Monday, November 8, 2010

Justin's in the USA

Hey everyone,

This will be the last entry to this particular blog. I would like to thank anyone who has had the patience and fortitude to follow along with all of my audacious rambling over the past 2 years. It was an incredible period of personal growth for me, and I hope that upon reading these entries this growth is apparent to those whose opinion I value. Many people have asked me, upon my return, whether I consider my service a success. I have tried my best to develop an elevator speech; here it is...

My service was a personal success in many ways. Most importantly, I found a family all the way across the World. I will forever be a Kasonde, as a Hostetter, and am extremely grateful for all that the Kasondes did to welcome me into their world. Without their patience, understanding, and constant guidance I would not have been as happy these past few years, and would certainly not have experienced such significant growth and cultural understanding. I also feel that I have helped their family, and as a member of it, taught them about my American family, culture, and values. Also, I have helped Ba Kasonde reach a new level of intensive fish farming, which will hopefully allow him to be a successful businessman in Kasama. More importantly, I found the father figure that was missing in my life, and I will always remember Ba Kasonde, his hard work and patience, and strive to be more like him every day.

Outside of my Zambian family, my service had varying success. I learned the language well, and became quite integrated into the Bemba culture. I will never forget the rides in the back of flatbed trucks, discussing anything from food to politics in IciBemba with the relentlessly kind and interested people of Zambia. I also gained a greater understanding of international politics, the role that Western nations play in this complicated and political scheme, and the great beauty of the people and nature that Zambia holds.

Less successful was my endeavor to teach rural farmers how to live in the bush. It must be noted here that the goal of Peace Corps is in some ways fundamentally pompous and hypocritical. What does a kid raised in the suburban United States know about living in Africa? It was ignorant for me to assume I could teach Zambians how to live in their own country, and some of the farmers who I encouraged to fish farm will surely have given up by now. Also, for anyone to come from the United States, the most egregiously wasteful nation on earth, to teach others to 'live sustainably' is in many ways offensive and outrageous. That being said, I do not question that my presence positively impacted those with whom I lived, mostly because of my genuine interest in learning the ways of Zambian culture. Any Volunteers who have a genuine interest in living abroad, and exchanging cultures in the most universal language of all (laughter) are doing well for the World. Unfortunately, not all Peace Corps Volunteers I met along the way were so interested. Everyone has his or her own motives, and it’s not for me to judge.

When asked about Peace Corps, I explain that it is an overwhelming success for those who recognize and utilize its most important purpose: to promote growth, understanding, peace, and friendship among all cultures in the World. With that established, the Peace Corps will always be tainted by the arrogance of the culture from which it was founded. So long as the United States presumes its way of life to be superior, and has the audacity to convince the rest of the World to change their ways in accordance with our desires, it will not be only the Peace Corps that is unable to create a universal understanding. If I learned anything from my experience abroad, it’s this:

"We could go a long way to preserving mother nature, the lives of those she sustains, and even our own individual sanities, by analyzing and changing our way of life, rather than encouraging other cultures to change theirs." (patent pending...)

Thank you all for reading this blog. Thank you US taxpayer for providing me such a wonderful, eye-opening experience. Thank you Zambia for welcoming me, and teaching me what it is to live humbly. I will forever be thankful.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Brother's Trip

Its been a hectic few months of hosting friends and family in the ‘jungles’ of Africa. Bill and Todd came at the beginning of June, in the midst of the World Cup frenzy and the final stretch of my service. It was crazy to greet them as they emerged from customs, two years flew by, but we reunited as if no time had passed. In the car on the way to our accommodation, I gave them a crash course in Zambian survival – a bit of local language, some quick notes about the culture, and a short list of things they should not do, under any circumstances.

They arrived about 8 PM in the evening, and we planned to take a safari starting at 3 the next morning. Despite their long journey, Todd and Bill lived up to the Hostetter/Barnum name, and we went out on the town for a some beers in Lusaka. We returned from the casino less wealthy but much the wiser, having caught up on some of the changes which had occurred in the past 2 years. When we returned to our place at about 2 AM, Todd and I decided there was nothing for it, and stayed up over a few pulls of Vodka and talked.

