Food & Recipes

“yum, yum, yum”

081: Albert the Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

066: Funeral Pyre

Chelsi looked down at the garden bed in front of her feet.  Just yesterday it had been covered in promising little radishes; now all it was filled with was dashed hopes and dreams.  The bed coverings were strewn about, dirt was piled up at the bed edges and claw marks were clear on soft beds center. “Gorged out the by a gardens worst enemy.”

“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” the black bared rooster crowed from Chelsi’s front porch.

“If you could get my hands on you…!” she exclaimed in an empty threat.  But still, the fantasy of the bird, breast up on a roasting pan always calmed her down. Dues owed she thought.

It was the feeling of be burgled. To come home after a long day’s work and find that all your prized possessions had been stolen and the window smashed; you’re angry for a moment and then overwhelmingly sad.  Only Chelsi knew who to be angry with, her host family, the Kalulu’s. It was their chickens and goats that were always destroying her garden. “And then! When and if things do grow they’ll have the audacity to come over and tell me to give them some,” steam poured out her ears. ‘No’ she practiced over and over in her head, ‘you’re chickens already ate your portion. Go eat them!

The whole purpose was it improve child and family nutrition. The whole purpose of my garden is to improve my nutrition. Some of the mothers in Kamijiji had asked for nutrition traing, they know their first graders look like toddlers and the toddlers look like infants. Others in the village just didn’t know or seemed to care. Chelsi hating seeing some of her favorite children eating nothing but packaged cookies and nshima, the local staple of maize mush.

Ahh, but the chickens aren’t for eating’ she was told.

Then why don’t you come to the gardening workshop. We can have some small gardens, they’ll be easy to take care of all year round, improve nutrition that way.

Ah, but there are no vegetable seeds.

If you dig a garden I will give you seeds to start.

Ah, but the chickens, they will just dig up the garden.

Build a fence.

Ah, but it’s a lot of work.

So lock up the chickens in a chicken house and tie up the goats.

Ah…

‘Fine then let your children starve.

But look, they are fat!’

They’re not fat! They are swollen with fluid because their kidneys are shutting down.

Chelsi sighed. Her fence did help. The number of chickens rolling through was greatly reduced, but only one was needed to undue weeks of watering and care. Fuck it, when I go to town next I’m getting fifty meters of chicken wire. She no longer cared that it would cost her an entire pay check. She then had a thought about how well scare crow actually worked.  She took a few deep breaths, started to feel better.  “Because do you really want to be that one?” She asked herself. “The volunteer who totally loses it and acts out rashly?” She had been voted most likely to, for swear-in superlatives last year.  “Most likely to: burn a goat in a funeral pyre.” She had been downgraded, from ‘Most likely to:’ make their house sustainable, after a conversation with PC Zambia’s then CFO, from which the designation was born.

The CFO Jason, Chelsi and three other soon to be volunteers sat in a small office, more than a year ago now, discussing proper volunteer conduct. ‘Don’t take drugs, don’t steal, take only certified taxi’s unless you have no other options. Try not to travel alone, don’t burn down your house, don’t burn down anyone else’s house. Just try not to do anything that would ostracize you from your communities, like killing your neighbor’s goat and burning it in a funeral pyre.

The comment had been presented to off handedly; don’t kill your neighbor’s goat and burn it in a funeral pyre. Chelsi had to ask.

We had a volunteer, who had a garden,’ Jason had stated calmly, ‘not unlike a lot of volunteers. But there was this goat, this one goat, which I guess was always breaking down the volunteers fence and destroying their garden.  So apparently what had happened, is they came home one day, to find their garden again, completely destroyed and the goat just standing there. And the volunteer lost it, killed the goat and built a giant pyre and burn the body.

Chelsi now knew what that murderous passion must have felt like for that volunteer, but Jason had never described how that volunteer had committed that act.  In Chelsi’s imagination it was a knife, they just stabbed it over and over, until it was dead.

So we had to send that volunteer home, because there was no way to reconcile with the community.

And the proper way to handle the situation, would have been….?

You make arrangements with the owner of the offending goat, to purchase the animal. Then, you may kill the animal if you wish, and if there is too much meat for you alone, you share it with the community. You don’t burn it front of them.

That’s how the story played in Chelsi’s head every morning, when she went out to water her garden, to mentally prepare herself.  She would take Jason’s advice if she thought it would make a difference.  But if she bought all of her family’s chickens, they would just go out and buy more chickens.  And all chickens are offenders. So instead she figured she would keep buying identical copies of her family’s chickens the market, and roasting them, while secretly hoping all the chicken at home would catch New Castle Disease and die.

Categories: Drama, Food & Recipes, Gardening, Health & Fitness, Horror, Law, Justice and Order | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

057: Fish Harvest

Neal looked over at Chelsi from across the watery hole. Mud covered him up to his waist, pond slime was splattered across his face and the skin on his back was flush pink from the sun.

“I am really glad I’m not a RAP volunteer… I don’t like getting dirty.”

Chelsi laughed, “You know you’re a Peace Corps volunteer, in Zambia, right? Getting dirty is inevitable. Grab that corner of net, would you? Pass it on Mr. Kahokala,” she gestured to the mosquito net that they were using in the fish pond.  Mr. Kahokala, the Zambian owner of the fish pond, squished the mud under his boots.  “Hold the net really taut this time, across the surface.  I want this to be our last drag, get the last few big fish in here.” Chelsi past her side corner to her helper, Mr. Kahokala’s son, “mwamvwa?”

