Author Archives: Chelsi Burger

About Chelsi Burger

I've been adventuring since 2009 and though my adventures may not be the grand epics of books and movies they have left me with plenty of stories. Up until the start of my most recent adventure (and the 104 blog) I have traveled and worked all over the northern half of the United States as a student, sea lion observer, communications liaison and trail crew member, just to name few. By training I am a natural resource manager and scientist specializing in aquatic resources. Terrestrially, I enjoy the finding of fungi and playing with food. When not out adventuring you are likely to find me sitting at the kitchen table crafting with fiber and listening to public radio.

103: Ring Out

Chelsi stood in the crowed semi-circle on the lawn of the Lusaka Peace Corps office.  Having arrived a few minutes late with her friends Thomas and Janelle, they were positioned at the outside of the circle, facing in towards the rim of a car wheel, painted white and suspended from a tree.  Leon, Peace Corps Zambia’s country director was make some statement about how proud he was of all of those who had completed two years of service in country.  The sound of his voice mostly passed through Chelsi’s ears as noise. She personally felt that a lot of the administration in Lusaka thought of volunteers as a nuisance; that their jobs would be much easier if only there weren’t any volunteers.

“Good thing we left early,” Thomas whispered.

“Even though we were late?” Chelsi laughed.

“I know, I can’t believe they moved up the time by a half an hour, then only told like a handful of people,” Janelle whined.

“Well, you know, they did it for people like you guys, who are trying to get to the airport by 10 this morning.”

“I know, I told Cleopher to have Janelle and I be some of the first to ring out so that we can get in a cab right away.”

Ring out, Chelsi thought to herself, the ceremonial whacking of a stick against the car wheel, signaling the end of a Peace Corps Volunteers service.  Chelsi wasn’t one for a lot of pomp and circumstance.  But she wasn’t here for herself, she was here to support and say good bye to all the friends. It was the final day of their service; Thomas and Janelle, Ryder, Tyler, Laura, Jason.

“Where’s Jason?” Chelsi asked looking around.  They had seen him on the street, walking away from the office. He was trying to say something about identification. But that was some time ago and it was nearly his turn to ring out.

The Program Manager for the LIFE project started listing the names of the volunteers.  One by one, the volunteers walked to the center of the circle, took the stick from Leon, whacked the wheel, returned the stick, received a commemorative Peace Corps Zambia pin, and shook some hands.

“I don’t know,” Thomas replied looking around. “We saw him walking the wrong direction on the street. Figured though he’d have made it by now.”

“How come, how come, how come they’re not passing out certificates?” Janelle ask, staring intently between Leon and the Program Managers.

“We already got our certificates of completion.” Chelsi started, “remember at the COS conference? They passed them out on the second day.”

“But then why did you get one? And Oli! You guys are extending, or what if someone Early Terminated during community exit? They wouldn’t have completed!”

“Admin probably figures, if you made it this far, then close enough.” Thomas laughed.

Cleopher, the Manager of Chelsi’s Rural Aquaculture Promotion program, took the center of the circle.  He had already made his speech about what a joy we had all been to work with, and how he wished us nothing but the best in our future endeavors.  So he went straight into calling names.

“Janelle that’s you,” Thomas nudged her forward when her name was called.

“What! What! Do I do? Is this it?” she walked forward looking a little dazed, but her feet fell in line with the rest.

“Jason!” Cleopher called out next.

The circle was silent. Then there was crashing sound at the security gate.

“Sorry, sorry… sorry, sorry, sorry,” Jason came stumbling out from the guard house. “Don’t worry everyone, the Train is here,” he called walking quickly across the parking yard.

The perimeter of the circle parted ways to let him through.  “Oh Jason, it’s nice to see you could make it,” Cleopher laughed as he pasted him stick.  Jason walked out to the center of the circle, turned his left forearm to the sky and pressed the tip of the stick in to the head of the serpent tattooed on his arm.

“May the dark lord rise again,” the eternal Voldemort fan shouted, before casting a spell at the wheel and returning the stick to Cleopher.

Spotting his friends in the circle, Jason came to stand by Thomas, Janelle and Chelsi.

“Glad to see you made it, Jason,” Thomas squeezed his shoulders.

“Yeah, man, just in time to leave.”

Categories: Action, Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

102: Last Day

Chelsi inspected the finish on her table.  She reached underneath and pushed up on the particle board surface.  It dried a little warped after the flooding, but it could have been a lot worse, Chelsi thought to herself.  Not that it matters now.  It was her last day calling it her table, her chair her house.  She looked up and out the door from her seat at the table.

It was the same scene she had looked up to see a thousand times before.  A few goats were scattered on the porch, the leaves on trees growing up the ant hill were beginning to yellow with the changing season.  The path out to the road had been cleared and widened, the chinzanza to the left had totally collapsed.  She stood up and padded outside, ducking deep to avoid the roofing beam.  I certainly won’t miss whacking my head on that.  The goats caught notice of her presence but didn’t move, they chewed their cud, watching.  Chelsi held her head down until she cleared the roof of the porch.

