Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Recovery Process

Wow, when I joked that I could now say I know what it feels like to be run over by a truck I didn’t fully appreciate the process involved in getting over being a poor substitute for tarmac. It’s been a long five weeks and I’m very happy to report that my mobility is much better than I expected. I get the official “ok” to get off my crutches on Monday, but I’m already shuffling around the house in short spurts in happy anticipation of that day. Unfortunately, I’ve developed some other post-trauma symptoms that have knocked the wind out of me and have left me feeling at times exhausted, discouraged, and frustrated. My brain is reluctantly putting all the pieces together and I’m trying to make this experience an opportunity to face my fears, develop my faith, and focus on where my life will take me after this hiccough.

I haven’t really felt up to rewriting my experiences of that day, but I think a journal entry of the experience might do. I appreciate all the emails, calls, and well-wishes from across the globe. I am responding as quickly as I can but was not able to sit upright in a chair for longer than a few minutes until just recently.

Journal Entry from 10/22/07

I have been in bed for nearly 48 hours and I’m ready to get out of bed! The pain meds seriously knock me out and I slept all morning. The nurses here are very kind but it’s frustrating that I have no contact with the people I love. It’s 6:00 p.m. right now and the highlight of the day was seeing Dr. Cedric the Peace Corps Medivac Dr. He brought another volunteer with him who of course had no idea why I was in the hospital as confidentiality is a huge part of PC medical protocol. While I completely support this perspective, I feel like I fell of the face of the earth.

So I will recount what happened while fresh in my memory, but don’t really want to fall into the trap of reliving the whole thing in its frightening possibilities of what could have happened.

Saturday I traveled down with a group from Peace Corps to Ndola where we dropped off a Peace Corps program director who was flying down to Lusaka after visiting the Northwestern Province. Three of us were dropped off a few minutes later at the roadside to find transportation on to our destinations: Tams and Jess going to Lusaka and I on my way to Mkushi to spend an evening with a friend and then on to Mpika for our RED Boma Volunteer workshop. Not two minutes after being dropped roadside a white truck pulled over to pick us up but pulled too far down the road and came back for us. In changing lanes he didn’t see another car coming in the other lane and collided with it—veering off course and into us. Tams and Jess were able to jump the fence, but I wasn’t so quick. The truck hit me in the back knocking me on to my side and then proceeded to run over my hips and calves.

I lay in the grass for more than an hour and did my portion of silent prayer and not-so-silent prayer! I was terrified of internal injuries, but Jess and Tams were there to comfort me and keep me calm. The Peace Corps vehicle had turned around and was back with me in five minutes so I was surrounded by lots of love and support. Jess held my hand the whole time and I remember that the touch of my friends made me feel more alive and less panicked. I was able to call my family and ask for their prayers while I waited for the ambulance. I felt a strong peace that day in a way that I have never felt before in my life.

Once the ambulance arrived the EMTs initially thought I only had bruising, but when I couldn’t stand up had me taken to Lusaka where they discovered at the hospital that I had multiple pelvic fractures. 24 hours later I was on another plane to South Africa to the #1 trauma hospital in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m still not sure I can wrap my mind around the surreal nature of this accident, but I am so thankful that I am alive and will recover soon

Those thoughts straight from the hospital bed! There have been good days and bad days but I have faith that the bad days will soon be a distant memory. Thanks to everyone for their constant love and support and all the prayer that has gone up for me in the last several weeks. I will write again as soon as I have more to say!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Well, I can at least say now that I really do know what it feels like to be run over by a truck.

If you haven't already heard, I was in a car accident in Zambia two weeks ago and was air-lifted to South Africa for medical help. I've been pretty much out of communication with everyone both in the US and Zambia except immediate family and have just now had a chance to check in to email. Thank you so much to everyone who has attempted to contact me in the past couple of weeks!

I will write a much longer blog entry about this later, but here are the basic details. I was released from the hospital yesterday with multiple pelvic fractures. I'm hobbling about (poorly!) on one leg and working on getting clean from all the medications I've had to take. I'm incredibly thankful to be walking around after such an accident (details will follow later) and I'm trying to just take it easy, which is quite frustrating.

