Drama

“then exit stage left.”

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

102: Last Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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101: Regret the Puppy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Time will tell.”

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100: Site Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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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096: the Flood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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093: ka Mbuzhi

The morning light was barely enough to pass through Chelsi’s bedroom window; but it was enough to tell her that morning was near.  She rolled over, away from it and pulled her darling Daisy closer. It was another cold rainy morning, with nowhere to rush off. Daisy let out a sigh in agreement.

Baaaa… BAAAAH,” screamed a goat.  Chelsi’s host family didn’t corral or shelter their goats in anyway, so they had taken up residence in her chinzanza. But because that too was collapsing now it wasn’t uncommon for Chelsi or Daisy to be woken in the middle of the night to goats screaming; they are cold and wet, or grass and support beams had fallen on them.  It hurt Chelsi’s heart to hear, but they couldn’t become her responsibility and there was really nothing she could do.

The screaming had woken Tulip too though, and now he was pawing at the mosquito net, trying to find a way on to the bed.  Chelsi reached behind her, grabbing the grown kitten by the scruff of his neck and hoisting him on to the bed.  “BAAAAAH! BAAAH!” screamed a goat again. Chelsi listened, and she could hear that this was a different goat, one bedded down behind her house, not in front.  She didn’t think much of it though. It didn’t sound like the usually situation of a goat bedding down in her toilet, but it was close enough.  Maybe it’s just left looking for the others, or the others kicked it out of the chinzanza and now it doesn’t know where to go, Chelsi reasoned to herself.  Either way, the screaming was followed by peaceful silence.

A dream was starting to form in Chelsi’s mind eye, when “bmeeee, meeeh,” the weak whimper for a goat caught her attention.  A new baby had just been born a few days ago. Maybe it was her mother that got kicked out of the chinzanza and now they’re separated.  Half a sleep, her thoughts tried to puzzle it out.  She didn’t want to open her eyes to check the time, but she figured, just another half an hour and I’ll get up to check it out.

All three of them in the bed rested until the light naturally lifted their lids.  There had been a few more goat noises in the interim, but nothing more that Chelsi thought as cause for alarm.  She pushed off the blankets, and pealed herself out of the bed.  Daisy grunted, Tulip yawned.  She dressed herself and started her morning the same way she did every day.  She even pushed open the back window to let a fresh breeze blow through the house.

“Meh he he,” came a goat’s limp whimper. This time Chelsi could tell, that without a doubt it was coming from just under her back window.  She spit and rinsed, finished brushing her teeth, she stuck her head out the window to have a look.

“Well, what do you know?”

The black and white nanny looked right up at her.  Blood was splattered on the grass, just beyond where the overhang of the roof ended.  Clear mucus was smeared on her wall. And poking its head out from between its mother’s legs was a brand new ka mbuzhi.

Chelsi reach out to rub the nanny’s neck, the baby goat took a few wobbly steps to sniff Chelsi’s fingers. It was back and white, like a miniature version of its mother.  Chelsi leaned farther out the window to rub its back.  Its fur had already been cleaned and was as soft as ever.  When Chelsi stroked it, it wobbled and let out a little sigh.

Not wanting to disturb them too much, Chelsi retracted herself back through the window. She gave them one more smile, and finished up with her morning.

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

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!”

Categories: Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

088: Close of Service Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But it’s sooo good!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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