Katie’s Blog

7/5/13 – Chikumbuso Orphanage Video

I am thrilled to post this video to the Internet.  It shows our visit to Chikumbuso Orphanage and School, where we donated school supplies, clothing, toys, musical instruments, and stuffed animals to the children and women utilizing and living at this amazing place (please see my entry on 6/16 for more details).

If you want to see how you can help Chikumbuso, please visit http://www.chikumbuso.com.


7/2/13 – Astonished

As I sit here in on my futon in the living room, with Dan sleeping peacefully in the next room (the snoring is a dead giveaway!) and a mug of coffee at my side, I find myself struggling to articulate the range of emotions that are currently coursing through me.   I feel very much at peace, despite all that I have to do in the next two months.

There is a sense of excitement paired with one of sadness.  I am excited to continue on with my last class in the literacy specialist program at Buffalo State and finish my degree, but I am also quite sad because my time traveling in Zambia has come to a close… for now.

Then, there is, paradoxically, a sense of extraordinary physical exhaustion somehow working alongside my mile-a-minute brain.  There is so much to do, and while this ridiculous cold that I came down with on the plane is starting to take a toll on me, I find myself still working on my various projects, writing thank-you letters to my donors, compiling a video about the donations that were given by so many generous individuals to the Chikumbuso orphanage, sharing and printing pictures, and ensuring that I am doing everything that I can to prepare for the next month in terms of my literacy practicum, rock band camp, and my Master’s project.  Not to mention, Dan and I are on the house-hunt here in Western New York, as we are very much ready to purchase a house of our own.

The sense of gratitude pervades every moment of every day, and the charity of others is a theme in my life, whether I am on the giving or receiving end.  I feel very compelled to give back as generously as possible, because so many of my dreams have come true and fears have been conquered in the past 9 months through the generosity of people, sometimes complete strangers (as well as those who I know so well).  Even now, I find myself yet again in the position of earning another very unexpected scholarship, one that literally made me yell out when I was eating lunch with my mom yesterday.  From Josephine at the International Education Office at Buff State, I received an email letting me know that a donor by the name of Mrs. Carolyn Brunner has reimbursed my flight costs in their entirety.

Traveling to Zambia cost me over $2,000 – and as it was my very first major cost on this trip, I paid directly out of pocket, not knowing if I would get any of the scholarships that I had applied for.  I did it willingly and without hesitation, because this trip to Zambia had become my dream.    I can’t even believe that this has happened, and the shock that I feel from this is still quite palpable.  It doesn’t seem real that this level of generosity can exist, and yet…

Dan and I always talked about someday having a scholarship fund to help college students realize their dreams, even if it is in some small way, when we are financially stable and able to donate yearly sums of money to aspiring students in need.  Now, I am further compelled to help students realize their study abroad dreams in any way that I can.  In the present, I hope to assist future travelers to Zambia from Buffalo State in finding financial aid to help send them on this life-changing experience.

I am thankful, so thankful that I was able to live, work, and research in Zambia (as well as get back home) safely.  I saw my immediate family yesterday, and it was just so positive and wonderful.  It is as though life has shifted completely, and I am starting anew with each day after this trip.  Is that strange?  I knew that this experience would change me, but honestly, it is almost as though I left for Zambia with these aspirations, goals, hopes, dreams, fears, and idiosyncrasies, and I came back… and all of those things have shifted in one way or another.  Like I said, it is very difficult for me to truly articulate all of this – I hope my attempt has been at least somewhat adequate in explaining the amalgam of feelings that are currently running through my mind.  And as I step back from all of this, take pause, and really reflect on what my aunt Linda termed the past “whirlwind three weeks” of my life, I am astonished at all that has happened.

With so much gratitude,


6/29/2013 – Departure

As I pack the last minute souvenirs that I purchased during our last day on spur of the moment, I wanted to share our last day with you, dear readers.

On behalf of the girls on this trip, I’d like to thank you for following us throughout our time in Zambia.  While we still have a few hours in Lusaka, they will be filled with packing and ensuring that we are truly ready to leave the country/continent and head back home

Today, we were able to take part in a worship service at a Seventh Day Adventist church, which I had never gone to before.  The church band that led some of the numbers, Strings of Faith, had some of the tightest, most beautiful harmonies I have ever heard (and that is saying a lot, coming from me – my entire family seems to break into song when we get together).  And, they had a girl bass player.  Rock on, right?

Strings of Faith, a musical group with harmonies so tight that they give North End a run for their money (Mom, you you would have loved this - it sounded like one of our "hootnaneys")

Strings of Faith, a musical group with harmonies so tight that they give North End a run for their money (Mom, you you would have loved this – it sounded like one of our “hootnaneys”)

We took pictures afterwards and then went to the mall for a nice lunch at Mugg & Bean – again, a tasty cappuccino was unavoidable, especially since our flight is so late at night.  I didn’t want to chance a nap this early in the day and be up all night on the plane, so the caffeine intake was good.  My Portobello sandwich was very tasty, especially the roll – and the fries were fresh and hot.  I took a blueberry muffin with me to go on the plane with me as a midnight snack.  Yum!

Heather and me after church!

Heather and me after church!

Jacquie and me outside after church!

Jacquie and me outside after church!

Three main bloggers from the Zambia trip - Jacquie, Heather, and Katie - be sure to check out all of the blogs when you can!

Three main bloggers from the Zambia trip – Jacquie, Heather, and Katie – be sure to check out all of the blogs when you can!

A Mugg & Bean cappuccino, my new favorite coffee drink!

A Mugg & Bean cappuccino, my new favorite coffee drink!

Then, we went to the craft store, because obviously I don’t have enough souvenirs yet because there is still room in both of my bags! And to my happiness (though not my wallet’s happiness) my credit card worked very nicely.   Going to Bookworld (their equivalent of a Barnes and Noble type shop) meant picking up children’s books by African authors, including a book called “Hot Hippo” … how could I not get it!  After all, hippos are my power animal here in Africa.

After the mall, I elected to walk home with some of the girls back to the Commonwealth.  We are about to get on a massive plane and sit for hours in a relatively small space – getting back on a cramped bus was not something I wanted to do.  Instead, we truly immersed ourselves in the Zambian community.  Eight of us walked (in our Zambian skirts and dresses, of course) through Lusaka, finding our way from the mall to where we stayed.  In fact, we even beat the bus home!

View from a footbridge as we walked over the roadway near UNZA

View from a footbridge as we walked over the roadway near UNZA

One hot shower later and I knew I had to write my last Zambian blog.  Hopefully, I will write one and post in Dubai, but I can make no promises.  Wi-fi/internet access… we should never take this for granted!

A few of the girls and I have talked about how we feel that we’ve changed, and honestly, I believe I will be able to answer that when I am back in the States for a while.  Being removed from what I sometimes had considered to be the mundane day-to-day life has made me appreciate those little things that we get used to so quickly.

I proved to myself that I can be resourceful, and that I can survive on relatively little money for an extended period of time on my own.  Also, I found that I rather enjoy being on my own, working and doing my own thing.  I know that I have grown more patient with certain things, but I still have a ways to go on that, I am sure.

So, has my life changed as a result of traveling halfway around the world and doing work in a country so different from my own?  I would like to give an emphatic YES, but I firmly believe that the changes will become more pronounced as I resume my daily life at home.  I’ll let you know more on that later.

As always, thank you for your encouragement.  Every comment that has been given throughout has warmed my heart, some bringing tears to my eyes or laughter to my mouth.  All good things, really, and I will be sure to address each and every one when I have time and a more reliable Internet connection.

Thank you for all who donated school supplies to Chikumbuso orphanage.

Thank you to the various donors throughout Buffalo State (SUNY ITEC, The Graduate School, Academic Affairs, Volunteer Service and Learning Center, Dr. Elliott, International Education) that facilitated this trip for me as well as many other students.  We could not have done this without you.

Thank you to my professors, Dr. Weber, Dr. Shandomo, and Dr. Garas-York, for helping me collect my data and read through some of my paper.

Thank you to my amazing friends, especially those of you that came out the night before, including Sean, Julia, Nick, Robb, Leah, Katie, beardly Nick, Ryan, Paula, Rizzo, and CarolynClaude, I know you wanted to be there, too.   I love you all so much.  Blueshift, I can’t wait to come to your show on Sunday, if all goes well, flight-wise.

To the Caruso family, thank you for being my second family and supporting this endeavor in ways that give new meaning to the word generosity.  All of my love, and I can’t wait to see you and add a picture from Zambia to your living room.  :)

To Dan, I can’t thank you enough.  Thank you for holding down the fort at home, checking my mail, phone messages, and making sure we are up to date with our house hunting.  You are a force of nature, and I love it.  Your support urges me to push forward even when I think I can’t do it anymore.  I love you.

To all of the girls on this trip – getting to know you through the hilarious and the tough times has cemented a place in my heart for each and every one of you.

And thank you to my family, of course, because you made me who I am, plain and simple.  Growing up, my parents always told me “Family first, and as a kid, I couldn’t appreciate that in the way that I do now.  Being away from you for three weeks has been bearable, but I promise that there is a reason I am looking forward to getting on that plane – you are it.  I can’t wait to see you at the terminal in Buffalo.

Goodbye Zambia,


6/26/2013 – Catch-up Day

As the past few days have really caught up to me, I will try to capture what has happened with as much accuracy as possible, though I will also attempt to do this succinctly and efficiently, as most days were very research-oriented.

On the last day of our safari experience, we once again enjoyed a delectable breakfast, consisting of yogurt, various cereals, granola, and mixed fruit (papaya, pineapple, oranges, melon, banana, and a pink fruit that I was unable to determine but loved either way).  Then came our hot breakfast, which was two eggs (over-medium for me) with baked beans, Canadian bacon, sausage, and toast with butter and jam – delectable!  I was very happy to stuff myself until I was full, since we were unsure of whether or not we would take a lunch today as we drove back to the Commonwealth.

After enjoying our last hours of relaxation in such a picturesque setting, we took one group photo in front of the gates (see last entry for that photo) and loaded onto the bus for another 4-hour ride back home to the Commonwealth.  The ride home was rather uneventful for me, as I put my headphones on and slept the day away.    However, I am very lucky that I was asleep, because if I had not been, I would have apparently been aware of the presence of a grasshopper that had lit upon my shoulder and thus terrified out of my skull!  Jacquie informed me that while I was asleep, she pulled a very big grasshopper off from my shoulder and threw it out the window.  That’s twice Jacquie saved my sanity due to bug-related incidences… thank goodness that she is brave.  However, you will see that her braveness does rub off on me later in this entry… where I encounter a very large bug all by myself.

Anyway, we were scheduled to have a bry (spelling?), or barbeque, at the house of a Zambian family friend of Dr. Shandomo’s, the Cholas.  She had exemplified that they were extremely wealthy and had a very beautiful house.  As we drove up to the gated community that contained their property, we were astonished as we pulled into the extensive drive.  All around us were well-manicured lawns and many, many types of swimming pools, some even with fountains.  Then, we drove past a dance hall surrounded by a lazy river-type pool with a connecting bridge, which led to a small banquet hall attached to a full bar and kitchen.  This is where we ended up eating at the bry that night.

