Deuteronomy 31:8

"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Four Years Later...

...And I am still in Zambia.

Four years ago I touched down in Zambia to start the “toughest job I’ll ever love” aka Peace Corps. I had just turned twenty-two years old and had also just graduated from college and was beyond excited for the adventure of a lifetime. I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be at the time, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t also a little (or maybe even a lot) scared.

Me with Kasoko and Mutukangi
When I left home people would ask me what I would be doing in my role as a Community Health Improvement Project Volunteer and I had very few answers to provide because before leaving Peace Corps really doesn’t tell you much. I knew I’d cover topics such as HIV, malaria, and nutrition based off the small blurb that was written about Zambia specifically in our packet included in our invitation. And I also knew I would live in a grass thatch mud hut with no power, no water, and I’d be given a bicycle to travel around.

My host mom and dad and my host brother
So I began my journey in Atlanta for a day to learn a whole lot of information about where I was headed to, get some last minute shots, and have a chance to meet the other Peace Corps Volunteers in my intake. From there it was a 2 month intense training period with four hour language lessons, cultural lessons, and technical training all while leaving with a host family in my very own mud hut.

My host mom eating the Zambian staple food nshima, and my host sister photo bombing

Then I was sent to Misengo village in the Northern Province of Zambia and called it home for the next two years. I worked all around the community with different groups of women, men, football teams, school groups to educate about nutrition, prevention of HIV, malaria, and safe water and sanitation. To say I loved it would be an understatement. I loved my hut (which to me seemed like a mansion), I loved my community, and I especially loved the children I interacted with on a daily basis. Yes at times there were not so fun moments like getting malaria in February in 2012 and having my house become almost flooded during rainy season due to the poor thatching of grass in some areas, but I would say my highs outweighed my lows. And maybe I am just saying that because it has been about 2 years since I lived there and I am romanticizing my time there, but I am totally fine with that. While life was hard and nothing was really convenient about fetching my own water, walking over an hour at times to get to the main road and hitchhike into town, washing my own clothes by hand, or starting my own fire everyday to make food I learned to do it, or as they say here, I got used.
My fabulous hut!

In front of the school sign with Mutukangi and my loyal dog, Finn

The kids killed this puff adder snake behind my house. 
I met some of the most amazing, generous people I have ever met in my entire life. Even if I just stopped by a stranger’s house to get out of a down pour that I found myself in on a bike ride to or from a group meeting, they would offer me a stool or imbalala (groundnuts) with no questions asked. Even if to me the people didn’t have very much they would still share with me. It was a very humbling experience to say the least and saying goodbye to my village is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
After coming from a nearby village they sent me home with plenty of bananas and sugar cane

Then I moved to the big city of Kitwe on the Copperbelt for my third-year extension assignment with Peace Corps. I was assigned to a non-governmental organization funded by USAID and other private donors called Society for Family Health (SFH) as a Communications Assistant. My role was basically to educate people and encourage them to come for HIV testing, family planning services and male circumcision. It was a fun job that allowed me to travel all over the province and go to different schools, work places, markets, and everywhere in-between in order to achieve SFH’s vision of serving under served populations. I was also put up in a nice 2-bedroom apartment that featured such luxuries as a flushing toilet, running water, a stove, a fridge, and a real roof!
With two of my workmates

I completed my Peace Corps service in October 2013 and officially became a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), but I wasn’t exactly ready to return to the US. I decided to stay longer to wait for my fiance to finish up school the following year, and thankfully I was able to be hired on by SFH as a full time staff member so I wouldn’t go hungry, homeless, or bored while I waited for him to finish. This time I was hired on as a Monitoring and Evaluation Assistant. My job entails entering in data for our various programs and then creating the reports. It’s not the most exciting of jobs, but it pays the bills and I am very grateful for it!
My desk at SFH as an M&E Assistant
So that’s where I am today as I ring in my fourth year. Man just re-capping all of that has brought back so many memories and I almost forgot about!
I have learned a lot and also changed in many ways over these last four years. Some of the changes are positive, but I think some are also negative. For instance I would say I have become more patient than I was initially because here I have to live on African time, which to me equals being late for everything and not caring at all. I still show up on time or even early which is the Skurla way of life. While I am not perfect in the patience department I also have learned to go into situations prepared to wait sometimes hours for people or meetings.  I don’t enjoy this endless waiting game, but I’ve gotten used.
One thing I didn’t really anticipate having to deal with as much as I have is the celebrity status I have just because I am white. In the village I was known by everyone and wherever I went I was watched, especially in the beginning, but as time went on that went down. Actually one of my favorite memories was when my favorite child, Mutukangi, helped me out by calling someone out on starting at me. We were at the soccer field and some other kid was just staring at me and Mutukangi just goes up to the kid and says in local language, “What are you watching? Ba Emily is not a television!” It was hilarious and I wish he could handle all those awkward encounters for me.

