Our thoughts and messages to our friends and family while we are away serving in Africa. *This site contains our own views and does not reflect those of the U.S. Government or Peace Corps.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's been awhile

Hi everyone.  I don't know if our friends and family even check this anymore.  I'm sorry we haven't kept up with it since returning over a year ago.  However I've realized that other potential Peace Corps Volunteers have come across our blog and I wanted to put a post up for them.

If you are planning on joining the Peace Corps, going to Zambia, or just looking into the whole overseas thing, you are more than welcome to contact us via e-mail (hkcastle@hotmail.com or stephencastle@hotmail.com).  We'd be happy to help you in any way.  

Well that's all.  If any of our friends/family are still checking this site and would like for me to put up some Zambia pictures then shoot me an e-mail and I'll actually do it this time.  :)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Goodbye Kang'ombe

We’ve come to the end. We left our village for good on Tuesday and in a little over a week we will be leaving Zambia. It feels strange, sad, surreal, exciting… The weirdest part was that moment when everything’s packed up, you’ve taken the last picture, and now all that’s left is to say goodbye and get in the truck. And although you feel like you should say something profound, encouraging, or even reassuring…all that you can say is “bye”. But that’s okay because you’ve already said everything else and leaving really does feel right.

We had a wonderful last 50 days in the village. 50 days straight in the village and we didn’t go insane…which is rare. But the whole time was very blessed and we felt really content. Our church threw a Farewell party for us on Sunday, Feb. 24 and it was a “good bye-bye”. They really went all out and made it a huge event, especially for the village. They organized and funded it all on their own, which when you live here you know it means a lot. There were around 300 people that attended and they made enough food for everyone. They bought 30 kg of rice (buying rice is a huge deal), made two giant tubs of beans, killed 8 chickens (which we claim as our final revenge on the stupid birds), and even made cake. They worked all the previous day and night just preparing all the food. Not only did they make a ton of food, but they decked out the church in white sheets, colorful wraps, lacey doilies, and even hung up a banner that read “May God Bless U the Castles”. He certainly has.

The day itself was a mixture of overwhelming blessing, odd speeches, hilarious moments, dancing, singing, and just all-around good fun. We soon found out that Farewell parties are run pretty much like weddings. First of all, the week before the event the “matron” taught us various dance steps so that we could dance to the front of the church which is where we were stationed for the event. Then they also had a young girl in a horrible wig dance up a knife (yes quite dangerous indeed) so that we could cut the cake and feed it to each other. They even made us matching outfits and had me carry flowers down the aisle. All of this was quite strange but very fun.
However by far the best part of the day was when Stephen did a song and dance number with our Zambian father. He brought the house down!! People were laughing and cheering like crazy. Then we all started singing and dancing together in the middle of the church. It was great!! It got even better for Stephen (and me who was watching) when our friend MR Konongela decided to give him a big bear hug and keep dancing at the same time. Let’s just say it was a very awkward cultural moment…and we got it all on video tape. J

They also gave some people an opportunity to speak a bit about us and also a chance for us to say a few things. The most touching moment though was when one of our friends gave a little message to the congregation. He talked about Jesus Christ being the foundation of your life and how everything you do springs from His Spirit within you. Good works are nice but are meaningless if they don’t come from the Holy Spirit in you. He then tied us in as examples of seeing Christ reflected in people. Then he talked, not about the physical things we had done, but about the people we were and the way we had loved the community. At the end he had us stand as the congregation sang “God will take care of you” to us. We felt so blessed and were moved to tears as we realized the Grace, Providence, and Goodness of God. I don’t really know how to explain what we felt….we were just overwhelmed by His love and in awe of the way He uses His children to bring Glory to His Name. It reminded me of Gal. 5:6 which says the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. We really felt as though the things we prayed and asked God to do through us had been accomplished and it was very humbling.

