012: Stronghold

They were seated on the walls of the chinzanaza, passed the pleasantries for started a meeting, though Chelsi was not in a pleasant mood at all. She leaned back against one of the roof posts, only to have it snap in half and cause pieces of the roof to fall on top of her. 
“This,” she stood up pointing at the post, “this needs to be fixed too.” She resituated herself on the wall closer to Ba Chunda, the Peace Corps Provincial Coordinator or liaison between volunteers and their villages.  The first three months had come and gone and not a single repair had been made to Chelsi’s house.  The purpose of this meeting was to do nothing more than remind the group leader of Kamijiji, and Chelsi’s host father, that he was responsible for organizing repairs.  Going into the meeting Chelsi thought it was going to be more of an open dialog about her situation and alternative options.
“This man,” Chunda briefly gestured towards Mr. Kalulu, “called me last Friday to tell me I should come and pick you. Do you understand what that means?”
“Sure, that he no longer wants me here.  Which sounds fine to me if the people in Mitukutuku want to build me a new house closer to them.” She said smugly. “You know, close a door, open a window.” Except in the new house she hoped the door would be big enough for her to fit through and the windows would actually open. 
“It’s not up to you to decide to move.”
“It wasn’t my idea!” the words came out in a hushed shout of frustration.  She had told him before, “After two months of me asking for my house to be repaired and reminding them to put together a housing committee I started asking other people for help because nothing was getting done! And I don’t want to get wet when it rains. When I went to ask the people in Katoka for help THEY suggested just finding me or building me a new house because Kamijiji is really far for them to come and work. I told them ‘maybe that’s an option but I have to talk to Peace Corps, they need to be involved.’ I told them. But Ba Julius happened to be there and he took the idea back to the group leader in Mitukutuku and he started holding meetings about building me a new house. I told them, ‘We have to talk to Peace Corps.’ But obviously they didn’t listen. There is nothing I can do to keep people from talking about it.”
“But don’t you see, YOU are creating a safety and security situation for yourself.” – “There is nothing I can do to keep people for building a new house for me!”
“Can I finish?” Chelsi could feel her blood boiling, of course this was all her fault.  This man’s pride was wounded, pride which in Chelsi’s eyes was undeserved, and it was her fault because she ask for nothing but what she was due.
“Sure, whatever.” She reached down and picked up her puppy, who was pawing at her knee.  With sharp contrast to the mood of the conversation Chelsi affectionately nuzzled her puppy and kissed her on the top of the head. 
“Mr. Kalulu is the group leader here, the headman of the village, you know what that means?” Actually I was late for that day of training, but she flashed him a glance that said she would be treating it as a rhetorical question. “The people here are loyal to him, they do what he says and they will follow him. Eeh?” Chunda’s voice was forceful, trying to drive home the point like nail into wood. “If you make him unhappy it can poison the whole community against you.” Chelsi looked over across the chinzanza.  Mr. Kalulu had this open mouthed grin while he nodded his head.  He did not speak much English, but Chelsi imagined he was thinking, ‘Ah! But now she must understand.’
Wait a second, “If people are supposed to follow his direction then why the hell is getting the house fixed so much trouble? And even more so, this is a house that should have never been approved for inhabitance by any volunteer, but it had come to my attention that it is the way it is because when it was originally being built no one from the community came to help which should have been an obvious indication that a volunteer should have never been put here in the first place!” 
Chunda turned his head towards Mr. Kalulu and started speaking to him in Kiikaonde, as if somewhere in their conversation he was going to be able to dig up some ultimate understanding. This was the overarching paradox of Chelsi’s understanding of this whole situation, and she did not caring enough to listen closely to what they were saying. She was past believing she would be given a satisfying response, because in true Zambian fashion the response never explained the observation.
Chelsi was staring down at the puppy in her arms, but she could feel Chunda’s eyes back on her when their sidebar quieted down.  “When it was first decided a volunteer would be placed here the community was sensitized and they decided this is where the volunteer should stay. They were organized but when it came time to build the actually house, only three other people come to help.” Right, so clearly the community wasn’t invested enough to receive a volunteer, my point exactly. “And Mr. Kalulu has been very disappointed by the community’s response to coming to fix the house, now.” Then what it the point of calling him group leader? I know people here want to come and help, it feels more like he’s been blowing off his responsibility to organize them.
“All reasons a volunteer should have never been placed here to begin with…”
Chunda sighed, “But now they know they have a really chance of losing their volunteer and they need to be given a chance to make repairs to the house before we can arrange to have you moved.”
“Because three months’ worth of chances haven’t been enough… Three months… and I won’t be lost, I would just be moving up the road a little.”
“Making bricks to expand the house, it’s not difficult.”
She rolled her eyes, for among other reasons, she had told Chunda multiple times, ‘the size of the house was the least of my concerns.’ “But also making bricks to raise the roof, because my head doesn’t fit through the door, and rebuilding the roof and putting new grass. Fixing the giant holes in the cement floor in house. Doing something about THAT,” she pointed towards her chim. “So passersby on the road don’t feel obligated to greet me while I’m doing my business because they have a clear line of sight. And that drying rack which is rotting, and obviously this.” She simultaneously pointed at the roof post which had snapped behind her moments ago, and looked up through the gaping gaps of the grass of the roof for the chinzanza, “because I would like to build an oven in here.”
Chunda was still looking towards the chim, “They want to help you even more because you are female,” he pivoted his head back towards her, “and they want you to live decently.” The feeling of bullshit floated into her mind, if they cared one ounce about my decency they would have fixed that before I moved in. My ‘decency as a female’… but then again what could he say? He should have said nothing at all..
“Moving was not my end goal here, but once the ball got rolling it started to seem like an attractive option.  But clearly I don’t have any options and don’t get a say in this,” She rolled right on through.” You’re telling me that they have one more opportunity to fix the house, I’m leaving in two weeks to go to training in Lusaka, I’ll be gone for almost a month. I don’t want them working inside the house while I’m gone. And then when I comeback, You’ll bring the cruiser out here and bring me and all my stuff back to the Prov House for like two weeks while they construct new walls, rebuild the roof, thatch it and re-cement the floor. Because all this would be easier than just building a new house while I’m gone then moving me into it in one afternoon.”
“Yes, we will come with the cruiser while the house is being fixed.”
“But they can fix all the things outside the house while I’m gone.”
“and they’ll make bricks. And if that not done by the time you return then we will have an excuse to move you.”  For moment Chelsi entertained what it would be like for the two villages to have a build off, and she would live where ever they built faster and better; she imagined the ‘new’ house would have a porch too because she had an instinctive feeling Mitukutuku would win and she would miss the porch was not a standard housing requirement.
“Fine, but while I’m here I don’t want anyone making bricks in front of the house after 17:00 hours.” Chunda relayed the message to Mr. Kalulu who nodded.

