“Is this real?”

104: Siavonga

“Wow, this is so nice,” Chelsi exclaimed, walking out into the cool breeze coming off the lake.  Reaching for the railing of the hotel restaurant’s deck, she stretched her muscles; cramped from sitting in a minibus all day.  The hotel was positioned on the side of a mountain, looking over the Lake Kariba.  Chelsi hadn’t been anticipating the mountains, and got excited when she saw them out the window of the bus; then terrified when the bus careened on the mountain road, conductor hanging out the sliding door of the van. “You got very lucky,” Chelsi said to her recently found friend. “I guarantee my house will not be this nice, nor would be any other place I put you up in!”

“This is a very nice place.” Chelsi met Hans, a Tanzanian national, on her trip to Zanzibar. Her and her friends had been talking about Peace Corps, when Hans over heard them, walked up and mentioned that he was interested in adding a Peace Corps  volunteer to the team of his small NGO.

“And here I picked this time for you to come down thinking that it’d be okay because I would have a house, and what not. But good thing I called to remind Yalelo I was coming today, and they could arrange room for the two of us.” Chelsi had been surprised by the lack of professionalism the fish farm seemed to have.  As a for profit business, she wondered how it managed to run, if they couldn’t even manage to pick up their volunteer from the bus station their appointed date and time.  And what’s this about my house not being ready yet? The whole thing made her apprehensive about meeting the fish farm’s president the following morning.

Hans noticed the twist on Chelsi’s face as she thought. “You know, if you’re having second thoughts about the fish farm you can always come work for Better Nation,” he read her mind.

She threw him a side cast glance, “I only wanted to stay this side if it meant I could do this position; work on the fish farm, do something more closely related to my field.  So far all you have to offer me is a chicken project, and for even less money.  I’ve spent the last 2 years battling chickens!” Chelsi said exasperated.

Hans laughed, his white teeth flashing against the dark backdrop. “Come on now seriously.  Think of all the widowed, and divorced women, single mothers we could help.”  Hans’ grand plan was to help disadvantaged women become financially independent by helping them start small poultry operations.

Chelsi didn’t know that much about keeping chickens, but she always found terrestrial beings easier to care for than aquatic ones, the rules for chickens seem simple enough, proper food, water, housing and vaccination every three months.  The thought of New Castle vaccines gave her a flash back to her dove Spud, whom she’d always had suspected died of New Castle, when exactly two weeks later nearly every chicken in the village dropped dead.  She smiled.

Kerosene lights, used to attract minnows to the small fishing canoes out on the lake, twinkled off the water.  With the reflection of the stars, the lake seemed a more infinite universe than the one in the sky.  Chelsi ran her hand along the curved iron railing.  She thought the thought, that she thought a lot, about what it would be like, would have been like, if she hadn’t extended and just closed her service with the rest of her intake.

Having dodged two lanes of airport traffic, standing on the third, the last median for airport arrivals to be picked up by friends, family members, or rent-a-car shuttles.  With her duffle bag in one hand, the leash of her dog in the other, and overstuffed hiking backpack on her back, she would stare blankly at the airport parking garage across the road; cars whizzing through her field of vision. In the sun it would be warm, but given that arrivals were let out through the airport’s walkout basement, she would shiver when a cool draft came off a bus, bring her back to her current place. She would refocus on the traffic, for her parent’s car, and say to herself ‘Well, that happened…’

“So should we eat? Am feeling hungry,” Hans asked, pulling her attention back to the present moment.

“I was just thinking about Daisy, I hope she’s doing alright.” After deciding to would be too difficult to bring her down to Siavonga for a week, Chelsi had arranged to have her darling dog boarded at the kennel volunteers typically used in Lusaka. The following week Chelsi was to start her home leave.  Home leave being the month of special leave to the States that Peace Corps afforded to volunteers who extended for a third year.

“You have her at a very nice place. Am sure all is good,” He responded.

“All is under control?” She teased him.

“Yes,” he smiled.

“So, should we sit outside here, or maybe there?” Chelsi gestured to the far side of the deck to the right.

“Am feeling just a little bit cold.”

