Action

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

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

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

088: Close of Service Conference

​Bethany, Bethany, Bethany, Chelsi thought, over and over to herself.  What can I say? The two women had hardly exchanged more than a handful of words until Bethany expressed interest in going on the trip to Kasanka.  And even then, it was a simply yes, then no.  Maybe if she had come, I would have something to say…  It’s not as if we were unfriendly to each other, I’ve only ever heard good things when I hear them. But it’s just that, I never hear about her, she lives two provinces and a world away…

Chelsi tamped down her anxiety for the coming activity she had heard so much about from past COSing intakes.  ‘I drew someone’s name I didn’t even like,’ one volunteer had said.  ‘A lot of people cried’ another had said.  ‘I wish they would have just let us pick people we knew to talk about,’ said still another. ‘It all sounded so fake; It took way too long; I dropped my candle and burned my foot on the hot wax; I guess it was a nice idea…’  Chelsi sighed and wiped her mouth with her napkin.  

“Are you alright, girl?” her friend Rachel asked from across the dinner table.  

“Yeah, I just wish they would make announcements about extension already.  The applications said they would let us know by the 11th, and it’s now the 19:30 on the 11th.”

Rachel laughed, “You know its Peace Corps, what did you expect?”

“That and all this rich food is really doing a number on my stomach and lower bowel. I’ve been sick for the last 15 out of 20 days now and this really isn’t helping.”

Rachel rolled her eyes and smiled at her friend, “Then stop eating it!” 

“But it’s sooo good!”

“Excuse me, if I could have everyone’s attention.” Gloria, the most recent American to join Peace Corps Admin in Lusaka stood from her chair just behind Chelsi.  

Chelsi heart jumped a beat. She didn’t turn around.

“I have some exciting announcements to make.  I have just received an email from your country director Leon, with the list of volunteers who are being invited to extend their stay with Peace Corps Zambia. First, I would like to congratulate all of you who applied, good work, I know you have all been working very hard. Alright,” Gloria slipped a pair of read glasses on to her nose, “first we have, Laura Shepard, who will be staying in her village another six months!” Applause and cheers rose up around the dining room. “Next, Laura Mckinstry, who will be extending her stay in Central Provence for 13 more months. Ray and Liz will be joining our partners in Kasama together, for 13 more months.  Daniel, from Lulapula, will be moving to Lusaka, to continue his great work on Girls can Code. And Chelsi will be joining the team at Yalelo, in Siavonga district.  Oliver, Oliver has been invited to stay at Mujila Falls farm for 13 more months as well.” And with that Gloria slipped the glasses off her nose, “I would like to thank again all those who applied and to all of you for your great work in the field.”

“There you go, good work,” Rachel said when Chelsi looked up at her.

“Congratulations! I didn’t even know you applied for an extension,” and her friend Chris gave her a solid high five.

“WAIT, wait there’s one more,” Shoo shouted across the dining room. “I, Amy Shuman will be extending with USAID in Chipata. Thank you, thank you all for remembering me.”

Oops, Rachel’s face grimaced at Peace Corps’ mistake.  

When Shoo finished, Gloria stood back up. “Now that it’s evening time, when you’re all finished with your dinner I ask the you move on to our next activity, down by the tennis courts, our candle light ceremony.”

Chelsi sighed and stared at the remaining food on her plate. “Come on, let’s go,” Rachel prompted her.  

On the porch off the tennis courts, nineteen chairs were arranged in a circle with a fire lit at the head.  “Please if you can all take a seat,” Cleopher, her program manager asked when it looked like everyone had arrived.  “Fraiser is coming around with candles, if you could all take one.” Chelsi took her candle and slipped on the wax catch.  “I hope you have all been enjoying your Close of Service conference so far.”

“Yeah this place is beautiful,” Matt replied to Cleopher’s rhetorical statement, but a lot of volunteers hollered in agreement.