On Wednesday, I will be returning to Colorado for the next couple of months to heal. I'll be staying at my folks' home where they will be waiting on me hand and foot--at least for a few days:) They have moved, so I don't have their contact information on hand. The best way to reach me is through email. Unfortunately, my cell phone was jacked from the site of the accident so all of my contact information is either on that phone or in my hut in Mufumbwe, so don't be alarmed if you haven't heard from me personally.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers and concern and keep me in your thoughts as I make the long trip home in a couple of days.

Lots of love,
Stacey J.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cindy Crawford Sips Turkish Coffee

The last week has been a blur, probably because I was sick for most of it. This was disappointing because I had only 10 days this month to do all the work that had piled up on me while I was away in Lusaka to get a filling fixed (extended by a quick mini-break to Luapula). I’m recovering nicely after some serious caretaking by incredibly kind American (Nebraskan) missionaries who stay 8k down the road from me, but I’m still quite tired and on my way out on another adventure. This week I’m traveling to Northern Province for a project related workshop and will then spend the weekend at Lake Tanganyika with a few PCVs.

In my last blog I talked about procrastinating my trip home. I felt too tired to have the same conversation I have with nearly every wonderful person who picks me up off the side of the road and offers free transportation in exchange for a pleasant chit chat, yet was unwilling to pay the high fee to take a miserably packed and horribly heated bus ride. Thus, I didn’t make it to the edge of town until mid afternoon—a bit late for traffic headed my direction. Fortunately, a dear friend and fellow PCV lives on the road about half way home so I knew that in an emergency I can always crash at his ‘bachelor pad’—a very artistic studio version of the standard mud hut. The first two legs of the trip were really uneventful as passers by allowed me to share car space with them, but I started my Alice in Wonderland journey into stardom as the sun started to hang low and I flagged down a road construction big rig.

A few weeks ago a wonderfully jolly man from Serbia who helps manage a road crew laying tarmac from Solwezi to Mufumbwe offered us a ride half way to Solwezi and we chatted about all the cultural challenges we face in Zambia. (By the way, road work in Mufumbwe may be the greatest news ever. I will have a solid paved road to my house in January!!!Tra la la la la! Oh cycling bliss!) Although he is a solid forty years my senior, I decided immediately he would be a friend because of his great laugh. The big rig I flagged down on this particular afternoon was part of his company and was traveling to their camp, half way home for me. After dropping my new Serbian friend’s name and looking very forlorn and foreign, the driver agreed to smash me into a seat with another chatty fellow and a young woman holding the most terrified 6 month old baby I’ve ever seen. He was so round I couldn’t resist trying to touch him, but any time I looked his direction he wailed about the monster.

It was obvious that I would never find transport all the way home that evening, so the big rig agreed to take me to my friend’s house to check and make sure I could crash there and then take me to the camp and find out if any of the other managers would drive to Mufumbwe the next morning. As we pulled into D’s ‘driveway’ I hopped out to affirm I could stay and after a few minutes discussion walked back to discover that about fifty people were actually on the back of the big rig patiently waiting for me to take care of my business. They cheered a little for me on my return. I felt like royalty—not in the Princess Di way of being altruistic and adored, but more in the Paris Hilton way of being fatuously self-centered and watched.

We rolled into the camp and I was led to a large picnic table where a lively conversation came to a truly abrupt stop. 10 Serbian men put down dainty little tea cups and stared for a horrid minute when I felt sure I had trespassed something sacred. Fortunately, my Serbian friend remembered me and came and introduced me to the rest of the crew and brought me out the best cup of Turkish coffee (with milk and sugar!) I’ve ever tasted. After an awkward ten minutes of sipping coffee at a silent table, he assured me that he and his crew would help me with transport any time I needed and then he went out to his truck and gave me my own special Turkish coffee grounds that he had bought for the next time he saw me waving pathetically for a ride. (Aside: The instructions are in Arabic, so I’m currently guessing on the water/coffee ratio and cooking time when I’m at site. My neighbor Kevin and I often split this responsibility so as to halve the blame if its dreadful. We are, however, both so starved for coffee that it doesn’t seem to really matter how it turns out even if it looks and tastes like proper silt).

