Adventure

always on the move

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: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

 

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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.

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089: Boiling Pot

Chelsi showed her ticket to the guards at the gate of the falls.  While they stamped it she signed her name in the visitor’s book.  It was the third time she had signed it; the first time was last April, with Chad and Aubrey, the second in June, with her mother, and now alone.  Chelsi was new to travelling alone.  For the last two year, any time she even ventured outside of her district in Northwest province she took a travel buddy.  But even from the initial thought of coming to Livingston after COS conference, she didn’t think to invite anyone else.  It wasn’t even because she thought no one would want to come; though it was true, at this point in her service nearly everyone she knew would have already been, multiple times.

The guard held her stamped ticket out to her.  Chelsi replaced the pen on the book, took her ticket and crossed over into the park.   She just wanted to be alone, to decide what she wanted to do, whenever she decided she wanted to do it.  Not having to constantly worry about enjoyment, problems of another person.

And she was alone, even in the park.  Only three other visitors to the park stood in line with her to buy a ticket that morning, and they had all first stopped at the craft stalls.  It was the second week of school, too soon for student field trips, and a Wednesday, so no church groups.

The added rain from the season helped the foliage grow extra lush.  Grasses grew up around her knees, large leafed vines crept up into the trees, while tree branch, heavy with rain and mist on their leaves bent down to greet her.  Chelsi had in mind a particular spot in the park to visit this time.  Her feet followed the cobble stone to a rock stairway that looked to drop off, right into the canyon.  ‘This Way’ a yellow arrow pointed, ‘to the Boiling Pot.’

She took the first step down; every other time she had come to Victoria Falls the stair way was closed, due to the height of the river below.  Though it was rainy season now, most of the water was still upstream in the Zambezi, making its way down from Ichelenge, Mwinilunga and across Western province.  The water wouldn’t reach Livingstone and the falls until April.

Chelsi continued her decent.  The stairwell started with even steps cut into the bedrock of the canyon. A wrot iron hand rail began just as the depth of the stairs dropped off.  Now the short stairs were rocks buried and cemented in to place.  It took all of Chelsi’s concentration not to lose her footing. When she did pause to look around she found that the trees had given way to scrubby bushes, which were clinging to the rock face of the canyon for their life.  Yet with just a few more steps, her gaze was met with the canopy of the forest below.

The trees grew taller and taller as she carefully, carefully, climbed down into the forest.

At the bottom as heavy mist clung to the air.  Huge leaves of the Elephant Ear bush hung over the path, vines with heart shaped leave bounded the canopy of the trees together and epiphytes dangled their roots to brush the top of Chelsi’s head, just as children sitting on a bridge might to the oarsman passing under.  And here, Chelsi noticed, the chorus of insects and birds is so thick you can no longer hear the falls. 

She followed the path, across a bridge, under a boulder, across a bridge, over a rock wall, and up, up, up, she scrambled, onto a flat rock. No soil, no trees, she looked out into the clear, where the powerful sound of rushing water again filled her ears.

Crossing the rock the little canyon opened up to the foot of the falls where the water crashed and cut into the rock walls of the canyon, forcing it back, creating a giant eddy of churning water, like water boiling hard in a pot.   From her position she could the Victoria Falls Hotel and the bridge that connects Zambia to Zimbabwe. She had look down into this part of the canyon before.  Even with high water, it didn’t look like much more than a swirl.  But change your position, change your perspective.

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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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085: Zanzibar

​Chelsi wiggled her heels, burying her feet in the soft white sand.  She had her eyes closed to keep the out the glare from the sun, but it was so strong she could nearly see through her lids out over the Indian Ocean.  With one foot in front of the next, she walked towards the glittering, turquoise colored water. 

She followed the sound of crashing waves and the sand began to feel firmer under her feet; the high tide mark. The tide was going out now, leaving vast stretches of the shallow grass beds exposed.  

When smooth shells, brought to shore by tide began to message the bottoms of her feet she was tempted to open her eyes, but squeezed them ever more tightly shut.  She wanted to be surprised by the touch of the ocean. Taking another two steps she waited, maybe I’ll feel the next wave.  

But not even a tickle of foam touched her toes.  She ventured another step. Nothing.

Setting down her foot for the next step, something quickly jumped up and gave the sole of her foot a warm wet lick.  She stumbled and fell backwards onto the sand, laughing.  Opening her eyes, she saw the next wave crawled up again to delight her toes. 

