Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stomping Out Malaria with Insect-Repelling Lotion

Hello everyone,

We have been pretty busy these last few months with work in the village, as well as a bit of sight-seeing. In May, we participated in an enlightening, week-long Appropriate Technology Workshop in Mansa and there was an article written up about our project. Of course, I have to shamelessly promote it here! 

Here's a link to the article:

According to, Appropriate Technology, "is technology that is designed to be 'appropriate' to the context of its use." That is to say, it's using locally available materials to design low-tech and cheap solutions to everyday challenges. One example is heating your bathwater (like I do) by filling a black plastic bag and letting it sit in the sun all afternoon (a solar shower). Another example is repelling mosquitoes (and preventing malaria) by applying locally made insect-repelling skin lotion from neem and palm oil.

I, my colleague Tiffany and our two Zambian counterparts- ba Martin and ba Musonda- developed the latter during the above mentioned Appropriate Technology workshop in Mansa, Zambia. Check out the link above to read about it. The unexpected side benefit of replacing the lotion's vegetable oil ingredient with the locally available palm oil of northern Zambia is that the red palm oil gave the bazungu workshop attendees a decent fake tan. Who knew?

From left: ba Musonda, Tiffany, me, ba Martin. We're mixing the insect-repelling neem/palm oil lotion.*

Also during the workshop:
We made insect-repelling soap from locally available jatropha oil, which serves as a less expensive alternative to using animal fat.

Tiffany and I making the caustic soda solution for the jatropha oil soap. I was afraid of a chemical burn and over-prepared.*

We built another design of a solar bathwater heater, using a clear bucket wrapped halfway around the inside with black plastic. We used a clear bucket to allow the sun's energy to penetrate through the water as it was pulled to the black plastic on behind it. This design warmed the water very quickly and by evening, there was plenty of hot water for a nice, warm evening bath.

Ba Godfrey and I in front of the solar-heated shower we built with our teammates. The bucket to my left with the blue lid is the solar water-heating system described above.**

We devised a solar water-disinfection system using clear PET-plastic bottles filled with water and exposed to the sun's UV rays for at least 6 hours. The long exposure to UV rays and sun's heat kill dangerous bacteria in the water. This is important because, as you may have heard before, "in wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria." What is also important about this design is that it makes water drinking water without the chlorine taste many Zambians find unpalatable.

We made a groundnut thresher out of a cut bamboo stick that allows the user to pull the groundnut plant through a hand-clamped opening to separate the groundnuts from the plant quickly and easily.
Everyone busy building the design for their groundnut thresher. Ba Martin is showing ba Musonda, Tiffany and me how he thinks we should saw the bamboo piece.*
Demonstration Day: Our group gets feedback (mostly positive!) on the groundnut thresher design we built.*

*Pictures courtesy of the workshop organizer and trainer Sevren Gorely.
** Picture courtesy of Tiffany Saria

The workshop was a great success. It built confidence among attendees that they can devise new ways to solve old problems by rethinking how materials around us can be used. What an empowering feeling!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Camp G.L.O.W. Pictures

 Hi friends,

Follow this link to see pictures from Camp G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World):

You can also see my SlideShow about the April 2012 Camp GLOW in Luapula, Zambia.


Monday, April 9, 2012

The Eve of Camp GLOW

'Twas the night before Camp G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World), and all through the Mansa PC House, not a creature was stirring- except for that darn mouse...

Tomorrow begins the event many of us PCVs here in Luapula Province have been waiting for and working toward: Camp G.L.O.W!  This week, we- along with our local partners from the District Health Department, Ministry of Education, Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS and many others- will be teaching girls from our rural communities about life skills needed to become leaders and role models in their communities. Sessions include:
  • Assertiveness and Confidence-Building; 
  • The Importance of Education and Staying in School; 
  • Goal-setting and Planning for the Future; 
  • Women's Health, Puberty and Reproduction; 
  • Making Sanitary Pads; 
  • Gender-based Violence, Sexual Assault and Rape Counseling; 
  • Sugar Daddies and Peer Pressure; 
  • HIV Education and Positive Living; 
  • Voluntary Counseling and HIV Testing (VCT)
  • And of course fun things like a bonfire, movie night, crafts and a talent show.