“Eee,” he replied.

Chelsi and Neal began to easy in the muddy water.  Their feet sank into the soft silt, “You’ve got the net on the bottom over there?” Chelsi had to turn her head awkwardly to prevent water from filling her mouth.

“Yeah.”  They started walking, slowly in step, all hunched over.  The wetted part of the pond was three meters at most, but the weight of the mud logged net and the soft pond bottom made the work arduous.

“Alright, pull the bottom of the net up, quick, Quick!  Or the fish’ll get out!” The crew of four struggled in the mud to haul up the net on to the bank of the pond.  So much for the cod end, Chelsi thought as the mirky water revealed the mud clogged net.  In her mind’s eye, she pretended they were fish.

“Ah, Ba Neal. Pull your side of the net this way.” Mr. Kahokala’s voice was hushed and strained with exertion.    They were trying to make it away from the soft parts of the pond bottom and up on to the sun hardened, clay, berm. “Okay, I think we can put it down here.”

“Shi, oot,” the word came out as Chelsi slipped into the mud up to her thigh. So close… all she need was one more step.  “Neal, do you mind giving me a hand?” The mud sucked her a little farther down, every time Neal gave her a tug out.

Mr. Kahokala, safely perched on the berm, was already opening the net and beginning to sift through the mud for the fish.  “Next time Mr. Kahokala, it’s gonna be you and Neal in the pond.  Now that you know how it’s done.” She let out a chuckle and conceded to the mud.  I can reach the net from here.

“Sure, sure, sure,” he sifted the jelly like mud through his fingers looking intently for the flash of a silver scale.

“Next time I’m gonna be like Mr. Jere, over there. Measuring, weighing, supervising as he says.”

Hearing his name Mr. Jere, the Department of Fisheries officer, looked over his shoulder from his position, hovered over the scale.  “What’s that?” he began standing up to bring them a bucket for collecting the fish.

“Just telling Mr. Kahokala and Neal here that next time I’m going to be in the supervisory role,” Chelsi started sifting through the mud sorting out the two and three inch long fish for the bucket. “You know, passing the torch.” She tossed a few fish in to the bucket.

“Oh my gosh!” Neal exclaimed. “It’s poking me!” The hand-sized fish flopped back on to the mud.

“Quick, get it,” Mr. Jere point at the fish, careful not to dirty his shiny shoes.

“These fish have dorsal spines!” Chelsi laughed, leaning down to pick it up.  She started by gently smoothing back the dorsal fin, then wrapping her fingers around the body of the fish just behind the operculum. “Ba Jere? Do you have a separate bowl for the bigger ones?” He turned back to get the bowl he had been using for weighing. After placing it gently in the bowl, Jere took it the river to rinse the mud off it.  “Remember when I was here, back in April, Mr. Kahokala? With Ginny and Harrison? And Harrison said he saw otter poop?”

“Yes, yes, I remember.”  The crew continued to sort diligently.

“I think it’s that otter that’s made it off with most of your bigger fish.  Because we’ve found like what? Seven or eight, good sized ones, but there’s lots of babies. So what we can today, while we are reshaping your pond, before restocking you pond, is put in sticks going across the pond, kind of close together.  This way when the otter gets into the water, all the fish will swim to the other side of the pond, but the otter won’t be able to fit through the sticks, so it’ll have to get out and go round. Then when it gets back in the pond the fish will swim back across the fence.  And back and forth, back and forth. How does that sound, are we together?”

“No, that sounds good.” It has to be that otter, Chelsi thought. She wanted it to be more than anything.  Getting fish farmers to commit to a pond, to get it ready to be stock, to follow up with six months of care and management, was a feat.  ‘Raising fish, farming fish is such a departure from the way Zambians have traditionally raised animals,’ Chelsi would explain to her friends and family back in America. ‘Goats, pigs, chickens, sheep, even some cows. They’re just freely roaming around. No one feeds them, gives them water, or takes them out to pasture.  But you can’t do that with fish, because they’re stuck in the pond.’ So then to pull up nothing but tiny fish, it’s not good for moral.

They sorted the last few fish out of the mud, and when it was decided that they were done, Chelsi reassessed her position in the mud.  “So, I heard about this technique for getting out of quicksand, where you kind of twist and roll over it.” She thought aloud.  The rest of the men were rinsing the mud out of the next in the nearby river.  “I mean, what’s more mud on my shirt, right?” She started to lean over on to her side, pushing the weight of her body around. The hole that had swallowed her leg started widen.  She pressed harder towards the firmer, raised part of the pond bottom.  When she saw her knee, she made the real attempt to roll.

“What are you doing?” Neal stood on the berm looking down at her.

“I’m getting unstuck… I thought maybe rolling might work. I would have asked you for help. But you know, I didn’t want to get you dirty.” She laughed over the rumbling suction sound that was the mud giving up her leg.  “There we go!” She finished rolling up the berms, to prevent becoming re-stuck. Neal offered her a hand up.  “Thank you! Mr. Jere?! What does the scale say? How much fish did we get?”

“ Umm,” he looked up from the bucket of fish, “about 5.2 kg. And the bigger fish, on average they’re 800g each.”

