Solwezi was dustier now than when she had left, and the wind was picking up. I guess this is hot season. Zambia has three season: rainy, from about October to April, cold (which is relative), May to about August, and hot, from August till it starts to rain again. Chelsi was not built for hot weather, she is a cold lover through and through.
It was Sunday and she had reach Solwezi a whole 12 to 16 hours earlier than she had planned, making it about 8:30 in the morning, thanks to rouge night bus her fellow volunteer Tom was willing to brave with her. Their other 15 traveling companions had opted to stay the night in Lusake and depart for their various destinations in the morning. Chelsi was ready to just be home already, she was tired of six to eighteen hour bus rides. Poor Tom, he has at least two more bus rides, before reaching his home in Ichilange District; Northwestern’s northern most district.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make the bus to Mwinilunga today. I just can’t sit on any more buses, you know.”
“I hear ya brother.” Chelsi sympathized with him and thought about her two hour bike ride. It had been a really long time since she had any meaningful exercise. She beat back some overzealous taxi drivers that were hovering around their bus. They were adjusting their bags on their backs. “We can walk!” she shouted.
“Or deal with bus stations anymore today.”
They started down the dust road towards the Prov house. Technically the house was closed, no volunteers were allowed to visit or stay at the house because the new intake of CHIP, community health, and RED, education, volunteers where organizing themselves to be posted to their villages at the end of the week. But Chelsi’s bike was at the house, so Ephrim, the PCVL and ‘house director’, had no choice but to let her come because she could not get home without it.
“Are you going to come down to the house too?” she asked Tom.
“No, I think I’m going to go straight over to the lodge and get a room to put my stuff down.”
“Alright in that case, I guess I’ll catch you later, I’m going to try and make a stop at Shoprite.” Try. She knew there was no way they would let her in with her giant back pack and though they had a bag check area she did not know what the limit would be. “Although I heard Arial once left her dog at the bag check.”
“Apparently it was in some kind of box.” Chelsi shrugged veering off to the left towards the store. “See you later.”
The woman behind the bag check counter did accept Chelsi’s bag, though to her it looked like she faked struggle heaving it over the counter.
Butter, cheese, eggs, yogurt, pasta, cookies, juice, she repeated over and over to herself. That was all she needed, don’t get distracted. Grocery shopping was a favorite pass time of Chelsi’s before leaving the States. Had anyone kept track they might have found that she send anywhere from seven to ten hours per week perusing through food and grocery related products. Not here though, she sighed, picking up a red plastic basket and surveying the scene. Shoprite had two states of being; incredibly packed or completely empty. Today, being one of the last days of the month it was completely empty. This status did not relate to the number of people so much as the stock on the shelves. Stopping first at the open refrigerators she put her hand on one of the four remaining tubs of butter. It was soft as she squeezed it, so she tried the next one. Also soft…. All of Zambia had been experiencing rolling blacks. It was a mostly hydropowdered country, but years’ worth of droughts was diminishing the water in the reservoirs limiting the amount of power the plants were capable of producing. She did not even bother to check the cheese and the yogurt.
Ten minutes later she was reclaiming her bag at the baggage check continuing to head down the hill, towards her bicycle, towards her puppy, towards home. Though the days she had spent on buses traveling from Malawi felt like lost time in her memory, they did clearly define the difference between being away and being home. Electricity, the lake, good food, friends, they were days in the past, there was no temptation to desire wishing to reach back and pull them into her present. It was all too far gone. And yet looking inside herself she found she had brought plenty along with her; she felt calm, more relax. The empty grocery store which would have irritated her last month did not hold the same power over her emotional state. The thought that her house would probably look the same when she returned, though massive amounts of work were supposed to have been complete before her return, did not leave her feeling so frustrated. As she twisted through the side streets thinking, she noted that the current presences of this newly established state of calm was still tenuous. It had survived Shoprite, but how would it hold up to the pressures of village life? She wondered.
As she called to have the gates to the Prov house opened she decided she would take the tarmac home instead of the backway though Solwezi’s suburban sprawl. The Short Cut as the villagers referred to it, though she was pretty certain it was not actually shorter it was full of people she knew and would be excited to see her. People who would want her to stay and chat, who would pressure her about the start of programs and whether or not she brought the gifts from Lusaka. It might not be “proper,” but there will be plenty of time for visiting later. Work slowly, don’t stress yourself out, she thought. It’ll all happen in due time.