I hope that this note finds you well. I want to share the events of the last few days with you. On Monday morning, Mrs. Dixon from the U.S. Embassy arrived in Chisunka. She had come to check on the final preparations of a fantastic opportunity for my clinic and community (not to mention myself!!) In 48 hours, his Excellency Mark C. Storella, the Ambassador of the United States to Zambia, would be visiting my community. The Ambassador would receive a warm welcome from the Chisunka community in traditional Zambian style with singing and traditional dancing in the street outside of the clinic.
We knew everything would need to be perfect!
We did a walk through of my home observing the different appropriate technology adaptations I’d been building as community models: my solar driers, my water bottle light bulbs, my chalk board, and the construction work being done on my rain water harvesting cistern. After an explanation of my service, the work I’d been doing, and the community uptake of these projects, we set off for the clinic. After introducing Mrs. Dixon to the local health staff, I explained Chisunka RHCs difficulties, the program we’d developed for his visit, and mentioned the programs being done out of the clinic to help build community capacity.
We fleshed out our time table, double checked details and were off.
I caught a ride back into Mansa proper. After a few finishing touches and some meetings I was able to rest up. Tuesday morning I was active throughout the day and by evening I was ready and excited for our private Peace Corps dinner with his Excellency the Ambassador. Five other volunteers assembled and together we were proud and excited to be representing the various Peace Corps Zambia programs. We set off toward our venue for the evening, the Teja lodge in Mansa. It is by far one of the nicer establishments (if not in my opinion the nicest) readily available in Mansa. It’s a medium-sized single story multi-block building complex enclosed by a high cement wall (tastefully integrated). In the central area is a lawn and pool. The rooms have air-conditioning and both a shower and a bath tub! There’s hot water, electricity, and the food is quite healthily proportioned.
We arrived at Teja dressed to the T. Probably one of the few times in history that PCVs were overdressed for a public engagement. The gentleman wore suit coats, ties, and of course, we escorted our fellow female volunteers (dressed quite nicely as well) with class and regard. We had apparently missed the “casual dress” memo but as you know, you can never be overdressed. We were greeted by Embassy staff and pulled a few tables together to properly enjoy the atmosphere of the outdoor sitting area where we conversed as the Ambassador finished some important business.
As we were talking, interestingly enough about a taboo topic (juju), the Ambassador arrived, introduced himself in a reserved but firm voice and dove into the conversation with vigor and curiosity. After we’d had a pause, we each introduced ourselves and where we were from. After just a few brief moments of conversation about the foreign service, his work and ours, and our feelings, we were off to the dining room.
We arrived in the Teja hotel dining room fitting in perfectly with its lacy drapes, purposefully and carefully ruffled table clothes arranged artfully, and a sense of elegance unexpected in the small room. We took our seats and continued our discussion. We talked more about our programs, extolling our purpose and providing anecdotal entertainment from our services. We talked politics, health, service provision, and development. We listened intently to his personal experiences, feelings and opinions and traded tough but interesting questions throughout the evening. Health promotion and services in Zambia and education dominated the conversation but agriculture was also well represented. There was a healthy and surprising amount of honesty and blunt conversation about Peace Corps, Dept of State service, our health and perceptions, as well as praise for our service and real admiration for the work that we do on a regular basis.
I found the Ambassador to be quick of wit, well-spoken, very well-educated, and comfortable conversing and communicating with us at our level. He exuded an impression of real understanding and interest in our service – feelings that were well-appreciated. He has a spectacular ability to read a situation, fit himself into it, joining conversations, and formulating interesting and pointed inquiries.
When the bell tolled and dinner was served we were excited to find a Nshima Buffet (Delicious!) with coleslaw, nshima, rice, A thick baked pasta, chicken, fish, collard greens, african eggplant, ifisashile (a mixture of collard greens and finely pounded peanut sauce, and a salad.
We dug in and thoroughly enjoyed our meal. After dinner, we continued speaking and had the pleasure of being joined by an amazing woman who, after years as a lawyer and Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Justice department here in Zambia, was now serving as the PS for Luapula. By 22:00 we’d called it a night and started preparing for the next day’s spectacular adventure. In just a few short hours this amazing man, his entourage, and a gaggle of press would be visiting my home, and interacting with the community that I’ve grown to love.
More on in my next post!
May the roads open up for you!