The sun was starting to set.  Three of the doves swooped in overhead, touching down gracefully on porches of the bird house.  Mary Lou cooed from here perch in the pophole.  It was quiet Chelsi noticed.  It was rarely quiet.  Usually babies cried, goats bleated, sound systems blared, roosters crowed, but not this evening.  She turned around to the back of the house.  Daringly she shook one of the poles propping up the rear roofing beam.  What if? She thought, what if on this one last night?  The pole reverberated when she let it go, but it held strong.

She walked past the lemon tree, and the cement pad that had once been a batha; once upon a time. She looked admiringly at the flowering purple tree she had planted last more than a year and a half ago now.  It was taller than her now, having grown more than a foot a month throughout rainy season.  Watching it grow had been satisfying, everyday a little taller, a little stronger.  She had hoped to see it flower, but next time. Maybe next time I’ll get to see it flowering. 

The goats were watching her again.  Chelsi could hear the nearest one smacking its lips.  The chewing paused and the nanny called to her baby.  Chelsi went to sit on the porch bench.  The lip smacking nanny stood to move out of the way, and moved on to find her baby.  The cement was cool on her legs, and a light dusting of lime fell to her shoulders as she leaned up against the house.  Across the compound she saw a little white face poking out from the bushes.  The face closer and a little black body was revealed.

Tulip trotted toward her.  He paused to sniff the porch roofing poles before coming to rub up against her legs.  Chelsi scratched to the top of his head and lifted him on to her lap.  She stroked his fur and he purred, happy and content; the two of them, enjoying the evening air.

Categories: Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

101: Regret the Puppy

“Here we are,” Chandra said as the two women spilled out of the pickup truck that had given them a lift from Mutanda junction.  Their bags tumbled out on top of them.  When the truck door was shut the drive gave a slight nod of his head and pulled away.

“Where are we going?” Chelsi asked filling her arms with reusable grocery bags while trying to balance a box of strawberry plants on her head.

“The path way there by the red sign,” Chandra gestured to pathway on the other side of the tarmac road. The two women waddled across the road under their burdens, towards a neatly swept compound of houses.  About half way up the path a yellow puppy with an excited tail came bounding up to them.  “Oh, Regret, hi how are you?  This is my host brother’s puppy Regret.”

“Oh he’s so cute, he reminds me of Daisy when she was this size.  Just so excited about everything! Aren’t you so excited!” Chelsi cooed to the puppy. “Alright, which house is yours?” she asked starting to feel the weight of the bags in her arms.

“There, that one,” Chandra nodded to a tall house with a thick thatch roof that swooped down over the door, nestled between a standalone storage room and a long laundry line.  They closed the last few meters and Chandra balanced the box she was carrying as she fumbled for her keys.  She slipped the key into the lock, twisted it open and pulled back the bolt.  The door swung open, they stumbled in, opening their arms onto the floor. “Welcome to my home,” Chandra smiled. “Everything is kind of anywhere because I haven’t had the time to make any furniture yet.”  A rainbow of plastic basins was stacked in the far corner.  A myriad of kitchen utensils, pots, pans and mixing bowls were piled around a couple of large black food bins.  Prominently placed in the moderately sized sitting room was a familiar looking futon.

“Where the hell did you get a futon?” Chelsi asked, bewildered, trying to take in her surroundings.

“No, Regret, you stay outside,” she scolded the little puppy, who connected his backend with her door mat. “What do you mean? It’s the futon from the Prov house. We got that new couch from Molly, so Laura said I can have this one.  Haven’t you noticed it’s been missing from the house for like, eight months?” Chandra laughed.

Chelsi and Chandra went about unpacking and organizing their things.  Chelsi only had with her a day pack, the pack she a taken with her when she left Jeremy alone in her house for site visit.  This was the last day of site visit, and Chelsi could have gone home that afternoon.  But I have what? 10 days left in the Kamijiji house?  What difference is a couple of days going to make?  So she decided to go home with her friend Chandra, a health volunteer whose house was another 50 km down the turn off to Chelsi’s house

The rest of the evening passed relatively uneventfully.  When they finished unpacking Chandra introduced Chelsi to her host family.  Her sisters welcomed Chelsi warmly, with hugs and smiles. All the while Regret the puppy was tow, wiggling his body and lapping excitedly at his nose.  Chandra’s host family scolded him when he got too close to the cooking pots, but otherwise treated him gently.

After a dinner of rice and vegetable the two women tucked themselves into bed.

The next morning Chandra started the brazier and Chelsi cooked the eggs.  When their plates were clean Chandra went off to greet her family for the day, let them know about the programs she had going on for the day.  Chelsi hung back to finish washing the dishes from the night before.  When Chandra returned her face was painted with distress. “My host parents said that Regret got hit by a car this morning over by the borehole.  He went with my host sisters to fetch water this morning, and a car that had pulled of the tarmac clipped his back end.”

“Is he okay? Well I mean, obviously not,” Chelsi started to stand up.