So after two years in Zambia we are positive that God brought us here and it was His will that we live in Kang’ombe. We have seen new aspects of God and learned so much more about His character. He has led us, taught us, and challenged us. He has given us wonderful friendships and shown us the church as His Body. We will always cherish our two years here and remember it as an instrumental time in our lives. Because of Zambia we have learned so many valuable lessons.
We really should be quick to listen and slow to speak
In our own strength we can do nothing
We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously
35 people really can fit into a 18 passenger vehicle
You’re never too young or old to poop your pants.
The ways God wants to use you may be different from what you’ve expected
Man looks at the outside and un-eternal but God cares about the heart.
We can’t change people, we can only do what we’re called to do. The real change
comes from God.
True poverty isn’t necessarily a reflection of the amount of money one has.
There is a big difference between luxuries and true needs.
Chickens and goats can be better bus companions than the smelly drunk guy.

It’s hard to believe we’re flying out in just over 1 week. We really do appreciate all of your support and prayers these past two years. We believe they’ve been answered. Don’t remember if we wrote this last time but we arrive in Detroit the evening of April 3rd. Our home base will be Stephen’s parents house so feel free to call there and we can set up to get together. The number there is 810-648-4844.

See you soon!

Heather and Steve

P.S. We will try to put photos on here once we get back to the states so if you're interested check them out.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Our last month

February is finally here meaning that we have only month left in th village. The time is really flying by. Our neighbors have been really sweet to us lately as they've realized how little time we have together. People have been inviting us to eat with them and even trying to give us gifts. A few weeks ago one of our closest friends, an older man who has been like our father here, came over to chat with us. When we told him how much time we had left he seemed quite distraught. He said, " when you go I can cry too much because I love you and you love me." Then he perked up and said that he wanted to give us a gift to take to our parents in America. He said, " I will give you a chicken to take back with you." We unfortunately had to inform him that you can not take live chickens on an airplane. Undaunted however and figuring that an airplane is just a Zambian minibus with wings, he informed us that we could "just put the chicken under the seat." Guess we never thought of that...who knows, maybe he is right. We'll check the regulations for North West Airlines. :)

We've really been enjoying these last few weeks just relaxing in the village. We've been making the most of our laid back schedule; finishing all the books we've wanted to read, getting up when we feel like it, not doing anything we don't have to, and just taking it easy. We realize that we probably won't have an opportunity to live like this again. It'll definately be a shocker getting back into the work schedule in America. But for now we've just been living life, reflecting on all our experiences and lessons learned here while also looking ahead to our next chapter in life.

For those of you who have written us snail mail, we just want to remind you that this week should be the last to send us anything. After this week there's a good chance we will be gone before the letters arrive.

Please keep us in your prayers these last few weeks as we wrap things up. Also if you could be praying for the job situation as we head back to the States, we'd appreciate it. Thanks!

The Castles

P.S. Beth Faber, thanks a lot for the information you put on the blog. We will definately follow up on it. If you get a chance could you drop an e-mail to me at stephencastle@hotmail.com or leave me your e-mail address here on the blog. Thanks!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Happy New Year!!

We hope that your holiday season was wonderful! Heather and I had our Christmas and New Year in our village and it was actually a lot of fun. We ate with some families that we are very close to and went to a church service (however we opted out of the 8pm- midnight Christmas Eve service). We made cakes and cookies and even bought a goat for the festivities. I think I was a little late in hunting for a goat (as it was Christmas Eve) so after a lengthy search traipsing through the bush and asking at numerous villages, finally we found our Christmas beast. He was a mangy little guy that may have had a slight case of emphysema. We figured though that as long as we didn’t eat the lungs we’d be okay.

Now we are heading into Lusaka for our last Peace Corps meeting. This will be a fun week with the entire group that came to Zambia with us in January of 2006. We will even get spoiled a bit for this one; nice accommodation, safaris, horse back riding, and a “cheese cave”!! Going to this close of service conference definitely brings to home how little time we have left. And although we are mentally starting to check out and begin to think about life’s next chapter, we have seen that we must fully engage here until the end. We’ve come to a point where the relationships we’ve worked to establish over the past two years can be utilized to bring about change. It’s funny how when you’re first here, you’re so motivated to bring reform and improvement but that’s when you have no credibility with the people. Yet by the time the credibility is there the motivation has definitely slackened.

