Current Events

“What’s going on in the world?”

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.”

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102: Last Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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098: the Home Stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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092: Birthday Bananza

26, 26, 26, Chelsi thought over and over to herself, stepping out of the cold shower at the Pace Corps bunk house in Lusaka.  Two times 26 is still only 52. I can’t imagine that the next 26 years will be anything like the first 26 years. But probably, maybe the next six will be like the last six.  After toweling off and brushing out her hair, she slipped in to her blue dress with elephant chest pocket.  I guess I knew what years 24 and 25 were going to be like.  And now if I stay in Zambia, move to Siavonga; that will be year 26 and half of 27. WOW, 27 is awfully close to 30. Chelsi slipped her shoes back on, collected her things and left the bathroom.

The bunk house in Lusaka was reserved for volunteers called to the main office for medical reasons.  It was Chelsi’s first time, though she didn’t identify at all with her current bunk mates.  None of them were people she had ever seen before, and nearly all of them were coughing, sneezing, red faced.  The handful of them well enough to stand were now collected in the common room, through which Chelsi had to pass to make it outside to the bunks.  She didn’t want to be unfriendly, but she was concerned about the contagiousness of their afflictions, and she would be leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow, which didn’t leave a lot of time for making friends.

She smiled and greeted them as she passed through.  They were chatting about what to order for dinner, when a large red bearded volunteer stopped her. “We were going to order some take out. Do you want us to get you anything?”

Chelsi’s smile widened by the gesture. “Ummm, thank you. But, it’s actually my birthday, so I’m going to go out…” She looked around at the blank faces, “It’s not that you’re not all invited, but I’m going out with all of your PCVLs. So I figured none of you would be interested in coming anyway. You know, it’s not all that great to party with your boss…” Chelsi felt a little bit awkward, but it was all true. Plus they’re basically strangers.

“Oh so you’re a PCVL?” a curly brunette sitting on one of the old couches asked. “Of which province?”

“No, no, no, I’m not a PCVL. I’m just at the point in my service where all of my friends have become PCVLs.” Clearly none of them have been in country for more than a year, Chelsi thought. That’s why none of them look familiar.

“Oh, okay,” the group kind of nodded in collective understanding.

“Well, have fun,” the bearded one added as Chelsi slipped out of the room.

When Chelsi arrived at the meeting place to catch a taxi with her friends, it looked like everyone was already waiting for her. “Hey, dude!” Her friend Sara waved her over. “We were almost starting to think you weren’t going to make it.”

“Nelson, we’re waiting for a man named Nelson,” Justen said over and over to other taxi drivers, harassing him for business.

“Everything’s ready, the restaurant has our reservation. I just called to reconfirm that they’re expecting us,” Ginny had agree to be head of the party planning committee.

“How are you feeling? What did the dentist say?” Chelsi’s PCVL, Laura asked.

“I feel fine now. He definitely thinks it’s my jaw and that some kind of special mouth guard or split he called it, should do the trick.” Chelsi looked around for the last member of their party.

“Ah! Ba Nelson!” Justen motioned the rest of them to a taxi on the far side of the parking lot.

There she is, Chelsi thought spotting Lani on the other side of Justen.   Chelsi snuck up behind her and gave her a big bear hug.

“Ohh,” Lani let out with a laugh. “There you are. Are you ready to have your best birthday yet?”

Chelsi smiled and gave Lani another big squeeze. The two women laughed.

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091: mere Volunteers

“Hey Girly, what are you doing here?” Chelsi’s friend Mike asked, taking a seat at the dinning room table of the basement office.  Chelsi spun around in the computer chair, at a desk off to the side to face her friend.

“Didn’t you know?” Chelsi smiled. “I’m the APCVL for this week!”

“Laura’s gone again?”

“Yeah, for like a full three weeks. But I’m only here until Monday.” Chelsi swiveled back to face her open email page on the computer.

“Because we have the Animal Husbandry Workshop!” Mike added excitedly.

Chelsi laughed, “Yeah, it almost wasn’t going to happen.  Oliver didn’t get the grant money till like yesterday.  But I actually can’t go.”

“Oh no! Why?”

“Like, a week ago I opened my mouth to floss, and I got this super sharp pain in the left side of jaw. And it was like that for like four or five days, till I called the medical office nearly in tears to get an appointment with the dentist.  So they scheduled me one for Tuesday.” She paused, then continued, “It feels fine now, but I still want to have it looked at. And it just especially sucks cause I missed animal husbandry last year, because my counterpart just couldn’t get his act together enough to go.  But who knows, maybe next year, maybe third times the charm.”