“He’s over there, curled up in the bush with my host brother.  They asked if we had any medicine for him.” She hesitated, “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, let’s go have a look,” Chelsi was nervous that the injury would be gruesome, but walked over to the bushes where the boys were standing around.  They watched as she approached.  One of the smaller boys was making an attempt to catch the puppy, who Chelsi faintly see between the brush was limping about. Well he’s walking for now, so that’s good. 

By the time Chelsi and Chandra closed the space between the house and the bushes the boy had chased the puppy up against a wall of brush.  He was curled up tightly in a ball.  The rear foot on top was starting to swell rapidly.  “Oh baby boy, who’s such a brave puppy,” Chelsi used the voice she used to calm Daisy whenever she needed a shot.  “Are you being such a good a boy,” she continued crouching down. The boys both backed away and leaned closer.  “I know it hurts, but you’re being so brave,” She lifted the top leg gently see the other one.

Where skin had been torn away, dirt, sticks and leave were stuck to exposed muscle. There was a limited about a bleeding around the ends of the torn skin, and this paw wasn’t swelling as fast.  It could have been a lot worse.  “Alright baby boy, let’s get you cleaned up.” Chelsi scooped Regret up gently, cradling him against her chest.

“How is he?” Chandra, who was still standing closer to the house, asked.

“It not as bad as it could have been.  He really needs some stitches and a split, but do you have some gauze, ace bandages, antibiotic cream, some alcohol pads.” Chelsi adjusted her arms around Regret and kneeled to pick up Chandra’s welcome mat.  She crossed the few meters between Chandra’s front door and her chinzanza, shook out the mat and laid the puppy down on top of it. “There you go baby boy,”  He made a lame attempt to stand up and move away but kept him down by scratching behind his ears and placing a kiss on the end of his nose.

Chandra came out of her house with the supplies Chelsi asked for.  She placed them down beside the puppy in the chinzanza. “Iiii, that doesn’t look good.  That kind of stuff really grosses me out.”

Chelsi start picking the large debris out of Regret’s wounds.  She talked to him gently all the while and he eventually let his head rest on the mat, resigned to his fate of being helped.  As she worked, the pile of debris, alcohol pads and gauze wrappers grew high before Chelsi was satisfied with her work.  She finished by securing the gauze with the ace bandage and stroked Regret’s neck.  She would have liked to wrap the other paw to help control the swelling, but there was only one bandage and keeping the open wounds clean was more important she decided.   “Alright baby boy, you’re all set. Tomorrow I’ll change your bandages again.  Now don’t play to rough on it.” She smiled and the puppy looked up as she backed away.  “I’ll ask Chandra for some water for you.”

“How is he?” Chandra asked hearing her name.

“Time will tell.”

Categories: Action, DIY, Drama, Health & Fitness, Horror | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

100: Site Visit

Chelsi watched the time on her watch roll by from 14:00 to 14:01. “Alright, well I guess I’m not too surprised no one’s here.”

“Is this normal?” Zach, a new RAP trainee asked. “That just no one shows up to your programs?”

“In my area, yeah, it’s pretty par for the course.” Chelsi responded with a voice free from bitterness.  With only three weeks remaining in her village, she found herself freed of the feelings of anger and frustration she had felt.  Mostly because those feelings were being overcome with anxiety and uncertainty of what was to happen once she left her house for the last time.

She had the plan laid out the best she could; pull from site, spend a few days in Solwezi, start hitching Tuesday morning, arrive no later than Wednesday to Lusaka. Arrangements for Daisy’s extended stay at the kennel in Lusaka had already been made.  Then there will be ring out, I’ll spend a few days in Lusaka, figure out how to get to Siavonga, set up the house there, go back to Lusaka, then leave for home leave.  In her mind is all worked out more fluid that water; but she knew better than to trust the best laid plans…

“So then? What do we do?” This was Zach’s first time in the village, having arrived in Zambia about two months prior. Up until his arrival at Chelsi’s house earlier that week, Peace Corps had kept him, like all volunteers in training, in a tightly controlled environment, where the realities of everyday living as a volunteer were rarely discussed.

“Well, I’m going to go out and find the people who said they would be here for the program and make them come.” All around it was far from an ideal situation but it was her responsibility to make sure that the new trainees got full exposure to life as volunteer. In three days they would be on their own in the village for the weekend and after returning to Lusaka for two week they would be posted to their villages and on their own. “Just wait here with Adam and Amanda, and Jeremy and I’ll be back in a bit.”

Chelsi walked off her porch all bent over and towards the road.  Daisy came bounding out of the bushes after her.  She was baffled that the girls hadn’t come.  For two weeks the girls from GLOW, Peace Corps girls’ empowerment camp, had been excited about teaching some of the things that they had learned at camp. But now that the time came there was no one to be seen.

Chelsi and Daisy walked up the dust road collecting girls, and some boys, along the way. ‘Didn’t you remember? We were supposed to be making copper rings today,’ she asked them as they followed her back to the house.  They nodded along, smiling happily. Chelsi’s departure still felt like a lifetime away to them.  ‘But if we can’t make copper rings today, then we will tomorrow,’ they responded.

There’s always tomorrow here, Chelsi thought to herself.  And it’ll be the same as today, the same as yesterday. Two years of worth of yesterdays, and today, and it’s still all about tomorrow.