If your mind has not been suitably blown yet, this did not consist of the actual house in which they live.  Within a fenced area was a mansion-type house that apparently, according to the children, keeps expanding as they add more rooms onto the house.  At the center of the house was an enormous painting of African people in traditional garb having a sort of celebration painted with vibrant colors.  We were rather unsure how it got in the door, as it had dwarfed the entrance to the house by several feet.  It was clear that this family had a true appreciation for art of all kinds, from sculpture to pottery, from paintings to prints – it is no wonder that one of the middle daughters is going to art school for her college degree!  Art adorned every single room of the house – and they even had a literal art gallery as a separate wing coming off of the main section of the house!  The rooms were beautiful and expansive with high ceilings; there were two entertainment-type areas, including one legitimate theater (with plush carpet and comfortable seating in the form of recliners and one living-room area in the upper area of the house attaching two of the girls’ bedrooms.

It was very impressive to walk through such astonishing architecture, let alone dine here.  Still, the Cholas were a very kind, generally down-to-Earth family who seem to make a habit out of inviting friends to share their home and happiness with.

Oh, and they have two dogs named Skippy and Taco – they were little white terrier-type puppies that enjoyed our presence immensely.  It was very clear that we were all going through some level of pet withdrawal; as such, we lavished our attention on them throughout the night.  Skippy was especially excited to see us.

At this point, you are probably thinking, “Where are the pictures?!?”  In a hurry to leave the Commonwealth before coming, I FORGOT my camera.  However, I will eventually post pictures here when I can get ahold of what my friends here took with their phones and cameras.  For now, just take my word for it – it was absolutely stunning.

The bry was exceptionally tasty, and I will tell you right now that I had the best homemade apple pie that I have EVER tasted here at this home.  Topped with a delicious, perfect custard, I think a part of me died and went to heaven when I ate this.  One of the other girls caught me intensely enjoying my pie, licking my spoon clean with an expression of apparent pleasurable contentment.  Though I caught a bit of flack for this, it was more than worth it.  If you would have tasted this, you would have wished you could just keep eating it forever and ever.

We danced in the dance hall after dessert, though I was rather reluctant to dance; dancing is something I feel like I enjoyed doing lifetimes ago, and so I felt extremely self-conscious dancing in front of all these people.  However, I did end up going for a few moments, loosening up – admittedly, it was pretty fun!

After all of that food, dancing, and general excitement, I slept like a rock that night.

The next day was a solid day of work and research at Libala Basic.  I holed up in the staff room for most of the day, writing parts of my paper, writing down our driving itinerary for Dr. Shandomo, and collecting data at my various appointments there throughout the day.  I drank quite a few cups of tea and ate many biscuits, as well as a peanut butter and jam sandwich that I had made back at the Commonwealth.  It was a very productive day, and I enjoyed the dinner that I took with Heather and Jessica later on.

Tuesday was a data collection day at St. Mary’s, getting my final interview at this school in with the teachers.  I was so inspired by their passion for teaching their students, and how in-depth they spoke of their particular teaching methods.  It reenergized my own beliefs about teaching, making me so excited to (hopefully) attain a classroom of my own this coming school year, full of children ready to explore the wide world around them.

One of the things that I really loved about these teachers’ attitudes is that they encouraged asking questions – I am a firm believer in asking why instead of accepting things at face-value, and children, with their youth and genuine, unabated curiosity, also tend to have this view (albeit not necessarily for the same reasons).  Questions are the foundation from which so much of our knowledge is built upon, where real learning takes place, and so I hope to encourage this in my own classroom.

After the interviews, Jessica and I hit up the Manda Hill Mall, where we treated ourselves to a scrumptious lunch at Mugg & Bean, complete with a tasty cappuccino and full breakfast.  Jessica, a graduate student who also did her undergrad at Fredonia State, and I swapped stories, went on the free Wi-Fi, and had a really enjoyable time in general.  We also did some window shopping, she returned a jersey she had purchased, and we both stopped at Game (U.S. equivalent = Target or Walmart) to get some snacks for the rest of the week.  Meeting up with some other girls, we got a donut (which I have been eating periodically throughout the week, as it was about the size of my face), and waited for our ride.

Once we were at the Commonwealth, I felt very pent-up and anxious, so I decided that a run would do my body and mind some good.  I ran around the UNZA campus with In Absentia keeping my pace up in my headphones.  I ran about two-and-a-half miles before I had unfortunately tuckered myself out entirely, resigning myself to start running every other day so that I could at least get it back up to a three-mile “typical” run.  Dinner after the run was very good, feeling somewhat more well-earned.  I did some work, talked to Dan, my mom, and sister via Skype, and then pretty much fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Wednesday morning essentially consisted of working on the methodology section of my paper.  I was able to get a couple pages done before enjoying a cup of ramen noodles for lunch and then heading to Libala Basic for my last day of data collection for the entire project!  After the interview, I breathed a sigh of relief, for I had all of the data necessary to complete my research to the best of my knowledge and ability.  Excited for this prospect and wanting to share it with someone, I called my dad as soon as I had gotten home and let him know; since he was with my grandma, I was also able to talk to her, which is always very nice.  It is comforting to know that we have the technology to connect ourselves with the people we love despite thousands of miles separating us.

Dr. Shandomo’s sister and her family offered to treat us to a traditional African dinner at their farm; similarly to when we visited the Cholas, it was breathtaking to see such well-kept, sprawling land filled with gorgeous landscaping and architecture.  Though we only saw it at night, it was clear that great care was taken to ensure their property was painstakingly cared for.  There were dogs barking – in fact, they had eight dogs!  I really wanted to play with them, but apparently they were more like guard dogs and dogs that had functions for the farm, so they were penned up.

Dinner was the best that I have had while in Lusaka – traditional African food is similar to the food we tend to prepare; the differences lay in the spices and in the nshima (which is, if I had not said it before, cornmeal boiled until it can form into soft, football-like shapes – similar consistency and function as polenta) which is eaten with most meals.  The meat is always very savory and cooked well, and the fish is cooked whole, with the head on and everything.  Bream, the type of fish that is favored in this part of Zambia, is pretty similar to tilapia but it still has the bones within it.  Eating around them, the baked fish was crunchy and very flavorful.  Pairing it with the nshima was a good bet.

The spinach that I had a great deal of was also homegrown – I had gotten into a discussion with Dr. Shandomo’s sister about their farm life and what they grew.  That night, I also helped myself to beef stew and rice, mincemeat in pasta with vegetables, spinach creamed with nuts, mixed vegetables in a decadent, savory sauce, grilled chicken, coleslaw, and after dinner, there was ice cream!  However, as you might have guessed, I totally overate and spent the ride home rubbing my sore tummy and vowing to be a little more careful with how much and how fast that I scarf down my dinners.  I am pretty sure that I will be coming back to the U.S. a little heavier than I had initially anticipated.

… but every bite was worth it!

Currently, it is Thursday morning, and I am sitting at St. Mary’s after delivering some little thank-you gifts to the teachers here that I had observed and interviewed.  I also said good-bye to their classes and got a little emotional, as these students had learned my name and really enjoyed when I came in (most likely because they wanted to ask me questions and have their picture taken with my camera so they could see themselves on the camera screen).  One perceptive little girl saw my tablet and said, “Oooh, Samsung!” in her melodious little voice.  “My mama has a Samsung Galaxy as well.”  I cracked up.  Kids, no matter where you are, will notice the most interesting things about their surroundings. Not to mention, Samsung has a pretty huge presence in Lusaka, judging by the enormous building rising up in the middle of it, bearing its name in gargantuan-sized letters.

Later on today, we are getting fitted for our traditional Zambian skirts and dresses.  I elected to get one in blue, purple, and gold.  I can’t wait to see how it fits!   On the suggestion of Dr. Shandomo, presenting on my African adventures and research can be even more impactful when wearing clothing from the culture.

As for now, I will continue writing and revising my paper.  I am lucky that I love writing, else I would probably not be able to mentally prepare for how long this thing is actually going to turn out to be.  My guess is fifty pages at this point, as I am already at 15 and that is just the literature review and research questions.

Bye for now,


6/22 – Mukambi Safari (part 2)

As I was reading through your comments, Brittany, a graduate student at Buffalo State, wrote that a picture is truly worth a thousand words.  Inspired by that quote (and the fact that I can hardly attempt to keep an entry of these safaris under five pages), this section of my safari tale is going to be told through photographs.  I want to let the natural beauty of the land and majesty of these creatures speak for themselves, leaving you with an impression that you may form for yourselves.

I will say that the game safari on the land, where most of these photos were taken, was especially exhilarating because the crisp morning air whipping at our faces as we sped on the jeep (so much so we wrapped ourselves in the blankets that they so graciously provided.  The boat safari was also a lot of fun, and I was especially excited to capture the moon so spectacularly.

Without further ado, our safari in pictures!

My first animal captures via photo on the safari - a... bird.  I wish I could have remembered all of the names that our guide, Hakim, told us, but I was so information-laden by the end of it that I simply could not remember!

My first animal captured via photo on the safari – a… bird. I wish I could have remembered all of the names that our guide, Hakim, told us, but I was so information-laden by the end of it that I simply could not remember!

Right before this photo was captured, these two puku males were play-sparring with their horns.  This was how they looked at me when they caught me snapping photos.  Their identical expressions are uncanny and hilarious.

Right before this photo was captured, these two puku males were play-sparring with their horns. This was how they looked at me when they caught me snapping photos. Their identical expressions are uncanny and hilarious.

You can tell it is an impala because of its striped butt!

You can tell it is an impala because of its striped butt!

This long-limbed primate creeped me out a bit... but still was pretty cool!

This long-limbed primate creeped me out a bit… but still was pretty cool!

A ton of vultures in the trees - also kind of creepy!

A ton of vultures in the trees – also kind of creepy!

I caught this puku scratching itself with its foot -cute!

I caught this puku scratching itself with its foot -cute!

The king of the jungle!

The king of the jungle!

Two pumbaas hanging out with the antelopes!

Two pumbaas hanging out with the antelopes!

As our game safari took place at 6:30 AM, naturally, partway through we had a happy tea and coffee break, complete with biscuits and fresh cream.  So perfect on a chilly morning roving through the African landscape!

As our game safari took place at 6:30 AM, naturally, partway through we had a happy tea and coffee break, complete with biscuits and fresh cream. So perfect on a chilly morning roving through the African landscape!

Thanks, Heather, for snapping this awesome photograph!

Thanks, Heather, for snapping this awesome photograph!

A hippo that we saw on our boat safari!

A hippo that we saw on our boat safari!

You can even see the bristles on his back if you look closely enough!

You can even see the bristles on his back if you look closely enough!

These hippos are spouting water at each other.

These hippos are spouting water at each other.

Two hippo friends hanging out in the river.

Two hippo friends hanging out in the river.

A monkey I caught before he jumped into the trees.

A monkey I caught before he jumped into the trees.

Our moon, bright in the sky at sunset.