We left for our Safari at about 4 AM. A friend of mine named Ebrahim who lives in Lusaka was kind enough to put us up, and he and his cousin each provided a Toyota Land Cruiser and basically guided us for the whole trip. It was incredible. The ride to Kafue, which is about 4 hours from Lusaka, was a sobering one. As the two surprised greenies would quickly admit, its way colder in Zambia than one might expect. Todd was enjoying the fresh air, and the break from civilization so much, I had to coax him off of the safari seat and against the back of the cab, for fear he would freeze to death.

We spent two days and three nights in Kafue National Park, and it was an incredible experience. We got to see Cheetahs organizing a hunt as the sun set on the Zambian dambo, Lions feeding on a kill with newborn cubs, and even hippos and elephants on the river. We took two river boat rides, which involved fishing, relaxing, and an encounter with a bull elephant that left us within feet of his massive trunk and jagged tusks.

After the safari, we headed immediately to Kasama so they could see the other side of the African Bush – my village. They immensely enjoyed Chibo, and got to ride into the village on bicycle and experience first-hand what my life has been like for the past 2 years. It was really a unique trip, and will allow them to relate with me in a way not possible for those who have not been to Zambia, and are therefore rendered less able to relate to its beautiful culture.

After my site, we went to Victoria Falls. We got to see the ‘Smoke that thunders’, and since I’ve been there a few times now, I was able to show them around a bit. We even timed our trip so that we were able to see the lunar rainbow which occurs during the full moon. From a distance the rainbow was quite impressive – a bit like a normal rainbow, except in grayscale. However, after talking with some other visitors, we learned that we had to journey further into the mist of the falls to really experience the phenomenon.

We didn’t have rain jackets or even warm clothes, and as previously mentioned it was cold… But, in true Polar Bear tradition, we took off our layers, and ran into the mist with our T-shirts. The climax of the lunar rainbow is at a bridge in a cloud of midst, just opposite the middle of the falls. The force of the water cascading over the precipice was incredible, and as we approached the bridge, we were already getting wet.

At that point, there was nothing to lose, so we trekked on. As we reached the bridge, the lunar rainbow became clear in all its magnificence. It was complete. From as far as the eye could see it ran from the river on both sides, and peaked just over the railing encompassing the bridge like a halo. It was the most complete rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life, and a wonder to behold. We each handled the brilliance of the moment in a different way… yelling and jumping like excited children on Christmas. Todd and I decided we had to cross the bridge, and jogged across the misty overpass. Upon reaching the other side, we were still in awe of the rainbow, the falls, its power, and our wonderful fortunes from having reached this place and moment in our lives.

We decided to turn back, and as we did, the Falls was waiting… The wind shifted imperceptively, and suddenly we were in the middle of a full-out downpour. I have been in some crazy storms in Zambia, when the sky unfolds and hold nothing back… but this was a different level of saturation entirely. It was like being hit full-on with a fire hose. We ran back across the bridge, whose foot path had suddenly become a river of water rushing at our feet. As we all escaped the mist, completely soaked, there was a contagious sense of euphoria among us. It was more than water that we soaked up on that bridge, in front of one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the World.

It was a wonderful trip, and I found myself feeling – as I inevitably do here in Zambia – lucky to be alive, to have such opportunities, and to have such close relationships with my family and friends. I couldn’t have asked more from their visit, or the experience I’ve had here and the ways in which this culture has shaped my existence and changed my perspectives. For Todd and Bill it was only a snapshot of what I’ve been through. However, its experiences like the ones we shared, and moments like the one I’ve just described, that give meaning to everything we have and will encounter in our lives.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Brood Stock

Since the last blog, I have been working at site, trying to keep myself busy and tie up the loose ends in my projects, since my contract will be ending in September. It has definitely been the hardest month of my service: adjusting to everyday life without Claire, my best friend and confidant, and also trying to come to terms with the end of this wonderful experience. It is difficult because in many ways, I feel like the goals that I set for myself at the beginning of my service are not fulfilled. But, I take solice in the fact that most of those goals were either unrealistic or inappropriate, and this was due mostly to my lack of cultural understanding at the time they were set. As always, its better to look at the positive side of what has been accomplished. In this instance: I've gained a much broader perspective, learned to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the Bemba culture, met beautiful people, and learned about myself and my culture in a global context.

