Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog

Peace Corps Training – Volunteers in the Making (Month Two)

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*This is post two of three detailing PCZambia’s PST programming.  You can find the first post here.*

When researching Peace Corps service long before I ever received an invitation, I was surprised at how little I found related to Pre-Service Training (PST).  Training takes place during the first three months of a volunteer’s service, and gives a volunteer the essential building blocks upon which they build their service.  While training is different for each country of service, and can even differ between intakes, here’s my summary of our second month of training in Peace Corps Zambia.

Week 5 – How do you say “fish” in Mambwe?
This week continued the butt-kicking trend from the previous month.  We learned about making our own fish feeds and general fish nutrition in the African pond environment.  We also attempted our first transport, meaning we scooped fingerlings into buckets, strapped them to our bikes using sliced up bike innertubes, and then began the 9k ride to our ponds.  Surprisingly, no one wiped out (even with sandy trails) and (almost) all the fish made it to the ponds alive. We learned that a 10-15% mortality rate during transport isn’t unusual, especially over long distances/periods of time.  Knowing now that my site is WAY out there (~70k from the nearest paved road), I suspect I will be getting quite good at fish transport via bike. We also learned a bit about fish meat quality, processing, and value addition.  Since smoking, canning, jarring, and otherwise preserving fish is an important part of fish harvest in Alaska, it’s neat to compare our methods to those used here in Zambia.

This week we also began to focus more on the health epidemics that ravage Africa, and especially Zambia.  Both malaria and HIV/AIDS are serious, widespread, and deadly diseases in Zambia, and all volunteers regardless of job sector do some work helping to educate and prevent both.  While I love all things fish related, I have great interest in health related projects and look forward to learning more about malaria and HIV/AIDS in my village. Friday of this week marked our second language simulation, during which our instructors mock-tested us to measure our progress toward the final language exam. 

Week 6 – Dam It
This was the week of field trips.  We were first taught how to mount a seine net, and then spent Tuesday and Wednesday on field trips to local fish farming operations.  Both Kalimba Farms and Savannah Dam are large, commercial scale tilapia growing farms, though each grows, markets, and sells their product in very different ways.  While neither operation represents the work we will be doing in our subsistence scale villages, it was still nice to get out of the training center for a couple of days and see something new. Perhaps most interesting to me about our trip to the Savannah Dam was a lesson in dam building – not an activity I had anticipated doing, but one that can prove very useful to a village attempting to scale up their fish farming operations.  At a time when dams are hugely controversial in the United States, they are still considered perfectly legitimate forms of water management in Zambia. Often, those downstream may have little to no say in what happens upstream of them as land and water use rights lie in the hands of local headmen/women.

This week we also wrapped up the last of our major language classes before second site visit (SSV), learned about the complex relationships between chiefs, headmen/women, and villagers in Zambia, and were treated to a lively and thoroughly disgusting slideshow about all the potential skin diseases one can contract while in Zambia.  I will not punish you, dear reader, with the details of this presentation, but I will recommend you go and Google search: bot flies.  Choose the video option.

The most exciting part of this week was site announcements!  After much excitment and waiting, we finally learned our final site placements and a few details about our homes for the next two years.  This was another one of those poignent moments between all the hectic days during training.  To look around and see the faces of my peers light up as we got this long anticipated piece of news – very special. I myself am thrilled beyond description at my site placement, but will attempt to get past this feeling so I can write a post about it shortly.

Week 7 – Hosts
This was a big week for we PCTs.  We made a three-day visit to Lusaka to finally meet the (mostly) men and (few) women who would serve as our community hosts over the next two years.  Peace Corps brings in hosts from our sites from all over the country to meet their volunteers, learn more about Peace Corps, and develop a mutal understanding about the host-volunteer relationship once we are in their villages.

Meeting my host was a little nerve-wracking, but I had heard wonderful things from the volunteer I’m replacing in Mbala about my new yatata (host father).  My host, Ya Peter, is also my counterpart, meaning that I will be living on his compound with him and his family (wife and three young children) as well as depending on him to help me integrate into my community, develop working relationships with my fish farmers, and find my rhythm in the village.  At our first meeting, both of us were nervous and a little shy. Throughout the week, though, we warmed to one another and parted company with smiles and warm handshakes.  Being from a (relatively) small community in Alaska, I value the nature of friendship, community, and stewardship in and around my home. Ya Peter shares these values, and it was obvious to me even in our brief time together that these shared values will provide a foundation upon which we build our work. 

Upon returned to the training center, we also worked on designing and developing facilitated workshops and classes, learned about fingerling production in the village, building dambo ponds (ponds located in wetlands), and had yet another eye-opening presentation from PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Office) about the cacophony of interesting maladies that may afflict us during our service.  As a sample: UTIs, hair loss (“don’t worry; it usually grows back”), abnormal menstral cycles, meningitis (of all colors and varieties), TB (alarmingly common), bird flu, and the sinister and craze-inducing schistosomiasis (Google that for a bundle of laughs).

Week 8 – Second Site Visit (SSV)
Second site visit has been a long-awaited reward for weeks of sometimes monotonous training.  During second site visit, we traveled in our language groups (complete with language teachers) to our individual sites. For my group, that meant a marathon two-day drive from Lusaka to Mbala, via Kasama, in Zambia’s Northern province. While I’ll save most of the juicy details of SSV (I know, you’re on the edge of your seat) for a later post, this week exploring our soon-to-be homes put us on the springboard to finish our training and finally get posted to our sites. 


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