To say the road was bumpy would be the understatement of the year. Setting off the dirt “road” to the rural Zambian village where Caitlin had spent two years during Peace Corps was a nausea inducing experience. We were thrown from side to side as the taxi driver drove over giant bumps, up inclines, and steered around 3 foot ditches in the middle of the road. It felt like the world's worst roller coaster. Our driver even blew a tire (which I presume is a usual).
After an hour of passing small villages, we finally arrived at Caitlin's old school. We had given the school a heads up that we would be coming sometime this week, but we had been vague on details. When we pulled up, we walked into a meeting with the school district head (i.e. Superintendent) and all of the head teachers (i.e. principals) from all the area schools in the villages. Some had rode their bikes more than 20 miles to be at this meeting. We apologized for interrupting their meeting, but then surprisingly were told they were there for us! Since Caitlin had been in the Peace Corp and had been involved in school planning, they didn't understand that our visit was just a friendly hello and they assumed we had come to give a presentation. It was quite awkward when they asked the agenda and we told them we didn't have anything planned and that we had just come to say hi and didn't mean for the whole school system to be there for us. Oops. In apparent true Zambian form, we just sat around and chit-chatted with occasional long pauses that the locals didn't seem to mind. It also led to an awkward moment when the apparently non-taboo topic of religion came up and one of the head teachers asked me which church I go to. I awkwardly explained that I was Jewish, which got a lot of confused looks. After that, Caitlin showed me the rest of the school, including my first glimpse at the squat toilet (i.e. hole in cement floor)...see below.
After the school we made our way to Caitlin's village, which is about 3 miles away (some kids walk 7+miles everyday to get to the school). When we arrived, I felt like a rock star. The kids in the village all came running over in curiosity. Wherever we walked in the village for the next day, we had a gaggle of children following us around, curious about our every move. This was not necessarily unique to the village...we get a lot of attention from curious kids in Africa who waive to us, yell “Muzungu” (meaning white person) or stroke Caitlin's red hair, but here in the village interactions with white people is even more rare (some young children have never met a white person), so their curiosity was tenfold. The village itself is sort of what I would have imagined: clay huts with thatched roofs, loose animals roaming around and cooking all done by fireside. Still, it was pretty crazy to be there in person and see that this is how they really live their every day life. There is no electricity or running water. The people themselves are dressed a bit more western than I would have imagined, wearing very worn-in thrift store donated clothes alongside traditional cloth wraps for the women. I could count the number of villagers who spoke english on one hand, and even the head man (the leader of the village) did not speak any english. Fortunately Caitlin still remember a bit of the local dialect to interact (or at least fake it).
Caitlin's neighbor from when Caitlin lived there was still in the village and played our host for the 24 hours we were there. She made us Nshima (a local specialty which is essentially hard, sticky porridge made of maize meal) and porridge (see pictures in our food gallery). It is quite interesting to see them cook their food from scratch by the fireside. Since no one was currently living in Caitlin's old hut, we spent the night in there...except we used a tent to avoid the bats, rats and snakes that Caitlin was constantly dealing with when she used to sleep in the hut. Besides the rock hard floor, I actually had a good sleep until the roosters started crowing at 4 am and the cymbals went off at 6 a.m. to wake the kids for school.
Overall, I felt truly lucky to be getting this unique, non-touristy experience of seeing how real rural African's live their lives. Here are some photos of the village and the locals. Despite their sometimes lack of smiles, they really enjoyed having their pictures taken (they so rarely have photos taken, they are not used to smiling)