“Yeah, the draft from the lake is stronger than I thought it would be.  Especially for a place everyone was telling me is the hottest in Zambia.” Chelsi starting walking off towards the small building with floor to ceiling windows that revealed a bar, several tall tables and chairs and the forest green felt of a pool table, on the other side of a water lit, bean shaped pool.

Whatever happened instead, instead of the day dream she had had for the last two years, she felt prepared; that nothing could be more difficult than what she had already endured, that nothing could surprise her more than the melancholy she had felt as she drove away from her village for the last time, and nothing would replace the space in her heart for the hardest job she would ever love.

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090: Every Morning

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep, you hear the 6:45 alarm go off. You stretch a little, roll over in bed.  Daisy in the next room on the couch; you know she mirroring your actions.  Her nails click against the cement floor as she jumps off the couch and walks over to the side of the bed.  She lets out a little sigh as she stretches and paws at the mosquito net. ‘It’s cuddle time,’ she’s saying, ‘Let me up on the bed.’

You reach your arm around and pull some of the net out of the bed frame; just enough so that Daisy has room to jump up.  She steps over you, curling up so her back it up against your belly.  You both drift back to sleep.

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep, the 7:30 alarm, now it’s time to get up.  Daisy stretch out first, scooching herself up so her head is resting on the pillow beside yours.  She rolls and sighs.  Morning dog breath is your limit.  “I’m getting up,” you tell her, pushing off the blanket and swinging your legs over the side of the bed.  You’re startled when your toes touch something furry.

“Meow, meo.” The fog clears from in front of your eyes and you see Tulip, sitting, looking up at you.

“If you’re not careful I’m going to step on you one of these days,” you warn, grabbing the empty mug wedged between the mattress and the wall in one hand and your phone in the other.  You walk out of the small bedroom, through the narrow doorway into the common room.  You empty your hands onto the table and make your way to the back room, pulling aside the curtains on the windows as you go.  The back room is still dark, but you know where everything is.

You open the nozzle on the water bag hanging from the ceiling poles and let fresh water run in to a small black basin.  Using your hands, you splash the cool water on your face, then apply some face wash, and rinse in the same manner.  A towel hangs on the curtain rod and you use it to dry your hands and face.  You grab your tooth brush from as cup sitting on a chest high shelf, used to hold your toiletries and tools.  While you brush, you fill a cup with clean water from the filter in the common room.  After rinsing you slip in to the cloths you left hanging on the curtain rod the day before.

You make your way back into the common room.  Tulip is sitting on his food bin grooming his paws.  He’s hungry, but he can wait till Daisy gets up too, you think to yourself.  At the kitchen bench you start the process of making coffee.  The coffee is in the green plastic basket, on the shelf below the countertop of the kitchen bench.  You grab it, unscrew the top of the espresso maker, fill the lower chamber with water from the filter, pour grounds into the grate and screw the top back on.  You pump air into a bright red fuel container and attach it to your MSR Dragonfly backpack stove.  Carefully you open the fuel line valve, and the faint smell of gasoline wafts up.  When the smell seem strong enough, you close the fuel line, light a match and move it ever closer to the stove until the gas catches with a POP.

While the stove heats up, you take a green plastic bowl from off the shelf over the bedroom doorway.  To it you add oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon, peanut butter and water, kept hot in your thermos brand thermos from the night before.  Quickly you stir it up and set it to the side, refocusing your attention on the stove.  Reopening the fuel line allows the gas to catch, burning with an even blue flame.  Atop the burner you set an old lid to a giant can of dog food, then balance the espresso maker atop it.

Daisy rustles the blankets in the bedroom. Is she going to get up? You ask yourself.

When it’s not followed by the click of her nails hitting the cement floor you think, not yet.

Over at the table you touch the screen of your phone, bringing it back to life.  You re-enable the network and leave it to sit and catch up with morning.  Meanwhile, you bring your stainless steel mug back to the kitchen bench.  To it you add some powdered milk and hot water. You turn the flame up on the stove.

A plastic bag is heard crackling behind you.  When you turn, you see Tulip pouncing on the bag you keep all your extra bags in.  The sound is enough to make Daisy think you are reaching into her food bag.  She Click Clicks on to the floor, stretches and comes in the common room, her tail wagging, ready to greet you for the day.

