Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog


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What Does a RAP Volunteer Actually Do?

I write a lot about Peace Corps in this blog, ranging from my own emotional experiences to the mind-numbing details of our conferences and trainings. I try not to bore you with the mundane minutea of my day-to-day life, but recently someone asked me, “So, what exactly is your job over there?”  Good question.

As you have probably gathered, I am a RAP volunteer, or a Rural Aquaculture Project volunteer. RAP volunteers are some of the last of our kind, as aquaculture programs have slowly been phased out across much of Peace Corp. But, here in Zambia aquaculture is still going strong (and expanding), so my daily tasks revolve around one of my great loves in life: fish.

The RAP program (redundant, I know) focuses on a few main goals:
1. Construction and maintainence of new ponds
2. Renovation and maintainence of existing ponds
3. Establishment of fish farming groups and cooperatives (because two heads are better than one)
4. Establishment of fingerling production centers (locally produced fingerlings instead of buying them from large commercial centers)
5. Establishment of fish food production projects
6. Development of local markets and business skills
7. Training farmers to be proficient at all of these skills

Within each of these goals are a myriad of objectives and initiatives and other monitoring and reporting terms that, should I go into any further detail, would make your brain leak out of your ears with boredom.  So, in the spirit of preventing internal hemmorhaging, let’s talk about what these goals really mean. In essence, what is it I do everyday that helps Peace Corps accomplish these goals?

Enter Exhibit A:

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Photo by Scott Riley

I spend a lot of time visiting farmers, looking at their ponds, and, slowly and methodically through heinously butchered Mambwe, explaining what techniques and changes they could use to make their ponds more productive, expand their operation, or refine their current projects.  I also hold a lot of meetings.

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Photo by Tritan Ohl

Sometimes people just come to see the muzungu with the weird hair attempt their language, but sometimes people really do want to learn more about how fish farming can help them diversify their lifestyle.  So, I tell them all about how fish farming can help improve their personal and local food security. I explain at length the process of getting started, and how easy ponds can be to manage if you spent just 30 minutes a day on management (post digging, of course). I elaborate laboriously on the economic possibilities that could await them if they are serious with their work and diligent in their labor. I preach about protein content of fish and expound on integrated agriculture techniques!  And, sometimes I get to the end of an hour of rapid Mambwe and wild gesticulation and someone will raise their hand and say, “So, you speak Mambwe?” *facepalm*

BUT, sometimes I get to the end and someone will say, “So, will you help me find a place to put a pond?” AMEN!

I bike all over creation my catchment area holding meetings, helping with harvests, talking about fish production, building compost cribs, and occasionally even getting to eat fresh fish. I help (but mostly watch) farmers dig ponds, slog through waist deep water to help clear aquatic weeds from the ponds, and belabor the value of good pond management until I’m blue (but mostly red, because DAMN hot season heat is intense!) in the face. Sometimes I get through to folks (or my Mambwe makes enough sense to be understood, anyway), and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I get to make a tangible difference in how people live their day-to-day lives, I get to play in ponds, and I get to work with fish.

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If you ask me, that’s a pretty good catch of an assignment.


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Better horizons

Well, after a very long and distraught afternoon after hearing the Exxon news, Bri and Lisa knew the one tried and true method of putting your problems into perspective: go to the bar. So we did, and boy did we have a great time! We played a few rounds of pool and foosball and didn’t have to buy ourselves a single drink all night. It’s funny how darn nice everyone is to you at bars, especially when you’re a posse of pretty girls. After a few beers I was able to come to a more reasonable resolution with myself regarding the terrible unjust outcome of the Exxon case.

I think my grandmothers would probably be less than impressed with a choice to just be angry and might have more constructive things to say about it, like “Listen here, friend!” As my dear friend Walter put it, “Hannah- it is OUR task to make the world a better place, so people can no longer get away with such bull.” And right he is. What better incentive to go out and make the world an infinitely better place than to put certain big business scumbags back in their environmentally responsible place. So, to sum up, today is a good day (the sun might even come out!) and things will be okay, even if those knuckleheads won this round.