We PCVs have spent the last few months bringing this camp together applying for funding, pinning down venues and community contributions. We have all been working hard within our communities to select girl campers, as well as find adult women in the community who are willing to mentor the girls through camp and after camp ends. After camp, the girls and their mentors are expected to share what they have learned with other girls and women in the community. We have also been busy networking with potential partners and co-facilitators who are willing to volunteer their time to educate the girls. And no event planning would be complete without devising Plans B, C and D for when arrangements fall through or partners suddenly disappear. (We literally had one of our signed partners, a local NGO, disappear from Mansa- without a word- just days before Camp. The office had been emptied, phones disconnected and people vanished.) 

It has been a fantastic experience- if not stress-free- working with fellow PCVs, as well as discovering and building network of female professionals in Mansa who are like-minded, independent, intelligent women and enthusiastic and committed to teaching girls an empowered way of life. The women who have agreed to help us facilitate this week's sessions possess an inspiring enthusiasm to help their younger sisters, the girls from our poor and rural communities. Our co-facilitators are taking time out voluntarily (without payment) from their busy, professional lives as nurses, educators, counselors- even policewomen- to attend camp sessions and teach the girls things they simply need to know if they are to navigate the risks they face and accomplish their goals. 

Just like in The States, girls here are told- and perpetuate- all kinds of myths about sex, pregnancy (and how to avoid it), their bodies and HIV. These myths, when followed, can shatter a girl's dream of finishing school and striving for the next rung of the economic ladder and a better life. Several of the co-facilitators have confided that they are  interested in Camp G.L.O.W. because they see the fall-out of this every day: early and underage pregnancy, school drop-outs, girls becoming pregnant or infected with HIV because they turn to a sugar daddy to provide them school fees, food or clothing.

The excitement here has been building for months, weeks and days. This past week, the whole team of PCVs have come into the provincial capital and campsite to attend to all the last-minute heavy-lifting and details for Camp. Despite the Easter holiday, we have been a'buzz with activity. We are making last-minute confirmations of partners, the venue, participants and their mentors; receiving our grant funding just in the nick of time (phew! a whole other story); creating flipcharts and diagrams; practicing our sessions and testing out games and activities; gathering and organizing all our supplies; cutting out over a hundred sanitary pad patterns for the girls. Transport here is a constant juggling act, so we are making and quadruple-checking transport arrangements to get the campers from their villages to Camp, to get the co-facilitators from their homes to Camp and to get us PCVs to Camp.

My smarter colleagues have turned in early tonight to get the extra rest we'll need next week. So, right now, the only ones up are me, the house cat and the mouse the cat is stalking. I had better sign off now and try to get some rest, too. This week is going to be a full one! But before I go, let me thank all of you who have been generous in your donations and your encouragement. This Camp could not have come together without your support.

And if this post has left you with an appetite to learn more about girls' empowerment initiatives in this region, check out this article from NYT about Camfed's Girl Power project:

Happy Camping to All and To All a Good Night!
- Megan

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Clouds, Caterpillars and Cultivating in Chebele

This evening, a storm came in just before sunset. The most interesting yellow-orange light was cast across the village. I tried to capture it with these pictures. There was a beautiful contrast in the clouds as the storm rolled across the sky. White puffy cloud intermixed and then were pushed aside by the dark blue-gray storm cell coming in. In those blue-gray clouds were long, vibrant and lasting lightening strikes. The rain didn't reach us for a good 20 minutes, but when it did, it began falling in huge, quarter-size, splashing drops.

Before the storm approached, though, two sisters and their brother came by to show us the small, red and yellow caterpillars they'd collected for the evening's dinner relish (the side dish to the nshima). Our friend ba Beauty, who was visiting at the time, made a face and said these were not for her (meaning she didn't eat them and didn't like them). But, she told me how to prepare them.