My fiance and I at the fish ponds in Miengo
In Kitwe this celeb status went to another level which is weird because you would think living in town where you have access to TV and a lot of different people you would be used to seeing white people. I mean even the Vice President is white! But still I am always referred to as mzungu or booga which is just the name for white person even when they are just passing me on the street. I don’t know what exactly how they want me to respond. It also goes beyond that as well. It seems like can’t walk anywhere without being harassed by men who want to call me baby or sweetie or comment on how I look. And they even do this when I am with my fiance or worse they insult him for being with me. It even at times goes so far as people insulting me when I try and ignore them and just do what I am doing. It’s exhausting and probably one of things I am more looking forward to about returning to America (besides being reunited with friends and family) is to just be invisible and not have people watch and comment on every normal thing that I do. I don’t know how celebrities do it! 

Mutukangi and I going to fetch water
If all goes as planned, this will be my last Zambian anniversary. Just how I knew when I came four years ago this is where I was supposed to be, I know it is time to go, and maybe the time to go is overdue. Things like spending hours waiting for a ride on the side of the road were at first an exciting part of the adventure, but now I just find them an annoying inconvenience. It’s almost like after having been dealing with the same annoyance for so many years I feel like those annoyances should have been fixed by now, which is just silly. My fiancĂ© is constantly reminding me that while I am no longer in the village, I am still a long way from the ever efficient America.

Since coming to Zambia I have missed out on a majority of my friends getting married and starting their grown-up after college lives and I am eager to join them before everyone starts having babies! And like I said before I am ready to just blend in. I am ready to go jogging, go for a walk, and go shopping in peace! And I am ready to be back in the English speaking place where I don’t have to exhaust my mind trying to keep up with conversations in local language.  Basically I am ready to go back home, and I just hope home is ready for me! And then it’ll be my Zambian fiancĂ©’s turn to learn to adapt into American culture! 
I hope you'll be seeing us in America in 2015!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Invest in the Future, Defeat Malaria.

April 25th is World Malaria and this day has a lot more meaning to it for me since I have suffered from malaria myself. It is 4 days I will never forget in my Peace Corps service.

Here was a little about my firsthand experience with malaria…One late afternoon/early evening on s Saturday in the beginning of February 2012 I felt a little off. My neck and back were sore and I just felt really fatigued, but I didn’t think much of it because the previous 2 days I had done a lot of biking and just thought it was because of that that I was feeling sore achy and tired. The next day, I still felt really tired and sore and just overall really weak, which again I thought was due to biking and just stress from the village life. The only new thing that happened to me that day was that I didn’t really have much of an appetite. Still I had no clue I was suffering from malaria because I slept under a mosquito net every night and I took malaria prophylaxis medicine.

That Sunday night was awful for me, I woke up with a fever and would wake up alternating feeling hot and then cold. Monday morning I woke up with a fever of 104 and a splitting headache plus an overall weak and fatigued feeling. Once I woke up with the headache between my eyes I thought, “Wait, could this be malaria?” So I went and read my PC Medical handbook and saw that I was missing only 2 of the symptoms but very strongly had everything else including headache between the eyes, fever, sweats and chills, fatigue, aches and pains. So I went and took a malaria test at my local clinic and the result came back negative because of my prophylaxis medicine so I took the Coartem to kill the parasite in my blood.

The next 3-4 days were the worst I have felt in my entire life and I am not even being dramatic by saying that. And since I take the prophylaxis medicine I was told my malaria was just “ break through” malaria and supposedly less intense, but I hope that is not true because if that was only a bit of malaria I don’t know how people survive the full force.

