in silent tears. I unfolded the chitenge in the candlelight, and found it to match one of Mama Laila’s, a largely caramel brown pattern with colorful Christmas-like bells. It’s beautiful. I just hope that they know they’ve given me more than I could ever express or ever repay. I felt like I was maybe starting to make up the deficit with my gifts, and then this simple, inexpensive two meters of cloth shot me right back down in to the red.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that love and kindness can grow out of nothingness and anonymity in a surprisingly short amount of time. Humans can grow to care for each other so deeply that they would risk life and limb for each other, all in a matter of so short a time as weeks. The human heart is capable of amazing feats, and culture is no barrier.

The morning that I left was filled with tears and hugs and me saying the word, “Twalumba,” over and over, thanking every single person I came across for everything that they had shared with me over the last two years. Mr. Zanda was thankfully going into town in his canter truck, so he picked me up at my house, along with my pack, guitar, water filter, and three bags of various items to give away at the Peace Corps office in Choma. He drove me straight to the office and wished me safe travels.

Now I’m here at the office, and I’ve spent the last two days decompressing and processing everything. There’s only one of my friends left here who will be leaving with me, my buddy, Chris. We’ve been packing side by side, sharing village stories, and cooking good food with the handful of other Volunteers who are here right now. Last night we put a mattress on top of the cruiser and stargazed, enjoying our last little bit of time in our home province. On Tuesday, we’ll travel to Lusaka and spend a few days getting our affairs in order there. On Friday, we “ring out” and my twenty-seven month service will officially have ended. On Saturday, I hop a flight to Thailand, via Joburg and Abu Dhabi, for a two-week holiday with one of my best friends from home. I’ll touch back down on American soil in less than three weeks from today. I’m sad to be leaving, of course, but also incredibly excited to be going back to America and all the warm people I’ve left there.

The word “home” is a difficult one for me at this juncture. Home is America, but home is also Zambia. Home is a two-story house with central heating and glass windows, but it’s also a mud-brick and thatched hut. Home is where I grew up, but it’s also this place that I’ve only lived in for two too-short years. Home is something to look forward to regaining, but also something being ripped away from me. Ultimately, though, home is not a place. Home is people.

They say, “Home is where the heart is.” I don’t store my heart in cold, impersonal buildings of any make; I store my heart in the warm hands of the people I love. I give pieces of it, bit by bit, freely and unselfishly. I take bits of others’ hearts in return, hoping to treat them as well as I hope they are treating mine. Home isn’t America because I’m returning to potable tap water and high-pressure showers and a thermostat; home is America because of everyone I miss so dearly. And home isn’t Siamuleya because of the beautiful morning light spilling over the mountains, or the lush reeds growing in the babbling river, or my swept dirt compound with its squat, strong little buildings; it’s home because I’ve given every ounce of myself to these people, and they have, so gracefully and across all cultural barriers, become my home.

all packed up. two years in zambia, and i’m leaving with just the pack on my back and a heart full of memories.

all packed up. two years in zambia, and i’m leaving with just the pack on my back and a heart full of memories.

Coping with Leaving

I have two weeks left in my village at this point. Sitting in my doorway at dusk and staring out at my compound, it hit me for the first time that while I’ve been processing a lot of emotions dealing with leaving all the people that make up the warm heart of Siamuleya, I’ve hardly given any thought to losing the physical place. I realized that, in two weeks, I’ll likely never again get to wake up and gaze out over the hills; I’ll never again spend a day lazing around this simple but sufficient house; I’ll never again fall asleep to the frogs and crickets and whistling evening birds. Loss is a difficult emotion for me to cope with, even while I’m so excited to return home to America. It’s made even harder by the fact that I knew it was coming all along, I filled myself up with everything this place has to offer, and I still feel like I’m missing something. Maybe I always will, simply because I can’t keep this place tucked into my pocket forever. I have to let go, and it’s so hard.

Saying Goodbye

It has been a very long time since I blogged… Life here is surprisingly easy to adapt to, and then nothing seems all that notable to blog about after a while.
Just about a week ago marked two years in-country for me. That means my time is almost at an end… My host family is already talking about how I’m leaving soon. I’m excited to go home to America, but also sad to leave this place that has also become my home, and these people who have also become my family.
I have so much to do in order to get ready to leave - it’s overwhelming. Packing up two years of life and giving it away to various parties is daunting. Saying goodbye is not something I ever considered myself actually doing, though I knew that logically I must. It always just seemed so far away.
I’m going to miss this place, with the cows that try to eat my laundry and the hot sun that creeps predictably over my dirt yard. I’m going to miss these people most of all, though. Two months left and I’m starting to feel it now.

The Maize is Growing…

I’ve been away for two weeks over the holidays, and it feels incredibly good to be home. I got a lift home with one of my farmers, and on the walk to my house, I noticed the maize. It’s getting so tall! It was only planted maybe a month ago, but it’s already nearing my hip.
I don’t know what it is that’s so exciting about the maize growing. It might be the simple act of change - that for how static and routine life can be in the village, some things are still dynamic. It might be relief - that although we had a late start to our rains this year, they’ve finally settled in comfortably and we can expect good results. But most of all, I think it’s the thought of my family and community being well-fed in this coming year. Climate change has never been scarier than while I’ve lived among subsistence farmers. The rains are literally their bread and butter, the life force that brings forth nearly everything they eat. No rains, no maize - or relish. No rains, no food. Thank god for the rains.

