Doug and Carrie Melvin of Boise, Idaho have both devoted their time to working on African fish farming and harvesting efforts. Doug Melvin was in Zaire for Special Forces and Carrie (that’s me!) worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.
This is the third in a series of letters I wrote describing traveling and working in Africa. In this letter, I talk about spending my first Christmas holiday in Africa and about the ongoing training classes I attended in Zaire.
26 December 1988
Happy New Year!
Well, the Christmas holiday in Africa… my first of three… is officially over. While it was certainly the least “Christmasy” Christmas I’ve had, it was a fun and relaxing weekend. Christmas Eve featured a fish program meeting, then some window shopping in Bukavu. There are stores here that sell things like shoes, radios, fabric, even a store that sells Snickers (at the cost of 2 days per diem for us). Bukavu is a very wealthy city compared to most of Zaire. We people-watched for awhile from the vantage point of a bar’s sidewalk table, where we drank some beers. Not much to-do about the Christmas holiday in Africa – a few decorations in the window of a Christian bookstore but that’s about it. About the only other manifestation of a holiday was the increased number of people milling around carrying chickens or goats, likely for a holiday feast.
This morning I had my second moto-lesson. Riding motorcycles is a blast! I’m a little against the motorcycles since they intensify the “us-them” syndrome when you are at post – but it is not really feasible to go the necessary distances without them (and it is so much fun!!) Don’t worry though, I’ll be safe. And, I might not even get one if Peace Corps can’t find a smaller one. Can’t believe they only have one size.
French class is going pretty well. I am still the only one in my class – since I was the only trainee who already knew some French – which is a great opportunity but also very tiring. The teachers are fantastic – very fun, animated, and quick to laugh, like all Zairois I have met so far. Class usually starts out with some exercises or drills, but always ends up a discussion on cultural comparisons, politics (US only, Zairean politics are a taboo subject), religion, etc. My viewpoints are ever so simplistic in French, but it is fun to try.
[It was interesting to compare French class methods with Doug Melvin from the TSA in Boise, who learned French for US Special Forces service in west and central Africa from US Army training program. They also had immersion training, from French and African instructors, but since the training all took place in the US, it was not as effective as the full immersion you get in an all French environment.]
It is rainy season right now (approx 15 August through 15 March) so it rains a little just about every day. But the rain comes and goes so quickly that usually no one even stops what they are doing. Storms are tropical – quick to come and go, lots of thunder and lightening, warm rain. The dry season will have rain only once in a while, but it is also cooler then. (Though Kivu is pretty cool – relatively – even in the rainy season). The clear nights are truly awesome. The moon outside my window shines down on the lake through all the trees and the southern hemisphere stars seem twice as plentiful, practically competing for space in the sky.
We had our first intro session today with the Center’s farmer – he works primarily as a trainer for the agriculture volunteers, but will be available to teach us about gardening, and raising chickens and rabbits. Rabbits I could never raise because I could not possibly kill one. But chickens aren’t all that cute and it would be great to have eggs. PC can get us “improved variety” chickens like Rhode Island Reds, and apparently PC Volunteers often trade eggs so that the villages can hatch the improved variety and have better egg-layers. One volunteer we visited had a great chicken house which he said is easy to care for.
I suppose I better sign off because I really start rambling – but when I am writing I feel like I am talking to you. In fact, looking out my window today above the trees into the fog over the lake wasn’t all that different from sitting in the living room in Carmel looking out into the fog and trees. It is really beautiful here. I love this region of Zaire!
I love you all,