There are two issues we have in mind regarding the above mentioned. The one being very encouraging and the other being extremely disheartening, yet a bit hopeful.
The first is regarding the mango jam project. Two out of three women from last year retained their vision and enthusiasm and have been doing great. Now they’re seeing the fruits of their easy labor. If the women keep up the same work ethic, it’s very possible that within the two months of mango season they can make around 400,000 kwatcha. To put that into perspective, this is a little over $100.00 coming in only two months for people that don’t make much more on average than a dollar a day (not that living on a dollar a day here is at all comparable to trying to do the same in America). So, at this point in our service this has been very encouraging. We hope to continue to encourage and refine their business skills so that next year they can do just as well or better in our absence.

The second issue involves a funeral we attended the day after our return from vacation. There is a common occurrence at Kaonde funerals where someone puts “magical medicine” inside the coffin so that when the pallbearers are walking to the cemetery, they will become possessed and find the person that used witchcraft to kill the deceased. So this is what we witnessed at this particular funeral. Fortunately however, one of our close friends who is a Christian and the first born son of the deceased, forced the men to stop. This is a very good thing because when the coffin finds the “witch” often the pallbearers, using the coffin, will either beat the person to death or severely injure them. It was truly sickening the way the people turned the funeral of their mother who is a Christian lady into a circus. We have never seen so much hatred and maliciousness before. The women especially were screaming and cheering for the coffin to continue. Even once the pallbearers were stopped, they were angry and yelled for it to continue in hopes that it would go and beat their 85 year old grandmother, who was the mother of the deceased. Yet despite all of this the most upsetting thing was that two of the pallbearers are leaders at our church and very close friends. There is so much we thought and felt after this situation but it would be too much to write it all. There was a bit of hopefulness that happened throughout this however. I decided to call the two church leaders who were participating over to our house. We had a long talk about the event and it turned out to be a great discussion. Both men were amazed and very thankful that I would actually rebuke them like the Bible says to. They said that never happens here and we see that you are a “true Christian”. The fact that they saw the error of their ways and seemed genuinely repentant was very encouraging.

So these are some of the new happenings here. And funny enough it actually portrays our past two years quite accurately. We’ve definitely experienced some of our life’s highest highs and lowest lows, sometimes both within the same day. We’ve been so thankful to have so many friends and family supporting us and helping us to keep things in perspective.

Lastly, one of our neighbors just had a baby girl and wanted us to give her a name. We decided there would be no better person to be named after than my mom, Kristy Castle. So now in Kangombe there is a little Kristy Jilowa Kamalondo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back from Holiday

We just got back from vacationing in Malawi. Lake Malawi is so beautiful and we had a wonderful time there just relaxing and… diving! We spent the first 4 days at a place called Kande Beach on a chalet right on the beach. The scenery was amazing even though the lodge itself wasn’t all that great.

The best part, however, was that we took a scuba diving course and are now officially certified as Open Water Divers. Diving was awesome, freaky, surreal, fun, and a great experience. It was like swimming in a huge aquarium and being able to breathe the whole time. There were a lot of little fish there and some were amazingly beautiful with bright blue stripes or gleaming white. Also there were a lot of rocks that you could dive around and through which was crazy! The technical end of diving was not as hard as I thought it would be and we soon caught on to all the little details. At first we definitely had some buoyancy issues (on our very first dive we immediately shot toward the surface when we started to swim) but we got much better after the 2nd dive. We also learned how to plan our own dives so now we can go diving together, which we definitely plan on doing. A funny thing about the week was that after the first day the fins started to hurt my feet so for the rest of the course I wore socks with my fins. I was quite the sight to see… a nasty tight wet suit, big goggles, and white socks with flippers. I got teased for that one a lot but I guess it was funny looking. Overall it was great and we are so glad we took the course.

