Monday, November 19, 2012

Full Circle

Gina's Post

Scott and I just got back from our Peace Corps mid-term medicals conference in Lusaka.  Aside from a clean bill of health for both of us, our country director had us make a circle around the large chota in the Peace Corps office to symbolize that we have all spent one year in the village and have one more to go.  I truly feel like I live here now; it's been fun traveling to other provinces over the last few months and when Zambians ask me where I'm from (thinking I'll say Europe or the US), and I say in Lunda that I come from the Northwest province.

It's interesting that within the past 3 months, we've had 4 American visitors, all of whom we took to see the village.  It also took me on a walk down memory lane, since I spent about a month in Zambia in September 2006 visiting my friend Colleen, and she showed me some of the same spots that we showed our friends.  I feel like me living in this beautiful place (in the same province at that) has completed the circle.  Some of the nostalgic places included:

Victoria Falls

Back in 2006 when I was at Victoria Falls with Colleen and my sister Cynthia the water level of the falls was low enough in September (end of the dry season) that we 3 adventurous girls were told we could walk up above and look down.  Of course a guide was recommended, but being on a backpacker’s budget we just paid some local kids a few kwacha to show us the secret spot.  We walked over a sketchy narrow dam and found a bunch of local boys fishing, swimming, and doing acrobatics for us (for a price of course).   Our reward for crossing countless shallow streams was an amazing view of the falls from above, along with pictures of the Zambian adolescent acrobats in their swimming attire.

In this last trip with Scott, Brad, Jane and Julie, being 6 years older and all the wiser, we heeded the sign that said, “beware: don’t go past this point without a guide.”  Good thing, too, because not 2 minutes later did one of us spot an elephant behind some trees across the shallow Zambezi river.  We looked to our right to see an armed wildlife guard, who calmly advised us to keep our distance from the elephants.  We watched in wonder as a herd of 5-6 of these giants appeared to drink from the river, and then they began crossing . . . toward us.  There were no other tourists by then, but several local employees of the park came to see the animals.  Then the guards told us to move slowly but calmly out of the grove above the falls.  Reason: the elephants were going to cross the river and had the potential to block us in.  Although we didn’t get to see the falls from up above, seeing the elephants drink from the Zambezi near sunset made up for it.  And as a side note, it was good to see armed guards actually enforcing the rules . . . gives hope that the wildlife numbers are maybe going up again.

Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage
Colleen, Cynthia and I visited this interesting place to break up the 3-day journey to Colleen’s village in 2006.   Here’s what I wrote about it back then:

As we walked behind cages of loud primate sounds, we were told to keep hands and all body parts away from the windows as the chimps like to grab.  We then removed all watches, necklaces, and belts and handed our cameras to the professional chimp-handlers.  The gate opened and 5 young chimps named Dee Dee, Cindy, Hans, Gus, and Carla scrambled to greet us.  To our surprise, each climbed up to one of us and perched on our shoulders as we walked them through the trees.  They found their favorite play spot and coaxed us to swing with them up and down on the low branches.  Gus even snatched Colleen's shoelace when she wasn't looking and played hide-and-seek with her to get it back!  I felt like I was in kindergarten again.

We did the same thing with Brad, Jane and Julie to break up their visit to our village in remote northwestern province.  Some of the differences I noted were: 1) the pet hippo Billy that resided in front of the chimp cages had passed away.  2) Sheila, the founder of Chimpfunshi, had aged quite a bit and was now using a walker.  We only saw her briefly from her house, as she has passed on the management of her day-to-day activities to her daughter Sylvia.    3) This time, instead of telling us to wear grubby clothes for the chimp walk, they had us put on blue smurf suits and fill our pockets with biscuits to feed the chimps as they interacted with us.  Definitely don’t remember the feeding part last time.  4) Instead of camping near an amazing river, we stayed in dorms with no view but that did have hot water.  5) the $30, 30 minute bush walk we did in 2006 was now a 2 hour bush walk for $100 USD.  Guess they needed more money for the chimps!   The surprising thing was that I actually remembered some of the chimps (Sims, Cindy and Carla) from that long ago.  I couldn’t help resist giving Cindy another kiss.  I remember leaving both times with the same mixed emotions of having visited a place trying to make amends for humans’ destructive impact on this planet as well as being a first-hand witness to the striking similarities between chimps and humans.

Chisemwa Cha Lunda
Crazily again, I was invited to the same traditional ceremony that I saw in 2006.  Even crazier, Brad and Jane were visiting us in the village at that very same time.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

Cynthia and I rode all our gear out the 60K on bush roads to Mwnilunga, the nearest "boma," or larger village where we were to meet up with Colleen and about 15 other Peace Corps volunteers who were specially invited by Lunda Chief Kanongesha to stay at his palace grounds. The occasion was Chisemwa Chalunda, or "tradition of the Lundas" annual festival.  We camped for the evening at another volunteer named Kristin's village, roasted pig in a big pit, and stood by the road to catch a ride with one of the many trucks that would be heading to Kanongesha's palace grounds.  Around mid-morning, the driver of a flatbed with about 80 or so singing Lundas said he could give us a lift, so we all piled in and joined in the merriment.