However, there are still some goals that I have been striving to meet. The most important one: provide my host father, Ba Kasonde, with breeding fish (Brood stock). We were able to accomplish this last week, with the help of my Department of Fisheries agent, who brought the fish to our farm. The first step was at the Government research station, where we sexed the fish in a 3:1 female to male ratio, to ensure proper reproduction rates. The next was organizing the transport, and ensuring the fish were properly conditioned for the journey. Luckily, I was able to coordinate the fish transport with a visit from Watson and Jeff, two of my buddies from DU. They came to the village and got to experience a little of what Zambian life is like, and Watson even got to kill his first chicken.

When I picked them up in Lusaka, we went out on the town for a few drinks and visited some of the night clubs that PCVs frequent in the "big city". The next day, we awoke after about 1 hour of sleep to hitch to Kasama. Our luck wasn't that great (maybe I had worn out all my hitching luck with Claire) and it took us almost 20 hours to reach Kasama. Needless to say, it was a tiresome and hectic day, but I must say the two of them handled it like old pros. They also got to check out the local waterfall, and witness one of the coolest events I've seen in the bush. At about 22 hours, my host brother came over to borrow my headlamp. They had a bushbaby trapped in the treetops, and were hunting it. I had to check it out. I could hardly see the animal they were describing, but when it moved, I saw the leaves shimmer in the moonlight. I was caught up in the excitement of the hunt, but Jeff and Watson decided running through a snake-infested bush in the middle of the night wasn't their idea of fun.

We chased the bushbaby for about an hour, as it danced from tree-top to tree-top, pausing to balance as its weight swayed the tiny branches. I think this delay after every jump was the only thing that let us keep up. One of my family members, Ba Mwelwa, is a deadly shot with a 'catapult' - a homemade slingshot made of branches and rubber. He kept firing at the frightened animal with rocks, sometimes hitting it, but mostly just scaring it into another dash atop the trees. After chasing it in circles from the grond level for another 20 minutes, we lost the small primate. We were almost sure it was somewhere in the tree-tops directly above us, but somehow we lost track of it.

We waited... It seemed like an eternity. Just listening. Then, suddenly, the bushbaby sprung back into action, leaping to a new tree. This time, Mwelwa had his sites set - he knew he couldn't miss again. He hit the animal in the side, but it didn't stagger, or even move. However, after a momentary pause, the animal decided it had taken enough abuse, and it scampered down the trunk to the ground. A mad chase ensued, as the four of us sprinted through the thick underbrush trying to catch this small animal. Finally, we pinned it in a thicket, and Mwelwa deftly clubbed it on the head.

Once they caught it, and the thrill of the hunt was over, I found myself pittying the small animal, which looks like a fluffy, grayish-white lemur. I called Watson and Jeff over to see our catch - all the while wishing there was some kind of catch-and-release hunting. I knew better: this is Zambia, and my family needed the meat. Jeff and Watson were stunned that my family could kill such a cute animal, and were protesting a bit as Mwelwa slit its throat. I tried to explain to them that cuteness is irrelevant in the face of hunger, that the people had been hunting these bush babies for hundreds of years, that our way of life is multitudes more damaging to flora and fauna than my family's... I don't think they fully understood - after all, how could they? I can't really even grip that reality, and I've been living in and among it for almost two years.

There will be more on all of those issues in a future post. For now, I'll end this blog emphasizing what a great visit I had with them, and what in-depth discussions we enjoyed about culture, lifestyles, and the consequences that living conditions exert on surrounding environments. I am happy they got to see what life is like here, and that they watched Ba Kasonde and I accomplish what will hopefully become one of the most important tasks he must overcome in order to become a more successful, profitable fish farmer.

The brood fish will remain in the pond in which we stocked them, and in the hot season (september or october) they will begin breeding. We will use the propogated fingerlings to stock all of his surrounding fish ponds, all of which will be used for fish production. The supply of quality stock is one of the biggest issues facing fish farmers in Zambia, and hopefully this step will allow Ba Kasonde to provide himself and the surrounding farmers with healthy fish that have good growth potential. Maybe (just maybe) in the future, enough fish will allow the bush babies to peacefully exist in their treetop homes... But for that to work, we would all have to live more sustainably.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Lucky Ones

Hello Everybody,

A quick update… Since the last time I wrote, I was in the village for a little, but traveling a lot and spending as much time as possible with Claire before she finished her service. We have now parted ways; I am heading back to the village, while she will take the “long way” home, all over northern Africa and Europe (rough life, right…?). Here are some of the wonderful adventures we shared in the past 3 weeks:

We started in Lusaka, where we hitched to Livingstone (home of Victoria Falls). From Victoria Falls, we hitch hiked in 3 successive rides to the border of Namibia. From there, we were passed on the road by an older white woman, driving an EMPTY 15-seater Safari transport van. I have done my share of hitch-hiking in Zambia, and have a very calm and relaxed attitude about traveling on some else’s time. However, it is always frustrating seeing someone in an empty vehicle pass going the direction you are trying to go. In this instance, the woman gave us a look that said “I’m sorry”, which of course meant nothing at the time. After she passed, we hustled to the Namibian immigration office to get our passports stamped. Low and behold, we ran into this woman in the parking lot.

Now of course, I had to say something. I know many of you who know me best think it might have been smart-assed, but I’ve learned a little bit in the past few years. So I started with ‘hello’ and a characteristic Hostetter smile (ear to ear, thanks Mom!). The woman softened up, and agreed to give Claire and I a ride, as it just so happened she was also heading to Windhoek (about 1500 KM away). So, this 65-year-old woman, a white Namibian with a thick German accent, glorious mullet, and a mouth that would make a sailor cringe, took us onboard.

The wonderful part of our luck is that she was a freelance safari and tour guide. So, while she gave us a free ride, she gave us the low-down on all the flora, fauna, and wildlife we passed along the. She was even so kind as to open her window every 10 minutes while she smoked a cigarette, having recently rolled it on the steering wheel while maintaining control with her Forearms. I guess that’s Namibia’s alternative to doing your mascara in the rear-view on the way to work. She understood we were on a limited budget, so she stopped with us at a waterfall and the three of us camped out that night (Claire and me in the tent, She in the truck). She even ate pasta with us around the fire, and told us stories of ridiculous tourists and the outrageously ignorant questions they ask (don’t laugh, its been me, and it will probably be you someday – if it hasn’t already!).

One of the best moments of the trip was watching the sunset with Claire in my arms over the Okavango River, on the tent platform we camped that night (about 10 feet off the ground, just high enough to have a picturesque view un-obscured by the trees). You would think this moment might have lost its romance, but our Tour Guide seemed to now just when to find something else to do, or somewhere else to be. We really came to enjoy her company, as she told us about the many adventures she has had in 30 years of guiding in Namibia. What respect I have for a woman who can keep at that kind of work at 65! Hope I look that good in 40 years…

From Windhoek, Claire and I rented a car (thanks Papa Albrecht!), and drove to Swakopmund. This town, claimed to be “more German than towns in Germany”, was not as cultured as it might sound. Despite its location, nestled on the Atlantic Ocean, there was no fresh seafood to be found. The architecture was German, and the language had German’s customary, angry feel, but the effect ended there. Unfortunately, the local Namibian flavor of the culture was drowned out by the chilly wind off the ocean, and the guys selling curious who followed us into the Grocery Store desperately trying to sell us “dagga” which we clearly stated we did not want.

From there, we drove to Sossusvlei, one of the most desirable tourist destinations in Namibia. Here, I am short of words to describe what we saw. The park consists of sheer desert (about 200 KM on either side). But when we reached the dunes, we found out what all the hype was about. We climbed a dune about 400 feet (vertically) from the road. At the top, we watched the sunset as it threw colors across the dunes, changing in tone seemingly every second. In the morning, we managed to hitch to the last driving point on the dunes (called Sossusvlei, 4x4 needed). We arrived there before anyone else, at about 5:30 AM. Before the sun rose, we saw lots of Oryx and Springbok, just enjoying the dew on the plants that was soon to be evaporated by the sun. As we watched the sunrise over the dunes, taking pictures and trying to capture the moment, it dawned on me (no pun intended) that the real beauty of the moment was just being there, with Claire, and watching the colors change on the sand. We put the cameras away, and watched the sun rise on one of our last days together in Namibia.

