A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Trainee in Zambia
Today marks my 30th day of training with the Peace Corps as a Rural Education Development (RED) trainee here in Zambia. And now I totally understand why every person I’ve ever followed on social media that has left for the PC has disappeared for the first three months. Minimum.
Peace Corps Training (or PCT for short) has been called Peace Corps Bootcamp by more than one person and I don’t disagree. The schedule is exhausting, mostly mentally, but I’m also physically exhausted by my 6km of biking round trip to our training center from my homestay. Apparently, I’m out of shape. Go figure three years of sitting on a couch would do that to a person!
We go from Monday-Saturday from about 8am to about 5pm, which here is said as 17:00. Is the US the only place that isn’t on the 24-hour clock? Saturday is technically a half-day, but questions for language teachers, hanging out with other PCT’s, field trips, going to the store, or just the fact that we’re biking during hot season at midday means that I don’t get home until about 2pm for lunch with my wonderful host family that I don’t deserve.
I’ll take you through a typical day with me here at training and hope you keep in mind that, while I’m perpetually drop dead tired, I am loving life here in Central Province, Zambia!
5:30am: My alarm rings, but the rooster generally beats it to the punch. Who knew those birds had such a good internal clock? Midnight, 3am, 5am, and 6:15 on. The. Dot. Do I get off my cozy mattress and out from under my mosquito net (draped so I feel like a princess) yet? No. No I do not. Give snooze a few more chances, will you?
6:15am: Now I get up, having heard my host family up and about for a bit. I go outside to my own personal bathroom (a really nice thatched, mud brick structure) and do my business and then I go to my own personal outdoor bathing area and use some water left over from washing the night before to scrub my face and feel human again. During this whole process the sun is rising, and you can’t have a bad day when it starts with a view like that! Zambian sunrises and sunsets are truly the most spectacular thing!
Get dressed first because I’m not usually sure when my host grandma will call me for breakfast. It changes up a bit from our usual bread and peanut butter or rice porridge to the occasional scones they’ve baked (my family is made up of excellent cooks!), to fritters (a Zambian street food that tastes like funnel cake) with peanut butter. And tea, because I don’t deserve my host family and they make magical tea.
This is also the time when I brush my teeth, decide if I look awake enough without mascara or if I need it to not scare people, sunscreen up because hot season is being mean to my ghostly white skin, pour water into my filter if it’s getting low, put out the solar panel for my light (that also charges my phone!), pack up my notebooks for the day, and take my supplements and malaria prophylaxis (because we’ve had too many scared-straight sessions for me to ever forget it again).
If I have time before I have to leave, this is also when I sweep my house and the ground in front of it to both clean it and deter bugs, snakes, and other creepy-crawlies from setting up residence. Otherwise I sweep when I get home. No termites for me!
7:00am: Time to get on my bike (cries silently) and go! I live just short of 3km from the training center and, while I’d prefer walking, I prefer sleeping a bit later even more. My host family packs my lunch for me, and I set off. The roads are all dirt and rocks, with a long downhill on my way there--so while I’m not a complete sweaty mess when I arrive, I’m not fresh either. Luckily the center has running water and electricity so we can clean up a bit before school starts!
The bike ride is also a good time to practice the local language I am learning (Bemba) as greeting people is a big part of the culture here. Seeing that many people willing and wanting to talk to you first thing is usually the boost I need--and the kids are just so cute I want to keep them all! When I read that Zambians are the friendliest of people, I didn’t realize just how true that was! And I always feel woefully underdressed. I can’t wait to start building my closet here and am always looking at the women for some fashion and style ideas.
I meet up with a few other PCT’s for the ride here, about 20-30 minutes total. Getting to the center early gives us a chance to use a bathroom, put lunches away, fill up water bottles, socialize, ask questions, plug in any electronics to charge (when the power is on—the drought in the southern part of the country means that the electric supplier has scheduled load-shedding in our area, maybe others), and look at the daily schedule to see if there were any changes. Flexibility really is the name of the game in Peace Corps!
8:00-10:00am: Our first session of the day is scheduled! We can have training on anything from language, health/medical, safety & security, cross-cultural, technical education and TEFL sessions, program information, HIV/AIDS/malaria prevention, bike maintenance, and other things that I can’t remember right now. Basically, we have classes on anything and everything they think we might need to be successful for our two years of service.