Our moon, bright in the sky at sunset.

The night sky after our safari.  Gorgeous colors...

The night sky after our safari. Gorgeous colors…

All of us as we depart Mukambi Safari Lodge!

All of us as we depart Mukambi Safari Lodge!

I hope you enjoyed this picture safari.  Until tomorrow, in which I will catch the past few days up in one shot.



6/21/13 – Mukambi Safari (Part 1)

(Note: I do apologize for the lack of updates; time and Internet have been in short supply lately, and although I would happily post daily, research and travel do tend to take a toll.  As such, I hope that these next few backdated entries of our safari adventures will satiate any curiosities that may have arisen from our collective absence!)

We rose on Friday morning to anxiously await our bus ride to the Mukambi Safari Lodge, packing up our rooms and luggage for travel once again.  After stuffing my carry-on for two-and-a-half day trip, charging up all of my electronics (camera, iPod, tablet), and also filling my stomach with breakfast, I headed outside to wait in the mercifully warm sun.  It had been so cold the past few days that we had been worried about it being dreadfully cold the entire time at the Lodge.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

Kelsey, one of the undergrads on the trip, seems to be our resident braiding expert, and she even did my hair, which probably has not had a braid in it since I was a little girl with my mom doing it for me.  It looked pretty cool, as you can see below.

Kelsey's handiwork as she braided most of our hair while we waited for the bus to take us to our safaris!

Kelsey’s handiwork as she braided most of our hair while we waited for the bus to take us to our safaris!

(Note: I am quite woefully untrained in the art of hair-doing, so I am quite grateful that Kelsey styled it so well.)

Finally, the bus arrived, and we cozied up for a good four hours or so, which seems like a lot, but when compared to the rides of last weekend to Livingstone, it truly seemed negligible – especially considering the treat we were in for when we finally got the Lodge.

“Breathtaking beauty” are two words that begin to describe the luxuriant atmosphere that we entered into as we proceeded through the Lodge, initially.  Many jaws were dropped as we admired the open air bar, restaurant, and leisure areas, adorned with hardwood everything throughout with marble countertops and padded seats.  The sofas and lounge chairs were arguably the most comfortable I had sat on during this trip thus far, and many of us had elected to curl up in them for hours at a time.

Sitting down to lunch meant chicken curry with rice, as well as a salad complete with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette.  As we had not eaten since breakfast, and lunch was relatively late, we scarfed it.  After this magnificent lunch, we went to our chalets.  Once again, Jacquie and I roomed together in our on chalet, where we would be staying for the next two nights.

Jacquie and I shared a chalet while at Mukambi - this is the outside view.

Jacquie and I shared a chalet while at Mukambi – this is the outside view.

Upon entering, we found two four-poster beds that had mosquito netting attached in the most elegant way possible, wrapped around the posts.  There was coffee and all of its accompaniments, towels, and toiletries found in most hotels, plus bug spray for both our new “home” and for our skin, as well.  The jaw-dropping had then progressed into squeals of excitement as we roamed the grounds with Heather, who had her very own chalet down the path from us.  I believe the phrase “This is awesome!” left my mouth three dozen times within the first couple of hours.  On behalf of our group, we were positively agog with the prospect of staying in such a wonderful place with all of the accoutrements expected with a high-end hotel in place… for a safari!!!!!

Chalet #4 revealed these two amazingly comfortable four-poster beds, and once these beds were turned down, a hot water bottle laid beneath the sheets, warming us up for the cold night and morning ahead.

Chalet #4 revealed these two amazingly comfortable four-poster beds, and once these beds were turned down, a hot water bottle laid beneath the sheets, warming us up for the cold night and morning ahead.

Electing to explore and spend a little time to myself, I threw on summer clothing for the first time and elected to lay out by the pool with a fountain. Some of the other girls elected to go in the water, though I did not – it was very cold!  I put on my iPod and listened to Billy Joel for a bit, and then proceeded to wander around the Lodge itself, taking photographs.  Eventually, I had grabbed up my camera, taking pictures of the sunsets and playing with the camera settings.

I was sure to plop myself poolside the moment I had the chance to... total relaxation :)

I was sure to plop myself poolside the moment I had the chance to… total relaxation :)

Finally donning summer clothing, as it was much warmer here at Mukambi.

Finally donning summer clothing, as it was much warmer here at Mukambi.

Taken at Mukambi Safari Lodge, June 21.

Taken at Mukambi Safari Lodge, June 21.

Once dinner was closer, I sat down with a bunch of our group and just relaxed with them.  Considering the charged atmosphere that tended to occur when we were all doing our own thing during the week, it was nice to spend time just taking it easy with them, without the stresses of teaching or research at hand.

Dinner was called, and we all took our seats, excited for what gourmet foods awaited us.

(To all who are not my immediate family or friends: food, especially very tasty, well-prepared food, is one of my favorite pleasures to partake in, and so I cannot over-emphasize how AMAZING this place was in terms of the cooking – which was fabulous through and through and through.)

First came our appetizer, which was smoked salmon in a baked cheese cup with fresh cut vegetables.  The salmon was quite smoky, but the crispy cheese cup complemented the otherwise intense flavor beautifully.  Along with the accompanying peppers and dressing atop them, this was quite delectable.   Savoring every bite, I then buttered a roll and munched on it to act as a sort of palate cleanser. At home, I try to maintain the healthy, non-butter habit, but honestly, this butter was churned at the Lodge, and the rolls themselves were freshly baked daily – the combination was perfection that could not be ignored!

Then came dinner, which was steak served in a dark gravy served atop mashed potatoes with carrots and zucchini.  It was at this point that most of us died and went to food heaven.   The potatoes were perfectly creamy with subtle hints of garlic.  On the plate were little designs of balsamic vinegar with dots of olive oil with fresh basil throughout – both of which tasted marvelous with the steak and potatoes (and were soaked up using another roll, of course).  The vegetables were cooked to perfection, still maintaining an element of crunch without being underdone.

To our collective excitement, dessert was a malva (spelling?) pudding.  I am still unsure of what exactly I had eaten, I just know that it was unlike anything that I had tasted before (and somehow, this list of “Flavors I’ve Never Tasted” seems to have grown quite short in recent years, as I have made a habit of tasting just about every food or spice from every culture that I can get my hands on).   The bread-type portion of it had the flavor of coconut with a hint of banana, while the sauce atop (pudding?) was very reminiscent of coconut milk – the flavor was subtle upon tasting it by itself, but with the cake-bread, it brought out the coconutty flavor.  It was a very light dessert with a tropical flavor that topped off the meal with flair (without making us feel like we needed to roll ourselves back to our chalets).

After dinner was finished, Jacquie, Heather, and I made our way back to our chalets.  Naturally, in the dark, we needed a guard to accompany us, as wild animals roamed as they pleased (including a hippo named Basil that sometimes liked to wander into the Lodge itself during afternoons – unfortunately, Basil did not decide to grace us with his presence during our visit).  As the guard dropped us off, Jacquie and I started getting ready for an early bedtime to prepare us for our 6:30 AM game drive tomorrow – our first safari activity of the day.

However, this process was effectively disturbed as I was brushing my teeth.  In the mirror, I saw the one of the most horrifying sights that a person with arachnophobia can see.   Directly behind me, near the toilet that I had just flushed, was a spider whose body was easily an inch long with long, fuzzy legs that gave it an overall span of about 2.5 inches.

I spit out my toothpaste and said, maintaining composure as much as humanly possible, “Jacquie, I’m just letting you know that there is an enormous spider in the bathroom.”  I then backed out slowly and then jetted to the other side of the chalet, paralyzed with fear.  I couldn’t kill it.  As many fears I had I faced head-on throughout this trip, my spider-phobia was not one that was coming to an end anytime soon.

Jacquie made the astute statement that one of us had to get rid of it, and so she bravely faced her fear of spiders and went after it. First, she got it with bug spray, but then it jumped at her, causing us both to freak out because this bug was terrifyingly enormous when compared to the spiders we see at home.  Still, she had hit it with the spray, so it started to slow down.  She sprayed it more with the spray until it finally started to stop.  Then, she smooshed it with her shoe and cleaned it.  I am quite grateful for Jacquie’s bravery in this spider-elimination business, for both of us probably slept much more soundly that night, knowing that it was taken care of.  We did check for more scary bugs before turning in for the night, when another surprise helped calm us down.

In the turned-down beds were hot water bottles, to help combat the bitter cold that would soon permeate our chalet.  At first, I had thought it was simply a hot towel, but on further inspection, the tell-tale sloshing of liquid told us that it was indeed a squishy container meant to keep us warm the whole night through – one in each of our beds!  This was such a wonderful discovery that it helped put the spider experience to the back of our minds a bit.

As we closed the mosquito netting and said goodnight, I took in just how comfortable these beds and pillows were.  Both pillows were big and soft, and the pillow cases were perfectly cool and soft as well.  The blankets were heavy but not stifling, and the water bottle provided ample warmth.  Needless to say, I had gotten the best night’s sleep that I’ve had not only while I was in Africa, but also for the past few years.  I slept right through ‘til morning…

(to be continued in Day 2!)


6/19 – In My Element

When I am in just about any school, I feel as though I can find some sense of balance and peace, no matter the type of environment.  School is a place that I have cherished for most of my life.  I’ve also earned multiple memberships in the overall institution as school over the past 20 years, first, as a student at the grade-school and collegiate levels, then as an elementary school teacher, music teacher, and substitute teacher.  Now, I come back as a researcher and graduate student with a drive and purpose, and perhaps it is a combination of all of these factors that I find myself most “at home” when working in a classroom of some sort in any capacity.

Today, while researching, it was very interesting to see the similarities and differences in how teachers approach the task of building and enriching their students’ vocabularies.  I observed one teacher reviewing words in order to reinforce the meaning-print connection, pairing this with spelling.  Another teacher focused entirely on teaching verbs to her grade one students, though she used so many different approaches that I was using nearly every code in my coding scheme as my pen flew across the page, trying to keep up with her energetic pace.  Another teacher taught story vocabulary paired with phonics, introduced the vocabulary words themselves as the students helped to negotiate meaning, read the story with her students, and then practiced fluency using echo-reading.  And Dr. Garas-York (and any other lit specialists reading), not a single teacher I have seen so far has used any form round robin reading – yay!

I was unabashedly impressed with the energy that many of these teachers maintained with their young students.    Children were dancing and singing – students appeared to really enjoy school and want to be there!  I didn’t see bored faces, though often, many of the girls would sneak a peek over at me or my camera – naturally, being a muzungu (spelling may be totally inaccurate, if anyone knows it, please let me know so I can fix it) here in Zambia makes me a bit of a target for double-takes and some outright stares (muzungu = white person).

However, being the racial minority has not been an overwhelming experience, or at least, it is not as overwhelming as other things, like the pangs of missing my family and feeling a little lonely, not to mention the overwhelming excitement that I face every time I try something new here, be it food or situation.