The worst was just doing something small and feeling so exhausted by doing that. I didn’t really get out of bed for those 3 days and I was still so tired. I had no appetite so I am pretty sure I lost between 5-7lbs, and the worst thing with malaria is that it’s cyclic which means that maybe in the morning you feel okay so you start moving around a bit, but by the afternoon you feel as if it’s your first day with malaria all over again. Then for me about a week after I was still feeling some of the effects of the malaria but this time with severe pain in my joints, specifically my knees. Bending my legs and walking was so painful!

Even with all this coming from such a small insect I survived and sadly to say many people in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially children, don’t survive. Many don’t have access to nets, or when they go to the clinic they find there is no medicine available to kill the parasite, or I found in my community some people think all they need is rest to cure malaria and therefore don’t make it to the clinic to get the needed medicine. 

Stomping Out Malaria in Africa is a Peace Corps initiative that uses strategic partnerships, targeted training Volunteers and intelligent use of information technology to support the local malaria prevention efforts of over 3,000 Volunteers in sub-Saharan Africa. For more information go to and follow Stomp activities at

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Not Easy Being a Woman

Being back at work after a wonderful month of home leave and then 2.5 weeks of a fun-filled Zambian adventure with friends is really tough. I've decided that I love vacation and wish I could do it more often! But alas, I can't so here is what's been happening at work lately.

We here at SFH sell male and female condoms and we have like 20,000 pieces of female condoms that are going to expire in the next few months so we've been working on selling them and then giving away the generic brand. So far we have given away our entire stock of 14,000 pieces of the generic brand to clinics, individuals, and brothels around the Kitwe area. You would think it would be easy giving away condoms, but it's not. Zambians prefer the male condoms and therefore when we went to give a box of the female ones to them for free they were hesitant in taking them and requested free male condoms instead. So if it's hard to give them away imagine how hard a time we have had in selling them!

One interesting experience I had while selling these female condoms was in Kasumba Lesa which is right on the border of DRC. We went to what could technically be called a guest house, but was more like a brothel. Each room comes with a girl in it. We went on a Tuesday afternoon to meet with some of the ladies to try and teach them about safe sex to protect themselves against HIV and other STIs and sell them condoms (a dispenser comes with 24 condoms for the equivalent of about $1). Some of the ladies were not wanting to buy and instead wanted them for free because they said that business was slow and they couldn't afford it. They have to pay for there room ($20/day), and since they don't normally even have that much they share it with at least one other woman, and then to get customers they have to look nice so they have to eat, buy make-up, clothes, get their hair done, etc. To make this money they have become commercial sex workers who charge $4 for every sexual act. $4 can you imagine that?!?!?! Just to make their rent they have to have sex with at least 3 men per day and then to buy all their other things they need just imagine how many more times they need to perform. It was an eye opening experience and one I will never forget. Some of these women come from all over Southern Africa just to sell there bodies to make just a little bit of money.

Another area that has been the focus this month is cervical cancer screening. The First Lady of Zambia is a huge advocate for women going to for cancer screening and so women are really wanting the service. Our screeners have busy traveling around the country and I have gone with them a few times to see them work. Unlike America, here they don't do a pap smear and instead do something called a Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) test where they take a piece of cotton and put it in vinegar and then insert that into a woman and let it stay for 3 minutes. The vinegar works to bring out any white spots on the cervix which indicates pre-cancer cells. Then the providers take a picture of the woman's cervix with a digital camera and can see if the cervix pink and normal, has white pre-cancer lesions, or has cancer and needs to be referred for treatment. The pictures they take will blow your mind!!! So many woman have VIA positive results and several have to be referred to Lusaka CIDRZ for treatment. If women don't have cancer, many of them have cervicitis, which is inflammation and swelling of the cervix. This is overly common in women here, especially in rural areas, because women insert things like Snuff tobacco (think of chewing tobacco), fresh marijuana leaves, crushed African herbs, into there vagina because of a belief that it will make them "warm and tight for their husbands to enjoy sex more." They also think that vaginal fluid is very dirty and will wash inside with harsh soaps (one woman said she even uses laundry soap), but in fact this is causing lots of damage to their cervix.

There are so many of these myths and misinformation about the woman's body that I would love to spend more time focusing on this and really educating woman on taking care of their bodies because a lot of this practice has come from tradition and they are unaware the harm it is causing. 