The next morning Chelsi emerged from her house around 9 am. It started as business as usual; coffee, dishes, etc. When Mr. Kalulu wandered through the gap in the dilapidated fence her predecessor and she had stopped fixing when the prospect of moving became possible.  She greeted him politely but her heart started to races as her anxiety level began to rise.
“When you stopped coming to greet us in the morning we thought you wanted to move to Mitukutuku.” He voice was quiet and raspy, a man past his prime.
Chelsi sighed. She stopped going over to greet them every morning six weeks ago, long before recent event started taking place.  The two things were totally unrelated, but she could see how it looked. Her change in behavior was more about shirking what would become a polite obligation to sit in a smoke filled chinzanza for at least twenty minutes before awkwardly walking away and trading it for another hour more of sleep.  She would admit though, she did not handle the transition the best.
For the umpteenth time “I’m not Mike, I’m not very social. Sorry, it’s nothing personal.” She had heard he mention Mike a couple of time the previous afternoon, comparing the both of us and even suggesting they bring him back next year. The fact that she was not him was a burden she was forced to bare.  “And All I want is a roof that won’t leak when it rains.”
Mr. Kalulu did his open mouth smile, half nod gestured. “Today, where are you going?”
“Nowhere, I’ll be at the house today.”
“Okay,” He paused, “I am going to church.”
“Okay, Tusakumonaangana.”
“Okay.” And he walked away.

Categories: DIY, Drama | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “012: Stronghold

  1. Randee Chaput

    Hello Chelsi: I’m sorry your in a tough housing situation and I guess the rainy season is coming soon. I’ll give you some news from the Randee & Steve Chaput front. We moved to Dallas in December from San Jose, CA where we lived for the previous 5 years. Girls as you know are in Michigan and Jordan is living with us and working as a security analyst with a small firm in Dallas and enjoying it. We have decided to become a foster family and we think we are near the end of jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops to become licensed. We had to work “observe” 40 hours of foster children in various situations such as in people’s homes and shelters. We inquired about a 17 year old girl who we liked very much and the powers that be let us take her out for lunch this past Saturday and a good time was had by all, so we would like to take the next step for her to become our foster daughter, but it will take at least a month, probably 2 before this could be a reality.

    Thinking of you and wishing you well.

    Much love


  2. frjeanthomas@aol.com

    Chelsi, what is you e-mail address. I can’t find it. Kim Winters would like to contact you.


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