009: 4ths of July

In moments of quiet reflection Chelsi liked to think back on her life exactly one year ago from that day; where she was, who she was with, what she was doing, what were her struggles, what were her hopes.  On any given day you could ask her these questions and she could more than likely produce a quick and accurate answer. But ask for a time stretching back more than a year and the details will begin to become fuzzy.  Unless you were to ask her about the fourth day of the seventh month of the year.  The unique style of celebration for this day in conjunction with its time of the year made it stand out from the rest.  Going back four, five, six years she could detail this day of her life and thus uses it to mark her progression through life.
“It’s something like Wamama Lodge.” Chelsi told her friend Sara on the phone. “I heard some of the other volunteers at the Prov house talking about how they were coming down for the 4th of July.  Maybe eight or nine of them.” She was sure she had heard this because they then explained to her that it was the Lodge on the dusty gravel road which she lived.  As the actual day of celebration approached though she began to have her doubts.  She figured semi-organized events would have more chatter around them and she would have heard from at least one or two other volunteers about their plans to come down. But then again these were Peace Corps Volunteers “Stuff happens as it happens” kind of people.  So when she mount her bike that morning to go up to the Lodge, about an hour bike ride with Daisy running beside her, she was not sure what to expect, but assured that Sara was on her way.
2014: Washington D.C.
Chelsi spent most of the day partying on the house boat her friend Ryan had rented for the summer.  They were interns in Mark Rey’s Demmer Scholar program, developing a finer appreciation for natural resource policy.  The day had started out a little rough, Chelsi had busted her bike, sandwiching the back tire, trying to carry her friend Alex on the rack on their way down to the marina. Biking through an abandoned, industrial looking part of town they had hit an old piece of rail and tumbled into a small pond next to the rails.  The day was made better though when she discovered the venison steak she was carrying in her bag had been spare the pond slug but she would now have to carry her bicycle to the office building on the SE side of town were her friend Janet worked. Janet’s boss had given her an after-hours pass so she and some of her lucky friends could watch the fireworks on the National Mall comfortably away from the crowded masses.
Chelsi had told Sara it would be at least a thirty minute walk from the tarmac where her hitch would drop her off, so when she rolled up to the Lodge and peeked into the dining room she was not surprised to see that she had not yet arrived.  She was however surprised to see the dining room completely empty, except for the bar tender.  It was just after noon.  If other volunteers were coming they would likely be her by now.  So she called up Sara to see how far along she was.  “I’ve been walking for a while now.”
“Why don’t Daisy and I come and meet you up the road, so you don’t have to walk alone.”
“You don’t have to but…” and the service cut out. 
Chelsi looked down at her puppy. “I know we don’t have to but it would be nice.” Daisy sighed and sat down. “Come on, she can’t be too far away.” The two started back up the driveway, and sure enough after another five minutes of biking Sara came into view. 
2013: Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport, Oregon
A few days before Rogue Brewery, one of Hatfield’s three neighbors on that side of the bay, had had a “garage sale” of sorts, where Chelsi and a few of the other interns had been able to pick up cases of Dead Guy Ale way below retail price.  They settled themselves in the sand of the volley ball court just in front of the intern housing because even at the height of summer the beach was cooled by wind coming off the icy ocean water.  Tucked between the trees around the bay they could enjoy the more summer like 68F weather.  They would wait out the day there until the sunset.  Every year there were fireworks over Yaquina Bay and Shelby had ask the leader of her research lab about extra special seating for the interns this year.  So, just as the sun was beginning to set, blankets in hand they made their way down to the docks.  Farther out on to the bay than any other viewer, nestled in with a dozen of her closest friends, just beside the behemoths which were the NOAA ocean going research vessels, Chelsi watched the fireworks.
With their Castles in hand Sara and Chelsi settled on the steps on the chinzanza looking out over Mitukutuku Lake.  A couple of wooden docks stretched out over the lake with signs declaring that no lifeguard was on duty. A small motorboat, that for 10 Kwatcha per person would take you on a ride around the lake, bobbed at the water’s edge.  A few Mascovy ducks flew over and on to the water as Daisy ran into the mixed flock of birds. “This is a pretty nice spot.”
“Yeah, haven’t spent too much time here yet, but it is a pretty nice luxury. Thanks for coming out here, I swear I thought the turnout would be better.” Chelsi scanned the grounds around them seeing no one except a young Zambian couple and their toddler. 
“It’s alright buddy.  Too many people is a mess anyway.  Do you think it’s alright it I smoke in here?”
“We’re outside essentially, and I don’t think anyone cares.” Chelsi’s phone began to ring.  She looked at the screen. AMERICAN MOTHER it read, Daisy barked alerting her that the Zambian couple and their toddler were coming closer. “Hello!” Chelsi said into the receiver.
2012: Okemos, Michigan