So that's my life as of late in a nutshell! I can't believe March is already half over!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Tour of Zambian Life

2013 is off to a great start thus far! I spent a month on home leave, which was wonderful! I missed the Minnesota cold and snow and of course my family and friends! Then when I came back I travelled with two of my friends so they could get a taste of Zambian life. We started off their tour of Zambia with a stop at my boyfriend's family's house in Lusaka where they got to meet everyone, make the traditional meal of nshima and see what city life is like!
Riding on the mini bus
Sarah making nshima
Excited for the bus ride up to Kitwe

 Once we arrived at my home in Kitwe, we went and visited the Chimfunshi Chimpanzee Wildlife Orphanage in Chingola, Copperbelt. It was a chance for Anna and Sarah to glimpse at life in the bush and for all of us to get up close with primates. The chimps are rescued from all over the world from circuses, homes, and poachers and are kept at the orphanage. In total there were 125 chimps and we were able to walk with 6 of them...Dominic, Didi, Karla, Kitty, Cindy and one more whose name I have forgotten.After that, we went around with my colleagues to do some school programs, and then we did a tour of SOS Children's Village-Kitwe, which is an orphanage and has a school and clinic as well. 
Playing with the pre-school kids

Dominic and Anna
Our pockets were filled with treats for the chimps to find
Baby Kitty. We weren't allowed to pick up this baby because the mother wouldn't allow it
Me and Didi, who got to be quite heavy. She weighed about 75lbs
These male chimps aren't allowed to walk with people. This one was the leader, and he's only 12 years old.

 After about 5 days in Kitwe we took a 12 hour bus ride down to the Southern Province and stayed in Livingstone, which is home to Victoria Falls. We spent a day exploring the Falls, went on a 2-Day, 1-night safari in Chobe National Park, Botswana, did a lion walk, and watched the sunset at the swanky Royal Livingstone Hotel.

Good morning to you too!

going for a walk

Posing for a pic with Luba, a 2 year old lioness

Simba, the male lion

Victoria Falls

There was so much water coming from the Falls we got soaked!


Preparing ourselves to face baboons for the walk down to the boiling pot
Boiling Pot

All you can eat at the Royal Livingstone

Getting ready for an amazing sunset over Victoria Falls

Sarah is a little nervous about the hippo behind here

I love safari!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Coppala Swag

Here is a conversation I just had with a neighbor boy, Grant, yesterday:

"Auntie, where is your dish?! I don't see any dish here!"

"I don't have one."

"WHAT?!? You mean you just watch ZNBC (Zambia National Broadcasting)?"

"No I have GoTV and it just uses an antenna"

"So how many channels do you have? Do you have power rangers? I love power rangers."

Grant is 7 years old and lives such a different life than any 7 year old in my village that I can't help but thinking I am in a completely different country here. In Misengo kids played with empty containers (seriously, they would fight over an empty shampoo bottle or tin can), or played church in my front yard (complete with sermons, songs, bible readings, and casting out of demons) while kids here in Kitwe would never really be satisfied with that. They know all about satelite dishes, LG vs. Phillips plasma screens, and the latest Blackberry phone. Aside from the stuff they have here, these kids can also speak English far better than most adults in Misengo. They are more educated in grade 2 than a lot of pupils are by grade 9 in the village. And sadly the majority of people in Zambia aren't like the people I am finding in the Copperbelt, but have experiences more like I found in the village.

It makes me wonder how I am going to cope with being back in America for a month. I think the transition will be easier than coming straigt from the ville because most of my co workers have cars, and smartphones, but I think the amount of stuff is going to be a little overwhelming, but nonetheless I am excited to be there and be back in America after being gone for about a year and a half!

Things here in the Copperbelt have been going well. I was busy organizing a workshop we hosted for teacher's about male circumscision because the Ministry of Health is having a big push to have every male in Zambia circumscised by the year 2015. We wanted to educate the teachers so that they can be our focal point people in the schools to help us educate the boy pupils since the age of 16-25 is one of our main target groups. To my teacher friends, imagine having the responsibility of teaching your pupils about protecting themselves from HIV/AIDS and MC?!?

