A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer (Zambia)

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By Jack Morrow, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Zambia 2018-20 – NYU Peace Corps Strategic Recruiter

I always spend the first part of my day battling to stay asleep against the sound of my alarm. In Zambia, however, I swapped out my iPhone pings for the sounds of scattered roosters, cow bells, and a tire iron that, when hit with a piece of rebar, serves as the first bell at the primary school 150 yards away from my pillow. When it becomes clear that all of the inhabitants of Penza Village were going to work and I wasn’t going to fall back asleep, I roll over, untuck my mosquito net, tie it into a knot, and start being a Peace Corps Volunteer, whatever that may mean for today. 

Once I am up, my morning is the calmest part of my day. I throw some clean clothes on and make a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal from hot water out of my thermos. It’s cool and hazy in Penza in the morning, the green hills are covered in what looks like a thick marine layer despite being 1000 miles from any ocean. I go and sit out on my porch and have breakfast with a side of endless greetings. “Mazjukene mukwai Jacki Murrow!” or “Good morning” my host mom yells; Polite Zambian greetings usually take about 2 minutes and I’ll have about 20 of them throughout my day.

After breakfast I whistle for my dog Kalibu to return from wherever she spent the night and I take off on my bike with her in tow. I’d like to describe a normal day but for a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers there is no “normal.”  A working day could mean something as interesting as meeting with my local chief to discuss his new efforts on childhood marriage, as standard as teaching science class to fourth graders, or doing crossword puzzles and listening to podcasts for much of rainy season. Today, I’m going to my friend Kennedy’s house. 

I spent my first three months in-country learning a language (Mambwe), Zambian culture/customs, and technical skills for my main project: fish farming. As a “Rural Aquaculture Promoter” it was my job to teach and facilitate fish farming in my community. Kennedy Simfukwe is my best customer. He is 65 years old, a proud father to 20 kids, a headman, a farmer, disabled from sciatica, and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. He speaks perfect English and revels in teaching me Mambwe vocabulary, history, and traditions. His family has occupied his land for over one hundred years and he has memories of hunting gazelles with his grandfather’s WWI rifle. We spend the morning discussing his growing number of fish ponds, making plans for expansion, and getting creative with ideas for fish feed. One of the great breakthroughs of my service was when we figured out we could use local beer waste; his fish became especially well fed during wedding season. We compare notes and I hand him new pamphlets, written in Mambwe, for him to share with anyone who comes by with questions about his operation.

His wife Dorothy hollers at us, “Icakulya ca akasanya, iza!” and we join her and an amalgam of kids, grandkids, neighbors, and siblings for lunch. Usually we’ll have some insima (boiled corn meal), fried fish, beans, and veggies. My dog loves the cook because she saves fish bones for her. Dorothy is a loving host and enjoys picking up a word or two of English from me. She asks if I have any new pictures on Whatsapp from my two sisters and my phone gets passed around the room. There is no fullness on Earth that compares to that of eating a few lumps of insima and Kennedy and I discussed what we needed to, so Kalibu and I head home to rest. The sun is at its highest and the inside of my brick hut is cool, a perfect recipe for a nap.

After waking up I walk over to the school to say hello to a few hundred of my smaller friends and check in with Penza Primary’s Headmaster Obed Simfukwe, no relation. Today we’re talking about next week’s reforestation program and what the students need to do to prepare and if he needs to bring anything in from Mbala, the local city, on his motorcycle. We’re interrupted by a student who informs him that his “insima na icifwa” is ready and I aggressively reject his demands that I stay for a late lunch.

Around 4 pm everyone returns home from the fields. The kids play in the schoolyard. The women haul buckets of water (stacked two high!) and start dinner preparations. A large group of the guys meet up for nightly “bola” (soccer) with the younger boys sitting on termite mounds that make for natural bleachers. I’m the backup forward on the village team. We laugh and yell and play and cheat until the sun goes down over Mt. Nsunzu in the distance, ending tonight’s practice.

To end my day, I like to put on sports podcasts while I ignite a pile of charcoals in a metal basket, or brasier, and swing it until it’s hot enough to boil water.  The first round of boiled water goes to my shower. The second, some white rice. The third, tomorrow’s coffee and oatmeal. I eat a tasty dinner of fried rice with veggies, eggs, and soy sauce (plus Siracha my mom sent me) and sit down feeling content after a full day of work.  As I pull out my journal to write down these thoughts, I can hear hyenas in the distance and the sounds of families laughing over another bowl of insima. I think to myself, “what will being a Peace Corps Volunteer look like tomorrow?”

For more information on joining the Peace Corps attend “Gain Experience Abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer” as a part of Global Career Week on March 12th. Contact Jack at jmm9737@nyu.com or go straight to the Peace Corps website @ peacecorps.gov!