At school, kids will be kids, and they do not have as much of a filter, or perhaps they aren’t aware that we adults have become wise to them.  A group of younger kiddos came up to me today and giggled constantly.  I asked them why they were laughing so hard, good naturedly.  That was when I heard the word muzungu, and I asked, “Hey, I know that word!”  When I said “muzungu,” their laughs doubled in intensity.  And then they all bombarded me with questions until the horn sounded, indicating that class was to begin.  Suddenly, I was hug-attacked, and soon, I was reaching my hand out to give hi-fives and handshakes.  One of the youngest boys, with incredible charm and innocence, shook my hand and then kissed it.  Then, ALL of the kids were doing it, the boys and girls alike, until I had to pry them off in typical teacher fashion, saying, “You’re going to be late for class, I will see you tomorrow!”  After very many goodbyes, I was left by myself, laughing.   It was probably the most hilariously cute experience in my nominal years spent actually in the role of a teacher.

At any rate, when I got home, I was exhausted and with a sour stomach yet again.  Though this bout seemed marginally more severe than my first one when we initially came to campus, at least I was already home and in my bed, not in front of the Dean of UNZA and his team of professors.  Needless to say, I was out of commission for a good few hours before I decided to eat an orange and some potato chips.  After this, I spoke with my Dad and grandma, and then spoke to Dan.  Speaking with my family is so reassuring, because they get me and are not put off by my intensity and desire to achieve my goals.

I’ve been reading a lot of Harry Potter on my tablet (I know my cousins Shannon and Casey will appreciate this next bit), and it is so interesting because a lot of the terms used to describe the hierarchy here is often used in Zambia, due to the influence of the UK’s past colonial rule and resulting cultural diffusion.  Deputy, head, terms, prefects, head girls (I have not seen any head boys yet because we have been going to all-girl institutions in some cases) to name a few.  Thanks to J.K. Rowling and her mastermind stories that absolutely defined my childhood (and let’s be real, remain present in my adulthood), I learned so many of the major differences between American and British schooling and curriculum.  So, coming to Zambia, where so much is similar to the UK as opposed to the US, I called on JKR’s works to help me understand the school structure and curricula rather speedily.

No pictures today… internet is being very sluggish today!

See you on the flip side,


6/18 – Research Days

The next few days are all about getting into the nitty-gritty of my research, meaning I have had to negotiate times to come into teachers’ classrooms, observe their instruction, explain my research and data collection procedures, and ensure that they are informed before giving consent. Tomorrow, I have four observation sessions scheduled, and we can only pray and hope that traffic will move along so that we may get to where we need to be on time.  I am eternally grateful for our transport, Mayaba, for dealing with our absurd schedules!

Regrettably, I did not take any pictures today!  I was simply so exhausted by the time I had gotten back and eaten lunch that I just collapsed in bed with my book and read for hours until my tablet was on my face.  Then, I called Dan and spoke with him for awhile…I am looking forward to coming back, so long as all goes well, to see Dan’s band Blueshift play at the Niagara Arts Festival on June 30 (www.blueshiftuniverse.com – please feel free to check them out – they are talented beyond most musicians creating their own music nowadays).

I also talked with my family and friends today via Facebook, and this was really wonderful because I feel as though I am connecting to people that I otherwise would not talk with due to the heyday of my jam-packed life.  During these conversations, my sister challenged me to write an essay about all of the things that those of us living such privileged lives take for granted and could feasibly live without.  The top of the list is the sheer speed at which so many of our lives take place and how easily impatient we get – and I am so supremely guilty living speedily to the point where I don’t know what to do with myself when I find a spare hour.  There is no comfort in simply letting time pass… we always need to be doing something, or else we are neurotic (and for those of us with a certain degrees and types of neuroses to begin with… yikes).  I don’t know when that became normal… but it definitely is not a good thing when you realize that many people do not have the luxury of living expedient lifestyles and must wait daily for their basic needs, let alone wants and desires.  I am constantly rethinking my actions here.

Tomorrow is a very early and very long day for me, and I am dying to retire and snuggle up with my books before a very long day of data collection.  Also, I need to pack myself some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as my breakfast and lunch tomorrow… yum!!  I will leave you with some more pictures from Vic Falls, because it is arguably one of the most gorgeous places on our planet that I have had the privilege to see with my own eyes.

A great view of Victoria Falls + me

A great view of Victoria Falls + me

The sun getting caught up in the mist as we don raincoats before getting drenched.

The sun getting caught up in the mist as we don raincoats before getting drenched.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Wishing all good things for you,


6/17/13 – Chikumbuso Orphanage

Roughly one out of every five people (adult people, that is) that I told about my African travels prior to leaving emphasized the fact that my life would change during this trip.  Today, I have to remark that a shift had occurred in me after experiencing the life and happiness constantly pervading the atmosphere in the air at Chikumbuso Orphanage.  Despite all hardships, hardships that many of us reading this will probably never know, that these ladies and children have faced throughout their lives, they have managed to take steps to turn their lives and the lives of others into something to be cherished and celebrated daily.

The ladies working at Chikumbuso are primarily widowed – some of the stories we heard today were from women who had lost their husbands, had their children removed from them, , and (or) had contracted HIV – their lives became a desperate struggle in which they began to lose hope.  When this orphanage opened, it was a light at the end of a very dark and narrow tunnel for women like these, where they could find the strength in themselves to help themselves and others.

This kitty cat ran all around the orphanage while we were there, darting this way and that!  It was precious and apparently lives in the orphanage as a sort of pet!

This kitty cat ran all around the orphanage while we were there, darting this way and that! It was precious and apparently lives in the orphanage as a sort of pet!

Now, in what appears to be its 10th year, the orphanage is a thriving place where these women and others make their living by create beautiful handbags, jewelry, and other tote-like creations created by hand, usually out of recyclable products, such as plastic bags stitched into various bags of different shapes and sizes.  If you buy a craft made by a particular woman, she gets 70% of the proceeds from it, while the orphanage takes 30%.  I bought a headband and a water bottle holder that I could harness onto a bag.

Chikumbuso is also a school giving a top-notch education to children who are typically orphaned or otherwise not receiving an education at a public school in Lusaka.  Grades 1 through 6 are offered here, and it seemed as though many students were studying abroad as teachers in these classrooms.  It is clear that this orphanage continues to benefit from partnerships with colleges, churches, and organizations from around the world.

Children playing at Chikumbuso on some type of spinner that looked like a lot of fun!

Children playing at Chikumbuso on some type of spinner that looked like a lot of fun!

When one thinks of an orphanage, it is not often that they think of a cheerful and happy place, but I would caution you to lump Chikumbuso into such a category, because this is a place full of singing and dancing, from the children to the eldest woman working at her craft in the main hall.

And when we donated those school supplies, clothing, and other children’s’ items, I don’t think I could have crammed another ounce of joy into my heart.  These people were so grateful that their singing and dancing became ever-louder and more appreciative as we handed them donation after donation, tears of gladness appearing in their eyes.   When I get home, I will create and post a video that I took of this entire exchange, and you will see for yourselves the atmosphere that we had walked into on this day.

A photo of us and the ladies at Chikumbuso with our donations to the orphanage front and center

A photo of us and the ladies at Chikumbuso with our donations to the orphanage front and center

If you want to check out what Chikumbuso is all about, please visit www.chikumbuso.com.

I need to cut my journaling short today, because tomorrow is a very early day, and I have to get some sleep.  I will go back to the three-photos-a-day rule until the safari next weekend due to my desperate attempt to save money and internet usage time, for I have been going all-out for souvenirs!

With soaring appreciation,


6/16/2013 – Victoria Falls Weekend

We journeyed to Livingstone this weekend, where the famous Victoria Falls marks the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.   It took 9-and-a-half hours for us to get from the Commonwealth in Lusaka to Livingstone, where we stayed at the Likute Guest House, which was very nice and comfortable.  To be bluntly honest, at the end of that 9-and-a-half hours, we were pretty much ready to jump out of our skin getting out of that van (at least, I was!!), and so we went to our rooms.  Jacquie and I shared a room this time around, and it was nice to have a roommate for a change!

Jacquie and I shared a room at the guest house in Livingstone

Jacquie and I shared a room at the guest house in Livingstone

We went to (get this) an ITALIAN RESTAURANT for dinner.  Now, when going to Africa, one doesn’t necessarily immediately think “Hmm.  I should probably hit up that Italian restaurant.”  However, as we were pressed for time and had many different people with a dozen different tastes, this restaurant seemed to fit the bill pretty well for us.  And Dan… they had pizza.   Not to mention, the words coolest menus in the history of menus.  As you can see, they donned different animals on them, including a hippo!

A very cool menu with a hippo on it from Olga's Italian restaurant

A very cool menu with a hippo on it from Olga’s Italian restaurant

I ordered a most scrumptious large calzone with mozzarella, ham, onions, and mushrooms.  As I had eaten no actual meal that day, I finished the entire calzone in one sitting, which apparently is quite a feat (although I know my immediate family is probably not altogether surprised at this fact).

My delectable calzone from Olga's Italian restaurant

My delectable calzone from Olga’s Italian restaurant

The next day, we toured at a museum dedicated to Zambia and Dr. Livingstone.  It was very informative, especially in terms of the information that they had about some of the earliest specimens of man found to date.

Jacquie and I at the Livingstone Museum

Jacquie and I at the Livingstone Museum

Next stop was Victoria Falls.  I remember Claudia warning me about baboons stealing food from tourists that were in certain parts of Zambia before I had left.

Well, Claude, you were 100% correct.  Not only do these creatures like to steal food, but they also do not enjoy having their pictures taken – like, it bothers them and they will grab at you and even try to bite you.  And these baboons fear NOT A THING.  They will just walk right up to you, as if they are saying, “This is my territory – I was here first, so you are just going to have to deal with me being here, okay?”  I actually saw a baboon (who was literally sitting on a bench like a human, biding his time and waiting for some unsuspecting tourist) jump up and grab onto Jessica’s bag while we hiked down to the “boiling pot” where the rapids of Victoria Falls churned below us.  Needless to say, we attempted to avoid these intense monkeys as much as humanly possible.  Also, I saw a crocodile.  Thanks to my lovely telephoto lens, I was able to capture this little guy on camera.

Baboons with their baby at Victoria Falls

Baboons with their baby at Victoria Falls

A crocodile on the hike to the Boiling Pot (rapids) of Vic Falls

A crocodile on the hike to the Boiling Pot (rapids) of Vic Falls

Still, the hike down (and back up) to the boiling pot was well worth it, because it was breathtakingly beautiful down there on the rocks.  The day was perfect, too, with the sun shining brightly through the canopies of lush green that surrounded us before we finally emerged onto the enormous rocks that gave way to the rushing rapids.  I could have stayed there all day, it was so peaceful despite the large amounts of people down there.  I climbed down as far as I could before my guide waved me back up because I had gone too far.

Captured from the rocks beside the "Boiling Pot" of Victoria Falls

Captured from the rocks beside the “Boiling Pot” of Victoria Falls

Almost at the Boiling Pot at Victoria Falls

Almost at the Boiling Pot at Victoria Falls

The hike back up with tiresome and slightly terrifying because of the baboons flitting to and fro, alongside us as well as above us in the trees.  When we had finished, we all rested until it was time for our next tour.  This time, instead of protecting ourselves against the baboons, we needed to get ponchos and raincoats to protect us from the drenching “mist” from Victoria Falls.

