Better Huts and Gardens

David and I had dinner at Machu Picchu Peruvian restaurant last night with Jon and Liz, both of whom attended boarding school with me, and Liz and I also went to the same college. Liz has been in Zambia for almost a year in the Peace Corps. She had a few days off and came home, and is heading back for the rest of her 27-month service next week.

Liz lives in a mud hut with a grass roof, but she has several huts, so it reminds me of having a bunch of forts like when I was a kid. There’s the hut where she sleeps, a kitchen hut, a latrine hut, a bathing hut (not technically a hut since it’s roofless), and a separate hut for entertaining guests. Is that like a parlor hut?

Highlights from her stories:

  • Zambians eat mice, fried termites, pumpkin leaves, lots of vegetables and peanuts, impala, and primarily a mushball thing made of cornmeal called nshima and dipped in various “relishes”
  • Liz speaks some Chinyanja and also works through interpreters. She mostly coordinates radio education at several schools and also does HIV/AIDS education. About 17% of the population has the virus and many people believe things like it being caused by a worm or that sleeping with a virgin can cure it
  • Unwanted Goodwill items often end up in Africa, so she sees lots of random T-shirts (Chicago Cubs, Disney characters but the kids have no idea what Disney is) and even 80s fashion (like men wearing shoulder-padded Western women’s jackets)
  • Liz has a Zambian name that means “What shall we say?” Many Zambian people are given names that somehow got lost in the translation, like Problem and Never and Tears. Liz was asked to name her neighbor’s newborn baby (someone suggested this is because you bring a gift when you name someone, and her gift was expected to be good!), who ended up being Grace Kathryn. Grace is Liz’s sister Kathryn’s middle name, but the people liked both names and now Liz’s sister has a swelled head as a result.
  • Liz saw two black mamba snakes in one day, one of which was right outside the door to her hut as she was leaving.
  • She hitchhikes or rides a bike everywhere, including to pick up her mail in a town 26 miles away.
  • There is no running water nor electricity in her village, but she can ride 25 minutes into the mountains to make a cell phone call, where she is bothered by Zambian kids who are curious. Apparently Zambians also greet her while she’s on the phone and she has to answer them because there’s no “I’m on the phone” understanding like you would find here
  • She has a small solar panel to recharge her batteries, cooks over a fire, and has to keep the mice from eating her toothpaste and water bottle.
  • Don’t send her any tampons. That’s the one thing everyone sent her in care packages!
  • We were trying to think of magazines she might want to receive in packages, so we came up with several like Fine Hutbuilding and Better Huts and Gardens (winner!)
  • Zambians often tell her “You are so fat!” because it is considered wonderful and healthy (and she’s actually losing weight with her biking and new diet!)
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