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Socked In

Happy Solstice! Yesterday, as all of you should know, was Solstice. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of those long sunlight hours due to being socked in by the weather yet again. We did eventually decide last night that we absolutely couldn’t just let Solstice pass us by sitting around in the warehouse reading our respective books, so we went to the bar. I find it almost comforting that no matter where you go to a bar in Alaska, there will always be several common factors: fishermen, a high ratio of men to women (“The odds are good but the goods are odd!”), various paraphernalia covering the walls with no apparent logic, and at least one good rendition of CCR. There was even a lifering from the U.S.S Hickory – the coast guard vessel out of Homer. No idea how they got that.
With more drunk fishermen fresh off the boats than desperate women available (lots of the former, little to none of the latter), it’s pretty easy to just sit in one place and let people buy you beer. I think between the three of us (Bri, Amanda, and myself), we probably set a new record for the average age of men trying to pick us up. I’d guess about 55 or older. I’ve gotta hand it to Alaskan men; they may not age gracefully, but their hope springs eternal.   Either way, it was a good time and a nice way to get out and see some other people.
I’m expecting my marching orders to head to Port Moller any day now. They’ve been getting a slow and steady stream of fish up the rivers on the north side, so hopefully sometime early next week I can head that direction. Sand Point is a nice place, but I’m definitely feeling the urge to be somewhere else for a while. I’ve got the petrified wood and beautiful shells; now it’s time for some glass ball finding and up close bear viewing! It’d also be nice to have a more regular work schedule. The fishery closed last night at 10pm, and opens again at 6am tomorrow morning. Not much of a rest for the fishermen, but they’re really not the type to worry too much about sleep at the moment.
Not much else to report. Hopefully the weather clears up sometime soon and I can make it out of here. Take care and Happy (day after) Solstice!


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Monkeys in Space!

Today is day 3 in King Cove. We had our first batch of sampling this morning. We took fin clips from over 600 Sockeye and Chum salmon starting at 6am. Long morning, but it was fun to get out there and finally do some work! All the guys working on the docks are extremely helpful and accommodating to our work. Most of the folks working out here are from another country, and I definitely feel like a minority with my glow-in-the-dark complexion. My crew leader says that different cannery chains will have different demographics of immigrants due to their different recruitment strategies. Peter Pan Seafoods (the cannery we’re working at currently) recruits from the Philippines and South Africa, while Trident Seafoods (another competing cannery) supposedly focuses on Eastern Europe. No idea what the strategy is there, but it’s interesting to be around so many people who aren’t like me.
But let’s back up. Yesterday we didn’t have much to do other than visit with the cannery manager and Jim the tender guy, so I decided to experiment with my new sourdough starter. I mixed up a batch the night before, and was able to make a pretty hearty batch of very delicious sourdough pancakes the next morning. It was hard to not burn them since the batter cooks REALLY fast, but in the end we had some nice golden brown blueberry cakes to enjoy. I also made up some pot roast in the slow cooker, and 8 hours later we had a delicious hearty dinner waiting for us. I love slow cookers. They are just so easy, and I have never had pot roast better than that made in a Crockpot.
We also went for a walk down the beach before dinner, but the tide was high so the going was tough over lots of medium-sized rocks. The rocks here are much smoother and less volcanic feeling than those in Sand Point, and they come in colors! We found red, green, and distinctly purple stones all over the beach, as well as thousands of snails just offshore. The cove here is pretty well protected, so it doesn’t get as many cool pieces of beach junk washing up. It’s still very pretty though, and surrounding by some rather dramatic mountains that seem to rise straight up. I also learned today from a local that because of the mountains and the area surrounding King Cove, the exceptional winds that occur here aren’t caused by blowing, but more of a sucking phenomena of air out of this area and into the more exposed ocean surrounding us. So, I guess it would be correct to say that King Cove doesn’t blow, it sucks! It’s pretty neat how some of the locals decorate around here. We passed on cottage that was had decorated the tops of their fence posts with glass balls, and had many colors of laundry drying on the lines in their yard. It looked like something out of a movie.
In other news, we’ll be heading back down the the docks tonight to figure out the schedule for tomorrow. The openings here last 88 hours, so it’ll finish up tomorrow, but we still have some samples left to get. The second Tech arrived today, so Lisa and I will be heading out soon. We’ll probably head back to Sand Point before I finally get to ship out to Port Moller. The fleet in Sand Point is on strike due to low fish counts and low prices (what else is new?). The fish are starting to show up north of Sand Point though in Chignik, so hopefully they’ll be fishing by the time we get back there. After the initial runs on this side of the peninsula, some of the boats here head around to the north side to finish the season up there. Hopefully the fish start showing up soon so I can get underway at my more permanent location.
In the meantime, Joe and I broke up so I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and not think too much about it. We’ll remain friends and all that jazz, but it’s hard anyway. We found ourselves a puzzle at the community center which we have entitled Monkeys in Space! (not the band unfortunately, as that would probably be much more fun to put together). 700 pieces which we finished in less than 24 hours. Tomorrow we’re going to go back and see if we can upgrade to a 1000 piecer. Otherwise, things are good and I’ve enjoying seeing these new places. Pictures of everything recent to follow shortly.