First, you must boil them in water for 5-10 minutes, until all the red seeps out of them. Then, you dump the water and boil them again for 5-10 minutes, again letting more red seep out of them. These caterpillars, if you touch them, will give you a raised, itchy rash that's apparently quite painful. So, you must double-boil them to get all the toxin out of them. Then, you throw out the water and fry the caterpillars in saladi (vegetable oil) until they are nice and crispy. Finally, they are ready to eat.

Later that evening, I asked ba Beauty's father, ba Godfrey, about these caterpillars. They are a traditional food Zambians have been eating for as long as anyone he knows can remember. People eat them now, people ate them when he was a child, even his father ate them when his father was a child. He guessed the people of Luapula (and other parts of Zambia and DR Congo) have been eating these caterpillars like this for generations, "maybe even centuries," he said.

This discussion led into what ba Godfrey ate when he was a boy. At that time, he told us the people in this area were not cultivating maize or gardening. They relied on cassava (which they cultivated in fields in the bush) and bush meat. Ba Godfrey told us that by the time he was 12, the age of his youngest son now, he was a hunter. About twice in a week, he and a group of boys and older men would go out into the bush to hunt impala “and the animals like impala- yes, something like that.” Impala, Puku, Black Lechwe and Sitatunga are all native to Zambia, and I have seen Sitatunga in the Bangweulu Swamps, so my guess is that as a boy he might have hunted any of these animals.

Shaun asked if people performed sacrifices to different spirits before they'd go hunting, a question prompted by the topic's treatment in a book Shaun is currently reading, Africa: Altered Stated, Ordinary Mircales by Richard Dowden. (By the way, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a genuine picture of sub-Saharan Africa). Ba Godfrey said that in the past- for example when his father was a hunter- people in fact sacrificed goats or chickens to the spirits in order to have a good hunt. There is a large rock on the outskirts of our village where hunters would go, kill a chicken or goat, pour the blood on or under the large rock as a sacrifice for the spirits, and then the hunters would cook and eat the animal.

By the time ba Godfrey began hunting as a boy, people here were no longer making these sacrifices to the spirits because “Christianity arrived,” as he put it. He said people no longer made sacrifices to the spirits because they no longer believed in their powers or existence. The rock where hunters would make their sacrifices is still in the same place and ba Godfrey said he will take us there. However, no one makes sacrifices there now, and as a testament to the waning belief in the spirits who live in the rock, someone is currently building their big, “modern” house on the land right next to this rock.

As ba Godfrey grew older, the number of animals dwindled until there were virtually none left, at least not nearly enough to make hunting a viable option for providing a family's food. People started turning more to making charcoal in the bush and selling this in exchange for money or food for the family. Many families we live with in Chebele still do not cultivate and rely solely on the proceeds from their charcoal sales (the 50kg bag of charcoal we recently bought was 15,000Zkw, or $3USD).

Other families, however, have turned to cultivating maize and vegetables in their gardens, which they sell for money, keep for household consumption, or a combination of both. This practice of farming is quite new to the area, though. Many farmers here only started cultivating anything other than cassava around 2000, and ba Godfrey around 2005.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


This evening we arrived home around 18:30 after being gone for a few days in Lusaka helping the new intake (RED '11) learn about Peace Corps and Zambia. The intake had just flown in a few days earlier and had not yet been out to the villages, where they will spend the majority of their service. We were part of the Pre-Service Training Diversity Panel (as the “married couple”) and spoke about what it is like being a married couple in Zambian villages and how our experience differs from that of single PCVs, which are the vast majority of PCVs in Zambia (we were the only married couple in our intake, which is typical).

Tonight, we were traveling just from Mansa, where we spent a couple days to work on reports and do some research at the Peace Corps Provincial House there. We have a pretty good transport routine worked out now, thanks to the “explosion” of vehicles and mini-buses Mwense and Mansa have seen in the last 6 months. Our friend, ba Duncan has a mini-bus and for 30,000Zkw (about $6USD) each he will pick up us and our luggage at our doorstep in Chebele Village and drop us off in Mansa town-center. When we want to return home, he picks up us and our luggage (always considerably more after we've done our re-supply shopping in Mansa) and drops us off at our Chebele Village doorstep again.