Pushing herself back up on to her feet she waded into the ocean.  Just in front of her, she could see thickets of sea grass fluttering, beckoning her with the tide.  She answered them, wading closer to them until the warm, salty, silken water was up to her calves.  All around her the emerald colored grass swayed with the water. She leaned closer for an even better look into the crystal clear water.  

At first, she didn’t notice anything unique or unusual, just a bed of grass. But her eye began to adjust as she continued through the forest and suddenly all kinds of creature jumped out at her.   Spines from blue and purpled colored urines poked out through the grass; careful of those, she thought to herself.   Neon red and white shrimp flitted their claws across the blades of grass, scraping algae towards their mouther. The small fry of fishes, darted around her feet to hide in the grass. A large yellow, bumpy sea slug moseyed slowly across a rock.  Chelsi was so bemused by its soft, colorful appearance that she reached through the water and stroked its back.  Its spineless, spongy body coiled up like a slinky to her touch.  

Even as she waded farther and farther would the water never got any deep, the grass beds went on forever.  A warm crystal clear ocean, a beach of soft, white sand, grass beds full of colorful, squishy mollusks and endless tropical fruit, Chelsi thought to herself, and unable to think of a reason for why she should ever leave.  

Daisy, she reminded herself of her furry baby back in Solwezi.  She would love it here to though, and she looked back towards the beach, imaging her playful pup splashing in the surf.  “Someday, maybe someday.”

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

081: Albert the Turkey

​“Just let me do it this year,” Chelsi had responded to Hannah and Sami’s email about preparing for Thanksgiving 2016.  “I just need you to make sure that the turkey arrives on Monday, alive and well.  DO NOT let them put it under the bus!”  What Chelsi had realized was that she just needed to make her instructions simple and clear. She was taking it upon herself to organize the meat course for this year, and rightly so, she thought, remembering last year’s ‘meat leader’ Paul, who had taken on the position out of some poorly placed sense of manly duty.  

“The entire time we were cutting up the pig last year he kept complaining that he was about to vomit.” Chelsi tried to explain to anyone who would listen.  

“So then what else do you need?” Hannah and Sami had responded after accepting her bid for the position.  

“Charcoal… Just charcoal. I’ll talk to Neal about what else he needs for the pig.” Slightly against her better judgement, Chelsi had delegated the task of cooking the pig to her nearest neighbor Neal.  She had been swayed by his genuine passion for the project and her confidence in her ability manage and rectify his inevitable failure. 

“He wants to put the pig in a pit, doesn’t he?” 

“Yeah…”

“Do you think that’s a good idea? Do you think it’ll work?”

“He’s very confident it’ll work, I think there’s about a fifty-fifty chance.  But this year I can guarantee that the turkey will be good and next year Neal will likely be the one leading the meat, so it’s better that he gets all of his wackiest ideas out of him now.”

When the day before Thanksgiving came, all preparations commenced.  A proverbial grave was dug, a funeral pyre lit inside and when the sun began to sink low on the horizon the pig, wrapped lovingly in banana leaves and chicken wire was buried in the pit. At that time, Chelsi could have sworn that she had seen a matching graving spring up just beside, all of your hopes and dreams, the headstone had read.  But Chelsi had walked away with confidence in her own project; dressing the turkey, Thanksgiving’s real star, she thought to herself. 

With some patience and agility the bird, who had been free to roam the expansive yard of the provincial office it’s last few days of life, was caught.  Though a larger crowd than Chelsi had expected showed up to watch the bird bleed out, it died well with little commotion. “Which is what you want,” she had instructed her friend and assistant Oliver.  “Next we’ll dip it in the water I’ve been heating on the brazier and we’ll feather it.”

The cleaning and cutting went smoothly, and nine plump piece of meat where dropped into brine and stored in the fridge till the next morning.  
“What time to you think we should unbury the pig?” Neal asked Chelsi Thanksgiving morning around the breakfast table.

Chelsi shrugged, “What’s your confidence level like that it’s finished?”

Neal paused for a moment in quiet reflection, “97%. I am 97% sure that in like an hour it will be perfectly done.”

“Alright then, I’ll meat you out there with a shovel.” Chelsi laughed, “get it? I’ll MEAT you out there?”

