Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Three Kinds of Hunger... and They All Suck

There are three kinds of food insecurity seen around the world: chronic, seasonal, and transitory.  Each feels the same around mealtime; yet each is caused by different conditions, different difficulties, and lasts for different amounts of time.  And, in short, they all suck.

Chronic food insecurity is defined as extended periods of poverty, asset scarcity, and inadequate access to productive or financial resources. 

Over a long duration of time if people don't have access to food, money to buy food, or assets to trade for food then they fall within the realm of chronic food insecurity.  I think of this as people living in Somalia or Ethiopia (I always remember seeing TIME magazines from the 90s with these places on the cover) or some place where people have been suffering and starving for a long time.  Although, chronic food insecurity can certainly be found in the Western world as well.

Seasonal food insecurity is defined as falling between chronic and transitory food insecurity.  It's similar to chronic food insecurity in that it is predictable and follows known sequences of events and is recurrent.  It's similar to transitory food insecurity because of its limited duration.

A local market in Mongu, Zambia, where many people will go to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables.  In times of hunger having extra spending money can make an enormous difference between going hungry and getting a good meal or two in each day.

Seasonal food insecurity is huge in Zambia.  There's an entire time of the year dedicated to it... the hunger season (clever name, eh?).  This time of the year is typically from November to February - the same time of year when the crops (maize, beans, etc.) are just being planted, but the gardens have finished producing much of their harvest for the year.  During this time 3 meals a day recedes to 2, then down to 1 and sometimes none.  It's a really hard, crappy, sucky time of year for the food insecure.

Water shortages brought on during the driest times of the year (September and October, just before the hunger season) also can limit food production and create hunger.

Transitory food insecurity is described as being relatively unpredictable and can emerge suddenly; without warning.

Think "act of God" in regards to this one.  Transitory food insecurity is often the result of a massive shakeup from something like a natural disaster.  Boom!  Storm hits and food reserves drop off.  People are forced to flee their homes, crops, and known surroundings.  Right now, this is a huge issue in the Middle East with food insecurity being brought on by wars in Syria, Iraq, and other conflict zones.

In short, all three types of food insecurity are terrible, with chronic taking the cake.  It's awful to be hungry but to be chronically hungry leads to malnutrition and a wealth of other destabilizing issues for a community.

Little dudes like this aren't too often seen in the village.  He's good sized, maybe even a bit chubby, but incredibly healthy.

The Peace Corps and Marriage

Everyone comes to Zambia looking for something.  Some look to help their fellow man; some to make money; some - like me - to experience something new and different.  And then there are others that come looking for love.

What a romantic notion, right? Going off to a foreign land in search of a hus­band or wife. Most don’t come here with that sole intention, but it does happen and I doubt they would say they wish it hadn’t.

Every group, or “intake,” of Peace Corps Volunteers (usually about 30) has at least one of their own find love and a life of happiness with a Zambian man or woman.

Here’s proof that love and the Peace Corps go together: Tom Hanks met his wife Rita Wilson while filming the movie Volunteers, a movie about two young Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Southeast Asia. I think that sets the standard pretty high for the rest of us volunteers.

No doubt love at first sight, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson met while portraying Peace Corps Volunteers based in Southeast Asia.

Anyway, I would picture a place more like the French countryside, a beach in Tahiti or even one of those cheap mar­riage chapels in Las Vegas to be more conducive to love than a small village in rural Zambia. But then again it seems to often fit the bill.

And why shouldn’t it? As a whole, Zambians are a very attractive people, they’re incredibly friendly and although it isn’t a white sandy beach with palm trees swaying nearby, a village is as exotic a locale as any other destination.

Chris and Lauren met during her first few months in the Peace Corps and haven't looked back since.  Love and the Peace Corps, sometimes, go together perfectly.

But before I continue on with volunteers being in love, I should first talk about local love — village relationships.  Most rural marriages aren’t for love. They’re more for convenience and a working partnership (in my opinion). The woman has her gender-specific roles that she’s in charge of carrying out: bearing children, cooking food, laundry and other household duties. Comparatively, the man is in charge of things like caring for the animals, planting and maintaining the fields among other more male-specific chores.