“He just has his pants all in a twist,” Chelsi heard Mike say. “Admin is just very reactionary, and because everything is treated like an emergency, no one stops to think about what’s really going on.” Chelsi then heard the little bell that comes after sending a voice message on Whatsapp.

“What’s that about?” Chelsi ask with curiosity, spinning her chair back round.

Mike didn’t even take his eyes off his laptop. “You know that letter that got passed around about some of the volunteers feelings about new policy changes at the white house?”

“I might have seen it.”

“Well, apparently it got leaked to admin before the people involved got a chance to post it. And now Lusaka is acting like it’s the apocalypse. They’re saying things like, if it gets posted online, there will be a backlash against the PC Zambia post, people could lose their jobs, funding could disappear, duh di duh di duh.”

“What they really mean is that the country director could lose his job.”

“Right.”

“But really, among all the related letters out there, being written and posted, by all kinds of different organizations, associations, whatever, the chance of someone even pseudo-important picking up one for PC Zambia and passing it up to the administration for individualize persecution, is like what? One and…”

“Not likely at all,” Mike finished her comment. “But now they’re talking about administratively separating anyone who posts it.”

“I know that we’re not allowed to make statements regarding the politics of our host country.  We’re not allowed to write or sign domestic petitions identifying ourselves as Peace Corps volunteers. But this has nothing to do with Zambia politics and is nothing close to a petition.  Petitions ask for things, request a review of something, and are written in specific address to the person or office that is in charge of whatever the petition relates too.  That is an open letter, addressed to no one in particular, asking for nothing specific. Or non-specific for that matter.  It’s just a compilation of thoughts and opinions that happen to be mutually held by a group of people.” Heat began to pervade Chelsi voice. “I’ve found that people who wave around the ‘right of free speech’ don’t really understand what it’s intended to protect, but this is it; protection from governmental persecution when opinion are expressed publicly by persons about the government and/or its policies.” She pause to collect herself. “Maybe if we were federal employees, and the upper administration was worried that these conversations were taking place during the work day… Then, sure Lusaka would be in the right to take disciplinary actions; but they make it far too abundantly clear that we are not employees, just mere volunteers, not held to the same standard.”

“I agree,” Mike added, once she had stepped down from her soap box.

“And of course, something like this would blow up, right when I’m planning an extension.”

“WHAT?!” now Mike’s full attention was on her. “You got it?! And you didn’t tell me right away!?”

Chelsi smiled coyly, “Well, it’s pending medical and housing approval.” Mike stood up and approached her for a hug. “And you know, I didn’t really think to tell anyone; I figured the rumor mill would spread it around.”

They embraced, “Congratulations!”

“I know! Now we can be extension buddies together!”

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087: A New Year

​Chelsi sunk back onto the dingy green media room couch next to her friend Tyler.  He was leaned forward though, fidgeting with something on the brown wicker coffee table.  

“So how’d it go? How was Zanzibar?” Tyler asked. 

“You mean, beside perfect in every way?” Chelsi voice was long and tired, but Tyler laughed.

“That good, huh? I mean, I heard about the train ride.”

“Oh, yeah, that god damn train! It nearly killed me, like seriously, we almost died.” Chelsi was sincere in the fieriness of her tone.  “Jason came the closest though.  The train car that derailed was the dining car.  Which was also of course the car smack dab in the middle of the train. Then after 18 hours of playing ‘how are you going to fix the train’ they ultimately decided that the dining car had to be left behind. So the only things we had to eat, was whatever we could buy through the window at short station stops… And, and there was no drinking water.”

“Yeah, it was not like that when Jason and I took it last time.”

“That’s what he kept saying. But you know what? I think it worked out for the better.  Because if the train hadn’t been delayed we would have gotten in to town yesterday, instead of today and because I only had one house day left this month, I wouldn’t have been able to stay for New Year’s. I would have been sitting alone in my house like last year.” She paused for a moment, remembering sitting in her now broken easy chair, staring at the clock on her phone; watching the minutes tick by – 23:50, 23:51, 23:52, 23:53, 23:54, 23:55, 23:56, 23:57, 23:58, 23:59, 00:00, 00:01, 00:02, 00:03, 00:04, 00:05, 00:06, 00:07, 00:08, 00:09, 00:10. Then she went to bed.  She couldn’t even recall if she had open a fancy bottle of wine.  “It’s much better this way.”

“Speaking of,” Tyler straightened himself and stood up. “It’s nearly midnight, and we’ve got fireworks to shoot off!” He looked down at her with a smile and started towards the door.  “Are you coming?” he pulled open the door and music filled the room.