2013 Comes to a Close!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted - sorrysorry, but I’ve either been too busy to post, doing too much or to weird of things to be able to try to sum up in a post, or there’s been absolutely nothing worthwhile to post about. Resolution: be better about that this year!

Anyways, this year I did one of those “Write down all the happy things that happen to you this year and keep them in a jar to read on New Year’s Eve” jars, and I’ve just gotten through reading all of them. So here’s my year in review, in no particular order.

  • I learned how to make cheese from my other PCVs
  • I went night scuba diving in Lake Malawi
  • I got to watch the first roller derby since I left America
  • I read bits of ‘Game of Thrones’ aloud with Evy because we were both super into it but only had one copy when she visited me
  • I helped out in the pharmacy at the clinic
  • I read 100 books in-country
  • I carried 20L of water on my head
  • I saw the lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls
  • I saw polocrosse in Choma with my PCVs
  • I sent a chocolate bar via bushnote to my neighbor PCV, Jeremy
  • I cut my hair into a mohawk
  • I got an anonymous bushnote from PCV friends about whether or not I thought George Clooney is hot
  • I cliffjumped for the first time in Lake Malawi
  • I did my first condom demo at the clinic, and it was surprisingly not as awkward as I thought it would be
  • I ate crocodile for the first time - delicious!
  • I spent 6 hours making hilarious cookies with my friend, Evy
  • I discovered my new favorite podcast, ‘Welcome to Night Vale’
  • I bleached my hair
  • I did a Superman Month, or one month in the vill’ with no electronics
  • I hiked to Kalambo Falls at Lake Tanganyika
  • I started helping out with outreach under-5 clinics
  • I did my first complete re-read of ‘Harry Potter’
  • I made hot season kebabs and fancy drinks with Evy
  • I learned how to keep bees

Here’s to hoping 2014 is just as good!

A Can of Worms Labeled “Cultural Appropriation”

I am many, many things – lots of little odds and ends that make up a complicated and ever-changing individual. I am complex, thoughtful, multi-faceted, and proud of all of those bits and bobs. Because of the importance of these identities, I seek to be educated about all of them, empowered within them, and always yearning to know more about the identities of others – identities that are just as important to those individuals as mine are to me. This passion for understanding often leads me to late-night blog marathons and discussions with my diverse group of friends. After a year in Africa, I think it’s time. I’m opening this can of worms… Cultural appropriation, development obstacles, and white privilege, and specifically how these things relate to me as a white Westerner in “mystic ancient Africa.”

This blog has been a long while in the works, stewing away in my brain and just waiting for the right moment for me to unleash it. It’s gonna be a doozy, and I’m sure that I can’t do the broad subjects enough justice in the media of one blog entry. I’ll try to define things as I go along, but if you’re really interested in learning more about these topics at large (which I certainly support) then I would encourage you to do some Googling, read as many blogs as you have time for, and get the many rich perspectives that come from the sea of intelligent POC (people of color) bloggers on the internet.

Read More

GLOW GLOW Power Rangers!

One of my favorite projects I’m involved in these days is Camp GLOW, which stands for Girls Leading Our World. GLOW is a girls’ empowerment camp put on by Peace Corps Volunteers, with the goal of empowering girls in rural areas through education. We cover issues like HIV/AIDS awareness, self esteem, puberty, budgeting, malaria prevention, and others - but we also do fun things like crafts, team building games, and field trips.

I’ve been busy, shuttling myself around my catchment area to pick girls for my camp. Each PCV selects two girls from grade 8, at least for what we’ve decided for Southern Province, and mine are very excited about this opportunity to go to camp. I had the girls of the grade 8 class at Siazwela write an essay about why they wanted to go to camp, and got some really great responses, from wanting to know their HIV status to excitement about bringing the lessons they learn back to their community.

We’re busy-busy in the process of planning this camp, getting all the sessions planned and supplies gathered, and come December, we should have everything we need to make this an awesome week. However, we can’t do it without help! If you’re interested in helping with Camp GLOW, we’d appreciate any of the following supplies that we can’t get in-country:

  • embroidery floss for friendship bracelets
  • yarn for crafts
  • beads and string for jewelry making - especially any cool-looking beads that we can give out for prizes or participation
  • crayons, colored pencils, etc
  • construction or otherwise colored paper
  • old magazines for collaging
  • glow sticks for nighttime games
  • small cute things for prizes - hair clips, headbands, scrunchies, key chains, bracelets
  • anything else you think we can use!

It’s really difficult for us to find certain things that will help us make this camp everything it can be, so we appreciate any help given. Afterwards, we’ll be mailing out thank you cards to all of our donors. If you’re interested in contributing, you can send things to my address:

Lee McKinstry, PCV
US Peace Corps
PO Box 630569
Choma, Zambia

If you’d like to keep up to date on our GLOW adventures, you can ‘Like’ our Facebook page here. We’re all very excited about how things are coming along, and I can’t wait to share more with you about how this thing goes.