Randomly, we also met some very loud, proud, and excited Irishmen that invited us into their pictures before we left for Vic Falls, so we did the same.

A couple of very proud Irishmen also visiting Victoria Falls!

A couple of very proud Irishmen also visiting Victoria Falls!

Then, we got completely and utterly drenched.  Think Cave of the Winds, American Side, Hurricane Deck… like, pretty much the whole time, except we walked through what feels like a rainforest (while it is raining) instead of on platforms.  We also crossed a dizzying bridge over a very large, very deep crevice in the Earth in which the Zambezi River flows.  We did this pretty much with our eyes squinting towards the ground, because the water was rushing at us.

Then, we went to the market.  Now, I am not one that really went into this knowing how to haggle, but Douglas, one of our buddies (and drivers) that accompanied us to Victoria Falls from the Commonwealth taught me a lot in about 30 seconds.  After that, I was able to buy souvenirs for my entire family for less than 300 kwacha for everything.  Not to mention a Zambia football jersey for myself!  We also saw a dance troupe and drummers dancing. And this guy playing some mallet-type instrument?  Is it a gyil?  I am not entirely sure, but he was pretty cool!

A man jamming on the mallets while others danced, sang, and drummed!

A man jamming on the mallets while others danced, sang, and drummed!

After this, a number of our crew went bungee jumping, swinging, or zip-lining over the Zambezi River.  As I am deathly afraid of heights and not a thrill-seeker in this sense, I delegated myself as one of the photographers as a bunch of girls suited up for their death-defying feats!  Between four or five of us, we captured all of their stunts.  It was insane to watch these girls jump – their bravery and boldness astonishes me, flat out.  Here are some photos:

Bungee bridge from which a number of girls from our group jumped, swung, and zip-lined

Bungee bridge from which a number of girls from our group jumped, swung, and zip-lined

Liza on the zip line!

Liza on the zip line!

Kelsey sliding on the zip line!

Kelsey sliding on the zip line!

Tonya bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge

Tonya bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge

Kaleigh on the zip line!

Kaleigh on the zip line!

Marie on the zip line!

Marie on the zip line!

After dinner, some of us went back to the Italian place (myself included, because I just can’t even help myself when pizza or pasta is an offer).  I also ordered a cappuccino –actually, it was the World’s Best Cappuccino Ever.  It was perfectly foamy, creamy, and impeccably delicious.  I also ordered a small pizza, not wishing to repeat the face-stuffing for a second night in a row.

The next day, some people rode elephants, and others (myself included) went to tour Mukuni Village – a village in Zambia that has been alive and well since the 13th Century.  Our guide told us very many interesting facts about their village, and then we actually got to go inside and take a look around.  Seven thousand people currently live in this village.  And apparently a bunch of chickens, do too!

We went to the market here, as well, and I bartered with my hair-tie and headband for a neat hand-carved figurine depicting The Thinker, another souvenir for a friend.

After that, it was time to head home.  I was facing more than a little anxiety about this trip home, since the first trip took 9.5 hours and we were hitting the road at about 1:30 PM.  Driving when it is dark in Zambia is not very safe, suffice it to say.  However, Mayaba totally got us home in seven hours and only drove in the dark for two hours.  We gave him a round of applause as we turned into the Commonwealth.

As with anything, positives and negatives tend to balance themselves out, and most of what I’ve told about thus far has been overwhelmingly positive.  I will impart to you, my dear friends and readers, that during this trip to Victoria Falls, I hit a bout of homesickness so suddenly and severely that it just knocked the fight right out of me.  I felt gutted, not being able to share these once-in-a-lifetime experiences with my friends and relatives.  Worse, it finally sunk in that I was going to miss my Dad on Father’s Day and his birthday and just couldn’t even help the tears.  I wanted my parents and sister.  I wanted my family.  I missed Dan and his affection, companionship, and positive personality so much that it literally hurt the inside of my chest.

However, my friends and mentors on this trip were immediately wise to my feelings, and they helped me through it, understanding the hurt and assuring me that this was okay and normal to feel homesickness to this magnitude.  They helped to remind me that I was here, in Africa, really doing it – doing research and working with kids.  I am creating change in my life and the lives of others.   We are also forging unique friendships with each other throughout this experience – we are a small percentage of students from our area studying abroad in Zambia, not many of us can really share in this together.  I am incredibly grateful for the friends I have made on this journey so far.

Please be assured, though, that I am 100% fine and healthy, and the homesickness has been quelled, especially as we rolled into the Commonwealth earlier this evening… it is our home away from home.  When I got back into my room here, an enormous weight came from my chest, and any anxiety or tension that I had felt from being cooped in the van had left me immediately.  I was finally able to reflect on the great adventures we had this weekend through a positive lens.

Tomorrow, we are going to the market and Chikumbuso orphanage and school, where I will be dropping off ALL of those school supplies!!  YAY!!  I have been waiting for this day since I had started collecting those supplies in April.  Thank you, again for the numerous donations.  Pictures will come!

With so much love and gratitude,


6/13/13 – Music to my ears…

Anyone who knows me personally knows of my background and love for music.  Recently, I have attained my New York State teaching certification in music.  Naturally, I would want see how music instruction is taught and approached in Zambian schools.  Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a music class for first graders (age 6-7), and oh my goodness, I was quite impressed.

First and foremost, it is clear that this school in particular (St. Mary’s Queen of Peace) values music incredibly.  They staff two music teachers who each have their own classroom with pianos, blackboard, and posters.   The children also have a respect and enthusiasm for the subject, as they are eager to participate and learn.

Second, the children I heard singing today have a sense of pitch I’ve never heard with such a large group of young singers (the closest would be the class I taught for a few months last year in first grade at Maryvale, who all pretty much have a good sense of pitch).  I don’t think I heard a bad note sang together.  All students could match pitch with their teacher without hesitation.

Also, these students were learning notation today, including the vocabulary and symbols for a whole note (semi-breve), half note (minim), and quarter note (crochet).  By the end of the class, the teacher had layered the students, in three groups, in order to sing the value of each note over four beats.  The students counted the beats on their hands and with their mouths.  They also were responsible for neatly writing exercises for practice in their exercise books.  I was impressed at how these youngest students (remember, students start in grade 1 in Zambia) had ALL internalized the routines for neat handwriting, writing headings, and being able to maintain their focus and attention throughout the whole class.

Written and vocal exercises for first grade music (letters denote singing groups, who all eventually sang simultaneously)

Written and vocal exercises for first grade music (letters denote singing groups, who all eventually sang simultaneously)

That’s not to say that the teacher did not have to reprimand students from time to time.  The class itself numbered 37 seven-year old girls, and kids will be kids.  Not to mention, they had a guest in their room, which typically throws students off a little bit.  However, I was excited to see that classroom control here is very similar to what we see in the US.  For example, he would say “Simon says stand up (girls stand); Simon says sit down (girls down) Simon says be quiet (girls would say “Shhhhhh” and maintain silence).

Before I left, I was able to listen to them sing a song led by their music teacher, and the students were so proud show their singing skills that they sang the song through twice.  They sang with such exuberance that I couldn’t help but smile.  It was so encouraging to see music so appreciated, valued, and loved.

I followed this class of first graders to their classroom, where I sat in on a phonics lesson.  Being a literacy specialist, I noted that their teacher used a blend of whole word phonics and analytical phonics in their lesson, which was entirely comprised of oral recitation and practice.

The lesson began with a review of the /ph/ sound, where the teacher had students orally answer her questions about this sound in unison.  Then they were to come up with words with /ph/.   The students began with “phone” and “phonics” but then proceeded to say “physics, physicist, telephone, elephant” and so on.  I was blown away with physicist, especially since I probably didn’t know the word until I was 12.  My jaw did drop, I’ll admit!

Then, they learned about the /kn/ sound.  What I loved about how students had learned their letter sounds was the fact that each letter had a poem or song memorized by the students that they sang when the teacher introduced the letter.  Paraphrasing, it went something like this (to the tune of “My Fair Lady”):

Kicking K sounds like /k/
sounds like /k/
sounds like /k/
Kicking K sounds like /k/
She belongs with Mr. K.

Mr. K is the letter and Kicking K is the sound.  I thought this was cute, and they had a similar song for /n/ as well.  It sort of gives the letter/sound relationship a personality that wouldn’t otherwise be there, giving learners of different styles a variety of mnemonics to latch onto if needed.

As I said, the lesson was done oral recitation style, and the students recited a list on the board of words that had /kn/ expressed within them.  This was done whole group, though eventually she allowed students to practice orally in small groups and individually at the board.  Students were encouraged after they had finished the list correctly with the whole class chanting and clapping in unison.

St. Mary's Queen of Peace School - a first grade class of almost 40 girls during a phonics lesson.

St. Mary’s Queen of Peace School – a first grade class of almost 40 girls during a phonics lesson.

I spoke to both the music teacher as well as the first grade classroom teacher to express my gratitude, and I just couldn’t be more thankful for their partnership.  They also appeared to be very grateful – I intend to see more of this school in the upcoming weeks.

Wow.  Enough said.  Go girls!

Wow. Enough said. Go girls!

Afterwards, I napped for a solid three hours!    Way to throw my internal clock out of whack, but I just needed it absolutely.  When I awoke, I made myself a most excellent peanut butter and jam sandwich with that bread I bought yesterday and just was over the moon with how great it tasted.

Tomorrow, we leave for Livingstone and Victoria Falls!  Oh my goodness, I am so floored for this part of the trip (though perhaps less enthused about the 8 hour bus ride it will take to get there).  I will probably not update electronically until Monday night or Tuesday morning!!   I will still write things down as I go, so that I can give a big update when I come back.  If you have been excited about the pictures thus far, wait ‘til you see those!!   I can’t wait!!

Also, an enormous men’s’ football team (and I do mean football, otherwise known as soccer in the US) just rolled into the Commonwealth where we are staying.  I hope I get to meet a few of them and see where they are from!   Maybe they are from the US, too!

So, I will be sad to leave my readers (our blog has gained quite a following, now!) for the weekend.  You have to understand how empowering it is to hear from all of you so regularly – you all encourage me to write more!   I am glad you don’t mind my lengthy entries.   Please stay tuned next week for pictures and tales from Livingstone and Victoria Falls!

Love, love, love,


p.s. – For all of you Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson fans out there (all three of you), I think my favorite PT album has changed to Stupid Dream.  I took the time to really just kick back and listen to it last night, and it is just phenomenal.  Not a bad track on the album.  That’s all for now!

6/12/13 School Days

Today, we were back at UNZA for the morning, where we learned a lot more about the education system in Zambia.  It is, like most other things in Zambia, somewhat similar but mostly much different than the US system of teaching.  As I mentioned yesterday, the Zambian education system is more akin to the British than the US, but similar to most places that have schools, teachers require a certain amount of training before they can officially be called a teacher.  Further, Zambian teachers, once placed in their school, must prove their worth in order to be kept on as a teacher; this usually happens after six months through a commendation letter from the head teacher or principal of the school.  The closest comparison is getting tenure after teaching full time, but tenure takes much longer to attain.

