Life in Zambia
Maggie Henton, a 2008 HC graduate working in Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer, reflects on her time at Hastings College and shares her adventures as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia.
I came to Hastings College from a small town in Kansas on the day after my 18th birthday to begin cross-country training and the life changing experience that would be my Hastings College adventure. I started running my junior year of high school and immediately fell in love with the sport. I credit running and my experiences at Hastings College for where I am today.
A year after graduating from HC, I found myself looking for a new adventure. It was running and the academics that prepared me for my biggest adventure to date, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. On one of my first days in Zambia, a seasoned volunteer told me that there wasn’t a day that went by in the Peace Corps when she did something that she thought she couldn’t do. As she was telling me this, I thought of all of the runs that I completed at HC that I thought I couldn’t finish. I thought of all the late nights I stayed up working on my Communication Theory paper that I thought I couldn’t finish. Looking back on it now, this was the moment I knew I had made the right decision. I was used to completing tasks that I thought I could never do. HC prepared me for the Peace Corps, and now, when people from all over the country ask me where I went to school it is with pride that I answer “Hastings College.”
While signing up for my senior year classes at Hastings, I made the decision to take an J-Term trip to France. Professor Elaine Lamski absolutely changed my life. While getting to know her, I discovered that she learned a good majority of her French while in the Peace Corps in Western Africa. On our J-Term trip, we got to know each other very well, and, upon graduating from HC, we maintained our friendship. In fact, until leaving for Zambia, I ate dinner with the Lamskis once a week.
The trip did a few things for me that would later prepare me for Zambia. The nine-hour plane ride ignited an excitement for travel that, until that moment, I never knew I had. Many people are stressed out by the thought of airports and layovers and changing flights. To me, the whole part of the journey was exciting, not just the final destination. I went on this amazing adventure and made friends along the way. That is a powerful tool that has helped me in the Peace Corps.
Without Elaine or that trip to France, I’m not sure I would have ever tried the Peace Corps. Signing up for something that was sort of out of my element was a really empowering thing that happened to completely alter my life course.
Peace Corps Service
When I first interviewed for the Peace Corps, they liked the fact that I grew up on a farm. In fact, it was my farming background that got me the job as a LIFE volunteer (Linking Income, Food and the Environment). They felt my farming background would make me a good fit for the environmental/agricultural program in Zambia.
As a LIFE volunteer, my work visa is paid for by the Zambian Forestry Department, and my official job title is Forestry Extension Agent. LIFE volunteers are free to work with the Zambian schools in environmental education, the clinics, at fish farms, or do anything else in the villages to help with farming or food production. We are also encouraged to plant trees, since Zambia is among the top five most deforested countries in the world.
Because of the flexibility of my job, my daily routine can change depending on where we are in the seasonal calendar. Right now, I’m making weekly trips to my field to check the progress of my small plot of land. I planted peanuts, mostly so I could have homemade peanut butter (changed my life!), soybeans, corn and sunflowers. My field is roughly 15 meters by 25 meters, and I farm it by hand. I also frequent other farmers’ fields to help them out and to gain more Zambian farming experience.
All farming here is done by hand, without the aid of big machines, and the lives of these farmers and their families are 100 percent dependent on the success of their crop.
Knowing that life here can be so difficult, it is people like my Atate (host father) who make all of this work feel worthwhile. The other day, after one of our frequent giggle fests, I asked Atate if he has ever been angry. He answered, “No, why would anyone ever be angry. Life is supposed to be funny.” I paused to ponder this. After nearly a year of knowing him, I have never seen him angry. In fact, there has not been a day that has gone by when he did not make me laugh pretty hard. Atate is right. Life is supposed to be funny. And this is the biggest lesson I have learned thus far in my Peace Corps service.