Categories: DIY, Drama | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

099: Nearest Neighbor

Chelsi lugged her bike through the doorway and off the step of the porch; the rusted chain grinded against the crank.  Outside, Chelsi gently hoisted the bike’s pink frame onto her dish rack.  The rotting rack shook under the weight, but Chelsi figured, just this one last time.  The chain and gears needed oil, this Chelsi knew, but she had already packed at the bottom of her bag, in anticipation of the move she was to make in a matter of weeks.  Using a rag though, she wiped away dirt from crank and cassette, wrapped the rag around the chain and turned the crank.  The chain slipped though the rag leaving streaks of brown and black.

If only, Chelsi thought. If only I had a nearest neighbor my whole service.  I would have been out here cleaning the bike every other day.  Through her mind pasted the fantasies she had created and collected over the years about what it would have been like; to be able to hop on the bike and in 15 minutes be with another volunteer.  I could have had a partner for Camp TREE, an ally in getting my house fixed, a friend to care for Daisy.  I could have helped them plant trees around their house, build an oven, formulate feed for their ducks.  She shook the images out of her head.  There’s no sense in thinking about how things could have been, when to today we could know how they actually are.

Chelsi lifted the bike back onto the ground after checking the pressure in the tires.  “Daisy! Baby Girl, get up, get up, get up.”  There was a faint thud, thud before the dog appeared in the door way.  She stretched, front feet first, then back. She topped it off with a yawn.  “We’re going to go for a ride today,” Chelsi said walking towards her at the door.

In the house Chelsi grabbed her white plastic helmet, and blue chitenge bag, complete with water bottle and emergency snack.  The process of preparing for a visit to her nearest neighbor felt natural, even though it was her first time.  And the last time, the dark thought floated through the back of her mind.  Lilly, her near neighbor was only here for two days; not even a volunteers yet. A mere trainee.  At the end of the weekend she would go back to Lusaka to finish training.  She wouldn’t return until after Chelsi moved out; site visit they call it.  Chelsi only vaguely remembered her site visit; the three days she spent sitting in the dilapidated shack, Mike a called a shed with a bed.  She shuttered strapping her helmet to her head, and starting towards the road.

Daisy bounded up the path and on to the gravel.  She looked left, then right, then back at Chelsi.  Chelsi pointed to the right and Daisy trotted away.  Mounting the bike, Chelsi set off after her.

Biking down the road Chelsi wasn’t concerned that meeting would be awkward.  She didn’t think about what she would say, or should say.  She didn’t worry that Lilly would rebuff her unarranged arrival.  As a friend of the neighboring village Chelsi was even certain that lunch would be served upon her arrival by Lilly’s host family.  It’ll probably be the last time I eat nshima here.

Chelsi knew, that even though her and Lilly had never met, they were already friends; they were compatriots, Peace Corps volunteers.  Chelsi would do whatever necessary to help out her neighbors and fellows; to brighten their day or support them when the going got rough.  And she was sure, shortly, if not already, Lilly would feel the same pull.

Daisy’s long legs loped around the last curve to the left.  She knew the way.  Lilly’s host family was a good friend of Chelsi’s and she had made many visits to the house in the past.  On the bike, Chelsi swerved around the well to the path that went round a fallen tree to the main compound.  The children had screeched with excitement when they saw Daisy run up, so that the adults knew Chelsi was close behind and had a few moments to prepare themselves accordingly.

“Aaah, Ba Chelsi. Welcome,” Kenny said reaching to take her bike away before she had even dismounted.

“Thank you, thank you,” Chelsi looked past all of the excitement to the volunteer compound that was set off to the back.  “I’ve come to see Lilly.  She made it okay?” Chelsi asked as Kenny walk back to his seat in the shade, after having leaned her bike against the wall of the house.

“Yes, yes, yes. She is there!”

Chelsi peaked around some trees, and sure enough she saw a woman in a chair in the small chinzanza at the front of the volunteer house.  Chelsi could see that the commotion of here arrival to the compound had caught her attention.  Chelsi waved. Lilly waved back. “Naiya,” Chelsi called and started in her direction.

Categories: Adventure, Drama, Health & Fitness | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

098: the Home Stretch

Wow, Chelsi thought, quickly scrolling through the folder of blog posts on her computer.  97 stories, that’s quite a feat.  How’s is it I got all the way to week 97? She wondered this, even as she stared at the answer.  Every week was accounted for, all the way up to the present.

She looked closely at the story titles from weeks 45 to 55; the stories she wrote about one year ago and halfway through her service.  She thought about how when she was writing story 52, she couldn’t even have conceived the titles for week 70, the week Thomas and Janelle got married.  At the same time though, she would have hoped for a title like week 68’s, when she was finally getting her roof replaced, but at the same time could have never foreseen the follow up’s regarding the story of her roof in weeks 74 and 96.  And now, only six more stories to go… it’s the home stretch.