“I’m right behind you,” She called after him looking at her watch; 23:56.  2017 huh? Chelsi thought to herself. 2007 feels like just the other week… But at 16 could I have really imagined myself here? She looked around the dimly lit room. The walls were concealed by floor to ceiling shelves of DVDs, VHSs, books and an assortment of other media materials.  Chelsi wasn’t even sure what color the walls actually were.  Nnn…, mmm well maybe…
She pulled herself up off the couch and walked into the common room. The house speakers, one stacked on top of the other, were bumpin’ the hottest beats from the club.  DJ Neal was squatting at the computer just beside them, finishing up the que for the next 30 songs.  Ireri and Sid, two volunteers from the newest intake were getting down on the dance floor together. Jason on the other hand was up on the dining table, twerking it with everything he had: “Neal! Neal!” he cried, “We need the Thong Song! Play the Thong Song!”

“No! Jtrain! We’re not playing the Thong Song.” Neal looked over his shoulder at him, “and you’re going to break the table if you keep doing that.”

“Alright everyone, if you want to see fireworks, come outside now!” Tyler screamed through doorway to the back porch. And with that, the music was tamed and the whole party filed outside.   

They stood on the steps of the porch watching intently the little cardboard boxes lined up in front of them in the grass.  “I know that one,” Sami whispered to Chelsi. “It’s the most dangerous one, because if they don’t fire at the same time then the whole thing will come shooting sideways across the ground and explode.” She voice crescendo-ed into glee, “and you don’t know where it’s going to go!”

“Please be careful Tyler!” Ireri called from the porch.

“Its fine,” and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, little boxes filled with colorful explosives were lit, and Tyler took a few steps back.  

 With a loud bang, the first rocket shot off and a white flash filled the air.  Another bang, and green and red stars were propelled through the night sky.  And, “Bump, bump, bump,”

“Jtrain!” Neal shouted, “No one wants to hear the Thong Song!”

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084: … and On and On

​The fourth night of Camp GLOW, Girls Leading Our World, the fire wasn’t for warmth or light but celebration.  The girls, their mentors and volunteers sang, danced, played games.  Chelsi didn’t know all the words to most of the songs, but she enjoyed the dancing.  Whenever she was called to the center of the circle, which was often, she always gave it her all.  She tried out some of the new moves her girls tried to teach her over the course of the week and others she had observed on the dancer she was called out to replace.  Always she was trying to keep her steps in time with the chanting, until the girls’ cheers and laughter disrupted the rhythm and a new dancer was called out.  

When Lauren and Paige pulled out the marshmallows, and chocolate, and cookies, and cried “S’mores!” there was a tizzy of excitement.  The games stopped and all the girls dashed inside the cafeteria with their sticks.  

“I always wonder if we shouldn’t do S’mores in the morning at Camps,” Chelsi thought aloud, trying to be equitable with the marshmallows as hundreds of little hands grabbed for them.  

“You mean especially after what happened at Camp TREE,” Mike laughed. “I’ve never seen that though, kids so hyped up on sugar.”

“Yeah, more sugar than they’ve ever eaten in their lives.” Neal added.  

“Exactly, so we fill them full of sugar in the morning. They’ll crash at about lunch time, and we stuff them with nshima, so that by bed time they’re hardly even able to move,” Chelsi finished her thought aloud.  

When all the marshmallows were nearly finished, and the girls’ games had died down to a dull roar, Lauren and Paige started the work of shepherding them into their dorms.  

“I’m glad we did this today instead of on Tuesday, like we were supposed to,” Mike offered. “All the girls knew each other better so I think they had more fun.” Chelsi helped him pull apart the logs of the fire, then the two started across the campus to their sleeping quarters. 

“You should definitely consider adding an unstructured, outdoor fire and game night to ELITE.  I think the boys would really like it,” Chelsi added.  “I know the one we had a TREE was kind of crazy, but this was definitely a happy medium.”

“Well you know why it ended up the way it did at ELITE, was because of Sara.” Chelsi’s held the door of their dorm open for her friend.  “I love her to death and all, but her anxiety required a lot of structure.” The two walked down the hall to their sleeping space.  

“In that situation, at Solwezi Trade in all though, it was probably for the best.” Chelsi started organizing her bed for sleeping, then squeezed some toothpaste on her toothbrush.

“Yeah, the people that ran that place were crazy. And even the way we did it, the boys had a good time,” Mike said as he crawled under his mosquito net and into his bed. “This place reminds me of a prison,” he added anecdotally.

“Minus the cheese, tomato, mustard sandwiches,” Chelsi laughed. “Like we had a Camp TREE!”

“Yeah,” Mike chuckled, “Camps are basically like prisons.”

While rinsing out her mouth, Chelsi’s phone began to ring.  Still laughing to herself, she looked at the number.  It was late, and she was tired, but it was her mother.  Chelsi swiped the green phone, “Hello?”