After our course at Kande Beach, we went farther north to a place called Nkhata Bay. There we just checked into a cute little lodge for a couple days of R&R. The place was also extremely beautiful, more rocky and wooded but beautiful. Our lodge was by a place called Myoka Village and it had the best food ever!! On Friday night they had a BBQ and it was incredible! Needless to say, Stephen was very happy….giddy almost. J That restaurant was also the place where I saw possibly the cutest old man in the world (well, after Grandpa Castle of course). He sold chocolates in the corner of the room and he wore a colorful tie (a little bit short) and a huge purple garden lady’s hat. He’d come around 6:00 and set up his little table of chocolates then sit down and fall fast asleep. Sooo cute!! I got pictures. J

Well that was pretty much our vacation. It was really great to get away and see some new sights. However now we are tired of long bus rides and just ready to be back in the village. We look forward to having Christmas there with all our friends.

Hopefully this Saturday the women and I will make our first big batch of Mango Jam. We have everything ready to sell it and we want to get a batch out before Christmas. I’m really excited to see this project work. Also we will be able to check the progress on the Special Education boarding school. They were planning on doing some enrollment work while we were out and putting all in place to get the children started by January. We’ll see what was done and what else is left to do when we return. Please keep praying for that project. It’s really important to us that these kids are able to learn but it will take everyone doing their part. Also we think we will find a completed church building when we return which is awesome! When we left they were half-way through the roof and we will not be surprised if they have started meeting there. It really is so neat to see these things come to completion. It’s a bit bittersweet to realize how really our work here is finishing but we feel good about our time here.

Which leads me to the next subject of excitement….we have our tickets home!! We actually have possession of our tickets and it feels great! We are leaving Zambia on March 15th and going to Egypt with some friends for two weeks. Although I have been there before, I’ve never been there with my husband so I’m looking forward to it. Then we are going to visit cousins Joe and Kathy for a week in Manchester which will no doubt be a blast. After that it’s home! We fly into Detroit on April 3rd! Eeee!!! We are so excited to see everyone! We have really really been missing our family and friends lately. Once home, we are definitely going to want to see people whenever we can. We’ll have to keep in contact when the time gets closer so we can make plans.

Lastly, if you could be praying for us as we look into the future. We have a really good idea of what we want to do when we return and we need to keep placing our plans in God’s hands. We just want to be in the exact place He wants us and we are trusting Him to work out all the details. Also, we have a bit of anxiety when we think about actually returning to the States. The lifestyle at home is so different from what we’ve been living the past 2 years (we’ll actually have to wake up to an alarm clock again!) and it’s a bit daunting to think about. So just keep us in your prayers! We really appreciate all the support we receive from all our family and friends. We love you guys!!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Hi everyone!
Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving full of turkey and stuffing. Like last year, we spent our Thanksgiving at the mission hospital and had a huge feast of chicken, potatos, rolls, pies, and all that good stuff. We had a really good time just eating and fellowshiping with our fellow Americans there.

And now we are preparing for Christmas! Actually over my b-day weekend (yes I am now 25) we had a decorating party with our friend from Peace Corps and my Zambian friend Doris. It was a lot of fun! It was especially fun to watch Doris decorate because she has never done that before. I kind of gave her free rein to use her creative side and it turned out to be quite amusing. She put a bow in a random spot on the wall, strung streamers up in the most uneven ways, and the best part was the hanging gingerbread men ornaments that she put on the wall still in the package!! In the end it was definately not Martha Stewart material, but it was funny! :) We got some good pictures too! So our little mud hut is all set up for the holidays and I am excited to have Christmas day with our villagers. We aren't exactly sure of our plans but I think we may be spending the day with our Zambian family and might possibly be killing a goat. maybe?? at least a chicken or two. :) Oh and I am definately going caroling even if nobody goes with me (but Doris said she would go).

But before all that we are going on vacation! We are actually in Lusaka right now on our way to Malawi and we are so excited!! We'll spend about 10 days there and while there we will get our scuba diving certifications. We can't wait! This is a much needed vacation and scuba diving will be awesome! It's also pretty cheap to stay there and the place we'll be at is right on the beach! It's going to be so nice to just relax and enjoy the new sights.

