Monday, July 28, 2008


i've put each section of this blog entry up separately. i hope they aren't so overwhelming to read and i hope you all enjoy! love love love, hannah


Finally, I think, we finally have our books coming! They are loaded on a ship, they will be crossing the ocean (starting maybe tomorrow!) and are scheduled to land in Dar Es Salaam on September 10th. Ah, we have an arrival date!!!! It’s really so exciting. Getting the school organized to accept them getting shelves and tables and chairs all organized finally makes it seem so real. And the thought that all of these people who are always asking me for books will finally be able to take out BOOKS just makes my heart race. I struggle with whether or not this is just another form of aid and if I’m not just fitting myself into this system I so criticize, but, even if it is, I think people will benefit and I just need to accept that as a positive.

Along with that project I think we’re going to start a project with my women’s group to tell THEIR stories. Since none of the books we’re getting are (obviously) in Bemba, we’re going to do a project with my women’s group where they tell their life stories in just a couple sentences, and in Bemba. Then I’ll type them, print them out, take them back and we can draw in some pictures, staple them, and put them in the library! I think (and hope) this will do a couple things – 1) let the women tell their life story, 2) give the little kids in grades 1 and 2 and maybe older something in Bemba to read and learn to read with, 3) give the kids stories from here, about Zambia and about the women in their lives, and finally 4) give the women some pride as they see their stories, their lives, stapled and “published” in their library! I hope it works. It seems almost too simple; something is guaranteed to fail. But it will work. It will it will it will.

Ok, I should probably sign off of this now. This is getting very long. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s reading this. Send me comments or a letter or an e-mail. I can respond (and will!) to all. I promise. And a shoutout to my dad who sent the best package today – chocolate, nuts, beef jerkey, cheesy risotto mix, new CDs… ah what good be better. The simple life.

grad school? b-school? help?

Grad School anyone? B-school? Help?

One of my latest stresses and internal debates is whether or not I should try to get some of the grad school tests taken here and apply this fall/spring so that I can start school next fall (2009). Part of me thinks that taking the tests and getting the applications out of the way makes a lot of sense – I have time here to study and write essays – and that transitioning straight into school would be a pretty easy way to transition back into America. But, then part of me thinks I really want more experience – I want to work for an organization that IS successful – where I can learn from people who ARE good at evaluating success and problem-solving and where I have a team who can help me do that. AND, since I can’t take the GMAT in Zambia it means flying to Dar Es Salaam or Jo-burg, paying $250 (two hundred and fifty DOLLARS!! That’s more than I make in a month!) for the test, plus money for the plane ticket, lodging, food, cabs to and from and I imagine that taking a stupid test will cost me more than $600. That’s ridiculous (ETS, how I hate you!). It just makes me think “no wonder no one in Zambia goes to business school in America! It’s practically impossible!”

And then the question is b-school or, well, something else. I still find myself wanting to think about how to develop businesses here, in the developing world. That a successful business does a couple things: 1) generates income for a family, 2) helps develop the larger economy, and 3) rewards such behaviors as creative thinking, problem-solving skills, communication skills, math and literacy which in turn helps the society as a whole. And I think that helping NGOs that are doing other work here generate sustainable income is much better long term solution to development than aid. Aid doesn’t work. Tess and Emma just read a book (The Shackled Continent by Guest) that (on page 150, yay citations!) says Zambia has gotten more aid than almost any other country in the world since independence and with that aid the average income has gone down. DOWN! Sad. Time to think of another solution! So… business school anyone? But, I don’t want to end up on a business school corporate track where I realize I can’t get back to this kind of work and I don’t really know how to evaluate schools or tracks from here. Any help anyone wants to offer would be taken, processed, and, well, maybe even listened to!