Now that Daisy’s risen, Tulip gets extra excite, bouncing between the bloated bag of bags, Daisy and his food bin.

“Alright, alright,” you tell them, as Daisy paws at your legs.  “I’m coming, hold on.”

You fill Daisy’s stainless steel dog bowl with heart shape, chicken flavored kibbles from a giant, red plastic bin.  When you replace the bowl on the floor, Tulip attempts to get to it first, but is distracted by the sound of the doves flying on to the roof, cooing to one another.  Your take his little blue plastic food bowl off the cat shelf and fill it with star shaped, liver flavored kibbles from a clear plastic bin.  Tulip climbs the branch to his cat shelf, antsy with anticipation.  As the animals eat you prop open the front door, allowing in more light.

The house fills with the scent of coffee.  Returning to the kitchen bench you turn up the flame on the stove then shut the fuel valve.  The flame sputters out.  Carefully you pour the coffee into the milk.  When it’s finished you take up the black handle of the coffee mug in one hand, and your green plastic bowl filled with tender oats in the other.  At the table you set them down near a dinning chair, covered with a red cushion. You take your seat and look out the window, to see the sun coming up over the tree tops.

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085: Zanzibar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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083: the Pastel Palace

​”Come on baby girl,” Chelsi called to her dog. “It’s alright you can do it, come on.”  Daisy hesitated at the foot and a half drop out the minivans door.  “Come on,” Chelsi clapped her hands in encouragement. 

With an unsteady hop, Daisy stretched out her front legs and touched down on the gravel. “Good girl, see it wasn’t that bad.  Thanks again,” Chelsi said waving to the minivan driver and hooking up Daisy’s leash to her harness.  The minivan pulled away and Chelsi surveyed her surroundings.

She could believe it had been more than a year and half since she had been to Mshinda, as medium size village just north of the town Manyama on the tarmac of the road to Mwinilunga.  It had been her introduction to Northwest Provence.  Leading Daisy away from the tarmac, across the school yard, she tried to recall what that visit had been like; excited, scared, tired. At the time she was still a trainee, with just two months in country, it was days before she would be introduced to her permanent site and only three more weeks before she would be on her own in the village.  

A few children gathered along the path to stare as she led her dog on to the volunteer’s house.  Previously it had been the home of woman named Dick, but a new volunteer had taken over the house, Chelsi’s friend Amanda. As the house came into view it began to stir up memories from her last visit; bottles of Desert Island and London Dry, solo language lessons, grilled cheese and sauce packets, meeting her darling Daisy for the first time.  

The house stood tall and strong.  Well laid bricks were painted with Lunda greetings, the roof thatch was thick and the window covered with screens and glass.  A few steps to the south sat the chinzanza, square with a waist high wall. Inside sat a few chairs, a table and a bag of charcoal.  After setting her backpack down on one of the chairs, Chelsi walked past the chinzanza towards a woven bamboo enclosure, elevated off the ground on what looked like a dish rack.  There were two chicken wire covered opening on either side.  She peeked into the window.  A fat white rabbit sat contently chewing on a cabbage leaf at the center of the enclosure.  Chelsi smiled, when she felt Daisy tugging at her leash she turned around.  

Her two friend, Amanda and Adam were walking up the path towards the house carrying a shopping bag.  “Hey friends!” she said, alerting them to her presence. 

“Hey Chelsi, glad to see you made it okay.” Adam walked up closer to greet her and gave Daisy a strong rub of her side.  “Hi Daisy, how are you?”

Daisy, looked up at Adam and licked her nose. 

“Hiii,” Amanda replied with a big smile. 

“Hii eee,” Chelsi laughed.  The three friends chattered briefly about their transport as they walked towards the front door of the house.  The key clicked in the lock and the bolt slid back.  

It had been a very nice house under ownership of Dick, but Chelsi was unprepared for the beauty that its new owner added. 