Cleopher chuckled, “yes, yes.  We just wanted to thank you all for the work you’ve been doing out in the villages.  You’ve all been working very hard, and even if fish farming hasn’t worked out in your village, you’ve adapted to take on the challenges unique to your communities and have made a difference in the lives of real people.  Now most of you have just three, four months left and we’ve been talk this week a lot about going home, how to adjust, what to expect,  we wanted to take this time for all of you to reflect on the relationships you have made here.  Everyone has some ones name from the envelope yesterday?” He took a brief scan of the circle.  “Good, so if someone can volunteer to start, you can say something about the person whom you drew yesterday, then use your candle to light theirs, and we’ll keep going around the circle till everyone’s candle is lit.  Is there a volunteer who would like to start?”

Chris raised his hand, and after a little confusion over how to lite the first candle when no one’s candle was lit the lights were dimmed.  

Chelsi listened, laughed and remembered with her fellow volunteers, all the while quietly terrified for her turn to come.  It was a mystery who would speak about her until Janelle stood up.  It sounded like a blur of vague compliments until her name was mentioned, and her work on Camp TREE and her tipsy humor. And her heart began to race when the wick of her candle was lit. 

Stick to the plan, stick to the plan, she told herself.  “Thank you Janelle.  Umm,” Chelsi struggled with her candle in one hand while tying her scarf around her hips with the other. “I’m not so great with words, and with so much to say, I couldn’t chose, so ummm,” she walked across the circle to the chair next to Bethany’s. “Could you hold this for me, yeah, just like this,” Chelsi handed her candle off to Matt, and regain her place in front of her empty chair.  “Instead I’ve prepared this short, interpretive dance,” there was sudden whooping and hollering from the circle of volunteers.

“Do you want us to drop a beat!?” someone called from the crowd. 

“No, no, no silence is fine.” Deep breath, deep breath. Side step, step, step. Twirl, leap, spin, step, step, she went through the motions again in her head, then her feet left the ground.

When Chelsi had finished the room was more quiet than at any time before, and she was left on one knee in front of Bethany, reaching out for the candle left in Matt’s hand.  Transferring the flame to Bethany she said, “It’s been an honor to serve with you in Zambia, I’m only sorry we didn’t get to know each other better.  But I’ve only ever heard wonderful things about you.  I wish you all the best on the rest of your service and all your future endeavors.” True words to all of you.  

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

086: TAZARA

​“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!” Chelsi screamed as her body was suddenly lurched forward, buckling her knees and slamming them into the metal bench of the train’s third class passenger seating.  But no one could hear her over the train’s screeching.  She gripped the back rest of the bench and braced herself the oncoming halt of the train car.

As the trains pace quicken, the screeching soften so that Chelsi could hear her friend Jason’s wet laughter, “This mother fucking train! You just don’t know what the train’s gonna do!”

It’s true, in the truest sense of itself, Chelsi thought, gripping the bench tighter. It was hard to keep herself from relaxing. She knew, as soon as she let go the train would come to an abrupt halt, probably throwing me on to the ground.  And sure enough, in a matter of moments the train car’s wheels let out a deafening screech, and Chelsi was jerked backwards.  

Quickly, she relaxed her position and started re-stuffing her backpack before the train engineer decided to give ‘going forward’ another try.  “Neal!” Chelsi called over her shoulder.  “Are you still glad we decided to take the train back to Zambia?” She risked a quick glance over her shoulder to see his reaction.  

“Are you kidding?” A semi-smile was stretched over his face. “This is great.  We get to see the train derail, then we get to see it fixed. And look how fast and kind of efficient it’s getting fixed.” Neal took a quick glance at his watch, “We’re only a total of 18 hours behind schedule.  Had the train derailed another 30 kilometers further, in Zambia, we would have been screwed.”

“But so, do you think this means we’re leaving the dining car behind?” Jason asked with a serious thread of concern in his voice.  But before anyone could inject their opinion the train car door towards the back of the train slid open. 

“If you could all go back to your first class cabin now,” a portly Zambian sounding man instructed them. “We will be starting again soon, and the next stop there are dangerous people. You need to go fast, fast.” His last fast, fast was covered up by the sudden forward lurch and screech of the train, and Jason, Sami, Neal and Chelsi being nearly thrown on to the floor.  

When all had recovered the portly Zambian man gave them one more “fast, fast,” before exiting the car. Their group followed closely behind, with Chelsi at the rear.  They reach out and steadied themselves using the back of the benches, when Neal turned around asking Chelsi to go back and make sure nothing was left behind.  