Dealing with Frustrations

Dealing with frustrations

Having my family here in general (both mom and em, and tess and dad a couple months ago) gave me a new sense of joy and an ability to look at some of the things that I’ve gotten frustrated at with a kind of new, more patient eye. Oh, it’s just ZAMBIA! It’s ok! For example, Mom and Em and I got stuck on a bus (the company from before that has the slogan “safety first, arrive alive”) that told us they were going to Lusaka. Then at 2 o’clock in the morning, three hours (at least) north of Lusaka they said “oh, THIS bus isn’t going to Lusaka, but the one that is will be here in 15 minutes!” Well, at least 30 minutes later, a very full bus showed up and the 15-20 of us from the first bus squished in. Between the first row of seats and the windshield I counted 15 people and just prayed that we would arrive alive. We did and we even got in on time and made our flight down to Linvingstone, but I sometimes I just don’t understand why Zambians put up with that. If they paid for ticket why don’t they demand their money back when the bus is so absurd and ridiculous?! Crowded, late, the driver’s rude…

But it was also difficult though to try to convey some of the things that I DO feel like I’ve worked hard on and just still aren’t working. Another example, I’ve worked with a woman in town a bunch who works with women’s groups and sells their goods. She’s amazing. She knows how to work with women, she knows how to facilitate, she speaks English and is just a kind and generous person. She also makes almost no money and she and her employees function on no salaries. I’ve worked with her a lot to try to get her business more organized and it just seems like no matter how times I give her instructions she can’t follow them – she just can’t seem to get them right and her business suffers because of it. How do I change that? Is it me or is it her? What am I doing wrong in how I explain the situation? Does she just not WANT it enough to make herself understand? Our latest joke was that she’d set a price for one of her products and when my mom wanted to buy one she asked ME how much they cost. “It’s your business!” I joked “how much DO they cost?!”

That sense of frustration came up today in a conversation I was having with a guy who is up here in Mpika doing some research for Unicef. He asked what the hardest thing for me is here. I’ve said in the past that it’s trying to do the work here alone. I mean it’s not that I’m alone exactly – I have Zambian co-workers and other Peace Corps Volunteers – but my chief job does kind of seem to be one of a motivator. But, today I said that the hardest thing is trying to find the people who are the movers and shakers – the people who WILL get things done. I’ve spent the last year working on trying to set up a youth group here in my village and after working with a young man for all of that last year – taking him to Lusaka, trying to teach him how to prepare and teach lessons, trying to find other people to help him – I finally just feel like he doesn’t REALLY care. He doesn’t want to make this a priority in his life and he doesn’t want to show up to meetings when it means skipping something else.

Part of me feels so unbelievably frustrated, why did I waste so much time, and even some money, on him? And part of me feels like “Well, it’s his village. When I’m done here, it’s still up to him to face these issues and I’ve tried.” Is it dangerous or just real to get to that point? I know it’s real to get to the point that you realize that there are people who just can’t make things happen, but at what point can I tell myself that it’s ok to give up? That this just isn’t the person who will take a project to a new level? That development has to be HIS problem, THEIR problem too if it’s going to get any better?

Back to transport for second, the ridiculous transport situations that many Zambians will put up with AND pay for always surprises me and often makes me angry. On the bus when I was so frustrated the conductor turned to me and asked “Muli shani?” (How are are you?). Angrily I glared at him and said “not good, thank you!” He turned to the woman next to me and asked “muli shani?” to which SHE responded that she was fine. I looked at her in shock. Why don’t you TELL him OFF?! And then realized I failed Zambia test number 1 – things are always fine, they aren’t as bad as they COULD be, and we were on the bus and moving. What more did I want for heaven’s sake?!

Along the same lines it took me and Prince 8 hours to get from Kasama, where the Peace Corps House is, to Mpika on Saturday. We sat on the side of the road trying to catch a ride for 4 hours and then paid to get squished in the back of covered pickup with 6 other people and a huge metal BAR and to break down and take 4 hours to go 210 kilometers. I was cranky and annoyed, wanted my money back, wanted to be comfortable. But when we got into Mpika and were trying to decide whether to walk the hour to my house and jump in a cab for 5 minutes a friend passed. He had petrol and said he drop us at my house for free. I sighed and told him our exhausting story and he said “well, you’re here. That’s all the matters.” It’s true. We were there, alive, ready to cook dinner and go to bed, if exhausted and sore and, at that point, that was all that mattered. And that he was kind enough to give us a ride.

This kind of attitude, as always, seems to have a good side and a bad. The lack of frustration and anger that the Zambians I interact with seem to have, the patience, is beautiful. I hope I can bring that back with me. It’s sort of a zen acceptance of the world and its faults. Yet, (is it the American in me?) sometimes I think you HAVE to get angry at things. Doesn’t the world change because someone decides “this is unacceptable and I am going to change it!”? Where does that come from? How do you create that? Should we? Is creating that here changing this society? Or did colonialism kind of create a sense of acceptance because there WAS no alternative?