Tidy shelves of teas and spices lined the walls of the front room.  A table and chair Chelsi recognized were pushed up next to the window, but now a decorated in cute tea cups and glasses.  When Chelsi noticed that her two friends had removed their shoes she followed suit and stepped further into the house.  Daisy wiped her paws on the mat and followed, closely behind and into the house.  Through the doorway into the main room Chelsi saw Amanda’s cat, Kitty, nursing her three tiny kittens on a cat bed tucked in to the corner of the wrap around couch.  Soft colored fabrics covered the walls and a spread to match was laid over the bed.  Above the bed was a colored glass window made of the bottoms of wine bottles and neatly organizing pens, pencils and other stationary supplies.  Across from the foot of the bed sat a book shelf covered in colored candles.  As Chelsi ventured further into the room she noticed the soft rugs beneath her feet.  She fell back onto the couch.  “This is amazing,” the words spilled out of Chelsi’s mouth as think and silky as cream.  

Amanda’s face pulled back into a smile, “I know.”

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079: Kapishya

​As Chelsi pulled her shirt off over her head a gentle drizzle began to fall from the grey cloud cover.  Carefully, she draped her shirt over the back of the bench next to her skirt. Though the air was warm, goose bumps began to rise over her skin as her exposure to the rain rapidly cooled its surface. She was surrounded by lush green trees, her eyes drawn to the first white, pink, red and purple flower buds of rainy season.

Stretched out in front of her was a large, clear, shallow spring. Shimmying out of her shoes Chelsi stepped closer to it.  Warm steam rose off the water, creating a thin mist in the air.  She stepped into the water.  Smooth stones messaged the soles of her feet as she waded farther into the spring.  

“So, what do you think?” Chelsi’s friend Laura asked as she approached.  

Chelsi laughed, “I think it was worth every bit of stress that was the result of yesterday’s transporting.” Having waded to the center of the pool, she eased the length of her body into the warm water.  “Even with the rain, I’m glad we came.”

“I think the rain makes it better.  Think, if it was a bright, sunny day the water wouldn’t feel so inviting.”

“True.” Chelsi used her arms to glide around the pool while floating on her back. “I’m glad we’ve travelling in ‘off season’ too.  Could you image what this would be like if that campsite was full? And the rooms and chalets?!”

When they had arrived the previous evening the manager of the lodge invited them to pitch their tents anywhere and opened his arms over an expansive campsite with nearly two dozen fire pits, wood stoves and chinzanza no more than 15 feet away from each other in any given space.  “Yeah, we got lucky that there’s only those two other couples here. Or lucky in the sense that this turned out to be the best time to travel. And this really is a beautiful lodge.”

“Easily one of the nicest places I’ve been in Zambia,” Chelsi admitted. “I am, but also not, surprised that more volunteers don’t come here.”

“Mostly the ones I know that come are a part of couples. They probably find it worth it, but most volunteers don’t want to have to pay for that transfer from the tarmac.”

“It’s nice that they offer it though, and split between you, me, Ben and Felicia, it wasn’t that expensive.  Not to mention, that drive was beautiful as well!”

At the sound of their names, their two remaining friends appeared through the trees.  “Come on in you two!” Laura called to them.  From the edge of the water Chelsi and Laura splashed their friends with the warm spring water. 

“We’re coming, we’re coming!” Felicia giggled.  With that a streak of lighting split the sky and the rain fell harder.  But with laughing with her friends in the warmth of the pool Chelsi smiled to herself, I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried.

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077: Halloween

Chelsi carefully lifted the fire covered lid from the cast iron pan.  The scent of warm apples and cinnamon wafted by her nose.  It was her favorite holiday of the year, Halloween.  And while back in the States she would have decorated her house with colorful leaves and carved pumpkins, in Zambia it wasn’t yet pumpkin season and the only color of leaves to be found were green. Yet, as luck would have it, apples were available year round.  And what better way to get a festive use out of them, than to make a cake! Chelsi thought, gentle replacing the lid.