“Hi dear, how are you? Is it too late there by you?” her mother’s voice came in distant over the phone.

“No, I’m still up. I’m just in Kasempa at our girls’ empowerment camp.”

“Oh, okay, do you want me to call you back another time?”

“No it’s fine, the girls are in bed, and I was just getting ready for bed myself.  I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m okay,” Chelsi heard her mother’s voice get stiff. “But I have some news, if you have heard…” and Chelsi could feel wet tears on her cheek, streaming through the phone. She sat down on the edge of her bed.

 “Who is it? Who died this time?”

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075: Crowning Achievement

“Hey, Warden Burger,” Neal’s voice called across the school yard.

Chelsi’s ears twitched at the designation.  It didn’t feel in poor taste given her general mood and the state of things, but is just sounds so unbecoming beside the fact that I’m running an environmental education camp for children.  “What?” she yelled back, feeling that mood of her flaring up.

“Good morning,” he replied cheekily.  She closed the distance between them, approaching the porch of the school block.  “Do we get two eggs today?” Neal asked, as Oliver Twist might have, but with all the sass of one in false hardship.

Minding the reality of their situation, her temper cooled and she played of his jest, “I have asked the cook to prepare a double ration of porridge for all, and two eggs today.”  Neal help dismount the large pot of oatmeal from her head and placed it on the stoop.  “I think Lauren and Ken are coming with the other pot and the eggs.”  Her head now free, Chelsi looked around the school yard.  At 7 am it was still earlier for her, but her Zambian campers, probably rose at 5:30, and now they were running about the school yard playing a pick-up game of hand ball.  They looked happy and content.  The remaining volunteers, and the more reserved children, were sitting on the stoop of the school block playing Euchre.  It wasn’t the best form for them to be sitting around playing cards, but it was the end of a long week, and they had earned some space.  “Alright, if I can have everybody’s attention for a moment.” She went to the stoop and sat down with the group.  “Ken and Lauren are being over the rest of breakfast. But first of all, happy final day of camp! You’ve all been working really hard and have dealt well with the few challenges we’ve had.”

“You mean like not having water?” Neal interjected.

“Like with the shortage of water filters; thank you Neal for putting a spigot on that bucket.  I just wanted announce some changes to the schedule today.  Marmar is going to go back into town today and bring Newton his things.” Newton, Maddy and Chaz’s counterpart who had suffered a seizure halfway through the week and had to be admitted to the hospital was going to be released that morning to the care of a nearby relative. “So I will be taking over her session on ecosystems this morning.  But I still need time to write it, so instead of going first hour, I’m going to go third.  So I need Adam and Amanda to do the Crafts with Trash session first, then if Neal can you do the fruit dryer.  My session should be done by then.  Then after lunch, Maddy and Chaz with do Climate Change and Mike and I will finish up camp sessions with Chongololo Club and how to be a leader.  How does that sound?”  There was a general nodding of heads that Chelsi took for understanding.  “Don’t forget to be drinking plenty of water, it’s going to be another hot day today. And if we can just power through everyone will be able to relax tomorrow.”

Ken and Lauren, having just arrived, and sat the remaining breakfast pots on the school block porch.  “Great thank you,” Chelsi said standing up.  “Also, there’s two eggs for everyone and two pots of oatmeal, so be free.”  Chelsi plucked a hard boil egg from the top of the pot and pealing it tossed it to Daisy.

“RED EKLANDS!” Lauren called out to the kids in the school yard to come be served breakfast.  “If you have a red name tag and you’re an ekland it’s time to get your food!”

 

Breakfast was served and eaten.  The campers came back for seconds and thirds until the porridge pots with scraped clean.  Neal liked teased her with talk of rations, seeing how the pots were scraped clean at every meal but Chelsi had been pleased so far with the way her food planning had turned out.  Nshima, the staple of ground maize, boiled until stiff, which must be had in a Zambian’s mind in order for food to be considered a meal, even if nothing else was offered, and many volunteers considered a large factor of malnutrition of children, had only been served once, the evening camp started.  As far as Chelsi knew, she had been the only one in history of Peace Corps Zambia to deny Zambians nshima for so long.  But everyone is better off for it.  The campers get some variety in their diet, the volunteers aren’t complaining of being bloated on nshima, and the counterparts get a lesson in adaptability.  Long in advance, Chelsi had made it clear, that if at any point people were unhappy with the food they could leave.  She heard only one comment and crushed it immediately.

After everything was cleaned up from the meal, at about 8 o’clock, and the first hour session commenced, Chelsi sat down on the ground of the school alcove and began to write her session.