“Is that good?” Neal looked at her, then him.

“It’s okay,” Chelsi shrugged. “It’ll be better next time after we out smart that otter. Plus for a first time… It can only go up from here!” her voice twanged with optimism. “I think I’m going to rinse off in the river before we walk back to the house,” she said, staggering towards clear water two meters away.

“Feel free. There are no worries,” and Neal ran after her.

Categories: DIY, Food & Recipes, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

048: Fuko Feast

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Fuko, A Giant African Mole

“Ba Joseph, Right?” Chelsi double checked with the new acquaintance standing in front of her.
“Yes.  You know when I first heard that you had come I thought, Ahh but this isn’t for me.  Especially fish farming.  But I think what is was, is that I just didn’t have the time.  Now I’m thinking I am ready.”
“That is absolutely fantastic!” This was the way Chelsi wished it happened more often.  The she is just out weeding her garden and people just walk up her path and say that they are ready to learn.  “We can get started right now. I didn’t have any plans this morning.”
The tall man’s face twisted up a bit.  “Or, you can come tomorrow.  But while you’re here you should at least come see the example pond.  It’s just there.” Chelsi pointed into the bush at his back. “I’ll show you.”
“Okay, but I think I’ll also come back with my notebook on Friday.” Chelsi was listening but started walking away.
“Friday’s fine.  Hold on I’m just going to get my shoes.”
When she returned and the two turned up the path, Daisy came running up to them, furiously investigating the new comer with her nose.  “I’m afraid of dogs.” What Zambian isn’t afraid of dogs?
“Well you’re doing great, cause I couldn’t tell. And you don’t have to worry about Daisy.  This is my dog.  She just excited, but she won’t hurt you.  She’ll come with us to the pond.”  It had been some weeks since Chelsi had been to visit the ponds, and the grass on the path to the trees was so over grown, standing six feet tall, she had to guide her student walking backwards through it.  Once they reached the tree line the grass subsided and they could walk comfortable side by side.  Daisy went running on up ahead.
They chatted a bit. Joseph explained how he stayed in town but had his farm just past her house. Chelsi told him about Peace Corps and the role of volunteers in the community.  When suddenly, Daisy came bounding out of the bush, a big fuzzy ball in her mouth.  She set it down on the path to better sniff at it.
“We eat that!” Joseph exclaimed pointing and running towards Daisy.  The animal twitching on the ground was a shape Chelsi couldn’t really describe; Fat and stout? More like a Zambian cucumber though, with fur. “Just wait.” Joseph stomped on the critters head till it quit moving.  Then Chelsi picked it up.  The body was still warm in her hand.
“It’s a giant mole,” Daisy jumped, futilely trying to reclaim her prize.  “Good girl Daisy,” Chelsi patted her on the head. 
“Yes, it is a mole.  In kiikaonde we call it Fuko.” The two continued on to see the fish pond

After making plans to meet again and Joseph left, Chelsi commenced with the business of preparing the meat.  She cut the hide from around the hindlegs and started to peel it from the layers of fat and meat.  I always knew all the practice butchering would pay off.  Between this and the poor dove from last month.  She knew most volunteers would have handed the catch off to their host family’s to prepare, settling for a bit or two of the finished dish.  There can’t be more than a handful of bit to this thing either, she thought as struggling the hide over the substantial head.  The meat was a dark red, and smells a bit like a swamp. There was still a lot of excitement in her for tasting it, but she didn’t have high hopes.
After the intestines where unpacked and the suspicious innards where divided up among her animals, she dropped the naked mole into a brine. She was expecting another volunteer, Craig, for dinner today, but that was still some hours away.  A brine is probably the best way to keep it.
When all was done and cleaned up, she hoped on her bike to meet up with a farmer for an afternoon gardening lesson.

By the time Chelsi and Daisy returned to the house their shadows were long under the sun, and Craig sat on the bench of her front porch. 
“Alright! You made it, I thought maybe you’d let yourself in.” Chelsi let her bicycle roll to a stop. 
“We just got here a few minutes ago.  Oh and when I go here, that white cat is yours?”
“Yeah, it’s annoying as hell though.”
“Well it was sitting on your bird house.” Chelsi’s heart sank and the commotion level sky rocketed when Daisy discovered the little ball of black fuzz Craig was cradling in his lap. 
“Oh, I’m going to kill the thing,” Chelsi shouted over the barking and hissing. “It’s been eyeing my birds all week.” She ditched her bike and walk around to the side of her house. She could tell something had disturbed the flock.  They all sat stark still on the roof of her house.  Seven, yes the whole flock.  She inspected a little closer under the bird house.  Delicate white eggshells speckled the ground. Chelsi walked back over to Craig.  “You’ve got to take him with you when you go.  I can’t have him here anymore.”  She grabbed her white cat, meowing, off the bench and the dog, barking and locked them in the house.
“Well, this little guy hasn’t shown any interest in birds.”  He held up a tiny black kitten. It looked at her frightened; blue eyes ringed in yellow. Poppy had prettier eyes.
“Thanks man.” She took the seat next to him.  “We’ve got a special dinner tonight.  Daisy caught a giant mole this morning.  I know how you like your meet chewy.”