Heat from the brazier warmed the house, cooled by a recent rain.  She retook her seat in the stiff backed chair by the table.  Just enough light streamed through the window for her to see the picture she had been working on, and she hummed along to the Prairie Home Companion Halloween special steaming out of her phone as she drew:

Whenever you see the hearse go by; And think to yourself that you’re gonna die
Be merry my friends, be merry
They’ll put you in a big white shirt; And cover you over with tons of dirt
Be merry my friends, be merry
They’ll put you in a long shaped box; And cover you over with tons of rocks
Be merry my friends, be merry…

In addition to missing all the trapping of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, it was harder for Chelsi to conjure the festive fun the holiday usually brings along.  She couldn’t explain an American’s suspended disbelief in ghost, ghouls and goblins to her friends in the village because for them witches and spirits were really apart of daily life.  Every chameleon she found stoned on the side of the road was the persecution of a witch.  And just the other day Laura was telling me about a story she read in the newspaper, about a family found dead on the side of the highway through the Copperbelt.  ‘The going theory on their cause of death,’ Laura said, ‘is that they were witches.  They had shrunken themselves down to mount their flying bottle cap, which the father lost control of on their way to Lusaka.’ ‘In other words,’ Chelsi commented to clarify, ‘Death by flying bottle cap crash?’ ‘Yes…’  This year Chelsi would be satisfied with celebrating by herself.

As the sun sank past the horizon, Chelsi rose and collected to new white candles from their yellow storage basket, and two clean candle holders.  She affixed them together in the usual fashion, setting on the table and the other on the back window sill.  The aroma of apple cake now filled the house, a certain sign that it must be finished.  Carefully again, she removed the charcoal covered lid of the cast iron pan.  After depressing her forefinger into the cake it sprang back.  Chelsi smiled, and removed the pan from the brazier to a towel on the counter.  Cake safe, she deposited the coal from the lid into the brazier. Slipping through the propped open door, she brought out the remanence of her fire on to the front porch.  She over turned the brazier in one corner and piled the coal neatly on the cement.  Using a paint scraper, Chelsi removed the hardened ashes from the collection tray.  Back inside she refilled the brazier with fresh charcoal.  Just a sliver of the red sun could be seen on the horizon now, when she gazed through her back window.  She struck a match, lighting first the candle the table, then the one on the window sill before dropping it on to the brazier.

The house darkened quickly, though the candles burned down.  Chelsi watched as the little match raced towards its end.  When through the door came a sharp wind that sent Chelsi staggering back. The candles flickered wildly and the fire jumped, from the match to the charcoal.

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076: Popcorn Balls

Chelsi let out a breath.  With that breath went the stresses, anxieties and worries of the hectic month.  Finally, some semblance of normalcy.  She though gathering herself this Friday morning.  There was just one more program on the docket before she could really break for the next round of programs and activities.

In her oblong green basin she gathered a medium pot, carton of sugar, bag of popcorn bottle of vanilla,  wooden stirring rod, and candy thermometer.  Filling her small brazier with charcoal and grabbing her hat Chelsi made her way out into the morning.  It was early, but the morning was already feeling hot.  She positioned her green basin upon her head, thankful the little bit of extra shade.

For the last year, nearly every member of her village had pestered her to teach them to make breads, cakes, and biscuits.  To them, this knowledge promised the freedom of poverty, through the sale of these goods.  Chelsi, however, easily saw through the thin fog of this promise.  A few times she had tried to explain her reason against these activities.  ‘Just the capital to get started it immense.’ She would begin with a sigh. ‘First there is the purchase of flour, sugar, baking powders, plus, milk, butter and eggs, all of which are sold at a premium and the latter spoil quickly without proper refrigeration.  Then there’s the construction of an oven.’ Here she would reflect on her own half built oven.  The work in constructing the fuel effect oven proved to be much for her time and energy. But seeing it every day, sitting unfinished in her chinzanza was an ever present reminder the only program her village had ever been excited about.  ‘And even if you get the oven properly constructed, seeing how it is heated with wood or charcoal the temperature will take a while to learn to control, and even so, too hot or too cold the outcome for the baked good would be disastrous.  All those precious ingredients would be waste.’  Chelsi could envision all the rolls, cookies, and cakes she had burned, even using her electric, temperature controlled oven.  ‘But even with all this uncertainty, let’s say your final product finish the way you expected; what will you do with it then? The only market for these expensive goods would be in town, which is an hour and half long bicycle ride into town, in the sun or the rain. Then if you’re successful getting it there, you have to find someone to buy your cake with in a day or it’ll go off. And given the price of ingredients, labor, and transport, you’re finished product is going to be exponentially more costly than the cake rolls, buns, biscuits and breads already flooding the market in town.  Trust me,’ she would finish, ‘this venture would not be profitable.’  But still, the members of her village would be ever asking her ‘when the program for cake making will begin.’