Talking points, session topics and take-a-ways from the week bounced around Chelsi head.  Monday had been Water day, with sessions and games focusing on the water cycle, water quality and fisheries dynamics. Tuesday, Soil & Fire day, which help answer simple questions like ‘what is soil? What are village friendly solutions for improving soil fertility? And, how do fire affect soil and the landscape?  Air & Atmosphere day followed, when, after learning about oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other air and atmosphere molecules, the campers made terrarium biomes glass jars to help hammer home the point that, like in the jar, everything on earth is finite, contained inside the atmosphere.  Thursday was Plant & Animal day, where sessions touched on biodiversity and food webs.  And all of this culminated to today – Ecosystems and Climate change day.  But have they been putting it all together? Chelsi wondered.  She flipped to a clean page of flip chart paper, pulled a set of water colors from the crafts bag, set up a cup of water and began to paint.

 

 

“Hey Chelsi?” Adam approached her from behind.

“Yeah?” Chelsi glance briefly over her shoulder at him to let him know he had her attention.

“Neal is just finishing up with the fruit dying session, are you ready for your session? It’s next, right? Is there anything you need me to do?”

Chelsi glanced at her watch, ten minutes to 11, not bad. “yeah, I’m just about done.  Let the campers have a ten minute break to fill their water bottle if they need, and if you can make sure lunch is being finished up on time, that Ba Gladys has everything she needs.”

“Sure,” he turned to go and Chelsi finished up her last learning aid.  She had drawn up five microsystems, each on its own flip chart page, that when arranged together created the big picture of the ecosystem.  There was a stirring in the school yard of the camper stretching, filling their bottles and grumbling about the heat.  Just a few minutes, and we’ll be ready to start.

 

“Remember, during session, we; listen with our ears,” Chelsi wiggled her ears, “and watch with our eyes,” she fluttered her lashes, “and if we have something to say we…” she closed her lips and raised her hand.  The students quieted their chuckles and prepared their notebooks.

Chelsi began her lesson with a brief review of all they had talked about over the last week before venturing into the idea that an ecosystem is how water, soil, fire, air, plants and animals operate together.  She was pleased with how engaged many of the students were offer tidbit they had learned throughout the week.  After the opener, Chelsi asked the campers to get in their teams, and passed each of the five teams one of the pictures she had painted. “Now what I want you to do in your groups is answer these questions: In our picture, Where is the water? Where is it being stored how is it being used? What is the soil quality like? Describe its condition using evidence from the picture.  Where is the air? How do you know it’s there? What plants and animals to you see? How are they interacting? Is there human activity? How can you know? Is the activity good or bad for the environment? Why is this activity being done? What could have been done instead? When you’re finished you’re going to present you picture to the rest of the group.”

As the campers chatted in their groups Chelsi walk around listening like a dutiful teacher.  Generally, she liked teaching sessions, she liked commanding the attention of the room and coming up with activities, and teaching styles that help keep her students engaged.  But, because she’d been tending to the other duties of Camp director, or warden as Neal like to call her, she hadn’t much committed to teaching any sessions at the start, and then barely found the time to sit-in on the sessions of others for more than a few minutes. She was only teach ECO ECHO now, and a session on fire earlier in the week, because it had fallen into her lap.  Though the conditions under which this had happened weren’t great, she was happy to receive this session in particular.  She thought it would be the best measure to see what the campers had learned in the last week.  After all Environmental Education was the whole point of planning this year Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment.  If they hadn’t learned anything, all the stress, anxiety, and hard work to make it happen would have been for not. 

When the chatter had died down and it sounded like each group had come to a consensus on their pictures, Chelsi invited the groups up one by one to explain their pictures to the group.  The first group to go had a picture of some birds sitting in the tree tops.  They talked about water transevaporting through the trees, and wind blowing the leaves.  In the background they identified were trees had been cut and piled for conventional charcoal making. ‘Instead,’ the group identified, ‘they should be using the maize cob method we learned Tuesday and Wednesday.’  When the next group stood up, Chelsi pasted their picture just under the tree tops.  Here was a picture of the forest floor under the canopy.  On one side the group recognized that the earth was scorched by a bush fire.  ‘Likely one set by a hunter’ they added after identifying a prominent game rodent in the picture.  ‘Instead, the hunter should have brought a dog to help find the Fuko, because now the soil has been destroyed and young trees burnt.’  After they finished, the next group stood, pasting their picture of a small maize field in the forefront of the forest floor.  “The soil here is good” the group decided, because the maize had grown tall. They pointed out the small group of goats being managed in the field. “The goats here can be eating the farm waste and dropping manure on the field, but here they are still burning some of the compost, which is polluting the air and could have been tilled into the soil.”  Just in the corner of the picture of the maize field was a blue stream; which in the following picture connected to the rest of the stream.  This was the picture most different from the rest. It was a cross-section of the stream, featuring a few fish and frog, a couple aquatic plants and garden beds planted just on the banks. In the background and abandoned fishing net could be seen stretched from bank to bank.  “And the air in this picture?” Chelsi prompted after the group talked about the fishing gear, fish habitat and how stream banks shouldn’t be used for gardens. ‘Why, the air most be going in to the water.  Otherwise the fish wouldn’t be able to live.’  Excellent, how excellent, Chelsi thought.  The final picture portrayed the other side of the stream. A tall grass wetland was being cleared with fire.  The mice and snakes were racing towards some homes in the background, not having anywhere else to go.  The final group hit on every point in an appropriate way.