Chelsi passed the next hour rinsing, drying and rubbing her bird with barbeque spices and setting the fire on the brazier.  And when the time came she meandered out to the front yard.  

Neal and Oliver where on their hands and knees brushing aside the dirt over the pig.  “It doesn’t really feel warm…” Neal said with a strong strain of concern in his voice.  When the pig was finally uncovered and hoisted out the outlook was not promising.

“This, this little spot here is the only part that cooked.” Neal said, deflated but with rising inflections of worrying and haste in his voice.  

“So what do you want to do now?” Chelsi ask, feeling genuinely sorry that the scheme hadn’t been successful.  

“I don’t know… I don’t know, do you think it’s still safe to eat?”

Chelsi looked it over; it smells, but not unlike any piece of meat, the color’s fine, the flesh still has integrity. “I think its fine.  I got the grill going. Why don’t we just put it up there, cover it and see what happens.”

When Chelsi looked up, she could see Neal’s face covered in full blown panic.  A thousand reasons of doubt exploded from his mouth.  

“Since there is not much more we can do,” Chelsi tried to retain all of her cool, calm and collectedness, “let’s put on the grill and see what happens.”

With the effort Chelsi, Neal and Oliver managed to situate the pig on the grill and Chelsi was able to return her focus to the turkey.

For the last time, she removed the piece from the refrigerator, rinsed them then patted them dry.  She placed a grate over her fire and laid out the pieces as far from the fire as she could.  She checked her watch, about 4 hours till dinner, perfect.   

With the remaining time Chelsi bathed and dressed, and periodically turned her pieces on the fire.  She enjoyed the parade of fanciful dishes passing by; green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, freshly baked diner rolls, pies, cakes, cookies. Everything one would expect for a Thanksgiving feast.  

“And how’s the pig coming?” Chelsi asked Neal as the dinner hour approached. 

“I think it’s going to be okay.  It looks good, it smells fine.” And Chelsi couldn’t help but notice that the color in Neal’s face was looking better as well.  “Oliver and I are going to take it off the grill and remove all of the edible pieces.”

“Great, I think the turkey is done too.  I’m going to grab someone to help me pull it apart and plate it.”

After removing it from the brazier and setting it to rest, the meat pulled away perfectly from the bones of the bird. 

“Oh my goodness,” Chelsi’s friend Allison cried, “this has to be one of the best turkey’s I’ve ever tasted.”

“Thank you!” Chelsi said blushing.  
When the dinner table was complete, all the volunteers gathered around and shared what they were thankful for.  For Chelsi, it was finding family so far away from home.  

Categories: Adventure, DIY, Drama, Food & Recipes, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

080: Lake Tanganyika

​“It’s a, what did you say? Pilla Pillad-d-d,” 

“Pileated!” Chelsi laughed, over the jumbled sounds coming from the mouth of the blonde haired boy straddling the picnic table bench beside her.  “Pileated, pileated, is the word I meant,” her breathing slowed but the words still came out of her as if on a bubble.

“What the fuck is pileated?” the boys English-Zambian accent put a tone on the word in a way Chelsi had never heard before.  

“Pileated. It’s just in the States, we have a bird call the Pileated Woodpecker.”

“No, we don’t have that here,” he cut her off with a smile.

“I know, stop it!” She swung her leg over the bench to match his posture, then landed a solid bunch on his shoulder. 

“Ssss, Oww,” but even Chelsi was a little surprise at how hard it landed.  

“Oh, stop, you’ll be fine,”

He smiled up at her and winked.  

“What I’m trying to say is that I got confused, I know there’s no Pileated Kingfisher. I meant what you said, Pied Kingfisher, what Laura and I saw was your Pied Kingfisher.”

“It’s a beautiful bird, isn’t it?”

Staring up into the night sky, Chelsi reimagined what she had seen that morning.  A small bird had been perched on the railing of the deck build out over the edge of the lake.  Her and Laura had seen it fishing, swooping in from the front with a glittering silver fish wiggling, in its long, sturdy black beak.  Laura had looked away, uninterested in the tiny gem of an animal, but Chelsi watched on, while it a moment the bird threw back its head and in three gulps made the fish disappear.  When it spread its wings to fly away in to the trees at the water’s edge it displayed a dazzling plumage of white with black spots. 

“It’s absolutely magnificent.” Chelsi replied, reaching for a drink on the table, her copper rings clinking against the glass as she picked it up.  