After they had settled in and the animals had become acquainted with each other, Chelsi set Craig to chopping vegetable while she set up the stove.  “So apparently I did this wrong. Or not wrong, but non-traditional.”
“What do you mean?” Craig briefly looked up from his potatoes.
“Well, when I was talking to Kennie’s wife at our gardening lesson today I was telling her about it. And apparently, you’re supposed to prepare a fuko like a pig; where you sear the outside, scrape off the hair then butterfly it open and roast it.” And this made sense to Chelsi, there was a lot of fat between the skin and the meat. “I didn’t know, so I did what I’d do with any fuzzy animal and skinned it.  But I bet the skin will make a great puppet when it’s done!”  Always look for the bright side.
“I think I probably doesn’t matter that much,” Craig confessed.
“Yeah, and we can’t really roast anything anyway.” The stove hot, she plopped on pot of water. “So we’re just going to boil it.”

With a little cooking and fragrant herbs, the swampy smell disappeared. 
“This is delicious.” Craig said pulling the meat off one of the hind legs.
“I know! And it’s not even chewy.  Who would have guessed that dirt and roots, and whatever else moles eat, would make you so tender.”
The two ate to their satisfaction, then divided the remained among their animals.  Stomachs full they settle back in their chairs to enjoy each other’s company.  

Categories: Action, Adventure, Food & Recipes, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

030: Thanksgiving

It was truly a mark of the passage of time; the arrival of Thanksgiving. Chelsi could hardly believe it. About three weeks previously an email had sent around to start organizing who would help cook what, but the thought that the day would ever arrive was far off. Part of it, for Chelsi, was the hope that it would be enough time for her situation to change.  But alas, she was still making her home in the Prov house.
Out of the list of things to do in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, Chelsi had volunteered to cut the meat.  Two other men had already signed up for this duty but she was pretty confident she would be able to subdue them in to taking her direction.  After all she had a reputation to uphold as the Master Meat Carver of Northwest Provence.  The only thing that left her a little unsure was the animal on the menu.
“This is my first time breaking down a pig,” Chelsi confessed. She was staring into the fridge on the front porch at a lumpy white plastic sack.
Big Paul loomed behind her. “Last year we cooked the animals whole. And Sam was in charge of most of the cooking.”
“I heard about last year. He put meat in and on every cooking surface, including the brick fire oven and wouldn’t let anyone open the doors to add anything for hours.”
“Yeah, we didn’t eat till 9pm. And everyone else was stomping around angry.”
“Can you carry it over to the table? I figure we cut it up out here cause I know meat make some people uncomfortable.” She stepped aside so Big Paul could get into the fridge and prepared the rest of her tools.
Her boning knife, which she had taken to carrying with her everywhere. An assortment of bowls and pans for placing different parts: meat pieces, fat and skin, discard. Finally she removed her watch, bracelets and rings.  “Last year’s strategy is definitely not an option since we’re only going to have power till about 9:30. Which will only leave the propane oven down stairs and Ephriam took apart the brick oven.  But if we break down the pig and the turkeys first we can put them on the grill and we won’t need to use any oven or stove space.”
“Okay,” Big Paul said with some effort as he hoisted up and open the bag to get the pig on the table.  “But I wanna try and deep fry the turkeys.”
“Definitely not! You know how many people die every year trying to deep fry their birds! It’s like the fire departments busiest day of the year.” Mostly Chelsi receive graphic mental snapshots of what her arms would be like after 400F oil was spilt over them, trying to wrestle a turkey in and out of the pot.  That’s why I don’t like deep frying anything.
“That’s not true.”
“People who don’t know what they’re doing go out to their garage with a 25lb, half frozen bird. Plop it in a pot filled with too much, too hot of oil.  The oil spits, spatters, catches fire and their garage burns down with them inside. I’m going to start by taking the head off.” Big Paul was standing at the butt end of the pig. “Do you have a knife? You can start taking some of the skin and fat off the back end there.  I figure, we leave half on half off, one side might taste better but if we mix together… plus it’ll help move the cooking process along.”
Big Paul looked down at Chelsi, with her knife in hand, moving the pig’s ears out of the way with the other.  “Is that knife big enough?”
Chelsi looked back up at him. His curly brown hair stuck out in all directions around his head.  Glasses like those Chelsi had in third grade where perched on his nose.  In lieu of a knife he had a glass of cane spirts and juice in his hand. “If you know how to cut through joint properly the size of the knife doesn’t matter so long as it’s sharp.”
They got to work on their separate ends.  As the distinctive fattiness of the pig began to be removed Chelsi noticed that it really looked a lot like a rabbit.  A giant, slightly redder rabbit.  This won’t be so hard after all, she thought.
“Okay, we have enough pork fat here, that if you really want we can try deep frying one of the turkeys.  But we’re just going to do pieces. Two at a time.  None of this stuff with the whole bird.” Something about breaking down animals calmed her down and now that she saw the pig as just a giant rabbit she began to loosen up a bit.

