They were out in the front yard and Chelsi could hear some rustling in the grass. “Mwabuuka,” came a soft high pitch voice. She looked around, already knowing whom it was.
“Twabuuka,” she replied. “Mwabuuka?”
“Nabuuka! Mwabuuka!?” the same voice came again and giggled.
“Ba Gillie, mwaji pi?” There was more giggling and a hard rustle in the grass. A little girl in a ragged green dress came tumbling out, all laughs.
“Mwabuuka!? She smiled with little teeth and glittering eyes under a head of patchy hair.
“Twabuuka,” Gillie came running toward Chelsi until Daisy stood up to greet her too.
“Ah! Obewa!” She screamed. Daisy half-heartedly turned still wagging her tail. Daisy never understood why everyone didn’t want to be her friend. Seeing the Chelsi had accepted Gillie on to her compound four other children started to creep up her path.
She saw them, and looked directly at them she called “mwabuuka!?” Gillie giggled again, as did the other children as they responded. “Nafainwa kovwa ka Daisy. Mwakeba kukwasha?” Gillie nodded her head. Chelsi gathered up her basin, chitenge towel, flea & tick shampoo, harness and cup. She closed the curtains, locked the door and started up her path with Gillie clutching her leg. Daisy danced around them excited to go for a walk. “Mwaiyia?” she asked the other children. “Twakovwa ka Daisy.” They didn’t respond but followed her dutifully back toward the road and they started off towards the well.
They picked up more children as they went, the train growing ever longer. Daisy was the engine out in front. Chelsi the conductor and children as cars, tapering back according to their size till little baby Kennedy, who was trotting along as the caboose.
The official community water source is a shallow dug well, about 50 meters in front of the community school and a five minute walk from Chelsi’s house. Over the hole was a waist high cement cylinder, centered on a dais. Two hand carved beams supported an iron crank for hulling up the humble yellow jerry can once it was full with water. The tether for the jerry can to the crank was always changing, as they wore out and broke. Now it was a rope, when she arrive last year it was chain. One day she arrive to find it was engozhi; the inner bark of a tree found in the forest, the village’s traditional rope. And still some days she arrive to find no tether at all and so went without water.
The children squabbled over who would get to hold which washing item while Chelsi cranked the well. Daisy went wandering in to the tall grass unaware of her impending bath.
“Ka Daisy, Kaji pi?” Chelsi asked the children after filling the green basin.
“Atwe,” one of the older girls point the neighboring compound. Now Chelsi could see her dog’s ears pointing up in the grass.
“Daisy, Daisy,” Gillies older brother tried to call her over. Of all the children, Patricki was the only one who was truly unafraid of the dog. He was no more than three feet and nothing but skin and bones, but Chelsi often caught him trying to pick up Daisy and carry her away with a big smile on his face.
But, by now Daisy knew what she was in for, and wouldn’t be coming on her own. Chelsi walked over and scooped her up. Setting her down by the bucket most of the children took a big step back. One let out a small screech. Daisy was then buckled up in to her harness, so she couldn’t make a dash for it and liberally doused with water.
The flea & tick shampoo was bright pink with a picture of a dog and a cat on the front. Yet still, more than once, other Zambian women had asked to use it on their own hair. ‘No,’ she would have to tell them repeatedly ‘It will make you ill, it is only for animals. See?’ In contrast the children stood silently as squeezed out the soap on to the rump of her dog.
“Mwakwasha?” she asked, rubbing it in to a lather.
“Eee mwane,” some of the girls responded.
“Alright then, iyai. Iyai.” She motioned them so come closer. “Iya, iya, iya.” The brave ones came closer with a giggle. “Okay now,” Chelsi took the hand of one of the girls and rubbed it in to the lather on Daisy’s rump. When Chelsi let go she pulled her soapy hand away with a giggle. Still a few of the children reached out on their own. First with a finger, then their whole hand. “Alright, there you go!” they looked up with wide smiles and big eyes. Chelsi squeezed out more soap. The younger, shyer children soon drifted over and when Chelsi next looked up from washing Daisy’s front legs even Gillie was lathering up Daisy’s tail.
Alright! What a big step for them! Never in her entire service did she think most of the children would willing touch her dog.
“Kaji mweshika.” One of the girls pointed to Daisy’s shivering back leg. The crowd of children was blocking out the sun, and the breeze wasn’t helping.
“Okay, everyone take a step back,” she used her arm to motion them away. With a few splashed of water she was rinse clean. “Mwacinda chitenge?” Chelsi point at the chitenge towel that the children had discarded in the furry of scrubbing. It was eventually passed over. She rubbed it over Daisy as she tried to shake herself dry. Her harness was unclipped and once she was deemed free all of the children took two big steps back or clung to Chelsi’s legs. Child-sized steps I guess it’ll be then.
Daisy meanwhile took off to roll in the dirt.