From there, we hitched to Cape Town. At the hitching point, the first person to offer us a ride was a kindly white gentleman with stained teeth, a buzz cut, and a pair of shorts so far up his thighs that people watching a Lakers game in 1974 would have taken notice.. He was driving a semi – unreliable, slow, and painful transport, and only headed about 200 KM up the road. But he stopped, not for the family waiting ahead of us, or the elderly African woman with a head wrap and all she owned strapped to her back, for me. To pretend this was not a racial issue would be too American – in South Africa and Namibia there isn’t much doubt. But, I pestered this gentleman into giving the elderly woman a ride, since she had been waiting longer than us, had things to do, and was heading near to his destination. He tried several tactics to put me off, but enough persistence and blunt wording left him no choice but to give her a ride, or take a seat in my history book next to Strom Thurman…

I think that Karma caught up to us after that, because a Van came along and gave Claire, Myself, and the family ahead of us all a free ride to Cape Town. In Cape Town, we found a beautiful, large, ‘actual’ city, with Skyscrapers and everything! I know that probably sounds uninteresting, but live in Zambia for 2 years and then we’ll talk. There, Claire and I enjoyed our last few days together (for now). We went to the local museum, ate fancy meals and pretended to be ‘grown-ups’, and climbed table mountain (a beautiful cliff standing less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean). It was truly a beautiful trip, shared with a wonderful person.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Marching On

Greetings everyone!

So, since my last blog I've been really enjoying my time in the village, and taking advantage of time spent with Claire until she finishes her service in April. She and I have really grown close, and its great to hang out with someone who is able to relate so exceptionally with the people of Zambia. She has helped me improve my Bemba a lot - enough that I now realize how often people are talking about the 'Misungu'. Luckily, most of the remarks are made about superficial things, and are not negative or insulting... The best part is the look on the faces of people when I respond in Bemba and let them know I understand what they are saying. Being with her has definitely changed my service. We are received very differently traveling together rather than separately. Of course, her and my Zambian families responded in disbelief when we broke the news that we weren't planning to get married. The culture is just so different, and its difficult for many here to grasp a relationship which will end in any way other than marriage - its just unheard of, especially in the village.

As far as work, things are moving a bit slowly since its the heart of rainy season now. This is the last month of real rains, so I'll definitely be ready for that to finish. Getting soaked and having work canceled at least once a week is wearing thin. The biggest pond of Ba Kasonde has been completely fixed, and now most of the farmer groups I work with are implementing more intensive management of their fish ponds, which I see as a success in terms of my service. However, the major issue of inbreeding has come to light. Much like any other animal (cows, pigs, etc.), new stock must be introduced to prevent the gene-pool becoming inbred. Such inbreeding can lead to reduced reproduction and stunted growth. I am just now learning what a serious problem this is for rural fish farmers. It is very difficult for them to travel to the government research station to get fresh stock, and even more difficult and unrealistic for farmers to then transport fingerlings successfully using bicycles for the long distances back to their farms. Unfortunately, funding limitations within the Department of Fisheries limits the Government's ability to use trucks to transport these fingerlings, and the heat and jostling the fingerlings receive on bike transport (most farmers' only remaining option) causes very high mortality (for the fingerlings of course).

If I have learned anything in my service, its that problems have to be solved bit-by-bit, on a local level. I can't help all the fish farmers in Zambia, let alone Northern Province, or even Kasama. Its a realization I've come to slowly - I mean at first I think all Peace Corps Volunteers get posted expecting to save the World. Of course, simple logic could have told me that smarter people than me have tried for years to solve the problems facing countries like Zambia and not succeeded, but it took more than a year of experience for this truth to really hit home. So, I have become satisfied with small scale goals and solutions...

The first, and main goal for the remaining six months of my service, is to get Ba Kasonde (My host father) new stock. This could be accomplished by buying them from the government research station, but at 300 Kwatcha per fingerling, it would cost approximately 3 million kwatcha (700 USD) to fill all of the ponds. Given the loss of fingerlings and costs incurred repairing the broken fish pond, this option is unrealistic. A recent harvest made evident first-hand the problems inbreeding can cause, as none of the fish in Ba Kasonde's fish ponds were bigger than about 4 inches, meaning we can't even use the adult fish as breeders to make new stock - so that option is out also. Therefore, the solution is to go to Chambeshi River and catch large Mpende (Tilapia Rendali) to bring back to a specially prepared breeding pond. Without getting too specific about breeding techniques, the basic idea is to place 50% males and 50% females into one fish pond, and allow them to breed. Immediately upon creating fry (small fingerlings), we will remove the babies and place them in an uninhabited fish pond to grow. Since the parents then no longer have to worry about caring for the fingerlings, they will begin to reproduce again. In this way, we will be able to sequentially stock each fish pond, after first completely emptying each of its current inbred stock.