Today he had gotten a late start due to vehicle maintenance, so we didn't reach the outskirts of Mwense District until around 17:00. Mwense has been experiencing strong rainy season storms this year and returning this time we saw evidence of yet another: uprooted old pine trees, whose fibrous, shallow roots couldn't hold them down in the strong winds; twisted and missing metal sheets on roofs; household gardens and fields flooded with rainwater that just barely allows the leaves of the groundnut plants to peak above it; and several downed power lines.

As we came up to Mulundu (about 18km south of Mwense), crowds of people were gathered along the roadside, in front of shops and in the road. It was uncommonly quiet- no Zam-pop music was blaring from the bars in town- a sure sign the power was out. People we standing in the road looking at the power-line that stretched across it just about meter above the ground on the left side and about 2 meters above the road on the right. The pole on the left side of the road had fallen in the storm and now the power line was blocking the road on that side. There were large trucks parked on the roadside, apparently stuck and waiting for the lines to somehow be removed.

As we approached, our driver slowed down to a crawl. People on the road were talking and shouting to him in Cibemba. The folks in the mini-van were talking amongst themselves in Cibemeba and Shaun and I looked out the windows to see what all the commotion was about. Finally, I saw the power lines across the road and then we were talking about it, though in English.

Ba Duncan kept crawling through the town, closer to the power lines, and then it became apparent he was going to see if he could sneak the van under the tallest part of the power line. Shaun and I made the realization just as our Zambian seatmates started quietly raising their doubts to Duncan that the mini-van would make it. He proceeded, anyway. Shaun and I were in the back seat of the mini-van along with 2 other women. The woman next to Shaun raised her voice in protest and when Duncan kept crawling closer to the power lines, she raised it again, this time punctuating her protest by pounding her fist on the window, telling him to let us out if he was going to try this stunt. Even folks outside the van on the roadside started to pound on the mini-van to get ba Duncan to stop.

All this happened in mere instants. Ba Duncan wasn't stopping, despite a mini-van full of protestations and a crowd outside trying to warn him not to try driving under it. It was a very tight “squeeze” under the power lines and no one was certain whether they were live or not. And here was this mini-van-metal box with wet tires, crammed full of protesting (though not exiting) passengers. We were (as is normal) packed like sardines in the van; no one in the bench in front of us or next to us were trying to exit the vehicle and the windows did not open. Thus, Shaun and I were literally trapped in the back corner of this mini-van, far from any kind of exit. It was quite an intense moment: we had no escape and we had no control over the driver's actions.

Suddenly, there were the power lines just inches in front of the vehicle. Ba Duncan crept the vehicle under them. I felt like we were playing life-or-death Limbo. The next instant we were creeping under the power lines, and we were all holding our breath, waiting to see if we'd be electrocuted. The instant after that, we were through. We'd made it under the power lines by just inches. Shaun and I looked at each other, exhaling in extreme relief.

Looking back on this, the ride was going fine, relatively pleasant. And then, suddenly, it turned very intense and frightening- potentially injurious or worse. And that is life, isn't it? You're swimming along and then- pow- something can come along in an instant to bring your mortality into clear focus. I feel that dichotomy heightened here in Zambia, as things are quiet wild compared to The United States, or at least where I am from. In many facets of life in the rural areas, things are untamed, un-manicured and your fortune can change in an instant, as well as frequently throughout the day.

After these intense moments in ba Duncan's mini-van, the ride continued in much the same, smooth fashion as before reaching Mulundu: we sped along the road, stopping to unload passengers and their luggage, accepting another passenger in his/her place; we passed goats, chickens, children, men and women on bicycles all going about their daily lives, against the backdrop of a sky contrasted with gray and white clouds, a pink sunset over verdant, tropical, grassy rolling hills. The difference for Shaun and I, as I suspect for our fellow passengers, is that we were more keenly aware of our breath, pulse and un-electrified state.

* * *
It was good to return home to Chebele Village after the long journey to Lusaka and then the ride back from Mansa. We returned to simple joys, like the quietude of village evenings in rainy season, candlelight, our friends and cadre of children in the village, and a “front yard” full of soya beans plants, pumpkins vines, squash vines and marigolds plants.