I realize now that the silence at the table was primarily due to language barrier and shock at my sudden appearance. (I sometimes forget that Mufumbwe really is pretty bush.) The next morning one of the crew faithfully picked me up and gave me cough drops for a slight cold I picked up in Luapula—I must have coughed a few times the day before. As we toured the road crew sites dropping items at each point until we reached the boma, I was greeted with fabulous smiles and soft drinks and sweeties. My new friend said, “Well, we never see white women here. Its a holiday.” I want a banner: Frizzy Haired Champion of Prairie Chic turns Supermodel. Bizarre.

Things turned sour when I reached home and began sleeping 20 out of 24 hours a day and every muscle in my body thought it had run a marathon or two. Fortunately, after lots of TLC I am prepared to take on the next surreal adventure.

Thanks to everyone who continues to send letters and packages. 9 months (and 200 days at site!) into service its great to know that the connections to home are still strong. I love and miss you all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lacking Time to Blog

My trip to Lusaka was quite a blur and ended in an impromptu trip to visit Luapula, another province in Zambia, with some Peace Corps friends. I returned yesterday to Solwezi, slept for 12 hours last night, and am now procrastinating my way back to the bus station to try and find transport back to Mufumbwe. The next two weeks are huge for me. I have lots of work to do, lots of meetings to attend, and a lot of planning to stress over. I hope to get back with all of you on my wanderings soon (even "soon soon" in Zam slang).

In brief, I had a chance this week to unabashedly sing my little heart out, which my friends were kind enough to allow, play in a beautiful lake that I could almost imagine was the ocean, and spend quality down time with other volunteers. I've been a bit of a gad about so far in my service, but it's great to have the chance to see so much and spend time with so many fabulous people.

My teeth are FIXED and I should not have to deal with the dentist again for a long while. Thank heavens.

I'm still experiencing large swings of homesickness that seems promoted by hanging out with people who are finishing up their service. I think it will be good for me to get back into the village, get my brain occupied with service, and refocus for a few weeks. Had a fabulous mini-break--again!--and now it's back to work. I will try and spend some time writing a blog over the next 14 days and just post it here on my way back through to a training on the 19th.

All of my love with you.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My House is a Very Fine House

With a cat in the yard, a freshly thatched roof, a newly cemented floor, and an extra room! I’ve spent the last month focusing on getting my house in order before the rainy season begins. With help from my fabulous neighbor Moses, the house was complete before the very first rain last week (which I got caught in during a ride to the post office). I’m now in Solwezi for a few days for meetings and then head to Lusaka for a dental appointment. I’ll have access to fast inexpensive internet at that time, so keep your eye out for a longer post.

Friends and Family: I’m at the house, so if you have a chance to call, I would really love to hear from you.

Stacey J.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Teeth like Melon Seeds

I’ve been procrastinating writing this blog entry for most of the week. Not because I don’t want to describe Camp Glow Mwinilunga, but because I feel daunted by my inability to really show you how it felt, what it looked like, and the sense of accomplishment we took from the week.

Two second year Peace Corps volunteers in the health program coordinated the camp and recruited eight other volunteers in our province from the education, fishery, and HIV/AIDS programs to assist in facilitating the sessions and acting as mentors and supervisors. It was a tremendous opportunity to see my friends, people I see socially at the house, people I recognize coming off of transport covered in dust and spend time with making group dinners, rock it in their areas of expertise. My colleagues are talented, intelligent, articulate, passionate young adults with tremendous drive and compassion. I came away seriously impressed with the caliber of my fellow volunteers and a huge respect for the two ladies who put the camp together.

Those of us from outside the Mwinilunga district met in Solwezi last Friday. All the volunteers from Mufumbwe and Kasempa have to take a day to travel from the Southwestern area of our province north into the provincial center and then take a bus out to Mwinilunga, a sleepy little boma in the far Northwestern corner of Zambia sandwiched between Angola and the DRC. Heather and I were very fortunate to find transport into Solwezi with a man from China who manages one of the road crews west of Mufumbwe. We spent our four hour journey learning a bit of Mandarin and enjoying cross cultural stories.

Left the next morning on the most cramped and precariously packed coach bus I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen a lot of squished transport in the last seven months. I sat in a three person seat with two adults and two kiddos. In true Zam fashion, the mother in my row handed me a leggy six year old when I took a seat. She perched on my lap for the next couple of hours and played with my watch. The other volunteers fared worse, and spend the trip balancing on bags or possessively hanging on to two or three inches of seat space. Part of the luggage area was coming loose and had to be tied up for the five hour journey—we all believed we would eventually lose our bags somewhere on the road, but thanks to ingenious rope tying, we managed to keep everything and everyone in the bus all the way to Regina’s site, the home of one of our coordinators.