Only one family had heeded her advice; they were ready adopter of all her suggestions.  And after hearing her reasoning asked, “So what’s the alternative?” The initial idea for popcorn balls came to her more than a year, and she explained her idea to the Masize family this way; ‘People are already familiar with popcorn. Women on the roads of the outskirts of town sell it, prepopped, 5 kwacha for a small bag. Covering it in sugar adds additional value.  The only ingredients required are popcorn, sugar, water, flavoring, all of which are cheap and easily available. None of the ingredients require refrigeration and once finished and properly stored, the popcorn balls are easy to transport and will keep without spoiling for some time. And oh, yeah, and there’s no need to build a blasted oven.’  This initial conversation had taken place some months ago.  Every week Chelsi had promised to come and teach them, but having been so bogged down with planning Camp she couldn’t find the time.

“But today’s the day!” she espoused to Daisy, who trotted to the path to the Masize’s house, in front of her.

“Mwaiyi,” Ba Gladys Masize greeted her from the edge of her compound.  She was wearing a simple black dress and her white apron.

“Mwane,” Chelsi responded, picking her way across the old maize field.

“Mwabuuka mwane,” old Bamaama Egness, a neighbor and auntie of some kind to Gladys’ husband, greeted her with respect to the morning.

They greeted each other with a quick handshake, and without delay Chelsi asked, “Twakeba kutatula? Najina masugar, ne mathermometer.”

“Eee,” Ba Gladys sounded with some excitement, taking Chelsi’s brazier from her and adding fire to it.

As the fire heated, Chelsi’s two students gathered round on little stools next to a small coffee table under a mango tree.  Chelsi removed the supplies from her basin. The women washed their hands; having waited a long time for this day the women were still too excited to engage in any small talk. So Chelsi started in on the lesson.

“Kutatula, twateeka mapopcorns.” She scooped out about a half a cup into the pot on the fire and covered it with the lid.  She knew the women were well versed in the popping of popcorn, it was the cooking of the sugar left them mystified.  She had tried to explain the details of candy making before; how all lollipops and candies were just sugar, cooked to varying temperatures with added flavor.  The response to this revelation was always, ‘Serious?’  That is to say you’re pulling my leg, or ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’  Chelsi could easily excuse this skepticism; Chelsi herself, had been surprised at her success with candy making them first time she tried nearly ten years ago.

While the popcorn finished popping she filled her pot with the sugar water mixture and did her best to explain the thermometer and how they would use it.  “You see, we want to sugar to cook until the inner red line reaches here,” she indicated a small black mark inside the glass tube. “We need it to be about 300F but because this thermometer is old and the gauge has slipped we can’t be looking at the numbers.  After we practice a couple times we’ll also start to learn how the sugar looks when it reaches the right temperature.”

Popcorn finished, she eased the sugar water onto the fire.  “And we have to be careful, when taking the temperature, that we don’t let the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot.  Otherwise all we’re doing is taking the temperature of the fire.”  And so, all that was left was to wait and watch.

While they waited the women chattered about what an easy and brilliant idea the popcorn balls were.  How well they would sell in town, at the price they should be sold at.  They talked about ways to change the flavors of balls, and how they should be colored accordingly; and how children and adults alike a attracted to colorful sweeties. Chelsi stoked their enthusiasm by describing where she saw their business going in a couple of year.  “Because you know, if I can come to visit in a few years, travelling around Zambia, I’ll see your popcorn balls, peanut brittles and candied fruits sold everywhere.  And when I come to Solwezi, I’ll see everyone wearing t-shirts baring your face saying ‘Ba Gladys’s Candies’’ Chelsi archer hand across her chest, “’Solwezi Zambia!’” Arching her hand around her belly.  The women laughed, and so Chelsi continued.  “Then upon returning to American, I’ll look around and still everyone will be wearing your t-shirts!”  The women nearly fell off their stools with laughter.