When the final group had finished the summery of their picture, refocused everyone’s attention and asked them all to take a step back.  “In front of us, we have a very familiar seen.  The bush, with birds and fuko, alongside our maize fields and animals, near streams for watering gardens, not too far from our homes, where we live.  After having looked at the pictures individually, we can easily see, now that they are fit together, aspects of an ecosystem, like the water cycle. And how a human’s decision to do something like light a bush fire affect can affect the whole picture.  Is everyone together with this?”  There was a vigorous nodding of heads.  “Because this afternoon Ba Maddy and Ba Chaz are going to talk about what happens when humans make too many decision that are bad for an ecosystem.” Chelsi glanced quickly at her watch; just after noon, right on time. “Thank you all for your attention.  I’m really, really pleased to say that I can tell you all have learned a lot this week.  It’s certainly made all the planning worth it” She added quietly to herself, turning to remove her learning aides. “There’s a half an hour of quiet time before lunch. So go enjoy!”

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Camp TREE gang

Categories: Current Events, Nature, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

070: Surprise Celebration

That’s strange, Chelsi thought to herself walking on to the compound of the prov house.  A pile of bags and furniture was stacked up by the door.  Perhaps one of the new kids didn’t make it to their site, it was a reasonable enough assumption.  Chelsi kicked off her shoes and went inside.  The tile was cool under her feet.  She threw bag down beside the long common table and continued out on to the back porch.

“Hey Chelsi,” Chelsi looked about startled by the voice.

“Oh hey Tom, how are you? When did you get here?” Thomas was a fellow volunteer of her intake, but Chelsi rarely saw him, seeing as he lived in the farthest reaches of the province and didn’t often make his way toward town.

“I’m fine, fine. We got here a few days ago. Because did you hear about what happened at Janelle’s site?”

Chelsi shrugged.  She was usually last to get news.  “The Mwini crew doesn’t usually keep us Kaondes informed.”

“Well, one the kids that Janelle worked with went crazy.”

“Yeah, he went crazy,” came Janelle’s mousy voice from the kitchen off the porch.  “Thomas? Do you want mustard on your sandwich?”

“What?” Tom cocked his head toward the kitchen, “oh yeah, yeah, that’s fine.  Yeah, apparently he got in this motorbike accident and hit his head pretty hard, probably gave himself a concussion.  And after that was acting kind of strange, and Janelle was telling him, you know ‘just follow advice of the clinic worker,’ and he was telling her that the other people in the village were telling him that he needed to go see the witch doctor.  And she was telling him not to go, but of course he went anyway.”

“Naturally,” Chelsi nodded a long with the story.

“Right?” Tom shook his head in agreement of the feeling.  “And when he came back he went to Janelle’s house and started telling her that she was a savior, a reincarnation of Christ, and that she needed to sacrifice herself to save him…”

“Oh dear,” Chelsi let herself fall in to the adjacent couch, just as Janelle was emerging from the kitchen, balancing two plates in her hand.

“Yeah, he was coming to my house, saying things like ‘Oh I am suffering, but you, you were sent here to save me.  You need to sacrifice yourself to save me.’”

“Yeah, and he was making threats against her life, like if she didn’t kill herself, he would have to kill her…”

“So I called Safety & Security, and they were like, ‘a yeah, you can’t stay there.’ So I pulled from my site.”

“Oh, so that’s all your stuff on the porch?” it was all coming together for Chelsi.”

“Yeah, and yeah, so now I’m here…” Janelle let out a nervous chuckle and took a bit of her sandwich.

“It’s really sad too,” Tom continued. “This kid was like, super smart.  He was one of the boy Janelle brought to Camp ELITE.  He was doing really well in school, spoke great English…” Tom took a bit of his sandwich.

“Well, what do you think happened? Do you think it was just a traumatic brain injury?”

“Yeah that could be part of it.” Tom said, chewing. “We think though too, it might have been something the witch doctor gave him.  You know some kind of drug that messed with his brain.”