If this system is successful, I hope to also encourage the other farmer groups who are raising fish at a relatively large scale to adopt a similar strategy. Mostly, my focus will be on Ba Kasonde. Since there will be at least one more volunteer replacing my site, I just need to get the ball rolling and make sure my post is replaced by someone knowledgeable about fish genetics and reproduction (something which I'm in the process of teaching myself through literature).

I feel that regardless of everything else in my service, I owe it to the Kasonde family, who has welcomed me and given me a home in a country where I knew no one, to make sure their fish farming efforts are successful.

All my best to everyone in the states, and feel free to email me if you want to connect, or want more specific details about the fish breeding programs. I find it fascinating, my I realize that most people reading this probably don't share my absurd obsession with fish, so I tried to keep it pretty basic.


- Justin

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Bon Dia!

Sorry I didn’t connect with anyone on Xmas and New Years – I took a trip to Mozambique and I didn’t get a different Sim Card. I went on the trip with my girlfriend Claire and 4 of our friends, as well as 2 other Peace Corps volunteers who quickly became part of the family. Traveling with 7 people can be overwhelming, especially with no reservations or real plans outlined. However, things went remarkably well, and everyone had a great experience. It was an amazing time – the second Xmas with no snow, but sitting on the beach at the Indian Ocean really eased the blow. The trip was a blast, we spent 4 nights in a beach house in Xai Xai (pronounced Chai Chai), a stone’s throw from the ocean. We grilled Lobster caught fresh that day, along with prawns, fish, and even a shark. It was an awesome experience and great rest from the somewhat straining travel from Lusaka to Mozambique.

From there we headed to Tofu, a small beach town in the middle of Mozambique. We celebrated new years in style, listening to a local regae band on the beach, with COLD beer… Quite a luxury! The place we stayed was a cool backpackers’ place with tons of tents packed in like Woodstock. There was a really cool ‘backpackers’ scene, but Claire and I made sure to find the local party after the concert and try our hand at Portuguese. Quite a cultural way to kick off 2010. Overall it was an incredible time, and a sweet opportunity to interact with the vivrant, colorful culture and people of Mozambique.

Now its back to work in the village for a few weeks, before I return to Lusaka to assist in training for Volunteers who just finished their first 3 months at site. Crazy to think I’m an ‘older’ Volunteer now!

I hope everyone had a great festive season! While I didn’t have a tree with gifts underneath it, I definitely missed the company of my family and friends and not the material objects! Wishing you all happy and fulfilling familial relations for the holidays.

Boas Festas,

- J

PS – I’ve gotten some emails wondering if my phone is still working. Now that I’m back in Zambia, it should work pretty much all the time. 260 967 443 671. Thanks for your persistence everyone!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Quarter Century

Hey there,

So its been a while since I last posted, and a lot has happened. My best friend Brett came out to Zambia to visit at the beginning of September. It was quite a whirlwind trip. After picking him up in Lusaka, we took a nightbus straight to Livingstone (the place of Victoria Falls). We stayed there for 4 days, partying and getting plenty of adrenaline rushing. We had the most intense day of whitewater rafting I've ever had (class 4 and 5). The day began by jumping off a rock into the river, and then swimming the first rapid of the day, in order to reach the awaiting raft. It then progressed to flipping in a class five rapid, swimming it, and then almost flipping another 2 times in the same day. We even managed to turn the raft completely on its edge, and drop everyone (including the guide) except for Brett and Myself from the boat. It was pretty cool to watch the video as Brett and I clung on the boat, while the rest of the crew was quite literally ejected. Even Brett admitted it was the most intense day of rafting he's ever had, and considering his experience as a raft guide in Colorado, I think that speaks pretty highly of the experience.

We also go to swim the "Devil's Pool" which is a 'pool' at the edge of Victoria Falls. What it really entails is a place at the edge of the 300 foot precipice which is very deep. The current was still cascading over the falls (about 4 inches of water) but because the rocks at the edge are very deep and run straight down, your body catches there and you are able to literally look over the edge of the falls. It was quite a rush. You can check out pictures on google, or just wait till I post our pictures on the Internet (might be a while). Brett also took the chance to bungi jump and do the gorge swing, but my money was a bit tight for that (Volunteer salaries only allow for so much vacationing).