“Here, let me top you up,” he offered, tipping the cubical bottle so amber colored liquid flowed into her glass. “And this too, if you wanna finish it.”

“Thank you,” they sat quietly for a minute, their hands and mouths occupied.  

“That’s one of the things I like about this job.  Getting to see the birds and the Lake every day, you know? The yellow-billed kite, the purple heron, that pied kingfisher, and the swallows; so many swallows.  I haven’t had the chance to look through the fish books yet.” He had turned his head towards the glowing screen of his computer, and was scrolling through hundreds of music files, trying to decide on just the right one to play next. 

“Well, you’d better get on it. You said what? Your year here’s up a month or two.” Chelsi kept her gaze down, distracting herself some ashes that had fallen on the bench between them.  

“Yeah,” the sound of glitter began to pour from the speaker, followed by the woeful voice of a woman. “Ahh, but it’s time to see new things. You know?” he fidgeted with the ball cap on his head.  

“You’re preaching to the choir with that one. I moved like, ten times in the five, six years before I came to Zambia.”

“Fack, then what? You come here, but you’re going to have some crazy stories by the time you go back, huh?” He turned to face her, Chelsi catch the flash of hunger in his eyes.  

“Ha, yeah, they’ll be crazy alright.  And the first one is going to be how you, the acting lodge boss,  greeted Laura and I on the dock when we go here the other day; ‘The crazies are here!’” Chelsi couldn’t keep from laughing and she could see him blush a bit in the glow of the computer screen.  

“In the year that I’ve been here you two are the only one who have ever taken the ferry here.  Everyone else drives, or takes a bush plane.”

“That also makes it clear that we are your first volunteers to visit.” Chelsi raised her glass, “I have no car and little money, so I will be taking the 70 kwacha ferry, camping under the beautiful, yet painful acacia trees and eating rice and soya for the hundredth time in two weeks,” and with that knocked back the remaining contents.  Replacing the glass on the table she slid closer to him on the bench. “Hear, I want to pick the next one.” He made short protest, but Chelsi slapped his hands away. “Just listen,” she said leaning in closer to better see the features of his face.  But even with the glowing screen and the closest moon in a century she found herself leaning closer and closer; looking to count every eyelash that ringed his water in rock eyes.   

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078: Kasanka

​The alarm rang at 3:15. It was dark and crowded inside Chelsi’s tent, but she unzipped her sleeping bag and slithered out of her sheets.  Beside her Laura groaned.  The two women dressed themselves the best they could in the cramps quarters before emerging from the tent.  The air outside was cool, and for a moment Chelsi regretted not bringing a sweater with her.  It won’t last though, she thought to herself.  As soon as the sun comes up we’ll be sweating.  She wrapped her scarf around her and took a seat on the campfire bench to wait for the truck.  

“You don’t think it forgot about us?” Chelsi asked, leaning against her friend. 

Laura shrugged. 

“It’s nearly a quarter to 4 and the sun will be coming up soon,” but again, Chelsi’s eyes were starting to drift close. She was still tired after so many days of travel.  She left her house a full three days ago, and only late the previous afternoon did she arrive at her first vacation destination; Kasanka National Park.  But it’ll all have been worth it, her foggy mind floated through her consciousness.  

“Here it comes,” Laura said, standing up, jostling Chelsi’s position.  Bright yellow head light illuminated their campground.  The truck rattled up the driveway.  

“Are we all ready to go?” their guide quietly called from his perch on the benches mounted to the truck bed.  Chelsi, Laura, and four other volunteers that were accompanying them gathered themselves up and headed towards the vehicle.
It probably wasn’t more than a few kilometers, but with the icy, morning wind biting at her face, it felt like a journey. To distract herself, Chelsi looked up at the stars.  She had had high hopes that the stars at in the park would shine brightest, but it wasn’t proving to be the case. The light of the moon was growing though, it would be full by the end of her trip.  

The truck came to a stop in a tall grass field on the edge of a dense forest.  Their guide hopped out and motioned for them to follow.  There was no clear path that Chelsi could see but her and her companions followed none the less.  Her fellows had kept some of their blankets with them and were now using them to shield themselves the dew covered grass as they made their way into the forest.  Chelsi had to hold up the hem of her skirt to keep it from getting caught on loose shrubs and branches.  This is not quite what I had in mind, Chelsi through as she picked her way with the group through the grass, but who am I to complain about a little extra adventure.  Their walk went on, about a half a kilometer more into the forest and ended at a ladder that climbed up into the tree canopy.  