We stayed the night at her site before moving on to the Bible school where the camp was located. The family who lives next to Regina had a son coming back from a month in the bush completing a circumcision ritual. We were treated to an entire night of drumming, singing, and yelling right outside the walls. The community was in high spirits and while it was lovely music, none of us got any sleep at all and periodically made comments like, “unblievable, it’s 4:00 a.m. and they’ve not taken a break.”

We made our way the next morning to the Bible college facilities, a beautiful campus in the middle of nowhere. Built by the Brits several decades ago, it’s a haven of brick, hydro power, and scenery. The facilitators’ chalet had bedrooms with proper beds and sheets—ahh, such luxury! After organizing the week, we had a decent night’s sleep and waited for the girls to arrive.

26 young ladies from Grade 10 and 12 in high school from the Mwinilunga boma were selected by their leadership qualities and academic achievement and invited to spend a week with us talking about career choices, HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and general social empowerment. On the final day I led a session on Sexual Assault, a session that was in turns intense, enlightening, and extremely emotional for both me and the girls. In a country that routinely sees young ladies leave school because of pregnancy, often because of relationships with their teachers, discussions about sugar daddies and sex assault are highly charged and difficult since there is currently little reliable infrastructure for protecting the young ladies if they encounter pressure from men in positions of leadership. I had goosebumps listening to the girls shout “No means NO!” using strong voices and arms lifted in protest. I walked away from my time with them on this topic passionately convinced of the necessity for education, awareness, and empowerment and humbled by the courage and strength of these young women who jump so many hurdles to complete their education.

It was also really cool to have three amazing male volunteers with us for the week. It worked well to model men and women working together as equals: colleagues and friends striving for common goals without any power struggle. These guys are dedicated to seeing development for everyone and the girls responded well to the attention. It was also really great for them to see men attentive to their concerns without any ulterior motives.

We were divided into teams of six or seven. I co-led a group of six with Bob, a HIV/AIDS volunteer who came late in the week. Our group called themselves “The Real Girls,” and we competed throughout the week with other teams (Mazo, Champions, Angels, and Impalas) to gain points through participation and competition. These girls were fabulous encouragements to me—so full of energy, so smart, and so committed to developing their own lives. We sang songs, danced dances, played hard, talked deeply, and laughed loudly.

During relay night, my girls fought hard to gain some points against the other teams, but the American facilitators learned a cultural lesson that night. Zambians don’t queue well, a source of constant frustration at the bus station and Shop-Rite, and this lack of queuing goes extremely awry in the case of relays. Our girls were in and out of lines, cheating, screaming, taking several turns or none at all, ending in massive hilarity and confusion. My girls, who were losing spectacularly, evidently misunderstood the idea of a relay so much that they confronted me at the end of the night extremely upset that “they had won every event and not gotten one point!” I have great photos of faces full of mealy meal, drenched facilitators from the “fill up a water jug resting on a facilitator’s forehead” game (Team RG had great aim, thankfully), and pandemonium.

We talked a lot about empowering others as a way to see success for all. In Zambia, just as in the states (and probably everywhere else), a culture of jealousy for the successful is deeply embedded in personal interaction. Some people are extremely afraid of success because jealousy can ruin their lives (ask me another day about “flying” coffins in the village). After talking about this for a week, we had an exercise called “pat on the back” where we placed pieces of paper on our backs and wrote nice things about others on their backs. The girls were asked to take to papers off their backs, stand up and say “I am…(insert compliment)” with confidence in front of the whole group. I got to say, “I am a wonderful baby.” (J) I have never seen more gleaming smiles in my life. Everyone walked just a little taller that day, and hey, I wanted to run home and post my “pat on the back” on a fridge!

The day transport came for us we piled in the back of an open bed truck and the girls broke into a song dedicated to each of us. I choked up.

Unfortunately, we must have had some sketchy water or food because I’ve been dealing with a stomach bug ever since and spent the last week in Lusaka recovering. I did have a chance to spend time with other volunteers I didn’t’ really know before and had a blast making new friends. I also received the oddest “pat on the back” ever when a coworker of a new friend said I have “teeth like melon seeds.” It was meant as a compliment and I’m sure it’s one I won’t soon forget.