Chelsi closed the top to her computer and snapped it shut into the hard plastic pelican case.  After replacing the case on the bookshelf beside her bed, she reached under the wooden frame for her duffle bag and backpack.  She figured now was as good a time as any to start packing.  This was in part because she wasn’t sure how long the supports on her roof would hold, and if she had to evacuate, it would be little notice and she wanted to be sure that at least her most valuable things were ready to go. Secondarily, she didn’t have a lot else left to do.  She was done running programs, most of her friends in the village were away at school and she had finished most of the books in her house.

The duffle bag, she had decided, would be the bag she takes back to the States for home leave, the 30 days of special leave she would get starting May 9th to the second week of June, before she would officially start working on her 12 months as an extension volunteer, in Southern Provence’s city of Siavonga.  In it, she began to pile the trinkets, knickknacks and gifts she had picked up on her other vacations; paintings from Malawi, perfume from Zanzibar, colorful stones she had pick up from the bed of the hot springs in Kapishya.  She added a few of the chitenge dresses she had made in the preceding few months.  Most of the rest of this is garbage though, she thought, looking at the remaining clothes hanging in her bedroom.  She hadn’t switched out her skirts and t-shirts as often as she had thought she would when she arrived in country.  She thought about the few t-shirts and skirts the remained pristinely sealed in their bags at the Prov house.  Those she would take to Siavonga; though she was still unsure what the dress code would be at the Yalelo fisheries office there, she figured there was always weekends and holidays for t-shirts.

In the backpack, she put the things worthy of the trip to Siavonga.  Surveying the things in her house, she tried to decide what was she should taking with her and what she could replace on arrival.  The pots and dishes can stay, but the knives were expensive, so I think those will come.  Anything that couldn’t go in the bag right away because she was still using it, was added to a list, so as not forgotten on the final day of departure.

Happily, she knew now that there was a house waiting for her in Siavonga, and a little bit about it.  ‘A small guest house,’ her new manager had described it. ‘There’s electricity, running water, no proper kitchen, but we’ll give you a toaster oven with a cook top and small table to set it on.  I also requested for you a chest of draws.’ Chelsi had scrutinized the few pictures she had been sent, trying to judge just how small, ‘small’ meant.  In one of the pictures, you could see a full size mattress and box spring already in the house.  Using it as a reference, Chelsi decided that ‘small’ was at least four times the size of the mattress, so at least the size of my current house, which is comfortable now.

She knew all this, but still left undecided was the day she would officially depart from Kamijiji. She wanted to be in Siavonga by the 1st of May, acquaint herself with the city a little before she left for home leave. So that she could see the rest of her friends from her intake before they all left on their last day as volunteers, April 27th, Chelsi needed to be in Lusaka by the 26th of April. Her duffle bag finished and zipped shut, and her backpack about half full, she sat on the couch next to where Daisy was napping.  Chelsi stroked the top of her head and her eyes peaked out a little.  The decision when to leave wasn’t so simple because she would probably be left hitchhiking down; the bus wasn’t an option. She kissed the top of Daisy’s head, and she wagged her tail, “don’t worry, when the day does come, you won’t be left behind.  We’ll figure it out.”

Categories: Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

097: COS Party

Chelsi threw herself down on to the couch of the back porch of the Prov house.  “Hey Thomas, Janelle. How are you two?” Though they sat in the shade, the mid afternoon sun heated up the air enough, so that without effort small bits of sweat beaded up on the foreheads.

“Where good,” Janelle piped up. “How are you? How’s your site?”

“Well, when I came back from medical last week, my house was flooded, and the back portion of my roof collapsed.”

“Oh no,” Thomas chuckled, taking a swig of his drink. “Have you talked to Paige yet? Something like that happened to her too.  Like her walls broke.  It’s crazy, have her show you the pictures.”

“How is it now? Is it still broken?” Janelle squeaked.

Chelsi sighed, “My house is always broken.  But my host family came a propped the roof up some with sticks.  When it started slumping again, I went back and got another one of my friends to get some more sticks to give it a little more support.  It seems okay now, it not leaking any more than normal. We’ll see how it is when I get back.” Needing a drink, Chelsi stood up an made her way through the side door and into the kitchen.

The kitchen was a buzz with people peeling potatoes and cutting, chopping, shredding coleslaw components.  “Hey Chelsi,” Chelsi’s friend Tyler set down his knife and opened his arms for a hug.

“Hi Tyler, how’s dinner going?”

“Good, good, everything is going alright. When did you get here?”

“Just now, I had a horrible time finding transport so I ended up just calling a taxi. I also thought, ‘maybe I just shouldn’t come.’ But I knew I’d regret missing my own Close of Service party.” Even though Chelsi wasn’t officially closing, or ending, her service for another 15 months, she still felt a kinship to the other fellows in her intake who were leaving, and didn’t want to miss out on the tradition.  “I guess I could have walked, but I really didn’t want to be too tired by the time I got here.” With that she reached up on the cupboard shelf for a cup.  The vast number of people at the house meant her choices were limited.  She decided on a large stainless steel mug.

“No way! You need that energy for the mud pit later!” It was Oliver’s voice, coming up from behind.

“Oh my goodness, you guys really want ME to get in the mud pit? And do what?”