One by one, each member of their group climbed up, up, up.  When it came to be Chelsi’s turn she climbed slowed, careful not to miss any of the rungs on the ladder.  The ladder climbed up through a hole in a floor perched amongst the tops of the trees and when Chelsi poked her head up through the hole she was greet with some of the first rays of morning light.  

“Oh wow!” she cried pulling the rest of her body.  Straw colored fruit bats, nearly the size of a house cat, blanketed the sky.  They were flying into the forest, after a night a forging fruits, in search of a place to roost for the day.  On their way some flew close enough overhead she could have reached out and touch them; close enough that she could see the texture of their fur and features of their faces.  Others seemed to look on at their group with the same curious fascination they Chelsi and her friends looked at them.  

As the light from the sun grew stronger the number of bats overhead became few.  Late morning stragglers.   The trees below their stand though, now seemed to flutter with wing like leaves; everyone in their place trying to get comfortable for bed.  With that thought, Chelsi yawn, I could use a comfortable bed. She smiled and gazed on at the sunrise, but not too soon

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073: Pokemon Go

“So are you going to come with us?” Chelsi’s friend Mike asked about this evenings activities. Chelsi was seated at the long table in the sitting room of the Provincial house.

“I really need to tally up the receipts for the grant and prepare tomorrows shopping lists for camp.”  Chelsi was in town for a few days, for the second time that month preparing for the youth environmental education camp, Camp TREE, that she would be hosting at her house in less than two weeks.

“Yeah, but you’ve worked hard today; you need to take a break,” Mike added patting her shoulder.  “I’ll help you with your receipts if you just wait till tomorrow.”

Chelsi sighed, “Where are you going again?”

“Neal and I are going to the airport.”

“Remind me why again…”

“BECAUSE it’s the only pokestop in Solwezi!” Mike was walking into the kitchen. “And I’m out of pokeballs! And I really want to hatch this egg.  I only have to walk like, four more kilometers.  So we’re going to walk to the airport from Kyawama.” He returned with a knife.

“Then we’re coming back?”

“Yeah, or whatever,” he said placing the knife on the table and bending down to pick up a small box.  “There’s that new restaurant, pub thing that just opened by New Shoprite.  Remember we saw that woman walk out today with a pizza box.  Maybe they have pizza there. We can go for dinner after the airport.” The box was plopped on the table with a clink.

Chelsi closed her eyes, rubbed her temples.  She was tired; tired from the dust and the heat of town, and tired from running around all day in it.  She was tired of diligently watching the bricks of cash that was her grant.  Just one stupid mix up and I’m done with. Any money missing that was not was not accounted for by a receipt, she was liable for, to be removed for the volunteer’s readjustment allowance, the waiver of understanding had said.  And she knew that the amount of her grant, though no more than a few thousand dollars, was two to three times as much as she would make in all her service.

Mike cut into the box with the knife, and peeling back the flaps revealed a cases of kijilijili; pint sized glass bottles containing cheap liquor of various sorts.  This particular box was full of Ginger Sky, a local specialty, which Chelsi had recently learned was available only in the northwestern part of the country.  The giddiness on Mike’s face was obvious, “can you believe, this whole box was only 80 kwacha?”

Chelsi reached in removing a bottle and studied the label.  “It’s really that good?” she wondered aloud.

“It’s really not bad the way it is, but we’re going to take a few bottles with us to the airport, and there’s a bar there we can get cold cokes from.”  Mike removed a few more bottles and fit them in to the pockets of his shorts.

“Are we going yet?” Neal asked, coming in to the room from the back porch.  “Are you coming Chelsi?” He wasn’t looking at her, but in the box of Ginger Sky.  “Do you have enough? Should we also bring the Castle in the fridge for the walk over there?”

“Yeah man, maybe three for each of us.  And three for Chelsi, she’s coming too.”

Neal started for the front porch, “Chelsi, what did I tell you? you need to be downloading Pokemon Go right now!, so you can play with us.

The absurdity of her friends made Chelsi smile, “Well, there’s no way there’s enough memory on my phone, but grab those Castle for me. I’ll come with.”

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