In project related news, we just had a big World AIDS Day event on Saturday, Dec. 1. It was a crazy, hectic, and awesome day! We planned a big sensitization event with prevention messages, a positive living speaker, a talent contest, and we even brought in a major Zambian entertainer (Runell) to do activities and a concert. The day went really well and a ton of people showed up. There was probably over 1,000 people there for most of the day. The only bummer was that we were unable to do any testing because of outside factors. But other than that the day was a sucess with only a few snags (like when the power went out for 30 minutes right before the concert) but all was overcome. At the end of the day we felt pretty happy but completely exhausted.

Finally we have found out that our official closing of service day is March 15th. Thus 102 is the number of days we have remaining in Zambia. Crazy!!! We can't believe how fast the time is going and has gone. Before we know it we will be on to a new chapter of our lives and this amazing one will be finished. We really want to just enjoy every last minute of Zambia and although we are looking forward to being home, we want to keep our eyes focused on what God still has for us here.

We love you all and miss you so much! Really we miss you a lot!! Thanks for all the prayers and please keep them coming, especially as we wrap up our time here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A little Update

Hi friends and family!! Hope all is well in the good ol' U.S. of A.
Just thought we'd give a little update on life here. Well the rainy season has officially begun. Yesterday it was a full day drizzle/rain and we were reminded of how muddy it gets here. But we are thankful for the cooler weather (over the unbearable heat) and the change of scenery. Also it is our last season in Zambia, which is cool and weird at the same time.

Lately we've been feeling really hopeful and excited about the special education project. Stephen has been working really hard at putting all the pieces together for a boarding unit. We've found that there are 29 other deaf children in the surrounding area who can't go to school. So we are in the process of renting a house in town to serve as a boarding facility until an actual building can be built. Stephen is working with the spec. edu. teachers, the Ministry of Education and an organization called the Liliane Fnd. to try and start the temporary boarding house and get children sponsored to attend. Please be praying about this project. The pieces are all there but now they have to be put together, which can sometimes be difficult. We'd really love to see this succeed though because these kids need to be in school. So just pray, pray, pray. :)
All of our other projects are going along quite well. The walls of the church building are completed and the roof will go up soon. My friend Edah has already told me that soon we will be dancing in our new church..."even you Mrs. Castle, you will dance." So I guess I'll be dancing at church. I can't wait! And we have tasted our first mango of the year! It actually wasn't completely ripe and it had fallen off the tree...but we ate it! That means the time is getting very close and the sounds of mango jam are in the air.

Last week we attended the first ever Farewell Party for the 7th graders at Kangombe Basic School (the little school in our village). It was quite the event with dancing, games, and even rolls and pop!! We didn't know it but we were the guests of honor and Stephen even gave an impromptu HIV/AIDS talk. There was one point too when these kids were dancing and they were awesome! They were doing all these great moves to rival Michael Jackson (sort of). I was seriously tempted to get up and bust a move with them but thankfully my little bit of maturity held me back. Anyway we got the kids on tape so we can show it to you all when we return.

Other than that we are just hanging out with friends and relaxing together. A group of guys have started to work out at our house. They even call Stephen "trainer" and it's been fun for him to teach them about all that stuff. Some of them we've never really hung out with before so it seems the fame of the weight room is spreading. Which by the way, it may be saved from the rains after all by a wonderful thing called plastic sheets.

Oh also, the HIV/AIDS awareness event we were planning may be at a standstill. Unfortunately the funds did not come in time for the orginally planned date and it had to be pushed back. However, we aren't quite sure when it's being pushed back to...maybe indefinately?? So at this point it's all up in the air but hopefully we'll be able to do something.

And for anyone wondering about our chicken eater cat Rambo...well he is doing all his usual cat things now (minus chicken eating) under the supervision of the missionaries. We even heard that he attacked a cobra and lived to tell the tale (well not really "tell" because he can't talk, but you know) :)

Well I think that's all for now. We really miss everyone and are really excited about seeing you all again. It's crazy to think that in like 5 months we'll be heading home and our time here will be over. Please continue to keep us in your prayers, both for the remaining time and projects here and for our future plans.
We Love you!!!!

Heather and Stephen