“We’re going to wrestle!” Oliver, cheerful as ever. Tyler laughed.

“Alright, we’ll see.”  Chelsi twisted the spout of a wine box on the counter and filled her cup.

 

The hot day slipped in to cool night.  All the while empty cups were refilled, and bellies were stuffed with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and coleslaw.  Chelsi was relaxing on the front porch with a few of the volunteers from the newest intake, when a ruckus of sounds drifted through the house from the backyard and into her ears.

“What’s that? What in the world are they doing back there?”

“I think that was Maddy defeating Oliver in the mud pit,” Victoria chucked. Chelsi had almost complete forgot about the mud pit. “I think that means I’m next, but I definitely don’t want to wrestle Maddy.” Victoria quickly downed the rest of her drink and stood up.  Curious, Chelsi followed suit.

“Are you going to get in the mud pit, Chelsi?” Jordan asked, remaining cross legged on the floor.

“I don’t know, will go down there, check it out.” Arm in arm Chelsi and Victoria made their way across the front porch, through the house and out in the backyard.  All the while whispering about potential wrestling mates.

In the poorly lit yard only about half of the people could be seen.  The others, covered head to toe in mud were catalogued against the night.

“Victoria, I think your next!” Tyler announced, being the first to notice the two women’s arrival.

“Okay, but I’m only going to go in if Chelsi goes in with me.”

“Fine, I’ve been convinced.” Chelsi smiled.

The two women removed nearly everything. Shirts, shoes, socks, skirts, watches, earing, so that when they were ready they had on nothing but their underclothes.  Holding each other’s hand for support, the two stepped into the pit together.  Chelsi hadn’t anticipated just how slippery it would be.

“Okay, rules,” Tyler announced. “Everything goes, but to win you need to pin both of your opponent’s shoulders for at least three seconds.”

Chelsi, not really sure what she was getting herself into, instinctively crouched down.  Her friend Victory was tall and narrow, so maybe if I get her below her center of gravity?

“On my mark,” Chelsi was aware of the small group that began to gather more closely around. “GO!”

It was harder than Chelsi imagined it would be. The mud was slick and any time either woman made an attempt to grab the other, the other would just slip away. They laughed and squealed some but had to remain mindful in order to keep mud from filling their mouths. It was difficult to say just how long they fumbled around in the pit for, but the two grew tired quickly, And Chelsi, having finally gotten a secure reach around the back of Victoria’s knees, was able to knock her off her feet and on to her bum. Chelsi was surprised by the strength of Victoria’s upper body, when she tried to push her back into the mud.  Chelsi nearly lost her advantage more than once, until Victoria’s arms tired, while Chelsi’s weight didn’t, and Victoria’s back and shoulders slid into the mud.

“ONE, TWO, THREE,” Tyler’s voice rang, and the crowd cheered.

Chelsi stood up, extending a hand to help Victoria, who took it with a smile. “You’re right, that was kind of fun. Thank you.”

“Yeah! Wow you’re good,” Victoria laughed.

The two friends carefully picked their way out of the pit, the crowd backing away to give them a wide berth.

“Alright, who’s next?!”

Categories: Action, Health & Fitness, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

096: the Flood

Daisy whimpered, tap dancing her toes on the porch, wagging her tail excitedly.  “Awww, did you miss me baby girl? I missed you, ohh yeah, I miss you baby girl!” The more excited Chelsi made her voice the more excited her puppy became.  “Come on, let’s go inside, come on, let’s go!” Chelsi laid her bags down on the concrete bench of the porch.  Over at the door, she twisted the combination lock, right, right, left, right, and it clicked open. Chelsi loosened the bolt on her door and pushed it open.

“You have got to be kidding me,” the words escaped her mouth as she looked around the room.

Water pooled, puddled and flowed between the various angles and dips of her floor.  Looking to her left she found that her table had been turned in to a bird bath.  The press board top, saturated, bowed down towards the floor, collected water in to a little pool, all I need to do is let the birds in.

Needing to let her eyes refocus, Chelsi looking towards the back wall.  The pots and pans rack had fallen again, no doubt the ka pushi knocked it down again, trying to jump up onto the back wall.  Her eyes followed along the back wall, till it stopped at a crack in the mortar.  That new though. Chelsi picked her way through the puddles to get a closer look. The new crack started a brick layer from the top of the wall and followed the mortar down, like a stairway to the land of broken hopes and dreams. It let the traveler off in a muddy pond that covered the toes of Chelsi’s shoes. “And now my socks are wet.” She said turning around to look at Daisy, who only wadded in to water to follow fish, and otherwise avoided it at all costs.

Chelsi sighed, walking back to the doorway.  She removed her shoes and peeled off her socks, hanging them over the cross beam of her porch to dry. With her broom in hand, she followed the back to the deepest part, and with nothing else to do, began sweeping it out.  Chelsi thought back to a story Rolla, a volunteer of the 2014 – 2016 class, had told.  After breaking her collar bone and spending six weeks in South Africa, she said she home to ‘a mosquito breeding ground of epic proportion.  Water as far as the eye could see.’ Her next step was to close the door and tell her host family that she would be living in their house until they cleaned it up… Chelsi didn’t have that flare for dramatics, and was nauseated by even the idea of staying in her host family’s house. It was better built, but dark and musty, with no spare space.  And after six weeks, sure, I getting it. A little bit of water added every day from the rain.  But I’ve only been gone for ten days maybe. She continued to push the water towards the door.

