Eleven weeks of non-stop sessions, learning, practicals, tests, integration, travel… pre-service training is over!
On the last day, the trainees and trainers put together a final celebration to conclude the three months of hard work (and sometimes not so hard work). We each were allowed to invite two members of our host family, so Adam and I brought our parents and two sisters.
Preparation actually began during the second week of training. Bataata (our host father) gathered all nine of the Kabeleka village volunteers on a Sunday afternoon to learn a traditional song and dance with our host parents. Over a few weekends, we met to practice and perfect the performance. Bataata would talk about his visions and dreams about this performance; his motivation was contagious and we really took pride in it. On culture day, all of the Bemba PCTs joined together for an epic performance. During Adam’s and my dance solo, I spontaneously pulled out a flip (technically, a front walkover), surprising the group and audience. Every language group had their own performance and each was impressive and enjoyable. Our group and the Tongas were selected to perform at the swear-in ceremony. Unfortunately, Nicole’s epic worm dance and my gymnastics were deemed inappropriate for such an official event, so we had to do without. Either way, the energy of the group made up for it.
Sharing American Culture through Food
Our families have been sharing Zambian culture with every meal, so we were excited to have the chance to share our goodies: guacamole, pico de gallo, Rice Krispie treats, hummus, a veggie platter, and 40 boxes of pizza (take out is American culture, right?). Originally, trainees cooked up a feast from scratch, but because of the recent cholera outbreak, we were not permitted to cook or handle food too much. The families ended up loving it, but most could have done without the guac.
We all came to Zambia without a chitenge (traditional fabric usually worn as a skirt, but it’s versatile), so we’ve now collectively accumulated heaps of intricately patterned chitenge (well, plural it’s ifitenge). Some were used to adorn the big insaka (hut) and others were tailored into gorgeous dresses, suits, overalls… everyone looked their best. The decoration team gathered local flowers and leaves to spruce up the entrance and center pieces. With the work of 37 trainees, the grounds transformed into a beautiful venue. It reminded me of the time Adam and I helped set up weddings with Flowers by Wynne in Northern Australia as a Help Exchange.
Last Night with our Host Family
Culture Day was the perfect way to wrap up our time in Chongwe. Usually, trainees would leave immediately to Lusaka to prepare for the swear-in ceremony, but due to budget cuts, we spent another night with our families, which ended up being a positive aspect of the financial strain. While I went to fetch 40 liters of water from the borehole, I had a heart-to-heart with my little sisters and shed some tears; it was rough, but I want the best for them and it breaks my heart to have only been with them for three months. We plan on visiting and sending letters.
After our last meal of ubwali, fish, eggs, and tomato soup, we exchanged gifts. Adam and I gave some English books, American candy, cooking supplies, a world map, printed photos, and a personalized visitor book with letters, recipes, riddles, and life philosophies (that Bataata continually requested we write down for him) from our conversations. They gifted us home items that are much needed when we move into our empty house: a brazier, wooden spoons, bowls, mugs, a pot, broom, and a welcome mat that Bamaayo made for us when we first arrived. We’re forever grateful and will think about them every meal time!
The next morning, we packed up our belongings to be shifted either to Lusaka or the provincial houses around the country. I initially came with two bags weighing 50 pounds total, but somehow accumulated a ton of things doubling that weight, mostly books and items with which Peace Corps armed us. Two dozen of us will somehow shift our belongings and bicycles 12 hours to Northern Province where we’ll buy everything we need for our house. It’ll be chaotic, to say the least. “Panono panono.” Little by little.
When it was time to say goodbye, we hugged and teared up a bit, but I held it together. As we slowly rode our bikes away, we bid farewell to the neighbors who’d often pop by, stopping to shake hands. We said goodbye to the man who always bent down and clapped to say hello, to sweet Precious and Eunice who made sure I had a taste of cheese curls, of Marjorie who saved my life when I went to fetch water alone. Our last cruise through the Kabeleka bicycle path was bittersweet. Eleven weeks earlier, I was intimated by the rocky, sandy, mountainous, pot-hole laden path, but eventually, I became a confident rider.
Pre-service Training Overview
Some people love it, some hate it. I have mixed feelings about PST. I do feel well-trained in language and the foundation of small-scale aquaculture, but I still must continually learn on the job. There were long days, days I hated training, days I wanted to be alone but it was difficult to do so as we’re constantly surrounded by people always and have a full schedule not made by myself. There were sessions that we could’ve done without but had to sit through. But there were also loads of laughs and stories, moments of gratitude. We enjoyed getting to know fellow trainees who were going through the same mixed bag of emotions. We’re a strong group of 37 ready to get working for the next two years! My advice for future volunteers is to make the most of training. Stay positive and know it’ll be over soon. You’ll probably look back fondly on those days!