Word to your mother (Fishing in Zambia)

I asked my parents to provide me with some blog post material reflections on their trip to Zambia last month and was intrigued, amused, and sometimes touched by their perspectives. Here’s what they had to say:

What was your favorite part of your visit to Zambia?

Dad: My favorite part was the village interactions with the kids and Matt’s close friends like Sebastian. These are the things he will remember and cherish always. I was impressed at how refreshing was the curiosity and relative unsophistication of the young folks (and some of the older ones), especially compared with our subsequent visit to New York where everyone was a bit stressed, closed into their little space, and hardened from a world that is more scary than rural Zambia. This is why I believe the environment shapes a lot of how someone becomes. I kinda knew rural Africa would be refreshing, but it still impressed me.

One incident showed how innocent the kids are: I was backing up the car one day and ran into a tree. A car-savvy person would have yelled out or stopped me before I hit the tree, but since these kids have not been around cars, they had no idea there was imminent danger. (The insurance was excellent and paid it off.) I thought that was funny.

Kids getting out of class at my local primary school

Mom: I had a wonderful time in Zambia. Unlike some vacations where you travel to a destination, have fun, return home, and everything goes back to normal, visiting a Peace Corps volunteer at his site is totally different. I felt like I was experiencing, first-hand, all of the things that Matt shares in “Fishing in Zambia.”

Perusing a favorite blog is like reading a fascinating book. You become totally engrossed in the plot and in the characters’ lives, and you wish there was a way to magically become part of the story yourself. Visiting Zambia gave me this rare opportunity to experience “Matt’s Zambia.” I feel in a small way, that I “know” Chungu, the little boy who sweeps Matt’s yard for a plastic bag, and that I “know” Chama and Josephine, the little girls who came by to sell vegetables from their family garden. I feel like for the short time I was there, I was not just a tourist, but I was experiencing this totally different culture in an intimate and genuine way.

How I get my daily produce

What was the biggest challenge you experienced while in Zambia?

Dad: The traffic, hecticness, and fear of theft (i.e. high walls, electric wire) in the major cities was worse than I expected. It has all the usual growing pains of a developing country’s capitol, but it was still unnerving. It was sad to see it but I should not have expected any better. It shows the results of colonialism. We saw the paranoia in Johannesburg too. So that made me think of how it could have been avoided, and what can we do here in America to prevent a similar unwinding of human decency.

Mom: It was frustrating to see needs and not be able to help. I had to keep trying to see everything through Matt’s eyes and ask myself, “Is this sustainable?”

Chungu with his favorite shirt

What was the part of your trip to Zambia that you least expected?

Dad: I was impressed with the Peace Corps volunteers themselves, meeting the wide range of folks that volunteer now. It is kind of true that in the early years of Peace Corps it was idealists and hippies who served. That the majority of volunteers now are women is a huge change since when I was a volunteer. The willingness to use public transportation is also admirable.

Mom: When Matt signed up for the Peace Corps, I knew we would visit him sometime during his service. I was a little apprehensive because I am not an outdoorsy type of person nor am I very adventurous. So I was pretty hesitant about this trip. But once we arrived, I just fell in love with Zambia and her people. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. Zambians seem genuinely interested in talking to us and hearing about America. The children were delightful. Zambia is a very special place and I wish we could have stayed longer than we did.

Some of my favorite people in Nchelenge District

How has Matt changed in the past year and a half since he left for Zambia?

Dad: Matt is comfortable in his new country, navigating the culture with ease. The pleasantries and greetings in the lingua franca are fun to observe; it is so important in being seen as an understanding compatriot instead of as a tourist or neo-colonialist. It is a sizable personality stretch for him, as he tended to be on the introverted side before coming to Zambia.

Mom: Before Peace Corps, I didn’t think Matt was that into community development, volunteerism, or development work. He didn’t express a high need to travel or “see the world,” so I was a little surprised when he signed up for the Peace Corps. I wasn’t sure what kind of experience Matt would have without that kind of idealistic, adventure-seeking background.

But while we were in Zambia, I could tell that Matt was an accepted member of his new community and was making a difference. Everything Matt did was through a lens of “Is this helping my village?” and “Is it sustainable?” Matt has always been very thoughtful and reflective, but the extent to which he has thought out his service and his impact there amazed me. It would have been easier, I’m sure, to write grants and attempt lots of projects in order to leave some type of lasting, tangible legacy, but Matt was always aware of the bigger picture.

I was also delighted to see Matt and his interactions with the children in his village. I have not known Matt to be naturally drawn to children, but in Zambia I saw this whole other side to Matt’s personality — a kind of cheeky, playful sense of humor. There was a lot of kidding around, and there was this genuine affection between Matt and his kids, almost like a big brother to little brother/sister type of relationship. It was quite touching.

Some of my neighbor kids clowning around with my dad

Growing up on a fish farm in California, Matt Young spent his summers up to his ears in mud and vowed never to follow in his RPCV father’s footsteps. So the fact that he now works with fish farmers in Zambia as a Rural Aquaculture Promotion Volunteer comes as a surprise to exactly nobody except himself. Matt blogs at Fishing in Zambia.

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