Chelsi lay on her stomach on the twin bed in her room of the apartment.  She knew there had to be fireworks somewhere, but with no one to ask and no one to go with it seemed like the tradition would fall flat on its face this year.  She scrolled through Craigslist ads looking at listings for rabbits, a past time that would become ever more popular with her as the years go by.  Earlier in the day she had taken a walk down to the park and sat by the creek. She thought about how nice it would have been to have a rabbit to play in the grass with. Human company would have been nice too, she thought when she remember that Craigslist offered those listings too.  Just cause I curious, she heard the stories and would never seriously looking for really friends on Craigslist.  She backed her search up to the Lansing Area homepage.  Connections; Plutonic, she looked down the listings and right there, just third from the top Just want to see some fireworks posted a hour and a half ago.  She opened the listing.  ‘I’m not a creep and I’m not looking for sex. I’m a student at MSU and just want someone to go to watch the fireworks with.  I live just east of East Lansing.  Give me a call.’ Chelsi looked at his phone number, she looked at her phone. 
“I just love dogs, and you have such a nice one.” Said the Zambian man using his beer to gesture towards Daisy.  Daisy was encircling the toddler, undoubtly sniffing for any bits of food. When her search came up empty she made a run for it back towards the flock of birds. 
“I treat her like my child, that’s what I tell the villagers, nobe mwana yami.  So she acts like one.”
“So you guys are all the way from America, wow, wow! And you live in the village. I can’t imagine, village life is tough.”
“It’s really not so bad.”
“I couldn’t do it.” Earlier in their acquaintance the Zambian couple had mentioned growing up in Livingston, one of Zambia’s largest cities and now living in Solwezi, with a car and electricity and, based on their conversations about wildlife shows on Nat Geo, satellite TV, they were part of a class that is referred to as ‘ambant.’ Chelsi guessed the word to be a blend of affluent and urban. These were well educated people from cities with money and often did not speak any language but English, rare in a country of 72 languages.
Chelsi looked back up at Sara, staring at her phone, smoking a cigarette.  “If we’re going to eat today we should order food soon because it’ll probably take while.”
“Okay, let’s go look what they have.” They collected up their empties and started towards the dining room. They passed the Zambian man making his way back towards the chinzanza, his arms full of Castles. 
Chelsi ordered fish and chips, Sara chicken and nshima, their way back towards the chinzanza the Zambian man offered out Castle to each of them, bottle tops still firmly in place. “Thanks man!” Sara said pulling out her lighter to take off the top.
“Ah! You must teach my wife to do that.  We have seen it before but don’t know how!” She passed the lighter to Chelsi.
“Sure man. We’re here to teach!”
2011: Long Lake, New York
“Oh my god! Do you smell that?” Chelsi’s friend Suzanne exclaimed sniffing the air.  They and a few others in the crew were standing atop a huge boulder in the center of the river not far from the bridge.  They were all part of a trail crew working in the Adirondack State Park for the summer and fall.  One of the locals that was part of the crew had taken them all too apart of the Hudson River where they could jump from the boulders into the river.  The beautiful weather had brought a lot of people out on to the river. On the next boulder over, one much larger than theirs was a group of twenty-something guys wearing nothing but swimming trunks sitting in lawn chairs with their feet up on a cooler smoking.  They dared Suzanne to swim over and talk to them, but the only place they swam was back to the river banks to climb back up the boulders and into the car. Driving back towards Little Tubber Lake where the fireworks were to be held they stopped at Steward’s, the ubiquitous gas station/convenience store/ice cream shop, for Mountain Brew Beer Ice and ice cream. They would sit on some rocky out cropping on the lakes edge to watch the display over the water.
Chelsi tore up what was left of her fish and fed it to her dog bit by bit and when the Zambian couple, sited at the table with them began to stack their plates Chelsi shameless reached over, pluck up their steak bones, wrapped them in a napkin and stuffed them in her purse.  “If you don’t want them…” she said mostly to herself.  Sara was up at the bar ordering two more drinks for the road.  It was starting to get late, at 14 hours and they had decided to walk back to Chelsi’s house.  The rooms at the Lodge were nice, clean sheet, electricity, running water, private bathrooms.  So nice that Sara did not want to pay the 150KW per night.  “It’s going to be at least an hour and half walk back to the house.”
“It’s cool, I like walking” Sara said reassuringly. 
“Because you’ll also have to walk back to the tarmac in the morning.  There’s been a lot of traffic on my road today, but no guarantee that anyone will pick you up.”
“Don’t worry! I got Harry Potter books on my iPod. The walk will be good.” And so the decision was made.  They were gathering their things Chelsi remembered, turning to the Zambian couple she said,
“My mother ku Meleka wants me to send her a picture.  Would you mind taking one for us?” The four over them walk out on to one of the docks, Daisy trotting a long, the toddler tailing her.
After a dozen pictures with three different phones Chelsi and Sara said good bye to their new friends and started up the driveway and towards Kamijiji.
2010: Park Ridge, Illinois
Chelsi, her brother, her boyfriend and old friend from high school picked their way across the football field of the High School.  Even with an hour left of sunlight the field was crowded with people on their blankets.  Many had their feet up on coolers or were tending small grills with burgers and hot dogs. But their small group found a spot on a ridge encircling the nearby soccer field.  They passed the remain our chatting about their first year away at college, chatting about their schedules for the next semester, chatting about what the future had in store. 

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Chelsi and Sara at Wamami Lodge on July 4th 2015

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