As predicted the power went out at about 9:30am as it did every Thursday, thanks to country wide power shortages and load shedding.  But every one worked together and was on top of their game.  By 5pm the table was spread with buns, Asian salad, tomato pie, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, corn mac, pork, turkey, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, all the fixings for a true American thanksgiving. The older volunteers espoused a Peace Corps Thanksgiving that really was about more than just the food. After all, the mushrooms were just a little too tangy, the potatoes were creamed with sour milk and the pecans never made it up from the embassy commissary, ‘but it’s the one day a year where all the volunteers in Northwest can come together and cook, and eat and be a family.’ Dick had said this to Chelsi with such passion just a week before when she found out there were volunteers who wanted to rebuff with the other volunteers and spend it on their own. I guess every family has a few, Chelsi thought. 
She was thankful for her Peace Corps family, and was more than happy to be spending the day with them. And she said so.  Just before eating every one anonymously wrote what they were thankful for on a strip of paper and put it in a hat.  After, they all circled up and drew strips and read them aloud. Zambia didn’t feel so far from home after all.

Categories: DIY, Food & Recipes, Horror | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

028: Least of Weevils

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Homemade complete animal feed

It’s like a metallic-y lemon smell, Chelsi thought popping open the repurposed milk tin storing dried beans. There was a crisp crunch when she pressed a weevil into the metal wall with her finger.  More and more and more began to crawl up the walls. For as long as she could remember, the word weevil had been a part of her vocabulary. But for what reason she didn’t know; for up until she began living in Zambia she would have been able to describe them.
“Like tiny beetles, with round bodies, pointed heads, long antenna.” She fished one out of the tin on the tip of her finger. A hard top shell clicked open and soft wings fluttered out.  “Like crushing a peppercorn,” she said to the empty kitchen bring her index finger and thumb together; weevil in between.  
There was nothing dangerous about them, but the idea of eating beans with such an infestation reviled her.  In nearly every bean at least one hole was bore, the home of the little beetle.  Most of the beans sported four, five or even six holes, more weevil then bean at that point.  And though there were few thing Chelsi could not stomach, there was something about the smell of the weevils, almost tangy, that left the beans unpalatable.
“But wasting them totally would be such a shame.”  She emptied the entire tin in to a large pot, filled it with water and set it on the large burner on the electric stove in the Prov house.  “But perhaps I’ll be able to make it in to animal feed.”
She remembered back to the fourth grade, visiting at a friend’s house.  Her friend’s family stored all their breakfast cereals in air-tight tuber-ware containers. 
“Why do you do that?” she had inquired.
“My dad says it’s the only way to keep the weevils out.”
At the time she did not know what a weevil was, but just the name gave the indication that she should shutter.  Over the years she forgot about the little beasts.  Something about the sterilization and quality standards of the American food supply; they were not a part of everyday life.  She had to laugh a little now though when she thought about the idealized conversations she had with friends about pesticide-free, organic food.  This is what pesticide-free means.
When the beans were soft she drained off the water and mashed them by squeezing them between her fingers.  She wondered all the while if hand cream makers knew how soft mashed beans made your skin feel. What was now a paste was spread on several cookie sheets and left out in the sun to dry.
Back in the house she laid out the rest of her ingredients: Five parts starch, she hoisted an old bag of corn flour, or roller meal, the table, one part fat, she placed a green cellophane bag full on pounded peanut next to the roller meal, one part wood ash, she had always seen this list on ingredients for animal foods but never understood until a gardener explained that the wood ash was a dense source of minerals.  Then three parts protein, the beans where just finishing up drying in the sun. 
As she started measuring out her ingredients in to a large plastic bin she came across a couple black, fuzzy caterpillar looking things in the roller meal.  I guess its good I’m using this up too.
To get what was otherwise a powder to stick together in pellet form she had been told to use cassava flour as a binder.  That was it, there were no other instructions, but she had eaten cassava nshima before; when cooked down the stuff is like puttie.
“If I cook it down, then mix the powder in when it’s sticky, when it dries it will stick together?” she filled a small pot with water and boiled it on the stove.  Slowly she whisked in the cassava flour to avoid lumps.  It was long before the whisk became stuck in a paste.  Bubbles on the surface grew, and grew, and grew, be releasing a long hiss. “That’s probably good,” she reasoned.
The paste burned her fingers when she tried to scoop it out on to the cookie sheet. But she felt the pressure to rush.  The cooler the paste became the hard it became to manipulate.  She was worried the feed mix would not adhere properly. 
She poured some of the pre-mixed powder over the gelatinous mush. What now? She thought poking it with her finger.  Poking it again and again, the powder began to penetrate the mush.  She poured on more powder, poked it some more.  Now squishing it between her hands, covered in the grey colored feed powder, it reminded her of a sea anemone; the shape and squishable consistence.
Adding more and more powder, she began to knead the mixture like bread, until it could not take and more.  What did not happen that she was expecting was for the mixture to crumble on its own in to little pellets.  Wishful thinking. So, she pounded it down, about a quarter of an inch thick, then used a fork to break it up in to little pieces; pellet size.  It took about fifteen minutes to finish the first mound of mush. But it was finally complete she should the cookie sheet out and took it outside to set in the sun.
It looks pretty good, she thought to herself.  Certainly better then trash. She wondered if her dog would eat it, but figure at the very least maybe she could feed it to the doves when she finally moved home and acquired them.  Sometimes I really wish it had a pig.