She was double checking under the bench, when she heard the train car door slide open behind her.  Looking over her shoulder she saw another Zambian man, a short skin one, compared to the portly gentleman of before. Righting herself, Chelsi made her way towards him and the exit to the car. 

“Mad ‘am, I just want you to give me,” he started.

But Chelsi cut him off, “No, I’m giving you anything.”

“But mad ’am,”

“No!” She yelled, and the whole train car went dark.  What did he mean when he said ‘there are dangerous people at the next stop? It had been a long time since Chelsi last felt uneasy in Zambia.  When the train pulled out of the tunnel, Chelsi pushed past the man standing and front of her and hurried to the back of the train to be with her friends.  

She reach first class cabin number six and pulled back the door. “Oh look! It was nice of them to remake our beds.” Chelsi surveyed the small cabin; two bench-bunks against either wall with a short table between, and above one more bunks above each lower bench-bunk. Laid out across the tight leather bound foam of each bunk was a blanket, bed sheet and pillow. “Neal can you help me get this up there?” Chelsi motioned her hand to the luggage compartment above the door way.  

“Sure,” and he stood up, relieving her of backpack, hoisting it above his head and into the alcove. But before he could properly regain his seat, he was jerked back into it by the stopping of the train car.  Chelsi’s shoulder was slammed into the door frame.  

Jason laughed, “God damn, it was not like this when Tyler and I took the train last time.”

“What do you think that guy meant when he said ‘there were dangerous people’ at the next stop?” Sami ask push the blonde strands of her hair out of her eyes.  Just then there was a sudden thud that shook the floor, but distinctly different from the lurching and jerking of the train so far.  Chelsi peered out, down the hallway, to see 200 kg worth of rice sacking being pushed into the train car by a Zambian man on the train platform.  

“Holy moly you guy, you’d better see this,” and Chelsi left the cabin doorway for the window just across, Jason, Sami and Neal closely behind.  Hanging their heads out the window they could see a people mobbing the train cars at the head of the train, pushing all sorts of goods through the doors and windows; mattresses, bags of maize and mealie meal, boxes of dishwares, baskets of fish.  

Neal turned back towards his friends from the window, “good thing that guy came by and told us to get out of there fast!”

“Looks like we’re not in Tanzania any more Toto,” Chelsi sighed. 

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072: Colosseum

Chelsi’s champion strode out on to the front porch of her house.  The tuxedo colored kitten was a mere seven weeks, but confident in his stride.  Upon his appearance small group of village boys, Giddie, Willie, and Kingston, let out a squeal from their seat on the bench.

Look, look!” Willie said to the others.  “Ka ka push.”  All their eyes widened, like it was the first cat they’d ever seen.  Chelsi watched them from her seat at the edge of the porch.  She was sure their gleeful nature wasn’t false, but this was far from their first interaction with a cat.  After all, this is my fourth cat, Chelsi thought to herself, regretfully remembering the demise of the previous three.  And I know Mike had at least two cats at some point during his service.

“Jizhina?” Giddie asked, fixing his round, dark eyes on Chelsi.

“Ka ka push? Ka Tulip.”

“Tulip, Tulip, Tulip,” the three boy practiced between themselves.  Tulip paused to clean one of his paws, and Chelsi wiggled her fingers at him to get his attention.

“Giddie, Giddie!” Kingston exclaimed, grabbing the attention of his friend.  “Those small animals we found today, where are they?”  Giddie’s face beamed with a smile and he leaned forward, tugging on the string of his toy truck.  The truck, made of discarded plastic and wire, rolled towards him on its bottle top wheels.  A really engineer that one could be someday, it was clear to Chelsi that Giddie was the best toy car maker in all the village, and every day nearly he was pulling about a new style.  When the truck’s rolling came to a stop, Giddie gingerly picked it up and from the back compartment plucked up toy baby dormice.

“Crickee,” Chelsi said with some surprise, “it’s even got passengers today. Mwatanna pi?”  Chelsi didn’t fully understand the answer, but gathered that he found the nest out in the bush by his house.  She continued to watch with great interest as to what the boys had in mind next.  When just then Giddie dropped the two round, fuzzy grey bodies on to the cement and nudged them towards Chelsi’s kitten.