Once they’d calmed, Chelsi reminded them to take the temperature of the sugar.  It was foaming up in the pot now, a soft caramel color.  The red temperature line shot up to just under their desired temperature.

“Alright! Perfect, so this is the time, if we’re going to, to add flavorings.” She tipped the bottle of vanilla gently over the pot.  “And a little salt, and vinegar.”  The sugar concoction simmered with anger, Chelsi removed the pot from the fire. “This is the part where we have to be really careful.  This sugar is hot enough that it can burn you very seriously, but we do have to touch it, and be quick about it.  Otherwise it’ll cook and harden in the pot.”  Without wasting anymore time she started pouring the sugar over the popcorn, stirring all the while.  The two women watched eagerly.  When Chelsi was satisfied, she directed Gladys to rub some cooking oil on her hands, “to help keep the sugar from sticking to you and burning your hands,” she explained.  Chelsi followed suit.  “Now we carefully, but quickly shape the popcorn into balls.”  She started picking some of the cooler bits off the top, and pressing it in her palms.  Gladys scooped some into her hands, but less carefully and winced a bit in pain.  But she powered through, and made her next ball from the cooler kernels on top.

When ten balls sat cooling on the top of the little coffee table, Bamaama Egness exclaim “Kyawama!” Very good indeed! Chelsi thought.  The cooling sugar glistened in the sunlight.  The shininess of confectionaries had always attracted Chelsi.

“And there you go! Now once they’re cool enough, you can wrap them in oiled paper or plastic, before packing them away. This way, if they’re sitting in the sun, they won’t start sticking together.”

“Twasanta,” Ba Gladys said to Chelsi with a gracious smile.

“No problem, my only regret is that it took so long for us to sit down and find time for it.”

As Chelsi started to clean up her things to go, her friend continued chattering about all the possibilities.  Chelsi couldn’t help beaming with pleasure. It’s always the small successes.

Categories: Fantasy, Food & Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

073: Pokemon Go

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

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

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

Chelsi sighed, “Where are you going again?”

“Neal and I are going to the airport.”

“Remind me why again…”

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

“Then we’re coming back?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

061: Boats and Bridges

​Chelsi and her mother bumped up to the end of the road in the short bus they had all to themselves.  This was the portion of their trip that produced the most anxiety and dread in Chelsi when she had originally read it on their itinerary.  But more than that just now, it was signaling something more; it marked the last of their vacation.  

The driver stopped the bus.  “Let me just help you with the door,” he said hopping out.  

“Okay, are you ready?” Chelsi’s mother stood up. “Don’t forget the umbrella.”

“NOT the Umbrella!” She exclaimed sarcastically.  The passenger door popped open just then.  Chelsi looked up. Through the windshield she could see the river.  It was maybe only 50 or 60 yards across, she thought, but the potential for disaster made it feel miles wide.  

Her and her mother gathered up their hand luggage and met the bus driver outside.  “This is the river that marks the board of Botswana and Zambia.  You are on the Botswana side now but you will be transferred into Zambia with the help of our boat captain.” He started with their luggage towards an aluminum dingy.  Well, at least the boat and its captain are actually here. After a year of transporting through Zambia Chelsi had significantly lowered her expectations for the arrival, departure times of all kinds of transports.  With this being her first boat ride, she was not sure what to expect and so mentally prepared herself for the worse.  

It’s floating, so that’s a good start.  There was no dock, but to ease the boarding of passengers, sandbags had been piled up to create a sort of ramp.  Chelsi used the umbrella to balance herself.  The boat wobbled a bit under her foot when she stepped on.  A few rows of benches were bolted down to the floor. She looked back towards her mother, who was looking far more sure-footed.  She confidently picked a spot on one of the benches and settled herself.  Chelsi picked the bench just a head of her but never settled.  

Just to their right a large barge began across the width of the river, saddled with a semi.  “Are we all together?!” The captain called firing up the engine.  Chelsi’s mother nodded her head and gave her a wide smile.

“Are you ready? Are you okay?”

“Boats like this make me nervous.”

As they pull away from the brush along the shore the makings of a bridge was revealed to their right. It stretched almost half the width of the river.  “Look at that!” her mother pointed.  Won’t it make this crossing easier when it’s done?!”