There had been a heavy rainstorm a few day previous, in town. And it wasn’t unlikely that it her village, with rain that heavy it could have slid under the door, and there is a leak over the table, but the counter top? There’s never been a problem there. She swept and swept the water towards the door, and like the waves she created with her broom, anger, disappointment and sadness swelled, then subsided, swelled and subsided inside her.

When the floor was clear, though far from dry, Chelsi stopped to stretch out her back and survey the damage to the table and counter top.

Chelsi brushed the water from the top of the table.  The finish, once again fully hydrated had become yellow and sticky.  The forward left leg was warp, and little bits of black colored mold were creeping out of the joint.  Chelsi wiped it away with her finger.  “The only thing left to do, is to hope it dries okay,” she said to Daisy, who was now taking a few uneasy steps into the house.

Chelsi was most puzzled by the story of the counter top, which she now scrutinized.  The wood itself was a lot sturdier than the table, but everything on top was saturated.  She began by moving everything to wipe it down.  As she worked her eyes drifted back to the wall, to the crack.  She followed it up this time to the corner where the roof met the wall.  “Ugh…” escaped from her subconsciously, and the mystery was solved.  She dropped the rag she was using to clean and walked out the door. Slipping into her flip flops she rounded the house to view the suspect corner from the outside.  And there it is….

What she was confronted with was a collapsed support beam.  The beam the held up the frame of her roof had fallen to the wayside, pulling the frame apart with it.  A large crack now ran up the seam of her roof to the top.  She hadn’t noticed it inside because it was covered by plastic.  Now that same plastic acted like funnel, dumping any water that fell on the south side of the roof right into her house.

Chelsi dragged herself back inside, unsure what to do.  If it had just been a rip in the plastic she could have covered it with tape.  A crack in the wall? Fill it with mud. A collapsed roof? A brand new roof? Not nine months old? She picked up her phone and dialed the number of her volunteer leader, Laura.  She listened to the phone ring, ring, ring….

“Hello?” the voice of her friend sounded through the speaker.

“Hey,” Chelsi responded. “I think I have a problem.”

Categories: Action, Drama, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

095: Lusaka Botanical Gardens

“Good thing Cleopher mentioned that the Department of Fisheries office was just across the street, otherwise I wouldn’t have known where to get off,” Chelsi said starting off away from the minibus.

“Oh man that minibus, it was so crammed in there, within 10 seconds I couldn’t feel my feet.” Chelsi’s friend Oliver shook out his long legs and followed just behind her.

“Yeah, I hate minibuses. And this particular ride is a long one.  But we made it.” Sign with an arrow was painted along the wall, advertising the direction of the Lusaka Botanical Gardens.  “I’m glad too, I couldn’t just keep sitting around Kabulonga any longer.”

“Me too.”

The two friends passed through the bright orange, wrought iron gates, guarding the entrance to the park.

“If I remember correctly it’s like 20 or 25 kwacha to get it in.” Across the empty grass and gravel parking lot they entered a small brick reception room.  “I’m glad it’s a Thursday in February too, so it’s not crowded.”

“Good Morning,” the fashionably dress receptionist greeted them.

“Well, hello there!” Oliver returned as exuberant as ever. “We’re here to see the garden.”

The receptionist smiled and laughed.

“We have come to the right place?” Chelsi added, reaching for her wallet in her bag.

“Yes, you have.  It is 30 kwacha per person to enter.”

Chelsi sighed and dug through her wallet. “I have a 50, do you have a 10 Oliver?”

“Yeah, sure, of course.” He riffled through his pockets until he found a 10 kwacha to place on the counter.  When the receptionist finished filling out the receipt for two, she tore it from the book and handed it to Chelsi.

“When you exit the office, the animals are off to the left and the gardens, straight ahead.”

“Thanks!” Jovially Oliver led the way into the garden.

“Last time I was here,” Chelsi started, “it was dry season. So everything was brown, and dry and dead.  And that was,” she had to pause to recount, “nearly two years ago now. Which is why I wanted to come back now, you know, during rainy season. So I could see the plants with flowers on them.”

“Yeah, I was hoping to take some cutting so I could plant them around my house too.” Oliver took in their surroundings.  An old stone atrium, over grown with a flowering purple vine, lay just before them on a path leading to a bridge over a small creek.

“Well that purple vine looks nice,” Chelsi pointed out.

“Do you think it’ll grow from a cutting?”

“I don’t know, but this is Zambia.  Even dead sticks start to grow when you stick them in the ground.”

Oliver laughed.

“Are you going to plant them at the new house? The one at Paul’s place?” Oliver was extending along with Chelsi, only he was moving only down the road from his current site to help a missionary farmer start an aquaculture facility.