The baby dormice were too young to make any meaningful get away.  One wiggled its undersized legs, pushing itself on its belly to the corner by Chelsi’s door.  Its litter mate squeaked.  The less intelligent move, Chelsi noted as Tulip’s ear perked up in its direction.

To some surprise, Chelsi was not immediately overcome with moral outrage at the activities that were unfolding before her.  First, not that the infant mice were disturbed from their nest, nor that they had then been pulled around by a child in a toy truck all day, and not now, seeing that the boys intention were to watch this baby on baby animal battle, hoping no doubt for it to end in the bloody demise of the dormice.

Tulip started towards his first contender.  When the kitten pressed his nose in the plump body of the mouse it let out low chirt chirt chirt sound.  Tulip, surprised, recoiled.

What could I say that the boys would understand…? Not much, she decided.  She knew the children went in to the bush on necessity, looking for food and that mice, particularly dormice, were not off the menu.  Not to mention mice, particularly dormice, are a grievous house pest. Better food for the kitten.

Tulip had revised his approach to the protesting dormouse and was now slapping it with his paw.  With every slap, the baby dormouse let out a squeak, chirt chirt chirt.

The boys were pointing with interest, discussing the play by play amongst themselves.  And as Giddie had noticed the second baby dormouse trying to escape, he picked it up and deposited it in to his chest pocket.

I do want the kitten to learn to eat mice, Chelsi reasoned with herself, putting the best spin on the current circumstance that she could.  That why I keep trying to keep cats.  The truth was, just one week without a cat and her house was overrun with mice and rats.  She thought about the last rat she saw, not a few days before, just after returning home with Tulip from Mwinilunga.  Chopping vegetables for dinner that night at the table, she heard a rustling in the thatch of her roof.  When she turned to see what it was, a giant rat was jumping out of the grass of her roof on to the top of her wall. She could still vividly recall the green glisten to its eyes.

Tulip continued batting the baby dormouse with his paw.  The few attempts he had made to lower his head the baby dormouse had bit him on the nose.

Tulip’s probably never really eaten anything live before.  This kitten had come from her friend Oliver’s house, about 30 km south of Mwinilunga.  At the time she had gone to see him and retrieve the kitten Oliver was caring for: two dogs, seven puppies, a cat, six kittens and a flock of improved laying chickens, though thankfully those were not also sharing his house.  But Oliver is a dutiful keeper and Chelsi was sure all of his animals had been plumped on its most appropriate animal feed. And with so much food about there would have been no need for Tulip’s mother to hunt.

When there was the sound of soft bones being crushed, one of the boys let out a gasp breaking up Chelsi’s train of thought.  She reigned in thousand mile stare, and focused on her kitten.  Tulip had finally mustered up his courage and had gone face first, mouth open, at the tiny fuzzy body.  Bright red blood began to bead-up on its grey fur.  With the last of its fight there was a furious chirt chirt chirt. 

It makes sense now, why animals are so attracted to squeaky toys.

Tulip pressed down with his paws and gnawed with his needle like teeth.  Shortly thereafter the incessant chirting ceased.

The boys, still perched on the bench giggled.  As the first mouse disappeared inside the kitten, Giddie revealed the second one.  The human beings attraction to blood sports can’t be denied, for even Chelsi had a hard time looking away now.

The second baby dormouse sat stock still, hoping not to be noticed.

Like two beasts in the colosseum.  Chelsi watched at Tulip followed his blood covered nose towards the second little dormouse.  Or more like the lion and a Christian martyr. 

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062: Buku wa Lesa

​“How do you feel about giving things away?” Sami ask Chelsi from across the dining table.  

Chelsi sighed, “Well…” she plucked up her white knight to capture one of Sami’s pawns. “I thought quite a bit about it. I mean, this is something that’s been building up for the better part of a year, and of course it’s only happening because Marmar happened to come to my house for that malaria activity last March.”

Sami moved her bishop to capture Chelsi’s knight, “You’re pretty terrible at this game.” Sami laughed.