Teachers are also placed by the government into schools, which essentially means that within six months or so, every person in Zambia with the proper coursework, grades, and teaching experience will be placed in a school.  Now, that school could be anywhere in Zambia… including very rural schools far away from places like hospitals or commercial areas, which apparently is very tough on teachers here.

Oh, and in case we thought we had large class sizes, some classes in Zambian schools have upwards of 80 students per class.  Others are lower at around 45 children.  Naturally, it is not a pure comparison because our cultures appear to view education radically differently, but honestly, I couldn’t imagine teaching even 40 children using the methods that I use currently in my teaching with only one teacher in the classroom!  These teachers are something amazing.  I can’t wait to see them in action!

Afterwards, we were able to sit in on what is called a “tutorial” class at UNZA, filled with students enrolled in what US teachers would think of as a math and science methods course.  This was interesting, because apparently students have three parts of a class – lecture, tutorial, and practical.   Lecture is the standard notetaking, teacher explains-student listens, typical collegiate setting, where the students can number into the hundreds per class.  For more individualized instruction, tutorials are in place, which then lead to the practical experiences.  The tutorial class is more discussion-based, like a forum that is guided by the teacher but is almost led, in a way, by the students’ discussion.   Even we participated to a degree!  It felt good to be back in the classroom as a student, sharing ideas with these men and women teacher candidates from Zambia.

Observing and participating in a tutorial class for mathematics methods at the University of Zambia

Observing and participating in a tutorial class for mathematics methods at the University of Zambia

A quick break involving a snack of more cold pizza, as well as coating myself with sunscreen because the sun decided to make an appearance this afternoon, led to the afternoon, in which the graduate students (there are three of us in number: Jessica, Colisha, and myself), toured two more schools in the effort to make appointments to determine where and when we might do our action research projects.   If you have read my other blog (katarinainzambia.wordpress.com) you know that my research involves vocabulary instruction for English Learners.  Interestingly, many students know English conversationally by the time they come to school, but they instruct students in the local language in grade one for the majority of the day, teaching English during reading and English Language Arts!  By grade two, they use both languages, and by grade three and above, all instruction is in English.  This seems to be typical at all schools we visited.

Tomorrow, we plan to check out classrooms at a bunch of the schools starting bright and early at 8:30 PM (I will have to get up extra early to post this to stay on my blogging schedule!).  The schools we have visited up until this point are Libala, Jacaranda, Lusaka Girls, Roma, St. Mary’s (the latter three being all-girls academies and the latter two being Catholic-based).   I look forward to going back to the schools tomorrow while they are in session!

Entrance Sign for Roma Girls School, Lusaka.

Entrance Sign for Roma Girls School, Lusaka.

Afterwards, Dr. Shandomo, Mayaba (our wonderful driver), and the grad students went to a supermarket near one of the schools.  I stocked up on food, as the prices were much better here than at the other supermarket in the heart of the city – I got oranges, jam, a fresh and hot loaf of bread (OH it is so good!!!), mango juice, and a pack of oreos (just because I don’t even remember the last time I munched on oreos… yum).  I plan to have a tasty peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich tomorrow for lunch with some mango juice…I can’t wait!

Captured while driving through Lusaka

Captured while driving through Lusaka

Dinner was phenomenal.  It was worth every ngwee!  It was tasty rice, seasoned potatoes, cooked cabbage, and chicken – just the home-cooked, comfort-food meal I was looking for.

However, I was feeling a little homesick today, and I was really happy to talk to my mom and Dan.  I also plan to call my dad shortly, but I need to charge my tablet before doing so (hence the reason I am writing this!).   Tomorrow and Friday are going to be tough, especially because these are the evenings in which my family spends the most time together.  I miss all of you so much.

Have a beautiful day, my friends!


p.s. – You might have already picked up on this, but from now on, I will try to upload my three favorite pictures every day that I post.  Enjoy!

6/11/13 – What a difference a day makes…

After my “off” day yesterday, I woke up tentatively after a solid, Nyquil-induced night’s sleep, worried that my stomach would still be throwing me out of whack.  However, after a breakfast of tea and peanut butter toast (and a much-needed dose of B-12, care of Jessica – thank you!!), I felt like a champ.  I was a bit nervous because we were finally getting to the schools today, and I had no idea what to expect.

Man, was I blown away.  First, when arriving on the school campus, I immediately noticed that it is completely unlike any other school I have been in – think one room schoolhouses, but a bunch of them for each designated class, fully furnished with desks, chairs, chalkboards, and many, many students (more on that in a bit).  The school does have electricity and some teachers do have computers.

However, there are some similarities between this school and school as many United States readers of my blog may know it – or perhaps school as British students may know it, as the curriculum and school structure in Zambia seems to be largely borrowed from Britain, including the general favoring of instruction in British English over American English.   First, students are clad in uniforms usually bearing their school name or donning their school designated colors.  Second, both older and younger students appear to be taught through lecture-style lessons as well as oral recitations, which are also prevalent in US schools today in some form or another.

The hierarchy of school leadership seems to be as follows (at least in one of the schools):

  • Principal
  • Deputy Head Teacher (something of this sort)
  • Senior Teachers
  • Teachers
  • Prefects (at least, this was the case at the all-girls school)
  • Pupils

I saw a great picture of this hierarchy posted at Lusaka Girls, and I wanted to take a picture of it but did not have time.  I was very fascinated how this diagram outlined the flow of communication and leadership.  I look forward to learning more about how teachers in school become senior or head teachers, and how long it takes to move up through the ranks, so to speak.

Zambian flag flying high in the breeze at Libala Basic School

Zambian flag flying high in the breeze at Libala Basic School

Oh, and the students were just phenomenal!  They were incredibly respectful, standing up and greeting us with a unison “Good morning, teachers!”  And just hearing them say that made me realize, “Ok – now I feel at home here.”  I don’t think I really understood how much I missed interacting with children (as I had done on a regular basis prior to coming here at Maryvale).   It felt so wonderful to see so many smiling faces while working at school.

After having a very compelling meeting with the faculty, who were wonderful and so happy to have us as colleagues and collaborators at their school, we were able to roam the campus for a bit.  We saw children playing, hanging out together, and having fun at school.   we asked students if they would let us take a picture with them (to be used for collegiate purposes only, so I can’t post those on here, FYI) and they were just so excited.  And, like in true kid fashion, once a couple students came to take photos with us, they slowly began to trickle towards us, until there was a massive group of 40 or 50 students all around us, posing and smiling beautifully as we snapped pictures and let them know how happy we were to work with them at their school!  Every student we waved at waved back, many of them giving a broad smile at us.  Some of the older students went out of their way to welcome us warmly (as complete strangers) to their school.

Our crew with our esteemed partners at Libala Basic School!

Our crew with our esteemed partners at Libala Basic School!

Every school that we went to was similar, and though each school was laid out differently, the students generally appeared to have a demeanor that spoke of genuine pride and respect for their education and school.

And to think… this was the first day?!?!  I can’t wait learn more at this school.

Then, a handful of us went to the mall and enjoyed our lunch – I had a burger and fries with this exemplary tomato-type sauce that was also peppery (instead of ketchup).  It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever tasted on a burger.  I also went to a very well-put together shop at the mall that sold some really fancy carvings of animals – I want to get a hippo carving immediately, but I am saving my money for other things… but you’ll find out about those once it is purchased. J

Then, I caught up with my immediate family and Dan using Skype – and it was awesome seeing my Dad using Skype!!  I didn’t think I would ever be video chatting with my father on Skype, but then again, if you would have asked me years ago if I would be doing field research in Zambia, I probably would have laughed out loud.  Talking to Dan was like breathing a sigh of relief.  I didn’t realize how much I would miss his voice and face and his laugh – thank you, modern technology.    Every time I see a drum, I think of him (and we are in Africa, where drumming traditions are strong).  Perhaps Dan should come learn even more about African drumming and then instruct music here in Zambia!

I feel like every day is a small transformation, and I’m not trying to be all deep and philosophical when I say that.  I feel different.  I have had my tolerance tested daily, and my reserve of patience is growing.  These are good things, especially considering that the world seems to be so impatient and moving at the speed of light (myself incredibly included).  However, now, I am taking the time to really soak this all up, and it feels like I am doing the right thing.

I love hanging out with the girls, and I really enjoy how we have been opening up to each other little by little.  Believe me when I say that traveling with 16 other women is very intimidating, even as a woman myself – that is a LOT of estrogen in one singular place at a given time!  Still, I feel that we take care of each other and look out for each other’s safety and health on a constant basis.  When I was sick, the outpouring of kindness and help that flowed forth was inspiring.

Captured at Libala Basic School

Captured at Libala Basic School

However, when I turn in for the night, this is when I can finally stretch out under my mosquito net (canopy style over my bed) in utter solitude and think, write, read, or listen to albums in the ways I wish I could at home, if only I could permit myself to do so in this busy life.  Sometimes, I just sit down and do a puzzle and listen to the crickets and wild dogs outside, and I just think to myself that this is peace, absolutely.  The disconnect from technology (no Internet in the rooms) is exceptionally liberating.

As I have been writing this, I have been enjoying one of my favorite foods that I never thought I’d be eating in Africa – leftover cold pizza (somewhere in New York State, Dan’s jaw is dropping at the thought of this, because he loves pizza more than any other food).  And let me tell you, this cold pizza is quite tasty after a jam-packed day.  Before I sat down to write, I did my first handwashed load of laundry… and it was just about as tough as one would think!  I am very grateful for washing machines and dryers at this point, but I can’t help but feel a sense of pride as I see my clothes drying on hangers all over my room, and bathroom.  Yes, I can do this without all the creature comforts of home!

I know this entry was long (we’ve past the three page mark even before I put in pictures!), but so much happened today worth noting that it simply could not be helped!  I am going to go take a walk and see how the others are doing before heading to bed.

Until tomorrow, dear readers!


p.s. – I need to thank each and every one of you reading our blogs and supporting us!  We are always so grateful for your encouragement in the form of comments and hits on our blogs

6/10/13 – UNZA

Today, we met with some very important people from the University of Zambia, or UNZA for short.  Though I had a sour stomach, I immediately felt more at home when I stepped into the School of Education building – there is something about being on a school campus for the first time that just gives me a sense of comfort.   As nerdy as it sounds, I really love school, I just can’t help it!

We were greeted very warmly by the Head of Math and Sciences and were also granted a visit from the Dean of the School of Education, as well as the Assistants to the Dean and other department chairs.  These people have been so generous to us and have even offered to try to secure us transport as we do our research around the schools in Lusaka.  They answered our numerous questions and seemed to be quite interested in our work!  I feel like we are making a very valuable connection with our new friends at UNZA.  I look forward to meeting with some of the graduate and post-graduate professors on Wednesday.