Other than that my other latest project was the creation of a facebook page for our copperbelt platform. If you want to take a look and see some photos of our events or be in the loop on where we are going you can check us out on

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Month into Working Life

I have been a Communications Assistant at SFH for one month now. And it has been a busy month! My body is still trying to get used to the 8-5, Monday thru Friday schedule after being in the village life for 2 years where my days consisted of killing time by reading, washing clothes, cleaning, and hanging out with people with a scheduled program every now and then. So far it's been a good month. My job as a CA is to go out and create demand for SFH products and services. So we sell items like condoms, clorin for safe drinking water, birth control pills, and then we educate communities and schools on things like male circumcision, long term family planning methods (IUDS), and going to get tested for HIV and create demand for them to get these services. As the Copperbelt platform we have insane targets that each department has to meet each month (for example, the MC team has a target of providing 2,175 circumcisions every month) and so the CA is very important to help these departments reach these numbers. We've been going around to a few schools and doing some of the GrassRoots Soccer activities I learned to teach about HIV in a non formal way. Then we also go on outreaches where we attack some speakers to the top of the cruiser and drive around talking in a microphone alerting people that we are there and they should come and get the service we are offering. Going around like this with the PA system is really effective. Even though we can tell a clinic we are there and hope word spreads around, most times in the more urban areas the correct message doesn't reach everyone so this method targets a large number of people. So far in my month I have seen not only a lot of Kitwe, but also a lot of the Copperbelt thanks to the outreaches we've done. I've been to many of the districts including Chingola, Chililabombwe, and Mufulira.I still have yet to make it to Ndola, the provincial capitol, but I am hoping that one of our trips will take me there. Next up, we as a communications team have been planning a workshop for teachers to train them about MC so that they can tell their students about it and hopefully be referring them to our site so they can get circumcised. Being that pretty much every baby gets circumcised in the States I had never thought that much about it, but here it is really being pushed because it can help lower the risk of getting HIV by 60%, and lower the chances of the man passing on HPV to women which can cause cervical cancer. And MC is being provided for free to Zambian men thanks to funding from USAID. So thank you America! Otherwise, life outside of work is going well. I am slowing figuring out where to buy certain things in town and I am loving living in my house that has running water (most of the time, I still stock it up in a dish just in case it stops), power, a stove, and a fridge. Only a little over 1 month until I am in America for the holidays! I can't wait to see everyone and be back for some American living!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Life after the Village

I have been out of my village for a little over one month now, but it seems like a lifetime ago. Saying that getting pulled from my site was 'emotional' would be the understatment of the century. In the week prior to getting pulled I felt excited for what was to come next, sad to be saying goodbye, anxious, disappointment, and anger due to a HUGE mistake by Peace Corps. I won't get into too many details, but to make a long story short they didn't have Misengo on the list of sites to be replaced so one week before I was to go I find out that no one is coming to replace my site and continue on in the work that I was doing even though I had many times told many members of staff that I HIGHLY recommended it to be replaced. However, as we were driving away good news came and a girl is coming to my site for one year after previously being a volunteer in Southern Province. So at least, Misengo will have a volunteer again! Saying goodbyes was the worst experience ever and something I would never want to repeat again. Ever. Luckily though since then I have been able to communicate with some people from my village by phone which has been so great. The drama that Misengo has never ceases to amaze me and I find myself missing it so much!
But now I have left Misengo and Northern Province and have found myself in the Copperbelt Province, in the city of Kitwe. It is a HUGE step up from Kasama town which had one traffic light, one Shoprite, and very little else. Kitwe is huge with a population of over 500,000 and lots of cars, areas, and shops not to mention delicious pizza. I live in the Nkana West part of town which is really close to town center and a short walk to the Society for Family Health offices. I live in a flat that has two bedrooms (with closets), a bathroom (with a flush toilet, shower, and tub), a kitchen (with stove, fridge, countertops, sink), and a big sitting room. I really like it and slowly but surely I am making it a home :)
My job at Society for Family Health has been going well after week one and I have to say I forgot how tiring it is to actually have a job from 8-5 every day Monday-Friday. As part of the communications team we are asked to go out a lot and provide information to the community before an event takes place. Last week we went to Mufurila right on the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo to prepare people for male circumcision. The beginning of this week we went to schools to watch their programs in promotion of global handwashing day, and this weekend I will be traveling again up near the Congo to promote family planning methods. So far it is busy, but I am liking it!