“Yeah, which’ll be sometime in the next decade!” Chelsi hadn’t really thought about it when she said it.  The pessimism just rolled off her tongue. When she realized what she implied her heart swelled with a bit of regret.  After all they’re halfway on the Botswana side and it looks like the have the end done on the Zambia side, when Chelsi heard the sound of captain over her thoughts.

“That’s the bridge they are building to connect Botswana and Zambia! Now the trucks wait up to four day to cross!  There is only that one barge, and it can only work 6 am to 6 pm when the boarder is open!  But when this temporary bridge is done the trucks will be able to go, go!” 

“It’s a temporary bridge!? And when will it be finish!?” Chelsi’s mother called back.

“The temporary bridge, five years!” the captain said cheerfully. “And there where you see that tower! That is where the permanent bridge will start! They say that one will take ten years!”

Nope, never mind, Chelsi thought, her heart shrinking down.  Her mother turned back to look at her in disbelief. Chelsi shrugged an ‘I told you.’

“Why bother even building a temporary bridge? Why not just build the permanent bridge? You would think this would be a high priority, given the traffic, that they would want it done sooner,” her tone was confused and hushed over the sound of the boat motor, which was giving one last reave as it pushed them up on to the shore of Zambia.

“As many a volunteer has said, ‘Welcome to Zambia’. Here reason and truth are whatever you choose them to be.” The hum of the motor petered out. “And just don’t think about anything too hard.” Chelsi stood up, hook the umbrella on her arm and gathered up the rest of her things.  They were ushered off the boat in to a throng of people. Chelsi took one last glance over her shoulder at the peaceful shore of Botswana, the two weeks of stress free relaxation.  Her heart hardened, her gut unwound, Welcome to Zambia.

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

060: Victoria Falls

I’m glad we got the umbrella, Chelsi thought to herself whirling it on her shoulder. The sun cast through the fabric creating a blue halo for Chelsi’s shadow.  She smiled, looking ahead at her dear mother chatting with their Zimbabwean cultural and natural history interpreter, Cynthia.  What would we have done without Cynthia?

The vegetation around the cemented stone path was lush. Bright green palms hung down, drip, drip, dripping mist on to path.  Just a step off the path, a fawn colored bush buck grazed on the tall grass.  Chelsi did not understand though why all the grazers hadn’t flocked to the edge of falls.  Just on the other side of the fence, the boundary for the Victoria Falls National Park, the landscape was scorched.  Dry grass crunched under foot and brown leaves clung to thin trees.  And to think it probably wouldn’t rain again till January.  At once she was relieved and startled that she was glad to call her home Solwezi, where tall trees would still be flush with green leaves till the next rain.

Chelsi continued following her companion down the path, until they reach an off shoot with a clearing to her left.  She took it to the rail, figuring her mother and Cynthia would eventually stop to look for themselves and she would catch up then.  The Mist that Thunders, that’s for sure.  Water gushed over the edge of the earth, hitting the rocks below with such force the water sprang back like upward rain.  When the Zambezi called it back, the water returned reluctantly, falling as a slow, delicate mist.  Chelsi listened hard for the tinkling of it on her umbrella over the thundering of the falls.

Her thin cotton, chitenge dress was becoming drenched, but was glad she passed up the poncho.  She knew the day would come, even in Northwest Provence that she would wish to be as wet and cool as she was now.  She soaked it in.

“Hey there hun, how are you doing?” It was the voice of her dear mother, calling from the protected cover of the trees.  They have turned back for me, she turned to face them.

“Good,” Chelsi smiled. “I’m glad we got the umbrella.”

The two women laughed.

“You don’t want to get a better look at the falls?”

Her dear mother shouted over the roar of the falls, “No, we’re okay here.  I can see.” Even wrapped in your thick rain poncho, huh? Chelsi looked back over her shoulder.  An electric colored rainbow revealed itself through the mist. The colors shown brighter than any she had seen before, so bright in fact it appears to be casting a shadow; the colors there where a subtle pastel.

“You don’t want to see the double rainbow?” Chelsi called back, now looking at the empty space where her mother had been standing.  After one more look she hurried after them.


Double Rainbow!

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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