10:00-10:30am: Break time! On Tuesdays we get tea and fritters, which really gets us excited. On other days we just hang out and eat the snacks our host families gave us. Lots of kindergarten-style food swapping going on!
10:30-12:30pm: Session number two of the day. Basically, the same as the morning.
12:30-13:30pm: Lunch! By now we are all ravenous and are glad that our host families pack us each enough food to feed three people. Again, lots of food swapping goes on and being nosy and seeing what we all have today. My lunches tend to be super random, but always delicious!
13:30-15:30pm: Session number three. Have I explained this enough yet?
15:30-15:45pm: Our last break time.
15:45-17:00pm: Session four and the last one of the day. We tend to be pretty quiet and anxious to be done by now. Though they fed us a lot today, so we were a happy bunch!
17:00-17:35 or :45pm: Hang out, decompress, and do any homework that was assigned throughout the course of the day (or look at it and collectively decide to do it later). Basically, we’re putting off our uphill bike ride home as long as possible and still be able to get home before the sun goes down.
~17:35-18:15pm: Bike through town, walk up the hill, and get back on the bike. Say hello and try to piece together what all the cute schoolkids are trying to say to us. Greet all the women fetching water from the pump and being seriously impressive by carrying it on their heads—no hands needed! I will never know how they do it and will never stop being amazed by their strength.
18:20-19:30pm: When I get home my family greets me, the 2-year-old wants to play (how can you say no to that?), they heat up water for me to bathe with (it took me a week or so but I’ve come to be very good at the bucket bath, and I love watching the stars come out overhead while I clean up my then very gross, sweaty self), and we all hang out while dinner is being cooked. I have been taught a few dishes and am still struggling with the shima—the staple Zambian food that I am coming to crave. It’s super thick and my upper body strength is really lacking, my host sisters never fail to show me up when it comes to household chores that require any kind of muscle.
I eat dinner with my host grandma, sometimes we go over my Bemba language studies (none of them speak more than a few words of English), and then I retire for the night into my hut. By then my introvert self is tired of talking to people and being “on” for the day. Peace Corps tells host families that Americans need more space than they are generally used to in their community-oriented culture, so they already expected me to go to bed after dinner, which is nice. Though they usually laugh as I stare in awe at the sky—again—because I’ve never seen so many stars before and the Milky Way is clear as day. Have I made it clear yet that Zambia is beautiful? Because holy cow, Zambia is beautiful!
19:30-bedtime: When I’m back inside I clean up and organize my space a bit--one room and no storage containers other than a hiking backpack gets messy fast, study some Bemba, eat some cookies, journal, read, watch YouTube until I run out of data, or just go to bed. Yes, I’ve gone to bed at 19:30 here and no, I am not ashamed of it. It was a great night! Bedtime for me is usually 20:30 to maybe 21:00—getting massive amounts of new and foreign information thrown at you all day long and navigating your way through interactions in a language you just started maybe three weeks ago means your brain gets no rest and if you stop paying attention for a second, you’ve fallen behind.
My love of learning new things has been reignited here, I’ve missed being in a school-type setting, and have I mentioned how great all the people are? Most of our teachers and all of our language teachers are Zambian, and they are the coolest, most generous group of people ever! My first impressions of this country have been overwhelmingly positive—I can’t wait to explore more of this country.
We have eleven total weeks of training and are currently in the midst of the fourth one. Time is flying by and before you know it, we’ll be swearing in as full-fledged Volunteers! I can’t wait for the day, but I know I’ll miss having my new American friends close by, teachers to patiently answer my never-ending questions, and my selfless host family taking care of me.
Weekends look pretty different from this schedule as that’s when we spend time with our host families learning things like how to get water, cook over a brazier and open fire, do laundry, wash dishes, and do basic life things we need to relearn in this new setting.
I hope you enjoyed my day as much as I did and if you have any questions please always feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email! You can also message me on any of my social media (Facebook and Instagram are checked the most). I have limited data here and shaky service, but I’ll check back as often as I can and give as good an answer as I can, based on my limited experience.
Have a beautiful day!