I’m finally back in Solwezi and will leave for Mufumbwe on Monday. I’m getting a ride with Peace Corps since we are having a village goodbye for one of my nearest neighbors, Matt, who is finishing his service. The revolving door of Peace Corps volunteers can be really challenging emotionally—especially if you’re like me and become attached to people quickly--but it is really great to have the chance to meet so many amazing people, and I now have two new neighbors in the Mufumbwe district.

I’m looking forward to spending a good amount of time at home. I start teaching on Tuesday afternoon, my Girls Club begins this week, and my house extension should be mostly finished when I return. And I should have a thatched roof all set for the start of hot season. I’m also really looking forward to reading the 7th Harry Potter novel and cuddling with my kitty!

I’ll write again at the end of September when we come in again for our provincial meetings. All my love to everyone.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Camp Glow and Christmas Offers

Hello to all! I have been a bit out of touch with most of you recently because I’ve been wandering around Zambia and on the road for the better part of the last six weeks. I made it to my village for four whole days—enough time to cycle 115 k to check out a possible new Peace Corps site and collect my mail—and then turned around and traveled back out to the Northwest corner of the country to help facilitate Camp Glow (Girls Leading Our World) in Mwinilunga. The camp was extremely successful, but after drinking marginal water for a few days and eating rotten nshima, I’ve had stomach trouble and am now back in Lusaka waiting for a dental appointment this afternoon and for blood test results to return so I can finally go home.

I’m hoping to get to my hut by the end of this week and start getting some work done and enjoying the pace of the village! I’m also really looking forward to starting my Life Skills course with the adult school in Mufumbwe and beginning a girls club next week. I have only a few minutes to jot down my thoughts before I leave for the butcher’s chair. I’ll try to share more detailed information about the camp before I leave Lusaka (and free internet access!:)

On my return to Mufumbwe I was very excited to see that the walls are up for my house extension! (hoorah!) and the poles are in place to get my roof thatched. Also while I was gone my neighbors put together a very sturdy clothesline and a dish drying rack—things I had commented on, but never really asked for. My cat was traumatized by my disappearance for several weeks and had just decided that we were friends again by the end of my four days when I left again for Solwezi. I hate leaving her, which seems silly since she is just a pet, but I become quite dependent on the kitty for company when I’m spending long nights holed up inside my mud walls.

Caitlin, a friend from our intake group, has had to switch sites because the community at her first site placement was not really in the position to host a Peace Corps volunteer. So we’re hoping to add her to our district team. This is great news—I love PC collaboration! While at home we were told of a potential community about 40 k from my neighbor Heather and so the three of us decided to take a day and cycle to the potential site to scope out the possibilities.

115 k and 12 hours later, we learned once again that bush paths and Zam directions are not always reliable! Unable to make it all the way back to my house, we rolled into another Peace Corps neighbor’s yard after dark and crashed out on his floor. If someone had told me in the states that I would have to cycle 70 miles in one day with only a sandwich and some granola bars for sustenance, I would never have believed them. I still have a hard time believing it. But since there were no other options, we did what we had to do. The site itself was not worth the effort, but wow, I felt like a cycling Rock Star!

So even though I can’t wait to finally get home and get settled back in, we are already talking here about vacation plans for Christmas! Most of us take a lot of time off in December since it is the rainy season and projects get stalled. Rather than sitting home and agonizing about missing our family and friends for the holiday, many of us take a break. I was discussing options with some friends: go to Namibia? Malawi? Tanzania? During this discussion, a friend of mine from here mentioned she is going to Israel over Christmas for a wedding and invited me to come along with her!! This is such an amazing opportunity, and while quite expensive, would be truly once-in-a-lifetime since I would be traveling with someone who has spend a lot of time in Israel and has community ties, a working knowledge of languages used, and... hey, I could be in Bethlehem for Christmas!! It’s going to take a financial miracle, but my coming to Zambia was a financial miracle, so anything can happen!

I will write tomorrow and fill everyone in on the fabulousity of Camp Glow. My love to everyone! I promise to catch up on letters once I get home. Miss you all.