As far as love as we know it, villagers don’t exactly go all out on Valentine’s Day for their significant others, or any day for that matter. Love and romance aren’t synonymous with marriage by any means, and in the local language of my area there isn’t even a word for love. Their word “nakutemwa” means, “I like you.”  No love, just like.

Similar to other African cultures, most tribes in Zambia use a dowry system for acquiring a wife. The price increases based on the potential bride’s viewed worth.

With assistance by my best buddy, Caleb, and a computer for sound Lauren and Chris dance at their wedding in April 2015.  The wedding was in the middle of the forest and though there were plans to have an actual sound system there, a number of things came together to prevent that from happening - namely the fact that the ceremony was in the African forest.

The happy couple, post-ceremony, posing with some of Chris' family / Lauren's new family.

For example, if she comes from a respected family, has finished high school and/or does not have children by the time of the marriage, then her family can command a higher price.

When the actual marriage does occur, it’s very different from the American version.
 In the days leading up to the ceremony the bride and groom are kept apart. The bride-to-be will attend a cere­mony called a “kitchen party” where she’ll be taught how to be a good wife, both by properly doing house chores and how to please her new husband (oh-la-la!). As well, the groom enjoys a long bachelor’s party.

Then the ceremony is held, everyone is dressed up and they’re married. My favorite oddity of the local wedding has nothing to do with the ceremony, it has to do with the couple’s photo together — they never smile. Of all the Zambian wedding photos I’ve seen there never once is a smile, just a 1,000-yard stare to the side of the camera.

Even volunteers pay a dowry when they marry a Zambian. My friend Jesse Crikelair was married to a wonderful Zambian woman by the name of Jose­phine Lwabila in 2013, and following traditional custom Jesse had to pay a dowry of about $1,000.

Not very uncommon... volunteers and locals do get hitched on occasion.  In nearly every group of incoming volunteers to Zambia there will be one or two Americans that marry a local man or woman.

Jesse and Josephine at their wedding.  Currently they're living in Philadelphia and enjoying their lives together.

While many of us will leave Zambia with scars to our legs and maybe even the odd parasite, other volunteers will leave with a husband or a wife. And if finding love in the Peace Corps was good enough for Tom Hanks, then it should be good enough for all of us.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

USAID's Branding Issue

Look hard enough in a public clinic anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa and you're sure to find a flyer, maybe a piece of cloth, or a cardboard box with the acronym USAID printed on it somewhere and an emblem of two hands shaking with the tagline "From the American People" below it.  That's because USAID and it's budget in excess of a billion dollars means that USAID, and by proxy the American people, is nearly everywhere and nearly everywhere all of the time.  Whether it's in clinics, schools, immigration offices, or a multitude of other places, USAID - through it's assistance programs to varying countries - is in nearly every aspect of a person's life (at least in Zambia).

A bicycle from my time down in Zambia's Southern Province.  Purchased with USAID money and distributed by my organization to a local farmer.

But, I don't think Americans really fully comprehend how big of an organization USAID is, how broad its reach is, or what its impact really is.  I know I didn't.  I had heard of USAID, but I had no idea that most (if not all) of the drugs used by HIV/AIDS patients here in Zambia are provided through USAID funds.  Or that USAID is funding the rebuilding of war-torn Afghanistan (from roads to government ministries).  In nearly every country USAID is hard at work.

In the village I received 50 mosquito net that were purchased with USAID money and given to the local Zambian Ministry of Health clinic for distribution.  I then distributed them to my neighbors for use in their houses.

Aside from the small stickers and fliers strewn across the country announcing this building, that box, and those medicine containers as being given by the American taxpayer, there really isn't all that much in the way of branding.  Yes, the logo is seen but I don't think people really understand what it's showing... that that product is a direct investment in this country or that country from the people of the United States.

It should be a point of pride for we Americans.  We're helping in the most remote corners of the world by supplying needed goods and capital, yet we seldom hear about his good work.  To me, it seems like a serious branding issue.  It's probably my American side feeling like this could be marketed better, and maybe Zambians aren't the right target for my proposed self-induced praise, but I think Americans should at least know what they're doing, what they're funding.  It's important work and who doesn't think important work shouldn't be praised?