Zambia | Amber Cohen
Home: Washington, D.C. Area
In the village of Itinti, a 15-hour bus ride from the capital, Amber Cohen assembled a meeting of the farmers with whom she’d built 27 fish ponds during almost two years. “It didn’t really hit me that this was the last meeting I’d be having.”
Her work as an aquaculture Volunteer was small-scale, in-person, and hopefully long-lasting and sustainable. In training she learned to speak Bemba, one of Zambia’s 72 languages, and gathered resources to teach fish pond construction and management.
She lived in the compound of the “head man” — a big house but, more important, just steps from the village well. People visited her throughout the day when they came for water.
Also important: the commitment of the village leader and her counterpart, Laston Mukuka, to the idea of fish farming in the village. “I arrived in May, and we had ponds built by September,” Cohen says. Mukaka even dug his own 20-meter by 15-meter pond alone. “Laston! Ask your friends for help,” Cohen begged him. “No, I got this,” he replied.
“We all change, but Peace Corps makes you reflective. We are all learning now how to be alone with our minds. To accept changes and growth.”
The ponds were stocked with green-headed tilapia — palé in Bemba — to provide food security and surplus to sell. Many ponds were owned by individuals, one by a women’s club, one by a collective.
Evacuation came quick. It felt like walking through a dream, Cohen says. In the last meeting, the fish farmers sat outside her house. “I gave them a speech about how proud I was of the work we did,” Cohen says. “We talked about coronavirus and why I was being evacuated. How it could be coming to Zambia. They didn’t have any cases; in Zambia there’s a big greeting culture. But prevention strategies were being talked about by government health workers.”
Cohen is headed back to southeastern Africa — to Malawi this time, as coordinator for a malaria prevention project. “I am not the same person I was,” she says. “We all change, but Peace Corps makes you reflective. We are all learning now how to be alone with our minds. To accept changes and growth.”
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