“Sure, especially if it was already in a fragile state from the accident.” Chelsi leaned her head back and closed her eyes, typical. “So what now? What are the options?”

“I’m trying to move in with Thomas!” Janelle piped up with a smile.

It makes sense.  They’ve been together for more than a year and a half now, they’re in the same language group.  “What does Admin think about that?”

“Cleopher doesn’t mind, but it’s really just up to the Country Director,” Tom clarified.

“So Leon?”

“Yeah.”

“Have you been able to talk to him at all? What does he say?”

“That if we want to live together, we have to get married.” This was said very matter-a-fact-ly.

“Because the alternative is that they give Janelle interrupted service and send her home, it’s too late in the game to be moving her to a new site,” Chelsi added mimicking the somber tone.  They couple in question shook their heads, mouths full of sandwich.  “So, does this mean we’re planning wedding?”

“We’re going to go the city council office this afternoon and find out.”

 

Though the circumstances were unfortunate, Chelsi was rather excited by the idea of a wedding.  It’s a good reason to make a cake, and splurge for a bottle a sparkling wine… She was so excited by the thought it was difficult for her to concentrate on her work that afternoon.  So went Thomas and Janelle returned from town she was jumped on them for the verdict.

“Well, well, well,” Chelsi pushed them excitedly.

“Well,” Tom started, sounding optimistic, “one of the things we were concerned about was the cost.  We were able to get a hold of Hannah and Rob,” the only two other volunteers to get married during their service, so as to be able to co-habitat they knew of, “and they said they ended up having to spend like 800 dollars, not kwacha, dollars and their marriage. And if it was going to be that much, we just weren’t going to be able to afford it.  But apparently getting married in Solwezi is super cheap; a speedy wedding’s only 150 kwacha.”

“A ‘speedy’ wedding,” Chelsi asked.  “As opposed to a ‘not speedy’ wedding?”

“A speedy wedding,” Janelle chirped.  “it 50 kwacha more, otherwise it takes three weeks to have your wedding!”

“Are you sure it’s not just, you know, a bribe?” Even after Tom and Janelle explained the difference between a ‘speedy wedding’ and a conventional wedding, calling it a bribe, to Chelsi, still sounded more reasonable.

“If you don’t pay the extra 50 kwacha,” Tom explained, “ then the city council would take Janelle’s picture and biographical information and post it to this bulletin board of engagements at the office, where other men would have three weeks to bid on her and try to break up our engagement.”

Yeah, that’s a bribe.

“Meanwhile, I” Thomas continued, “have to get a letter signed by my father saying that I’ve never been married before.”

“Well, there’s no more honest work than spending an afternoon forging official documents,” Chelsi jested.

“But really…” and the group laughed at just the one more absurdity of living in Zambia.

“So when’s the ceremony scheduled to take place?” Chelsi needed to know how long she had to plan the reception.

“Tomorrow.  It’s too late to go back there this afternoon, but the guy at the city council office today said the guy who does the ceremonies will be in tomorrow. And I guess we need to call are families if we can,” Tom added turning to his fiancé.

“Yeah, you need to call my father and ask his permission!”

“So what kind of cake do you want?”

 

That evening passed quickly in a bustle of commotion.  Tom and Janelle spent the evening getting hold of every relative they could.  Chelsi, Rider and Molly, the only other occupants of the house that week, were set putting all the requisite wedding materials together.  Chelsi crafted the top tier of the cake, a spongy strawberry, Rider the bottom, a dense pound cake, and Molly artfully crafted rings from copper wire.

The next morning, there a small to do about what they groom should wear.  ‘Is it better to wear kind of dirty kakis or clean jeans?’ After the jeans were decided upon, a cab was called and the wedding precession began.

“Probably not exactly how you envisioned your wedding day, huh?” Molly commented while the five of them, struggled to shift around in the sedan, without ripping their finest cloths.

“I think Janelle and I will have another ceremony for our families when we get back to the States.”

“Will you still be considered married in the State?” Rider asked.  This really was the question no one seemed to know the answer to.

“We know that Norway doesn’t recognize Hannah and Rob’s marriage,” Tom said, “but we don’t know anyone who go Zam-married then moved back to America.  So we really have no idea.”

They small reception continued to discuss this point at the city council office until the master of ceremonies arrive.  It turned in to a long conversation too, because he never arrived.  After hours of waiting the party stormed the office and demand that someone be found to marry their friends.  Within five minutes a man was found, handed a binder and the proceedings began.

