Well, I came for a festival, Chelsi thought, sitting in the easy chair inside Erez’s house. Though she was something of a festival novice she felt that most of the main festival point where being touched on. They night before there had been a pig roast, a bonfire and general merr-making. That morning they had gone swimming in a river, and now were doing their best to hide from the heat. Although Chelsi though, looking around, we also kind of look like a bunch of strung out junkies in a shooting gallery. Through the door to the front yard Chelsi could see volunteers strewn about, some lying what little shade there was, other playing cards. All were tanned by sun and dirt and moved their heads lethargically to carry on conversations about the insufferable heat and state of the day.
Chelsi picked up her gourd of strong mankoyo and tipped it into her mouth. All that was left was chewy grain mash at the bottom; the now absent liquid having been converted into her satisfying buzz. Given the current state of things now though, it was all the same to her. Not to mention, glancing at her watch, it’s about lunch time. Remaining in her seat certainly beat having to get up and scrounge for something else. The sweet smell of sticky sweat rose from her, without any exertion, and mixed with the smoke of cigarettes wafting through an open side window. Yeah, morning like a drug house, she decided taking in the rest of the surrounding inside the house. Bottles of Desert Island cane spirits, at various levels of fullness, were scattered across the floor. Tattered backpacks and clothing were heaped in piles along the long the walls. And at the back of the long room an old, thin mattress pad was spread on the floor. A top it were two, half naked men, both with dark, unkempt curls atop their heads and beards. One, the festival host Erez, was lying back, propped up against the wall. The second, his friend Ian, a Mambwe volunteer from Northern Provence was leaned over Erez’s upper half repeatedly sticking him with a sewing needle, soaked in india ink, tied to a pencil.
It’s the whole festival experience, Chelsi, still wondering to herself how it might have been different if the Senior Chief hadn’t cancelled the actual Chisemwa cha Lunda festival, the day after it was supposed to have started, in order to attend the inauguration of the re-elected, but hotly contested president of Zambia. ‘I heard that’s the reason he decided to attend,’ Erez had tried to explain to them after they arrived. ‘A bunch of other chiefs who want a recount are also going to express their displeasure with the way the election was decided.’
With patients though, the heat of the day began to pass away. Wisps of dark clouds even began to gather in the sky. “Do you think rain?” Chelsi ask over her shoulder at friend Oliver.
“I think the 25th, that’s when it’ll start raining,” he declared with confidence. “Peter thinks the 18th.”
“Well, if a keeps looking this way, he might be right,” a cool breeze rustled the flies of their tent city.
In the front yard, beyond the fence, the crowd grew larger and larger. They were the village residents, lured from the shade of their own trees by the cooling air, and greatest show on earth. Children young and old alike, grasped the bamboo reeds of Erez’s fence and press their faces through the wholes. The adults stood back, using their height to peer over the barrier.
“Erez said that his village has something planned for tonight,” Oliver added, blowing out his cheeks to the gleeful squeals of the children at the fence.
But Chelsi had begun to walk away. The unblinking eyes stirred up her anxiety and she went in search of quieter place to hide. She followed the path out the back of the fence, and made for a small thicket behind Erez’s pit toilet. As she approached to nose told her that she’d be alone, but never alone.
“Hey Chelsi,” Tyler greeted her in his usual way, blowing a lung full of smoke over his shoulder. Rider, standing just nearby, nodded his head in her direction.
“Hey guys.” She let the weight of her body fall again a tree.
“How is it up there?” he asked, stretching an offering out with his hand.
She gracefully accepted it, “crowded.”
Rider, standing in the corner of his own world, laughed then coughed.
“I know what you mean, and that fence; so much worse. There’s nothing that makes you feel more like a caged animal than a fence,” the passion for the subject was clear in his voice.
“It’s almost like, because there’s a fence they’re far more bold about pushing their faces up against it.” Way back when, when Chelsi was asked in her initial Peace Corps interview, how she would cope with being watched, a fence hadn’t occurred to her. After arriving in country and seeing other volunteers with them, and she started to feel eyes on her every move, she began to consider one; but was ultimately glad that she had decided against it. “I don’t blame them though.”
“Yeah,” Tyler finished her thought, “this is easily the most exciting thing that has ever happened here. Some 20 white people, and Samira showing up and partying and being just generally ridiculous.”
The three of them carried on, about the yurts and tree houses and furnished, electrified apartments they imagined other volunteers across the world living in, about mute goats, the bat on a string, development, migration, priorities in the village. All the while, the sun making its way swiftly towards the horizon. And when the sky was dark and the light shone red, Chelsi started to hear the sound of drumming.
“Oliver said the village was planning something. That must be it, huh?”
“Yeah, they’ve probably got a fire, going and they’re dancing.”
“Should we go?”
Rider shuttered, “people. Noise.”
“Alright, well, I think I’m going to go.” Though she was put off by both those things as well, she felt a little obligated. “I’m here for a festival after all,” not that she needed to justify her decision to the other two. But a small twinge of disappointment did resurface in her, thinking about again how the official festival was cancelled, “and I do feel like I’ve been getting the full festival experience!” she added with a grand smile. The two boys laughed.
“It’s been quite the weekend.”
She turned to go back to the house, there’s only one festival activity left, she thought to herself on the way, and that’s to dance! Dance like nobody’s watching!