However, my sour stomach took me out of the game for a solid four to six hours or so, unfortunately.   With rest and pepto, though, I managed to feel relatively normal by the early evening.  I went outside and hung out with some of the girls for a bit and met some really interesting people.  The cool thing about the others staying at the Commonwealth Youth Center is that we are all students in some capacity, here to do our own studious thing.

The best part about today was finally touching base with my family for more than 3 minutes.  I finally got to all of the kind wishes and emails I have received from friends, as well as the messages from Dan that made me tear up because it really hit me today how much I miss being near to him every day.  I was also able to talk to my sister on Facebook and my dad on the phone, which was also amazing because I am so used to talking with them more often. And, of course, I had to touch base with my mom, and I hope she got my message.  When I was sick this morning, all I wanted was my mom – even at 25 and studying abroad in Africa, this sentiment still seems to be there solidly.

Now it is 8:21 AM Lusaka time (about twenty past two NY time), writing this, I plan on having some peanut butter and crackers so I can take my malaria meds as well as NyQuil for my cold and hunker down with Dan Brown’s latest book, Inferno.  It is an exciting read so far – I am learning a lot about Dante Alighieri, most of which is probably true to some extent.  I love reading Dan Brown, despite his cookie-cutter style of writing, because I end up learning a lot about history in the process.  Reading and writing here helps bridge this new and foreign world with the reality that I appreciate when I am at home.  It helps keeps me grounded and level-headed while I am here.

Tomorrow, we tour the schools.  I will tell you all about it!  I will leave you with a photograph of myself in the Persian Gulf, something I never would have thought that I would do in a million years.

Never thought I'd make it to the Middle East in this lifetime, but here I am!!

Never thought I’d make it to the Middle East in this lifetime, but here I am!!

With so much love,


6/9/13 – New Home

As I sit here in my little improvised office space in my dorm room here on the University of Zambia (UNZA) campus, listening to a very young Steven Wilson sing all over Porcupine Tree’s first album “On the Sunday of Life,” I can’t help but feel like my everyday life has merged with the one that I’ve concocted for myself over the past 8 months.  Preparing for the next 20 days has consumed my attention and time for so long, and it is finally here.

I’ve traveled for about 48 hours before getting to our final destination, wearing the same pants for that entire time.  In those hours, I:

  • Missed our connecting flight
  • Got put up in a hotel in Dubai for free with all meals included
  • Watched an Arabic TV show called “Friends with Benefits”
  • Washed my undergarments with bar soap in a bathroom sink – TWICE (remember, our luggage was not with us!)
  • Dipped my feet in the Persian/Arabian Gulf
  • Toured Dubai and shopped in a marketplace
  • Met traveling musicians on a plane… AND later that night in a Lusaka Restaurant named Rhapsody.  Coincidence?  I think not!
  • Watched the following movies: Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Cool Runnings, and Oz the Great and Powerful, and the Hobbit.  Admittedly, I slept through about half of Lincoln and the Hobbit.
  • Ate lamb on an airplane.
  • Gotten asked for my phone number twice by dudes – once in Dubai, once in Zambia, straight off the plane – lucky for me, I don’t have a functional phone number to give J
  • Exchanged a ton of money into Zambian kwacha (said precisely how it is spelled) and enjoyed a lot of wonderful things with my new friends

Once you’ve spent 48 hours with the same people, you can’t help but rely on one another like a little makeshift family.  It is amazing to see us encouraging one another and helping each other out in whatever way we can.  So many things are out of our control.  For a control freak like me, this is quite an experience.  Learning to let go of control… or just simply let go and ride it out.  I’ve been trying my best to keep a cool head.  Keep calm and carry on would be an appropriate cliché here.

My fear of flying appeared to be kept in check.  The flights were bumpy sometimes, but I didn’t panic or anything.  In fact, I feel very confident traveling by plane, at this point.

I find Zambia to be a beautiful country.  The air isn’t thick with humidity like in Dubai, but the sun was still very hot in the sky as it beat down on us mid-afternoon, apparently closer to us than it would be in New York.  And the night is quite peaceful – I can hear the frogs and bugs making their noises, which is surprisingly soothing – definitely reminiscent of camping with my family out near Springville at Arrowhead when we’d go in the tent.  I am looking forward to visiting in the schools and shopping in the marketplaces.  I can’t wait to go to Livingstone… it is there that I will make the most important purchase of all.  But that is a secret, of course, until that particular purchase is made…

Now, as it is 12:49 AM, it has technically become June 10th.  My only voice communications with family have been with my Dad and Dan, because I have only had 2 phone calls, each lasting about 1 to 2 minutes due to a timed connection.  I hope to call my Mom and Sister tomorrow, if possible.  Hopefully Skype will be available.

I was not homesick until I heard my father on the phone while I was in Dubai, and then when I heard Dan just an hour ago as I called from my dorm here on the UNZA campus.  Now, as I recollect about the past days, I can’t help but feel emotional – it’s not because I want to go home, it is just because I wish you all could be here with me, experiencing this amazing place.

The best way to communicate with us is over the Internet and Skype, though our connection is very limited and unstable.  Comment on our blogs to drop us a line or send your love.  We want to hear it.  Need to, really.  We are very far from home, and though our experience has been incredible thus far, it is good to touch base with family and friends as much as we can.

Until next time,


p.s. – Please don’t forget to keep reading to see what I’ve posted on 6/8!  It’s all about Dubai :)

6/8 – Surprise!  Overnight in Dubai!

My computer is running low on battery life, and my adapter is in my luggage, so I will make this super-quick.  It is about 10:40 PM Dubai time (2:40 PM NY time)

Missing our flight to Lusaka turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we ended up being put up in Dubai for a night with three free hot meals.  We took a four-hour tour on a bus all around this city (boasting about a billion 5-star hotels)!

Dubai is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  The architecture is modern and lovely – a cosmopolitan place that is clearly just rich beyond belief.  By far, one of the coolest parts of Dubai is the Palm Island – an island constructed by man in the shape of a palm with a crescent overarching (this city is overrun with crescents, by the way; there are crescents inlaid into buildings everywhere!).  The buildings are crazy different, as though the world’s top architects came to this city and competed to make the most uniquely awesome building.

On our tour, we stopped at the beach of the Persian Gulf and yes, we all dipped our feet in (Julia – I found some neat stones for you on the beach!).  The water was warm, clear, and beautiful.

We saw the old part of Dubai, which is now largely an enormous marketplace (family, there will be surprise souvenirs from Dubai!) and it was fun to interact with the marketplace vendors.

The meals were one of my favorite parts – curried EVERYTHING!  Considering how much I love this style food, I was excited beyond belief as I piled my plate with rice and chicken tikka and samosas.  Yum.

There will be many beautiful pictures to come.    Currently, I am watching TV in Arabic and getting ready for bed after an exhausting but amazing day.

Til Lusaka,


6/6/13 – Hours to go…

It’s 9:27 PM, and in about 9 hours, I will be at the airport, getting together with our group and saying goodbye to my family.  Then onwards to adventure!

I still have to cram more music onto my iPod and make sure I have plenty to read and do on the plane (I bought a puzzle book to keep  my mind from wandering while we are in the clouds).  I started my malaria meds and (knock on wood) they only made me super tired… considering that puking was the first side effect, I feel like I’m in the clear.

ALL of the school supplies that I collected have been dispersed to the other girls that were able to take them – thank you Heather, Jacquie, and Jessica!!  And of course, a big thank you to everyone who generously supplied them (if you see my other blog www.katarinainzambia.wordpress.com, there is a great picture of about half of the supplies as well as a list of people that donated – I would need to add to that list my mom (Peggy Silvestri) and her neighbor, my aunt Cheryl Maitland, Katie Brady, and Paula Klocek.

I am brimming with energy – sometimes I let it hit me and my heart almost hurts in my chest I get so excited about tomorrow morning.  I don’t know how I will sleep.  Before every road trip or  plane trip taken with my family, my sister and I would stay up super late, unable to sleep due to the excitement that lay ahead of us.  I have a feeling tonight will be like that.  Times 100,000.  It’s like, I’m 25, but all of this is so new and foreign to me, I feel like I am seven all over again getting ready to board a plane for the very first time, traveling somewhere so far away from my comfortable home.

So, it’s all about last minute prep, now.  I plan to go home and run through my luggage once more, ensure that I have all of my legal identification in place, and double check that I have registered with the US Embassy in Zambia properly.

The next time I update this, I will be on a different continent.  See you all on the flip side – quite literally, if you think about it. :)


5/27/13 – New blog; first entry

[For readers of my previous blog: You have been directed to this page from my other Zambia blog www.katarinainzambia.wordpress.com; I have elected to switch blogs for the time being because this blog directly ties to the Buffalo State professional development schools (PDS) program. This way, you can not only see the perspective of one student studying abroad, but you can hop from page to page and explore how we experience this life-changing opportunity.]

For new readers, my name is Katarina, but I typically go by Katie (you wouldn’t believe how many times my name is misspelled or mispronounced… they even did it at Commencement last Saturday!). I am a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo State pursuing a degree to become a Literacy Specialist. I am a teacher, currently substituting daily, although I have worked a number of long-term positions in Cheektowaga schools as well.  I am also a medical transcriptionist.

I remember when I went to the study abroad meeting last October. When I was at Fredonia, I had multiple opportunities to study abroad, but I was afraid to spend so much money. However, I figured this time around, it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. There were a bunch of us packed into a room to the point where there had been people standing at the front because there were no seats left. I only saw one other girl from my program there. Feeling slightly discouraged, though not entirely, I felt a little uneasy, thinking that I would be going abroad with no one else from my program to talk to or to bounce ideas off of in terms of research, if I did choose to study abroad.  Would I feel lonely?

Then I saw the pictures of Victoria Falls and immediately decided that this was a small (and ultimately insignificant – you’ll see why in a bit) price to pay for such an amazing hands-on education like no other.  Instantaneously, I was struck with the thought of “Okay – I need to do research in Africa.”  It was a true moment of clarity, and then the events that unfolded throughout the next months happened so quickly that I can’t even believe I am sitting here, 11 days from our departure, writing about those early days.  October wasn’t really that long ago.

Eight months goes by fast when you are bogged down with everything from scholarship and grant writing, writing check after check, signing legal document after legal document, attending interviews, going to meetings, designing a research project, getting IRB approval for that research, actually doing some data collection on that research, doing presentations on said research, scheduling many medical appointments to prep for the trip, and enacting a donation drive for school supplies (largely successful) – and then taking a full load of graduate classes while working two part-time jobs.  Nearly at the finish line, with the semester over, I look back and allow myself one moment of pride, thinking, Wow, did I really accomplish this much?

But only for a moment, because there is always more to do and learn.

What am I looking forward to the most?  Obviously, I can’t wait to meet the children and teachers – I have loved school since I was four years old and wanted to be a teacher since I first set foot in Kindergarten as a student.   Working with students of any age is a welcome challenge more fulfilling than anything I have experienced in this lifetime thus far.   I look forward to conducting my research, observing and talking with teachers about their instruction methods for teaching vocabulary to young English Learners.  Being an enormous nerd, I can’t help but get excited about being able to compare two different cultures that have such a similar population of students (young English Learners) and delve into the reasons why the similarities and differences may exist.  I also want to observe music classes in the schools, as music is another love of mine, one that is so unfortunately devalued in our schools and society.  I also hope to bring back an instrument or two, if I can manage it.