It amazes me how well and quickly things grow in our “front yard.” The marigold seeds I planted just before Thanksgiving now come up to my mid-thigh tall and are about to flower. One plant, situated to take in the morning sun and afternoon shade, is almost as high as my hip. The marigolds I remember from gardens back home are modest little things, maybe a half a foot tall.

The pumpkin and squash plants are beginning to flower. With leaves fuller than my hand (palm and digits), they sprawl out from the short walls of the insaka, around which I planted them. Their large yellow flowers are beginning to unfurl and soon we'll begin seeing fruit. That is, if the children don't trample the plants wrestling and chasing Shaun.

Shaun knows he'll be on the hook for damaged plants, so he's agreed to move the play area away from the insaka until we can harvest. And when we harvest, it will not be just the squash themselves. Here in Zambia, I've learned that even the leaves can be used as green vegetable. So, I plan to harvest the leaves after the squash are ready and use the leaves in our stir fry meals.

Our field of soya beans, sowed in mid-December are about a foot-and-a-half tall now, with thin yet hardy spade-shaped green leaves and on the verge of flowering. I get happy every time I look out at them. We have planted an area about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. My friend, ba Beauty, and I are working the field together, The deal we made was that I'd buy the seeds if she made the beds , sowed the the seeds, helped me weed and harvest; then we'd split the harvest. So far the deal is working great, and the plants and field are looking good. We should be able to harvest sometime between mid-March and mid-April. We are planning to keep a closer eye on the plants around that time to make sure we have a successful harvest. If not harvested soon enough, soya bean plants have a reputation for the pods cracking and dropping all the soya beans in one day. Thus, farmers can lose their entire crop in a day. Ouch.

Once the soya beans are harvested, ba Beauty and I plan to save some for a seed multiplication project, as well as experiment with a wonderful Soya Bean Cookbook another PCV passed along to me. Soya beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber and other nutrients and ba Beauty is eager to bring this ingredient and these recipes into her cooking repertoire. We have recipes for soya milk, soya sausages, soya biscuits and scones, roasted soya beans- the list goes on and on. As we practice, we also want to facilitate demonstrations for the other women and mothers in the village so they can start boosting their families' nutrition and varying their relishes. Most women here are (literally and figuratively) hungry for recipes that bring new meals to the dinner table and more nutrients to their families- just like Mom's back in The States.

Here is some more information on Soya Beans, from the Peace Corps/Zambia manual for the Linking Income, Food and Economy project:

Soya beans produce oil that can be extracted for human consumption, is an extremely nutritious food for both people and livestock, and also improves soil quality by fixing nitrogen and adding organic matter. Soya has some of the highest nutritional values of all crops containing 40% protein, 20% oil, 34% carbohydrates and some minerals and vitamins. By eating 100 grams a day most people can satisfy their total daily requirement of protein. If you are using it for human consumption please follow the following steps of preparation. Please do not put Soya beans in contact with cold water before boiling, if you do the beans will produce a very bad smell and taste. Leaves and waste can be used in fish farming.

Put water on the fire and let come to a boil. Use 5 cups of water for each dry cup of beans. Without using water separate out any dirt from the beans. Drop the Soya beans in the boiling water gradually so that the water does not stop boiling. Let boil for 30-60 min, remove from water and wash the soyabeans in clean water. Now your soyabeans need to dry into the sun and then will be ready for their next cooking.

Soya flour
  1. Do above procedure.
  2. Dry the soya beans on a mat or sack or H2-Oliminator in the sun.
  3. Pound the dried soyabeans or take them to a grinding mill. If hand pounding do just after cooking, then dry and repound.
  4. Sieve to get the flour.
  5. Put the flour in an airtight container and use as required.

*Soyaflour can be added to mealie meal for enrichment of protein. One cup to five cups of mealie meal is a high protein mixture.

