Ladies and gentlemen, friends and admirers! This Halloween was a special day.
That’s an excited introduction I know, but with good reason. On this, the 31st day of October 2012, I had the distinct pleasure and honor to welcome U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Mr. Mark C. Storella to my village. Better yet, I was privileged to invite him into my home (hut) and introduce him to my community – a fantastic honor. I wrote in my last post about our dinner and I touched on some of the preparations that had gone into this visit and today I get to write about the realization of the last few weeks hard work.
We left Mansa at 7:20 Wednesday morning and headed toward my village. We were carrying precious cargo, my PCVL and our PPC – Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and Provincial Programs Coordinator. It was a clear bright day with light winds and a perfect morning temperature. We were on the road and my nerves were building. Would the community groups I had spent the last two weeks prepping and mobilizing be ready, on time, and waiting for us? Would my house still be intact or would a late field-burning have leveled it? Would my home really make an impression on the Ambassador? Sitting awash in anxiety and nerves we turned off the tarmac on to the rugged path that leads down into my village. The beautiful vista brought some peace to my mind and as we wove and wound down into the valley I could feel my confidence rising. The cruiser made the final turn onto my causeway and we drove the 150m to my doorstep. I breathed a sigh of relief and stepped onto familiar ground. The power of place and the sense of home restoring my confidence fully and washing away my anxiety.
I gave the tour, showing my home to the first two of 28 visitors including national media that would be coming to visit that day. I walked through the explanations of my model projects and plans for my home, and then, ratcheting the combo lock to the proper numbers, swung open my door. I needed to change clothes, sweep, and grab a few vital documents for the Ambassador’s visit. We squeezed into my tiny hut and I went through a practice explanation of the skylights and the mealie meal sacks that I use to increase ambient light availability.
I showed my indoor shower and even explained a quote or two. Then we were off to the clinic.
My nerves were back on the fritz – I was in the hands of others – trusting, hoping, and worrying. We turned the corner, passed the church, and there before me were my pride and joy – the workhorse groups that improve community health and work tirelessly to ensure development and advancement. My SMAGs – Safe Motherhood Action Groups, CHW – Community Health Workers, the HBC – Home Based Care givers, and the youth focused peer educator group. They were assembled and waiting for me – early! I nearly fainted from shock. In a poly-chronic society, a significant amount of people were early – I’d done my work well! With a huge sense of relief, I was swept up in a torrent of welcoming hugs, kisses, and wails of happiness. I introduced the staff to the day’s program again, held a pep talk with the groups, sang a little and danced and then rushed back to my hut to await the Ambassador.
Still riding the rush of excitement and release of nerves, I recieved the call that they were on the way and walked to the road to meet the Ambassador’s caravan and to welcome him and his entourage into my home. We met at the edge of the drive, shook hands and assembled for the press. I began the tour of my home. The group was excited and very appreciative of the innovations and the work I’d been able to accomplish, the appropriate technology I’d integrated into my daily living, and the extent of commitment and involvement I’d made to bringing solutions and innovations to my community. From the chalk board on my walls, to the solar-fueled water bottle lightbulbs, my hut was a huge hit. It was an amazing validation for the value of my daily work and life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
After a full tour, we stopped for some interviews in the hut, and then we were off again. I was invited to ride with the Ambassador (awesome) and we arrived at the clinic to an uproar of singing, dancing, and ululating African women. Drums sounded and with an unmistakeable Zambian flare the Ambassador and entourage disembarked to inspect the health facility, proceeded to the table, and I was honored to introduce him after another round of dancing and Bemba songs welcoming him to Chisunka.
He gave some poignant and heartfelt words about the health work and the importance of women and mothers, and even participated in some of the dancing! The entire event came off almost without a hitch. The one sour note was that during my introduction, due to some program changes, there were some gaps and people missing – as a result I stumbled, lost my place and had to improvise. I played it off well ( I hope – but it’s all on video) and was able to introduce him properly.
We then moved to the Chief’s palace where he was greeted with African hospitality and given a goat and 50kg sack of cassava. He even tried his first dried caterpillar! We said our goodbyes and we sent him on his way, with a smile and a better appreciation of our community, and my service as a Community Health Improvement Project Volunteer.
What a spectacular Halloween!