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

027: A house for birds

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The "completed" house for birds

“Ba Chelsi!  There you are, you have come,” a stocky Zambian man standing among piles of wood greeted her.
“Yes, of course.  How are you?”
“I am fine.” Their hands clasped with a large pop, “how are you?”
“I am fine, this is my friend Ginny,” she said motioning to the tall blond woman in a blue shirt beside her.
“Hi,” Ginny extended her hand. 
“So, how is the house coming along?” Something like a box sat between her and the carpenter.  The cluster of pressboard and 2”x2”s held together by a few nails sticking this way and that stood three feet tall, two feet wide and another three feet long. 
“It’s very good madam.”
“Is this the roof we talked about when we changed the design?” a half-a-dozen paired twos jutted up to create the skeleton of an A-frame roof.  “And are you going to be able to cover it with the press board like in the original design?”
“We have used up all the materials and I have used all the money.  There isn’t anything left to cover the roof.”
“That’s why when we turned the house on its side we were just going to put a flat slanted roof across the top, like people do with iron sheets.”
“But no madam, in the picture you drew it has this kind of roof.” He began removing a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket.
“I know what I drew, but we talked about changing.” Chelsi could tell now that he had simply forgot they had talked out changing the style of roof, even though it had just been two days ago.
“If you give me more money for materials, I can change it the way you want.” She looked at the pointed roof.  Covering it was not a huge deal.
“Maybe I will just put thatch on it when I get it to the village.”
“You want to put grass on the roof? Ah, but that won’t be good.”
“No, it’ll be fine. My house has thatch.  This way my house and the bird house will match.”  The other carpenters and loitering men who had gathered around began to chuckle. “Or I’ll just get an iron sheet for it.”
“Yes,” her carpenter agreed, “I think that will be better.” Her only other concern for it now was its sheer size. This will never fit in a regular taxi cab to get it back to the prov house.
“How does it look Ginny?” Chelsi asked turning to her friend.
Ginny rubbed her hand gently along the rough cuts of wood that was the roof. “It looks like doll-house.  Like, when I was a kid I could on play in this for hours.” She knelt down getting a closer look at the bare interior. 
“You think the birds will like it?”
Ginny smiled, straightening herself up. “Yes, yes I think they’ll like it.”
“Just the roof… I’ll take care of it later. How much more time do you think you need to finish it up? I want to know when I need to arrange a car to pick, because the taxi’s are expensive and I can only afford to bring one here once.”
“Two more days I think.”
“Okay, You still need to finish up framing the doors,” four, separated, compartments 12”x18”x12” sat atop four compartments of identical size.  The outward side of each compartment was a hinged door.  And at the moment some were just press board flaps leaving large gaps in the walls. “and putting on the landing stage for the lower level of pop holes; the little holes that the birds come in and out.”
“Alright madam.”
Chelsi gave it another look over.  The quality was not the highest but it would serve its purpose.  “And I’ll be back the day after tomorrow to pick it.  Probably around 17 hours so you have all the day to work on it. Okay?”
“Alright madam.”
Tukamonaangana.” He smiled and Chelsi and Ginny parted the way through the other men standing around, heading towards the tarmac. 
“So you’re going to use the house to keep pigeons?”
“That’s the plan.  I’m trying to convince a few other volunteers to keep some so we can send messages to each other.”
Ginny laughed with her big beautiful smile, “How do you do that?”
“After you get your birds, starting with six to eight and you home them, by penning them up in their new home for three to four weeks, you can then trade them with other people who keep doves, as Zambians call them, and the bird will fly back to where it’s been homed… I think Oliver in Mwinilunga and Rachel in Ichilange are going to get some too.” They stepped delicately through the mud that was the road.  The full force of rainy season had not begun yet but the city with trying to regrade some of the roads in a rush before it began and did this for this road by turning it to mud then rolling, rolling, rolling over it. 
“Okay, well that sounds fun. Where can you get doves, are they like the white ones?”
“No, doves and pigeon really are the same. So even that bird would do if you could catch it.” Chelsi pointed to a white and blue mottled bird perch on the iron sheets of the hardware and welding shops surrounding them.  “But a lot of Zambians keep them too; mostly as pets, weirdly enough. If you look around you’ll see what looks like iron sheets just stacked all on top of each other on roofs’ of houses. Those are their dove houses. And they don’t eat them, collect eggs from them; they’re just kind of there. I know a few people I was going to ask.”
“But you can eat them?”
“Yeah, the babies just before they start to fly.  In fancy restaurants in the States they call it squab.  And you can collect eggs from them.  I’ve read there about half the size of chicken eggs.  Which is impressive if you ask me considering their size.  But that’s why I have the door on the side that open. So I can get in and out of the compartments easier and manage them.”
“That’s sounds really cool, you’ll have to keep me updated on how it works out.”
“Of course!” Chelsi smiled.
“Do you want to go to Shoprite?” Ginny asked as they pulled themselves out of the last bit of mud and on to the tarmac.
“Sure.”

