The Graduate College

Spring 2010

New & Noteworthy
Reflections from the Dean
Need to Know
Ones to Watch
Program Notes: Peace Corps Master's International
GSO Update
GA Corner
Deadlines & Calendar
Not Your Average Graduate Student...
Finding a Science Postdoc
"Anyways": An African Experience
NAU Grad Students Host New Conference
National Raves for MBA
Graduate College Home
Give to the Graduate College
Story Ideas?
Newsletter Archives
Newsletter Home
NAU's PCMI Program
Robert Sather

"Anyways": An African Experience

The African is named Sakamboi, but Peace Corps volunteers refer to him as “Anyways” because this is the beginning of most of his sentences. A local farmer by trade, he also serves as my counterpart to assist me along my way. For him it can be a somewhat depressing experience because he longs to find a way to improve his livelihood to resemble the American standard. Perhaps he knows deep down that this is not likely, but he continues to strive and work very hard on a level that perhaps few Americans will ever experience.

He watches female youngsters become pregnant at fourteen and their babies die of AIDS. Some of them are his children and grandchildren. He says “anyways” with a constant and infectious smile and moves on to the next thing. Secretly he would like his children to get to America, which is a doubtful prospect.

Almost daily he sees malaria or simple diarrhea kill people, but the smile remains. He transports his maize crop by ox cart for many arduous hours to sell at the market, battling rain storms and deplorable road conditions. He fights every day for his family’s survival, and he endures. Through it all he continues to smile, say “anyways,” and move on.

I am impressed. He is working his life away with only the faint hope that at least one of his children will make it, and he does this without thought for himself. In America, we say this is a stand-up guy. He would say, “What’s the fuss? I’m just surviving.“

“In this culture,
they refer to me as ‘Sawaisa,’ or one who will bring forth good things to come.”

An enigma such as this illustrates the reason why many Americans, myself included, are doing Peace Corps work. We want to close the gap that we perceive in the difference between our two levels of existence. I surmise that many individuals in the foreign cultures which we serve feel the same passion in this regard.

Sakamboi has chosen not to dwell on it, but seeing us as Peace Corps volunteers still raises hope. I think my job is to care enough to be straight up with him and treat the situation from an honest and realistic point of view.

I see the disappointment in his face when I tell him I can’t take his children to America, and that I’m not the rich American that I am often depicted as by Zambians. This raises the question of selfishness in some cases. Perhaps this is true. I think Americans are just learning to share their wealth.

I believe Peace Corps volunteers as a whole, myself included, are here because they feel the unfairness on a global scale and are willing to do something benevolent about it. I am here because the selection officials felt my written and oral reasons for wanting to be here represented at least a partial solution to the problem. Along the way I am learning the intricate details of the difference between our two cultures. I am fortunate that I am learning also how to relinquish a lifetime of materialism and understand from this perspective the value of international work and study.

For example, the sense of being able to accomplish things with scarce resources is empowering and very gratifying. This approach is passed on to farmers, and the synergy of our work becomes evident. The project here is centered around fish farming and agricultural development with the goal of helping people attain food security by optimizing overall yields of fish or crop harvesting. Farmers here do not have the resources to buy modern farm equipment; they do their work with manual labor. They farm in a monoculture with one main crop, generally maize. Our aim is to teach them to diversify their crops and use organic permaculture techniques to avoid the need to buy fertilizer, their most costly expense. Moreover, adding elements such as poultry production, bee keeping, piggeries, and fish harvesting will ensure higher levels of food security in case of main crop failure. Money from sales can be reinvested to expand the farm.

Additionally, research is an important element of this project. We are attempting to learn the implications of developing a more formalized method of feeding pond fish in aquacultural operations as opposed to the random methods of most Zambian fish farmers. The intent is to vary specific inputs over time and subsequently analyze variances to determine optimum yields. Hopefully this research will provide evidence for the use of an improved dietary technique. I believe this is consistent with the intent of the Peace Corps Master’s International program for this area. Perhaps eventually many more of the Peace Corps volunteers will be master’s graduate students who aspire to make a difference.

In this culture they refer to me as “Sawaisa,” or one who will bring forth good things to come. Hopefully I can live up to that responsibility.

I know that what Americans and Zambians are learning about one another’s cultures is not mutually exclusive. It’s more like a beautiful synergy that is manifested in subtle ways.

"Anyways" and his son Gashon
(Photos courtesy of Robert Sather)
Anyways and his son Gashon

Recently, a nine-year-old boy approached me to ask if he could do some work for me to earn a little kwacha (currency). I employed him and paid the fee of 500 kwacha, worth about ten cents. I was thinking he wanted to buy sweets with it; however, he returned having purchased a pencil. Upon my inquiry he said he needed it to write stories so he could learn English.

“Anyways” smiled as I told him this story. He said the boy was his son.

—Robert Sather, Peace Corps Volunteer, Zambia, and NAU Peace Corps Master’s International student in forestry

For more information on the PCMI program, see Program Notes,
the Peace Corps website, and/or the NAU program description.