Family visits

Family visits

My mom and my sister just left after a lovely visit here. Emma stayed in my village for an extra ten days, which I know is such a gift. I’m sure it was an interesting experience for her (maybe she’ll write a guest entry!  ), but for me it means that when I get home people I love are going to have such a better understanding of what my life is like here – what my house looks like, how I bathe (or sometimes don’t! ha), how or what I cook, what the Ministry of Education looks like, how all the kids yell after me constantly, even just what Zambia LOOKS like – both the complete beauty and the dirt and trash – they’ll have a more real idea of what it is to live here.

Emma, I think, handled being in my village better than anyone else in my family. I think we were both surprised by that, but in retrospect I think she just took the whole experience with a sense of humor. People are laughing? I’ll laugh too. The kids are crying? I’ll pick them up. I don’t understand what they’re saying? Oh well, I’ll talk to them in English and then at least we’ll ALL be confused! It was a joy to watch.

i year in

1 year in

One of the hardest things about being here after a while is that even as I am suddenly used to living here and the patterns and routines of life feel more normal to me other people still see me as such an anomaly. People still ask for money or call me “muzungu” (white person) or act surprised that I live in a thatch hut. My response is kind of “come on!” Don’t you know who I am? Or where I live? Or that you shouldn’t call me muzungu, that I have a name? I get frustrated that people can’t get used to ME.

But probably most often it is still people who don’t see me often or don’t know who I am or much about me and that even as MY life here has settled, and there are people who have settled in, they aren’t a part of that and they don’t see that. It can be quite frustrating, especially on days when other things aren’t going well, but for the most part, it’s just laughable and connected to my awareness that I AM an anomaly. I AM a bit strange. It IS weird for a muzungu to be hanging around here. Heck, when I see other muzungus I kind of do a double take and think “what are THEY doing in MY town?!” and then I laugh at myself.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


we got all of our money for the books!!! it's so exciting. we're working on getting them shipped out as soon as possible and i can't wait to update you all!

i also just got back from a vacation with my mom and sister, which was wonderful - south luangwa game park where we saw lots of animals, my village and a dance party with my women's group, livingstone and the falls and a beautiful beautiful lodge on the river.

my sister is still here and we head back up to mpika today to hang out there for a week which should be fun. and my mom headed out yesterday, which was sad. it's crazy to get this intense time with family and then realize how far away they are going again - but it's now been twice as long (about) as it will be until i see them again! so i've already gone this long without seeing them, the rest will seem so fast probably. too fast maybe since i still have so much i want to do.

we're hopefully getting this library up and going now now, still working with a women's group on trying to start a big sewing project (might have just gotten a sewing machine for them! fingers crossed), might be working on a youth or girl's career week that will maybe be around world AIDS day and focusing on HIV a bunch, my youth group may actually start moving with some footballs i just got and a peer educator training we're doing next week... so, life's busy and i hope i have some more concrete work stuff to report next time i write.

Friday, June 20, 2008

catching up

first, i'm in capetown! with my mom and sister. it's beautiful and lovely and friendly and clean and i ate sushi for dinner the first night! it was great.

second, here's a lovely entry by a friend of a friend of mine who's another PC volunteer, in mozambique - i think it gets into some of what is so difficult to do when it comes to AIDS and HIV here - in zambia, in mozambique, in south africa... i'd recommend reading it because of the insights it offers, but also just because it's beautifully written account of an AIDS death and the struggles of that.

third, things have been going well - i think i've been struggling, as always, with what sustainability means in my role here. how do i set up systems that might, possibly, if people want last? how do i disengage myself from the active process of making something happen and step back a bit to let my counterparts do it while at the same time making them feel i'm helping, paying attention, assisting in appropriate ways? how do i encourage people who have never been told to take risks in school to try to take risks in facilitation or youth skills work?

i've been feeling frustrated with how much many of my projects seem to revolve around me - that kids come when i'm there, that people forget to have or go to meetings if i'm out, that the practical organizational stuff falls on me, that the frank conversations about sex happen with me. none of which is bad by itself but when i think about whether or not even a youth group will keep meeting when i leave i get left with questions and not any answers... it's exhausting.

so, i think a vacation will do me good and then when i get back to my last 9 months here i can get back on track!