“You know, I don’t know. I guess I can plant them at the new house.”

“You’ll be able to enjoy them there longer. 14 more months!” Chelsi raised her hand and Oliver gave her a high-5.

“Alright! 14 more months.”

Reaching the atrium, Chelsi took a seat on bench, while Oliver search for tender off shoots to collect for his garden.  Across the stream was a broad leafed plant with red flowers. Like birds of paradise, Chelsi thought but drooping. Farther off Chelsi could see the path leading to flowering bushes. No, those aren’t flowers. She could see against the green backgrounds, the white, yellow, orange, brown, purple flowers fluttering, because they’re butterflies. 

“Where to next?” Oliver’ voice broke her focus.

Chelsi pointed across the stream, “maybe some of that bush over there.  It seems to be attracting lots of butterflies.  That might be nice.”

“Okay, let’s go!” Oliver waited for Chelsi to collect her things, then the pair crossed the bridge together, to the bushes filled with butterflies.

 

Categories: Adventure, Nature | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

094: Community House

Chelsi sighed and rubbed her temples.  She had volunteered to take on the responsibility of hosting site visit in April on a whim.  She was in Lusaka, hanging around the office, riding a really good mood having just returned from her whirlwind Zambia tour, when one of her program managers mentioned that no Kaonde speaking aquaculture volunteers had applied to host site visit for the 2017 intake; she had shrugged her shoulders, unsurprised, and causally offered her site.

Regret was too strong a word to describe what she was feeling now, but the responsibility turned out to be more work than she anticipated.  Her memory of site visit from two years ago was mostly just hanging out, shooting the shit, eating really amazing food she would never eat again in the village.  She remembered doing a few language lessons, but it hadn’t occurred to her that she would be responsible for finding a place for the language and technical trainers to stay.

She stared out across the common room of her house. Daisy was stretched out on the couch taking a midmorning nap.  Tulip was curled up on the end of her table.  One things for sure though, I’m not going to find a homestay sitting in my house. She stood up to fetch her socks and shoes.  Not ideal rainy season footwear, but after two years she had worn through all her other options.

“Come on, let’s go Daisy.” The dog casually opened her eyes and twitched the end of her tail.  Chelsi moved to stand in the doorway. “Come on, let’s go,” she urged her.  Daisy yawned, stretched her legs, rolled over to stand up, shook herself out and hopped off the couch.  Chelsi closed the door behind them and fastened it shut with her padlock.

It was a rare warm sunny day. Most days of rainy season are cold, damp and cloudy.  Out on the dirt road they started walking towards the school.  The informational email suggested local teachers for homestay, Chelsi remembered.  Maybe there’s an extra room in Mr. Musheka’s house. They walked on towards the community school.

Crossing the grassy field towards the school block, it seemed awfully quiet.  Approaching the building Chelsi could see the classrooms were empty.  She looked at her watch; 11:30.  He should be letting them out in 30 minutes or so, but where is everybody now?  The two circled round to the back of the building.  The grass stood four feet high in the field behind the school block.  Daisy raced off into it.  Chelsi followed her pondering where all the students might have gone.  Perhaps they just went out to do some work. It wasn’t unheard of for teachers to ‘rent out’ the labor of their students to do things like pull weeds in fields or slash yards. I’m sure they’ll be back soon. 

Chelsi and Daisy looked for little critters and flowers in the grass.  5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, went by and still no students, no teacher.  But Chelsi continued to wait, 5 more minutes, 10 more minutes, 20 more minutes, the sky started to look cloudy. She called Daisy back out of the bush. “I don’t think anyone’s coming today,” she said to Daisy.

They started to make their way back through the grass, and across the school yard.  Chelsi diverted down a short cut close to the church.  A couple of men stood in the church yard bagging charcoal.

“Mwabuuka,” Chelsi greeted them. They turned around to reply and Chelsi recognized one as the brother of a friend of hers. “How are you?” she asked, walking up to him directly.

“Us, we are fine.” He was an older man, who lived mostly in town. When they did see each other he was always polite and kind. Chelsi wished she could remember his name.

“Do you know where all the students have gone?” she figured she might as well see if there’s an explanation.

“You mean they are not there by the school?”

“No, we came to talk to Ba Musheka, and we’ve been waiting for an hour now, and nobody’s come.”

They looked at the few other men who were standing around.  But they all shrugged and shook their heads.

“You see,” Chelsi started, “I have some teachers coming from Lusaka the first week of April. They can bring bedding and food, they just need somewhere to stay. Since they’re teachers, I thought maybe Mr. Musheka, but he doesn’t seem to be around.”

“Oh, well,” he paused, “I wish it was in town. But, there is an extra house, just that side.” He pointed in the general direction of his family’s compound. “It’s not all finished, but the iron sheets are there.”

Chelsi’s heart lightened, this was even better. “That’s okay, we still have some time to get it together. Can we go and see?”

“Yes, if you come by in the afternoon, you will find me there. I just need to finish here.”

Chelsi smiled and nodded, “tusakumonaangana. We will see each other.” With that they departed.

Categories: Adventure, DIY | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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