We also went on a 2 day safari, during which we saw all of the game we could have hoped (elephants, hippos. buffalo, antilope, etc.) We even got to see the major predators (a lioness, a leopard, a jackal, and crocs). All-in-all, we were incredibly lucky. From there, we headed to my site for a few days, where Brett got to see some the fish ponds that I've been helping with first hand. He talked with me about how his company is making wells of similar size using Cranes, and the construction process takes one day. I explained that the pond we were viewing would take about 5 or 6 months for an average farmer to complete...

After that we camped at a local waterfall, which was a crazy experience. We managed to find a spot where we could literally climb behind the waterfall, and just watch as the water rushed past our faces and scattered into the rocks. While Brett didn't get as much time at my site as I would have liked, it proved an eye-opening experience for him (I hope) to see how different life on this side of the world really is. Its exciting that he came, because He will understand this experience, and its affects on me in the future, better than anyone who hasn't seen this place first-hand.

To complete his Zambian journey, he boarded a nightbus to return to Lusaka. In true Zam-Transport style, his bus arrived 5 hours late. It then proceeded to break down, and fail to reach his destination in time for him to make his flight. He was forced to reschedule his flights, but managed to handle it all, and is now back at work. I, on the other hand, continued living the dream...

For my Birthday (25) we went to a place called 'Wonder Gorge'. This is a big birthday for me, because it means I have lower car insurance! Pretty ironic, considering I haven't driven in 18 months and am probably less safe of a driver than any time in recent memory. Wonder Gorge is like the Zambian Grand Canyon. It is, however, not nearly as accessible...
We hitch-hiked for a full day to get to a lodge within striking distance. The next day, we awoke to find the canter truck which was prepared to take us 120 KM off the road (all rutted out, dirt paths) to the Wonder Gorge. Unfortunately, the truck got lost along the way, and we didn't arrive until just before sunset. After setting up our tent, and briefly enjoying the sunset, we realized that the forest fire we had seen on the opposite hillside had spread very close to us. As the truck had left, and we were 120 KM from the road, which is another 200 KM from anywhere, we had no choice. The 25 of us got whatever green leaves and sticks we could find, and spent most of the night beating back the flames as they engulfed the grasses near our camp, threatening to burn all of our tents.

The next day (my Bday) we climbed down to the Gorge. The climb was easily the most intense hiking I've ever done. There was no path, and it was the equivalent of a black diamond (Colorado style) in steepness the whole way. We probably descended about 1500 vertical feet, and we definitely wouldn't have thought to try it if we hadn't know other Volunteers who had accomplished the feat previously... About half the volunteers who tried it turned back, because scooting on their butts down a slate rock precipice didn't seem enticing to them.

I had my fly rod and vest, and therefore was determined. Not to mention, we were hiking among a forest fire in 100 degree weather. At that point, I NEEDED to swim. We arrived after about 2 hours, and were overjoyed to swim. Then, we used a natural vine as a rope swing, and just enjoyed hanging out by the river for a few hours. I fly fished for about 2 hours, and managed to catch a native fish (I still haven't identified the species yet). It was cool to manage that, considering I'm using Colorado flies and the ecology here is completely different. Also, most rivers in Zambia have been depleted of most fish, so this river was a unique experience (mostly because it was so damn hard to get to).

The hike back up proved tricky, since the forest fire had singed all the grass and covered the path we used on the descent. Luckily, we scaled back up, and arrived before the sunset. Unfortunately, the intensity of the trip wasn't ready to recede. We were attacked by a swarm of bees, which was feasting on the water we brought for sustenance. After we managed to chase off the bees, a forest fire began on the other side of the hill from where we were camping. 3 of us spent much of the remainder of the night making a fire-break using controlled burning techniques to ensure we were safe...

The next day we waited till 16 for a driver who was supposed to come at 10 AM. We had no food, and ran out of water mid-day... Luckily the ride back to the lodge was smooth, and we all enjoyed a much-needed shower and night's sleep. Now, I'm back in Kasama and headed to site as soon as I finish this blog. It will be nice to relax for a while at home and get back to work. Till next time...

All my best

- Justin