On their marriage certificate, Thomas and Janelle’s occupation was listed as volunteers.  The city council office readily accepted Thomas’s letter of consent to marriage from his not father, and Chelsi and Rider, the maid of honor and best man, respectively, signed as witnesses to the ceremony.  The man from the city council office fessed up right away that he had never done a wedding before, and though he had a script to guide him, still more than once look around at the witnesses asking what came next.  Copper rings were exchange, with a comment on how it was the love in their hearts, not the material of the metal in the rings that mattered.  And Thomas Strong and Janelle Horstman vowed to have and to hold each other; at least till they returned to America.

“You know, for a proper wedding, with our families in a church.”

Categories: Current Events, DIY, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

069: WELCOME!

Chelsi had not felt so tired at another time in Zambia thus far.  She could feel bags under her eyes swelling up. “So, its 14:30 now, it looks like all the shops are closing up early, being Saturday. But how do you all feel about dropping what we have so far at the office then going to Shoprite and just getting our food shopping done today?” She looked in to the back seats of the cruiser. Allison, Jordon, Sid and Victoria nodded back at her.

“I don’t see why not, if we still have time.” Allison concurred.  They were all newly christened volunteers; having just sworn-in two days prior.  Chelsi had volunteered to help them get settled.  She wasn’t regretting it now, I just wish I hadn’t been being run so ragged lately.  Her roof had just been finished the previous afternoon and she had spent that week sleeping in her tent on the ground. Which wasn’t a great recovery for the three days before that she spent diligently planning her up-coming workshop.

With room having been made in the cruiser for food purchases, Chelsi led her troop into the grocery store.  “Everyone grab a shopping cart. I like to start at the far end and make my way towards the perishable foods section.”  Rice, flour, pasta, tomato paste, peanut butter, cheese sauce packets; together they would be buying a year’s worth of food.

“Is it inappropriate to show up to the village with like, 15 bottles of wine?” Jordon asked as they approached the back of the store.

“Umm, no. Not unless you go waving them in peoples’ faces.” Chelsi advised. “My only suggestion is that you just buy a couple of boxes instead. They’re a lot easier to transport.”

“How long does juice last in the village?” Sid asked, plucking a tetra packed guava juice from the shelf.

“I’ll keep it for like, four days after it’s been opened. So long as it’s not blazing hot. Zambia has a great selection of juice concentrates too. Just over here.” The two women walk to the other side of the aisle. “You can just mix it with water, but because it’s mostly all sugar and preservatives, it keeps really well after it’s been opened.  I buy this one because it has peach pulp as its first ingredient instead of water or sugar.”

“How about this long life milk?” Allison asked from the end of the aisle. “It looks like it’s being sold in bulk.”

“Yeah! And that’s a good price too.”

“But what do you use it for? How long does it keep once it’s open?”

“Like two or three days, depending on the temperature.  But I put it in my coffee, or on the rare occasion that I have cornflake in the village.  But I also really love pudding, so if I open a liter container I use more than half of it right away for that.”

“Should we buy it?” Jordon asked coming up behind them.

“I would if I were posting. Because even if you don’t use it all in these next three months, it’ll keep.”

They walked up and down every aisle, and Chelsi answered questions about everything from preferred brands of floor wax to how long it takes an average volunteer to finish a kg of peanut butter. Until Chelsi looked around as the stood in the aisle with breakfast cereals, “where’s Victoria?”

Everyone else shrugged.

“Okay, if you can hold my basket,” Chelsi thrust the red plastic basket on Sid, “I’ll go look for her quick quick.” Chelsi retraced her steps through the columns of food stuffs.  She has to be in here, as she stumbled on the slender, brightly decorated frame for Victoria.  “Oh good, I was just looking around and noticed you hadn’t kept up with us.”

Her big, bright eyes look up at Chelsi’s, “Oh no, no, no, I think I’m managing just fine.”

Chelsi peered into her cart. It was filled with the biggest containers of rice, pasta, flour and potatoes that Shoprite had to offer.  “Well, it looks like you’re doing okay. Just remember too, to buy some things that you really like eating. Maybe some chocolate bars, or tea.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay.”

“Okay, well, we’re just finishing up with the breakfast cereals. Let me know if you have any questions.” Chelsi returned to the rest of the group just in time to advice Allison and Jordon on Shoprite’s meager coffee selection. Chelsi couldn’t help but wonder at Victoria’s rouge status.  She’s either, completely and utterly prepared, or… or… or what? In just a few days she would be on her own anyway. Chelsi tried to think back to her own posting experience.  She subconsciously scratched her head.

The only thing she could really remember well was the morning she left for site; Kenny, her posting helper, had offered her the last bit of the tequila from his birthday party the previous night. She then wondered if she was being as helpful.

“Chelsi?”

Chelsi’s eyes refocused and she snapped back into the present.

“Do you think I should buy breakfast cereal?” Sid asked, “I really like cereal.”

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

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