“Yeah, especially considering you’ve never played before.” She paused to collect her thoughts and ideas. “So basically what happened, is there’s this man in my village and about a year ago he started asking me about bibles. If I had any, if I could find any, if I knew anyone who could bring some.  And every time he asked I gave him this non-committal answer;” She moved a pawn up two spaces, “Oh, I don’t have any but I’ll ask around, books are really expensive to ship, if I give one to you then I have to give one to everyone. And I really didn’t want a bunch of people breathing down my neck about bibles and books, so I was so-so about the whole thing.” Sami mirrored Chelsi’s move.

“Then Marmar?”

“Then last March, Marmar and I went by that man’s house for our malaria activity, and of course he was like ‘well, what about those bibles?’  And I did my shoulder shrug and Marmar was like ‘I know someone!’ And when she asked me about it later I was like ‘You know what, if you know someone go for it.’ At the very least I figured this man and I could stop have the same conversation over and over again; even if we didn’t get any we tried, and if we do, I’ll have my hands washed clean of it.” Chelsi charged her pawn forward.  

Sami moved her rook out on to the board, “And now you have how many books?”

“Like 40,” her pawn moved to capture an enemy pawn.

“Shit,” her rook moved to capture an enemy pawn. 

“I have like 4 pieces left!” the two women laughed. 

“So what are you gonna do with all of them?”

“When I was sure they were coming I asked my counterpart, and he suggested we divide them up and give them to the churches between my house and the tarmac and let the community figure out how to divvy them up.” Chelsi castled her king.  “And what I decided is that in the end, the people will be really happy, I really didn’t have to do any of the work to organize it, and always when I see men or children just standing around I catch myself thinking ‘Why don’t you go read a book?!’ and then I remember, ‘Oh yeah, there really aren’t that many books lying around.’

 Sami move her rook over “Check.”

“And so now, at least there will be more books around.  If there all bibles then fine, that’s what’s most feasible any way, and they’re kiikaonde translations too.”

“Well, that’s kind of cool.” Chelsi slid her king out of harm’s way.

“It’s good for literacy.” 

Sami slid her rook, “Check.”

“I think if it’s just going to go back and forth like this its check mate.”

“Check Mate!” Sami exclaimed with glee.

“But there is just no way to report this on my volunteer reporting form, huh?”

Sami laughed, “no, definitely not…  Like, maybe you can tell them at you Close of Service ceremony.”

“Fair enough…” Chelsi looked at her defeated statue on the board. “Do you want to play again?”

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059: Safari

The open topped jeep bumped up and down on the dirt road into the bush.  Chelsi pulled the blanket tightly around her in the pre-dawn cold.  Turning her head out of the wind she could just see the first light of day peaking over the edge of the earth. This was not what she had expected out of her vacation.  Up before the sun? So tired at the end of the day my eyes close on their own?  Of course if you skipped the morning safari ride who knows what you might miss; lion? leopards? giraffes?  She really wanted to see ostrich, or wild dogs. But to want was vain. This wasn’t a zoo; they weren’t just rolling past enclosures.

There was quick jerk of the jeep and the group was turned off the road and onto a herd path.  Made by elephants maybe? It was wide enough for sure.  Most of the trees on either side were bulldozed down to stumps.

“This is the work of elephants hear,” their driver and guide, Mike, called over the engine. “Elephants will start with the leaves, then, once those are gone, they’ll eat the twigs and sticks. Or they’ll strip the tree of bark and eat that soft, wet part of the tree we call the cambium layer.  It’s the vascular system of the tree, so once it’s gone the tree dies and maybe the elephants knock them over or they fall apart on their own.  But elephants are also known to knock down the species of trees that are not favorable for eating.”

To Chelsi it looked not much different than a clear cut forest.  Mike slowed the jeep to a crawl and peered over the side, into the soft dirt. She was out for her element when it came to tracks here, but there’s no way those are elephants; dinner plate sized ovals with thin ridges of dirt running through them. Without obvious toes, she wondered how Mike could tell which direction they were headed, when a trumpet of a hundred French horns sounded in her ears.

I guess that’s what you miss, if you stare at the ground, she laughed to herself, after her thoughts had recovered.  The animal towered sky high just in front of the jeep.  Rough, grey skin looked draped over broad bones. Deep wrinkle and ridges especially marked her legs and belly. She flapped her ears, creating a velvet back drop for gleaming tusks.