Kanongesha's compound was more like an assortment of solar-powered mud and brick buildings surrounded by a grass fence in the middle of the bush.  Nonetheless, as he is head of the entire Lunda tribe in Zambia, Angola, and the Congo, we were honored to participate.  After opening ceremonies consisting of singing, dancing, scripture reading, and food offerings to the chief, we were escorted onto his private greeting room.  In the room, Kanongesha adorned all of the Peace Corps volunteers with necklaces made of traditional beans and t-shirts printed with pictures of His Royal Highness and other Lunda chiefs.  In return, our group gave him some live chickens and vegetables.

More and more people arrived, transforming a tiny Kanongesha's tiny bush village into a virtual city: vendors set up shop, home-brewed corn alcohol called kachai flowed out of kalabash gourds, and drum circles lasted until the wee hours of the morning.  Around mid-day the following day, the actual ceremony began with the chief raised up on his throne-like chair by traditionally dressed warrior-dancers.  He was paraded around the cheering crowd, and then he and his wife were set up on thrones in the shade to watch groups of traditional dancers.  Under the intense mid-day sun, the crowd cheered, people danced, and the group became ever-more raucous from the kachai.  Alas, we had to leave to beat the rat race of people trying to find rides back to the boma.

The 2012 ceremony was much more intimate as it was only four Peace Corps volunteers and our tourist friends.  Since Scott and I personally new the Chief and had worked with him on Peace Corps projects, he invited us and our American friends to be honored guests.  He gave us a 3 course meal as well as wine the night before the event, and personally escorted us through the fairgrounds.  Nostalgia flashed through my eyes as a happily dressed tipsy woman asked me to dance with her.  Turns out she was a chieftainess of a neighboring tribal area and I happened to get a t-shirt of her from that same event in ’06.  So now I can say that I actually danced with the chieftainess.  During the actual event, Jane and I put on our tailor-made Zambian dresses and got many compliments from the Zambian onlookers as the only white people wearing traditional clothes.  In fact, I think I had more people ask me if they could take my picture that day than any other day in my life. Guy Scott, the vice president of Zambia actually made a cameo (1 hour) appearance via helicopter at this year’s event.  As honored guests, we stood at the receiving line in front of the chief’s palace shortly after his touchdown.  He shook our hands, asked who we were and said, “oh Peace Corps tourists.”  As much of an insider as I felt at this year’s ceremony, I guess the VP of Zambia still considers me a tourist.

Mujila Falls
This place was a magical little oasis in the Zambian sticks when we went to visit Colleen in 2006.  It was the personal home and working farm of Paul Webster, a former Peace Corps volunteer from Guatemala turned Methodist missionary who had been living in Africa for over 20 years.  After his family was evacuated from the Congo following political unrest, they started a working farm in Zambia upon the chief’s request since his people were starving.  He was one of Colleen’s closest neighbors in 2006 and actually gave us a lift in the back of his truck up to her site.  As tourists, my sister Cynthia and I marveled at the ingenuity and hard work as he used an ox cart to plow maize fields and was the first successful person in the area to milk goats (definitely before any of my goat milking experience).  While Colleen was at a workshop, Cynthia and I liked the place so much we rode bikes to the farm and picked strawberries for half a day in exchange for some of Paul’s goat-milk yogurt and a home cooked meal.  One of Paul’s welders even help me weld my bicycle pedal back on (not Peace Corps issued) after it had fallen off.

Fast forward to 2011, when Scott and I move to the Mwinilunga area and hear tales of an amazing missionary who grows just every crop imaginable . . . including strawberries!  Although I greatly wanted to return to see what had changed, time and distance precluded us from visiting, until Deanna, a fellow volunteer, arranged a workshop for Peace Corps volunteers and their counterparts at that very same farm.  I took a local headman and over 20 of us spent a week on the farm learning about properly raising pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks, oxen, and any other farm animal you could imagine. Peace Corps volunteers also took turns teaching about things such as business management and composting.  The entire week was very hands-on and interactive (not to mention the fresh food was delicious!). Our Zambian counterparts came home inspired, as the Lunda culture is traditionally hunter-gatherer, and owning livestock has only come into play in the last few generations.    Not much at Mujila had changed except the road getting there was not as rutted, and Paul had built a new main house suitable for events like the Peace Corps workshop we helped with. 

Never once in my life did I think I’d be back up that same rural farm road hidden away in a corner of rural Africa or dance with the same chieftainess I played for Halloween in 2006 by wearing her t-shirt.  But . . . destiny had something else in mind, and I’m sure glad I’m back living and working in the Northwest province of Zambia.

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