Categories: Adventure, DIY, Food & Recipes, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

026: Almost like home

It only took five months, but at least it’s finally happening, Chelsi thought to herself as she flipped on the kitchen light switch.  It was her house in the village, although ‘house’ is an over statement. More like a toolshed with a bed.  Even Mike, before he left off handedly stated, ‘Yeah, I don’t really live in it, I just use it to store stuff.’ But now, after five months of negotiations, her house was going to be brought closer to the housing standards set down by Peace Corps.  Until the work was completed, Chelsi was to stay at the prov house with all her things. Except Daisy, I really wish my darling Daisy could be here.  Rainy season was to arrive any day now and she hated the thought of Daisy sleeping out in the rain. 
The prov house is a transit house with volunteers filtering in and out, travelling from Provence to Provence or just to stay a few days to make a dent in never ending amounts of paperwork. There was always someone else home, even it was just the PC Volunteer Leader (PCVL)/house manager who lived at the house.  But tonight, tonight was rare, for even the PCVL was gone for meeting in the capital leaving the whole house to Chelsi.
“Whatever I want,” she declared to the empty room.  She removed a bottle of Unlabeled White wine from the fridge and poured herself a glass. She plugged her phone into the kitchen speaker, “bee du bee de dep, you’re listening to Radiolab,” it sang out.
It’s almost like any other Saturday night in the States, she thought. Podcasts, a bottle of wine, and now what to make…  Any other Saturday night in the States she would have been canning; blueberry marmalade, green tomato relish, pickled cantaloupe.  But here, it would have to be something simpler, and cooks quickly, just in case we lose the power.
Chelsi stretched for the mixing bowl on the top shelf and ran her hand over the inside. You could never tell if a dish was clean just by looking at it.  Sure you might not see leftovers still clinging to the sides or even the red tint that indicates dust but when you try and put the cup, plate, bowl down you might just find you hand stuck to it.  The mixing bowl, which Chelsi had washed multiple times over the few days, passed inspection. 
Wet ingredients first. She cracked a couple of eggs into the bowl, then diligently rinsed out the shells and set them aside to dry; to be crushed and added to the garden for minerals. She beat the eggs till they there all one color.  Oil, which in Zambia most people just refer to as Saladi, a former brand name for vegetable oil, or by volunteers just as spice, for being the only food flavor additive/enhancer used by Zambians with the exception of salt. Milk, long life milk, the kind in the hermetically sealed boxes was really the only way to go.  Fresh milk went sour just a few hours after opening even if it’s kept in the refrigerator. 
Chelsi inspected a second bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients separately. The prov house was usually stocked with some basic staples: flour, sugar, rice.  But the quality was incredibly variable.  This time around a rat had chewed the plastic lid of the flour bucket.  Chelsi pull the bucket out from under the cabinet and removed the remainder of the lid. Bits of green plastic formed a new kind of cover for the flour.  Using a spoon, Chelsi scraped to the side the top layer.  She was reluctant to remove it entirely, there’s still a lot of good flour mixed in there, she reasoned. Maybe as we use it we can just pick it out, and you know, we shouldn’t waste; starving children in Africa and all. She did remove some of the ‘improved’ portion and added it the dry ingredients bowl.  Baking powder’s in the box, salt in the bag. What else? She moved over to turn on the oven.  Zambia, like the rest of the world operates on the metric system, but thankfully the oven doesn’t, Chelsi thought.  A little less confusing and a little more like home. 
Cocoa powder and sugar were added to the bowl in the final step before whisking it up. Best practices also told Chelsi that she should butter the baking pan before mixing the wet and dry ingredients together.  The prov house kitchen was covered in an amalgam of pots, pans, dishware and wooden spoons; most of which are never used.  After browsing the door less cabinets for the proper pan she got down on her knees to look through the cupboard.  A slight stench seeped from behind the door.  Never had she seen the other volunteers look through the pot and pan cupboard but how bad can it be?
The open door belched out a rancid scent.  Chelsi held her breath and shuffled around some plastic plate, cookies sheets, a large pot,
“Nope, no, definitely not.” She cried slamming the cupboard door closed.
But it was too late; the experience was already burned on her memory.  She emptied her wine glass and refilled it. 
She knew what she had found, even without a complete view or previous experience to compare it too.  She had certainly never smelt anything like it before in her life.  Like death. What she had smelt and seen was death and decay.  The bald, still well formed tail was pointed right at her.  Toughs of gray fur were strewn about the putrefied body.
In her mind, she balled up the memory and pushed it to the back.  Another deep breathe or two and she turned her attention back to the cabinets.
“This will work just fine.” She took down a long glass pan and washed off its sticky coating.  After drying it with a Prov house dish towel, also called a pillow case, she rubbed it down with butter. 
The smell of the mixed wet and dry ingredients reminded her of America.  She poured the batter into the prepared pan, scoured the mixing bowl, then popped the mixing spoon into her mouth.  The oven being electric, has the potential to produce nicely finished baked goods, but the electricity in Solwezi is unreliable do to a country-wide electricity shortage.
“I just need 35 minutes, please,” She prayed to the load-shedding gods.
35 minutes later, with the lights still on, she removed the finished cake the oven.