“It seems like we might have snuck up on this one a little bit,” but there was an air of aloofness in Mike’s voice that helped her relax.  “Elephants have very poor eyesight, only able to see about ten meters in front of them and not very well in low light conditions.”

With the whole body of the sun was nearly reveled, more light was being shed on their surroundings.  As Chelsi’s eyes adjusted and looked around she saw elephants coming through the bush all around them.  Babies poked out between the legs of their mothers, who were using their muscular trunks to gather the vegetation around them and stuff it into their mouths; the little ones yours theirs to sniff at the mysterious new comers.

After the herd’s Matriarch gathered her wits she started back across the path in to the bush.  Dutifully all the rest followed.  When they were clear of path Mike re-fired the engine and pushed the jeep up the path to the next adventure.

IMG-20160707-WA0008

Elephant Family

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056: Dove Run

“Damn it,” Chelsi ran down the over grown path to the dove house. Why? Why are you so careless! She thought to herself.  Ever since his mate had disappeared, James, a big, grey aggressive male, had been doing his best in tending to his chick.  But Chelsi had to admit, he was lacking the touch of experience. Where his mate used to enter the nesting box for feedings, James insisted on remaining the porch so his chick had to perch precariously in the doorway, and stretch it’s neck all the way down to it father.  And having now lost its balance the two doves were falling from the house in a frenzy of flapping wings.

“NO Daisy! Stay there.” She scolded the dog who came bounding after her ready to play.  She knew Daisy’s intentions would not have been to harm the baby dove now sitting on the ground, but just one playful pounce from the dog would be the end of it.  James, after overcoming the startle of hitting the ground, flew back up on top of the house. Distracted for a moment by the abandonment of his father, Chelsi figured she would be able to make a quick rescue, but the nose of her dog burst into her field of vision. She grabbed her quickly by the scruff of her neck.    Refocusing on the descending danger, it let lose a few startled chirps, found its feet and took off towards the brush.

“Stay there Daisy!” the dog whimpered, not used to being left out.  The brush made the chick safe from the dog, for now, but another danger lurked just beyond.

James cooed an alarm call to the remaining doves, which were already perched atop the thatch of their house intently watching the scene below.

It had been a few hours since Chelsi had seen Norbert, her black, blue eyed kitten, and she knew the brush beyond the bird house had been a popular place for cats to hang out.  Daisy was lying down now, and though Chelsi was not sure she would stay, she could not wait much longer.  She turned and stepped gingerly into the brush.  She stooped down to see if she could see the chick beneath the small branches.  When there seemed to be nothing to see she rustled the brush hoping it would flush. Nothing.

Her mind raced with confusion, I just saw it! How far could it have gone? Her heart began to race but she tried to beat it back and prepare herself for loss.  When the chick betrayed it’s position with a soft cry for its father.  It had made it much farther than Chelsi had assumed.  She stepped to bring it back into arms reach, but as she did so the baby dove jumped to its own feet and started off further into the brush.  Its legs were short and clumsy by it spread it’s undeveloped wings for balance and began far faster and more agile that Chelsi could have ever imagine.  The little chick was able to scurry away from her every step. “Come here you little bugger!”

Following it deeper and deeper into the brush, she imagined different ways she might be able to grab it without braking one of its wings.  She thought maybe I’ll just chase it until it tires and stops, then ridiculousness of her situation flashed though her mind as an image. Yup, she sighed, thankfully no ones around to watch. But she wasn’t alone she remember when the sound of crunching leaves got louder and louder.  The chick was just leading Chelsi around a tree when it stopped frozen in front of the nose of her dog.

“Daisy! Leave it!” and in a heart pounding moment Chelsi scooped up the startled dove and hugged it to her chest.  The body of the chick thumped.  Chelsi relaxed. All together, they started back to the dove house.

James sat beside his box, anxiously awaiting the outcome.  He cooed a few times when they came into view. “You have to be more careful!” she scolded the single father, after depositing his chick back into the box.  It scurried back on to the nest.

Chelsi heard a soft meow from under the dove house. She looked to see Norbert flicking his tail back and forth, “Have you been sitting there all this time?” But Daisy pounced on him before he could answer and with a blink they bounding back in to the brush to play.

James' Chick

James’ Chick, snug in its nest

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