Also, a REAL African lion safari is in our future!  When I talked to my dad about it, I had been worrying about the financial strain that the safari would cause.  His words: “You better go on that safari!”  What animal do I hope to see the most?  A hippo!  But as a lover of animals, I can’t wait to see them all.

A Lewiston/Niagara Falls native, I am excited for the prospect of seeing Victoria Falls in all of its glory.  How cool is it that so many of us will be able to make an actual visual comparison between the two most famous waterfalls in the entire world!?

What am I worried about the most?  At first, the vaccinations – I have a horribly irrational fear of needles.   I ended up needing four shots – luckily I could take the typhoid vaccine orally, bringing it down to three.  Man, though, that Hep A shot flat out hurt in a very strange way that made me want to throw up.  Luckily, Dan (boyfriend) let me squeeze his hand to death, and the doctor giving the vaccines was understanding and put me as at ease as possible.

Now, that fear shifts towards air travel.  The ride is lengthy, and I haven’t been on a plane since I was twelve years old, pre-9/11.    Thirteen years later, I am nervous about going up into the air, and for over half a day for one leg of the trip!  However, I am armed with Dramamine, music, and a lot of very good books.  I think I will be okay.  Despite having somewhat of a fear of planes, I can safely admit that I love airports.  They are such neat places – people coming and going with infinite destinations, intentions, and lives, all existing together for moments in one area.  Also, a lot of them are some of the most modern places on Earth – and technology is pretty cool.

At one point, I was worried that I would feel alone, not traveling with anyone from my degree program.  However, it is quite clear that we are becoming fast friends as our departure comes closer.  We are going to have a blast, helping each other through any tough times and enjoying all of the great experiences we are about to embark upon!

I look forward to sharing this experience with all who choose to follow our blog – please stay tuned for future updates.  Our departure date is June 7, so expect things to pick up in the next couple weeks!

‘Til then,


40 thoughts on “Katie’s Blog

  1. Katie — Congratulations. I wish I could go! I’ve always wanted to do exactly what you are doing. Take all advantages.

  2. Dear Katie, I enjoyed your blog very much and can’t wait to read more about your experiences and research. We’re so proud of you in Elementary Education & Reading Department and in the PDS Consortium. All my best for a wonderful 21 days.

    Safe travels,

    Dr. del Prado

  3. Hi Katie,

    I loved reading about your adventure to Lusaka. I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip. Have fun and say hi to Dr. Weber for me :-)

    Dr. Garas-York

  4. My Katie! It still hasn’t sunk in 100% that you are where you are. Just the flying alone is huge for you. My prayer is for a safe return. In the meantime, my prayer is that you don’t get sick and can take in as much as possible. Pics, pics, and more pics!!! I love you, my pookie! : )

    • Valerie,

      I am so glad and grateful that you and others at SUNY ITEC have supported my study abroad experience and followed my blog all this time. I remember the day that I stood in your office after you gave me the scholarship, and I cried because I was overwhelmed by the generosity that your organization showed to me.

      That day, something in me changed – I felt empowered and encouraged to dare to believe in a dream that had the potential to be bigger than myself, bigger than I ever thought myself capable of. Thank you for giving me the encouragement and support to dream big!!


  5. Fabulous record of your experiences. I love the photos! It sounds like you are learning so much and I loved reading about the connections to other parts of the world that you are making. Keep up the great work!

    Mrs. Day

  6. I love your blog. You are an extraordinary writer. It’s great to learn all about Zambia through your words. I’m glad you are feeling better and taking time to just savor everything!

  7. What a great picture of you in the Persian Gulf! I love reading your blog. You are so expressive and eloquent – I feel like I’m there with you. So proud of you!

  8. It was interesting to read about the schools (teacher prep and for children). Sounds like you are doing well. Best wishes collecting your data!

  9. Oh my goodness, Katie. It sounds like you are doing so well there. I love the pictures and your descriptions. Thank you for including me in your blog.

    • Kathie!! Thank you so much for your comments on this blog throughout the trip! It was so amazing to hear from you, and it brought back many memories of our time together in your third grade class. It is hard to believe that it happened three years ago! Knowing you followed me through Zambia really put a smile on my face. Thank you!
      -Katie Silvestri

  10. Dear Katie, We love to hear all your “news” ! With every sentence, you sound so happy and excited. We miss your smiling face.

    • Noreen (and everyone at MV Primary, of course!),
      I am very, very glad that you were able to access and follow the blog while I was away! And oh my goodness, did I miss working at the Primary building… there were times that I would meet kids and teachers that would remind me of certain teachers or students, and it brought a lot of joy to my day just remembering you all. Thank you for following me through my Zambian travels, and I do have a postcard! I was just assured by some locals that a postcard may not necessarily get home, were I to send it. So I will deliver it in person!
      Thank you again!
      -Katie Silvestri

  11. your trip to Victoria Falls, etc. sounds incredible. I love reading your blog and the pictures are fantastic. Love the baboons! Keep enjoying your wonderful experience. (we miss you too!)

  12. It was so nice to talk to you the other day, my Katie. You are a trooper and I couldn’t be more proud. You’re writing skills are impeccable and make me feel like I’m right there with you. Can’t wait til the next post! I love you!! : )

    • Mommy,
      I really have you to thank (at least in part… a very big part!!) for my vocabulary being what it is… all of that middle school spelling bee prep during breakfasts before school and learning the origins of words really paid off! I am glad that you instilled in me a fascination and love of words, because that has gotten me where I am today as a writer and (almost) literacy specialist. Thank you for everything, and especially for following me while I was in Zambia. I love you!!

  13. Your latest entries were so great! I love the photos. It was wonderful to hear from you today. I’m so glad that your research is going well and you are having such amazing adventures. Take care!

    • Hi Dr. del Prado-Hill,
      Thank you so much for following our Zambian adventures! It felt very good to know that our professors and friends at Buffalo State were actively reading our blogs! This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
      -Katie Silvestri

  14. hope all goes smoothly with your data collection – can’t wait to hear your results and your comparisons of what you saw in NF. keep enjoying your unique experiences! also, a very polite baboon called me the other day and apologized for the bad behavior of certain baboons (who will remain nameless…they know who they are). enjoy the African Lion Safari!

  15. from all the hugs and kisses you are receiving, it sounds like the children really love you!! Glad to hear you are so comfortable in the classroom!

    • Mrs Day,
      Thank you so much for your ongoing comments on my blog while we were in Zambia! They were a pleasure to read and a source of encouragement during tough times. It fills me with happiness that you’ve kept up with our blogs throughout our adventures. Thank you!
      -Katie Silvestri

  16. Thank you so much for the blog and the updates about your wonderful experinces in Zambia! The pictures really do speak 1,000 words and highlight your experiences even more for us back here in the States. I know you are soaking in every moment you have in Zambia and we are so proud of you here for taking the time in your life to further your career as a life-long-learner and for making a difference!

    -Brittany Fehskens-
    EER Graduate Assistant

    • Brittany,
      It means so much to me that you’ve taken the time out of what I am sure is a very busy day as a graduate assistant to follow our blogs and leave such thoughtful comments. Yours was especially inspiring :) Thank you so much!, and good luck to you!!
      From one grad student to another,
      Katie Silvestri

  17. The safari pictures are amazing! This is truly an awesome once in a lifetime experience! Can’t wait to hear the details and see more pictures.

    • Aunt Loretta,

      Like I posted on Linda’s comment below, all of the stories that Linda, Dad, and you have told me about your adventures in Europe have encouraged me to have that same sense of adventure! Going to Africa absolutely was worth the stress that it did cause when preparing for it.

      I am eternally thankful that you and Uncle Phil extended your brand new house to me as a quiet and comfortable place to study (and eat, haha). Also, the fact that you helped so much with this trip in terms of cost is so wonderful – when I become an Aunt someday, I hope to do the same for my nieces or nephews! You have this spirit of generosity and desire to make people feel comfortable and at home that really inspires me to do the same! Thank you.


  18. It sounds like you were very successful as far as your data collection. I’m so glad you achieved a wonderful balance between your school work and simply enjoying your trip. I look forward to reading your project!!!!

    • Dr. Garas-York,

      Even though I am writing this after the trip has ended (and has been over for awhile), I just want to say that I was so floored that you were following my blog while I was away. It means a lot to me; you know I look up to you a lot as a mentor and professor, and so knowing that you were interested in what I was doing while I was here really made me happy!

      I appreciate all of the help and advice that you’ve imparted to me throughout the literacy specialist program, and I can’t believe it is almost over! It seems like we just started (and in reality, it was in 2012 that I started the program, so I suppose it wasn’t too long ago). Your support throughout this trip and in general has helped me believe in myself more than I ever have before! You definitely helped mold me into the teacher and researcher that I am today and will become in the future. Thank you!

  19. hi katie, your whirlwind 3 weeks have been jam-packed with the work you needed to do, the fun you needed to have, and the cultural immersion. what a great experience – love reading your blog and hearing about all your wonderful experiences. looking forward to seeing you!

    • Aunt Linda,

      Between all of the stories that I have heard from you and others in our family about traveling and the educational benefits that traveling has, it was only a matter of time that I would, like you, study abroad. The way that our family has traveled has served as an inspiration for me for as long as I can remember, but through your support, I was finally able to overcome so many fears held me back until this point. Not to mention, when I saw you at UB graduating with your Ph.D as well as the subsequent dinner, I knew that I wanted to do the same someday. You’ve been an inspiration for as long as my memory goes back.

      You have always been there for me, and I can’t thank you enough for that. And this trip, in particular, was very much easier to “get off the ground” with your help. You let me borrow your luggage set, helped me financially, and gave me emotional and mental support when I was under the extraordinary stress of the semester (and, of course, life). I am glad that we help each other. I am grateful beyond belief that we are family!

      Thank you for infecting me with the travel bug, and being there for me! :)


      • I’m so happy that all went well – and that i could be part of that for you. you are always in my heart. i’m here for you always. looking forward to future voyages – maybe together some time. love you.

  20. Katie – we have read every blog entry, and enjoyed your tales from Africa. There’s no doubt that it has been a great experience for you. We are looking forward to seeing you soon!

    Mike and Sue Caruso

    • Mike and Sue (aka my second parents),

      I am so grateful that you have read through every blog entry and viewed every picture (one of them may be gracing your living room or kitchen in the not-too-distant future!). You have always been a source of encouragement, support (in SO many ways), positivity, and, of course, love! We also share a sense of adventure, exploration, and curiosity, and I am glad that you passed that down to Dan, as well. We definitely are embarking on a lot of new journeys together, what with buying a house and (sometime soon) expanding our family to include…. a puppy!!

      We are looking forward to your visit this coming Saturday! It is always fun to see you and hear about what you’ve been up to!

      Love you so much, and miss you!

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