Categories: DIY, Food & Recipes, Horror | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

025: For the love of trees

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An example of ally cropping with pigeon pea at SVI's demo farm in Mumena

“You know, I don’t really understand why they don’t give tree planting training to all volunteers. Or at least Aquaculture and Health volunteers along with Environment volunteers.” Chelsi laid out the long troubling thought to her card partners in place of her card.  Chelsi was new to sheep’s head, a popular Peace Corps card game, and she did not need to look at the score sheet to know she was preforming poorly.  Really they were just trying to pass the time until the next session. Thirteen volunteers, accompanied by their Zambian counterparts had descended on the tiny town of Mumena, some 50 kilometers west of Solwezi, to attend an Agroforestry workshop.
“I know, it’s stupid. It’s your turn by the way.” Rachel, an environment volunteer from Ichilanga district responded. 
“I know, I just can’t remember what order trump’s in.” Chelsi stared puzzled at her cheat sheet. “I mean, literally, hundreds of bags of charcoal leave my village every day.  Men on bicycles loaded with three, four, sometimes five, 50-kg bags of charcoal heading to town.” She played a five of hearts.
“Remember hearts are trump. Are you sure that’s what you want to play?” KMill, a health volunteer and Rachel’s nearest neighbor offered.
“Yesss…” Yet she twisted up her face doubtfully. “I keep trying to tell my villagers that if they cut down all the trees they’ll end up like Eastern Provence, unbearably hot and with dry wells.  Literally one of the volunteers in Eastern I stayed with on first site visit said the last year the well went dry during dry season and the borehole was broken.  She said the villagers just desperately started digging holes trying to find water and she went and stayed at the Prov house.”
“It scary stuff.  But it’s really hard to explain that to people in Ichilanga where there is still so much water. Like everywhere,” KMill added.
“A few weeks ago some of my farmers, the people in Katoka, asked me where the rain comes from. They told me that they were told that god makes rain. And if god wants it to rain then it rains, and if not, then no rain for you. Is it my turn again?” KMill knodded.
“What did you say?” Rachel simultaneously hint that I should try a different card. 
“That god made trees… And then I tried to explain the water cycle and trans-evaporation and cloud seeds.”
“Yeah, it really frustrating how church teaching conflicts with facts and then prevents people from making changes that are good for them.  But it good to hear that some of your farmers were interested enough in alternative that they asked…” KMill played her card.
“I wonder if we could make a village biosphere, terrarium thing to explain it better.  Cause I don’t know that I did a good job explaining it.
“Alright, CAN I HAVE EVERYBODYS’ ATTENTION!” Ginny, the environment volunteer in Mumena, workshop organizer and passionate tree planter, raised her voice above the rest. “It’s just a short walk over our next session.  If you could all follow Moses or myself.”

Stretched before them on either side of the road leading to spacious looking house and chinzana were ridges of dirt lined with chest high sticks sporting little fuzzy green leaves from the tops. The heat of the afternoon sun was blazing down on their backs.  Chelsi thought about her experience in Eastern; there’s not even shade there, just the periodic mango tree growing up on the side of the road as far as she could tell.  Her farmers had assured her the rainy season would be in full swing by November; cool winds and cloud cover.  But she had heard the rain in Eastern Provence does not come until January sometimes.
Ginny introduce a slight woman with long brown hair as the head of SVI’s Mumena demo farm.  With an Italian accent the woman began to explain ally cropping as they continued to walk up the road. “You have learned a little bit about nitrogen fixing trees, any tree that produces a bean pod is a nitrogen fixing tree.  What we want to do is incorporate these trees in our farm fields to improve long term soil fertility.  Like beans, these trees add nitrogen to the soil, a powerful component in chemical fertilizers, like D Compound or Urea.  What you can see what we have done here…” the group stopped and she gestured to the fields on her right, “is every after every five ridges of maize or vegetables we have planted a line of Pigeon Pea trees in the space between the ridges.  This way we do not lose any ridges for other crops. But as a bonus for using Pigeon Pea, the peas are edible.  You can eat them fresh while they are young, or wait until they are dried and use them like beans. This method also provides extra protection from wind and even animals by forming a barrier and provides some shade to crops, reducing water loss.” The group continued their walk to the SVI compounds. 
Past the gate Chelsi and many of the Zambian counterparts stared in amazement.  Growing around the house was every type of nitrogen fixing tree they had so far learned out.  It had been great learning about all the different types of trees, what they are used for, how to plant them, but up until that moment they had not seen any. And look at all those seed, was the thought on all their minds.
They were guided to each tree; Sesbania, Taphrosia, Msangu and ones that had yet to be introduced. At every stop a dozen hands were stuck in to the foliage of the trees feeling for full seed pods.  Pockets, hats and hands were full of seeds by the time they reach the final tree on the tour.
Many silver branches grew up to meet eyes of taller men.  From its branching arms it extended delicate hands with round fingers of bright green. Its arms were full of fat pods lined with dark green and bulging with seeds. Chelsi removed her blue brimmed hat and approached the tree. At first it was just the fingers that tickling her neck, but as she walk into its arms its hands stroked stoked her hair and rubbed her shoulders.
“This is the Moringa tree.” Their guide yelled so the people in the back could hear. Chelsi reluctantly rip herself out the tree to rejoin the group.
“What tree did she say this was?” she had remerged next to Rachel. 
“It’s a Moringa tree.” She responded flatly.
“I think they told us about this tree during training. You can like eat all of its parts or something.” Rachel more plainly put over the guide.
“My understanding is that if you eat this tree, you will pretty much live forever.”
“Yeah, it’s super good for you.”
“But the seeds are super hard to find. Cause I would like to have at least one of my own, and to do some tree nurseries in the village…”
“You know, I got a bagful of seed last time I was in Lusaka.  One of my program managers just had a bunch and he asked me if I wanted some and I was like ‘Sure.’  I’ll bring you some next time I come down from my sight.”
“Thanks Rachel, that would be great.”

*narrator note: SVI Is the government of Italy’s international development agency, akin to peace corps.  But I am always forgetting words for SVI.

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