Soya Biscuits
  1. Mix 1 cup of soya flour, 1 cup of mealie meal, 4 tablespoons of sugar and a bit of salt.
  2. Add water to make dough.
  3. Mould dough in small round balls.
  4. Fry the balls in heated oil until brown on both sides.
Soya porridge
  1. Use 3 tablespoons of soya flour.
  2. Mix with 1 teacup of mealie meal and add water to make a paste.
  3. Bring water to a boil in a pot.
  4. Add paste to the boiling water stirring all the time to prevent lumps from forming and avoid porridge stickage.
  5. Let the porridge cook for 20 min.
  6. Add salt and sugar to taste.

*Soya porridge is particularly good for babies and young children (Especially those weaning from breast feeding) as it provides both energy and protein.

* * *
Unfortunately, in coming home to simple joys, we also came home to tragic news. Our counterpart's father passed away on Saturday. Ba Godfrey's father was in his sixties and was suffering from what appeared to be throat and mouth cancer.

Ba Godfrey brought us to visit his father once where he stayed in Lukwesa because his father wanted to talk to the “mzungus ba Godfrey was keeping” before he died. The four of us sat in white plastic chairs under the big mango tree behind ba Godfrey's father's house. His father had difficulty breathing and speaking due to what appeared to be a tumor wrapped around his neck and expanding into his jaw and mouth.

He had been suffering with this for years before he sought help at Mansa General Hospital. By that time, the illness had advanced so much that there was nothing Mansa General could do for him. His only hope for treatment was the hospital in Lusaka, but it was too expensive for him to travel there and receive any treatment. So, he remained in Lukwesa.

His difficulty speaking, however, did not stop him from telling us about how he had watched Lukwesa grow from a small riverside fishing village along the Luapula River to the bustling, populated rural fishing township it is today. He told us about how he used to fish on the river and see elephants on the riverbanks, hippos and crocodiles in the water (the elephants are gone but the hippos and crocs remain, we're told). When he was growing up he had contact with a few white people, missionaries who'd come to Zambia. The gentleman lived his entire life in Lukwesa, visiting other parts of Luapula Province and once visiting Ndola in Copperbelt Province. He had never been Livingstone, nor Lusaka, Zambia's capital city, and he had never lived with electricity.

He died Saturday at his home in Lukwesa. Ba Godfrey and his family here in Chebele learned the next morning when ba Godfrey's brother, who lived near their father in Lukwesa, called. Sunday, ba Godfrey and his wife traveled to Lukwesa to gather with ba Godfrey's family and mourn their father. Ba Godfrey's 4 children still living at home remained in Chebele and the oldest, 17-year-old ba Beauty was left to provide food for and look after her younger siblings until her parents returned this evening, Wednesday.

Seeing we'd returned, Ba Godfrey came over to welcome us back to Chebele as we were still bringing our things inside and getting settled. We brought out chairs to our insaka, started a brazier, put on a kettle for tea and talked. Ba Godfrey told us the news of his father. In usual Zambian fashion, he hid his grief with laughter and nonchalance, but his laughter was hollow and weaker than usual. Having recently lost my mother, I felt I could relate to his private pain and grief. The loss of a dear loved one, a parent especially, is something we all go through. However, knowing we all go through it doesn’t make it any less painful. It is a private pain and a private tragedy that, although we all experience it, we cannot always alleviate it by sharing it because it can run so deeply.

I shared with ba Godfrey words of encouragement another grieving child shared with me when my mother died last August. Perhaps we can take comfort in knowing that his father is no longer suffering- that God has cured him of the disease and taken away all his pain. Ba Godfrey, being a very religious man, understood and seemed to appreciate the idea. We talked about how it is hard for those of us who are left here to find our way through life now without that fatherly or motherly guidance. Ba Godfrey says he is sad to no longer be able to visit and talk with his father and ask him about things he doesn't know. I could relate completely.

I excused myself and left Shaun and ba Godfrey in the insaka to sip their tea and talk. I went inside to get food for him to take home to his family for dinner that night. Fortunately, we had some extra of their favorite: soya pieces and beef bouillon cubes. He was instantly and genuinely brightened to receive them. After some time of sitting in the insaka and talking about other things (he wanted us again to tell him about the sun, planets, stars, moon and other possible solar systems), he bid us good night and went back to his home to be with his family and have dinner. He seemed back in brighter spirits as he jogged, smiling, up our front walkway and into the moonlit night.