Chelsi looked the man in front of her up and down one more time. They said he was coming in from DC for this project review, Chelsi thought, but to her the only thing that seem DC-like was his smell and the crispness of clothes. “You said you just came from doing a four week project review for Peace Corps in West Africa, right?”
The old grey haired man nodded his head.
“That’s a nice messenger bag you have too. It must be new.” Chelsi’s attention was drawn to it when she saw her cat, Tulip, climbing on it like a jungle gym.
“Aww, naa. I’ve had it some years now. I just take care of it,” he said nonchalantly, scribbling a few things in his note pad. It was a nice bag, but it clashed with is khaki safari outfit, complete with hat.
“And how does West Africa compare to your time in Zambia so far?”
“Oh, well, southern Africa is much nicer. Over there there’s some many people packed in such a small space you can’t eat your lunch without someone pissing on you shoes.” When the man had first sat down on her front porch, Chelsi had felt combative with him. He wasn’t what she was expecting, having walked with an arrogant feeling air. Though now, two hours into their conversation about her service and the Rural Aquaculture Promotion project, the funny air still lingered Chelsi was more bewildered by him then hostile towards him. “Zambia, it reminds me a lot more of my service in the DR Congo back in the late 70’s, early 80’s.”
“I know PC Congo used to have an Aquaculture program too,” rumors from the days of PC Congo. No wonder he seems so strange to me, he’s like a mythical creature.
“Yes, that was my project,” he looked up at her through his spectacles, “and when it was finish and the time came, I wrote the Aquaculture program for Zambia.” He paused and flipped over to a new page in his notebook. “So, we’ve talked about what a project review is, all the project particulars, training and project support for volunteers, where you’re at in your service and how the project goal are coming along here. Is there anything you want to add, that I can file with the report. Anything that we should take in to consideration when we make adjustments to the project framework?”
Chelsi sat, looking at him, turning her gaze to her scrubby looking front yard, back at him. “No, I don’t think so. We’ve been sitting here for nearly two and a half hours. I can’t imagine there’s something we missed.”
“Alright, then…” and he made a motion for his bag.
“Wait, there is something.” She stopped and collected her thoughts. “There is something, something I think is really important, that I can’t imagine the other volunteers ever mentioning but something I have expressed to Donald now a couple of time.”
“Alright, then…” and he resettled himself in his chair.
“I mean, and maybe this isn’t even the proper place for this, but I think it fits, with Peace Corps’ “Do No Harm” motto. Like the box we have to fill out detailing potential environmental degradation when we write a grant. But I think the RAP project framework needs the same thing. Cause you know, when I look around, Zambia is a country of rivers, streams, wetlands, or at least it’s supposed to be. And the whole purpose of this project is to basically be going out there and damming streams, and digging lots of huge holes in wetlands, and you couldn’t convince me that this isn’t seriously affecting hydrology, native, wild fish stock, etc. because I haven’t seen any peer reviewed studies on the subject. I haven’t heard any casual conversation even. You should know, with your background in fisheries in the States, for two hundred year, early European settlers, up to the 1950’s, people in the States were damming up even the tiniest trickles of water on the landscapes, then in the 60’s and 70’s started looking around and wondering where all the fish went. I know the Zambian government likes to blame the crashing fish stocks on overfishing, or my understanding of increased gear efficient with the introduction of mosquito nets and maybe some increasing efforts with a greater population. But it’s crazy not to consider the effects of the drastic land use changes that have been happening over the last, 25, 10, 5, even 2 years. Even since I’ve been here the landscape looks different. I mean, I get it kind of. It easier for the government to point its finger at that poor and/or rural people and say ‘You, you are the problem’ cause then the solution is simply to crack down on enforcement of illegal fishing. But changes in land use, that’s often the result of ‘development activities,’ the building of roads, pollution from cars, agricultural chemicals, trash, deforestation, rapid urbanization, poor sanitation, I mean I can go on and on and on, and that’s without even touching on the mining activity. But I think you get my point. It’s impossible for a government like Zambia’s to monitor, let alone control. There’s no NGO that I’ve ever heard of even trying explore or monitor Zambia’s instream conditions, habitat connectivity, etc. And here Peace Corps volunteers are promoting the destruction of wetlands and spending grant money on the building of dams. Something we spend billions of dollars in the States trying to undo… I don’t, if maybe the hope is that after Zambia improved is economic conditions it’ll be able to afford conservation efforts, habitat rehabilitation, ecosystem services. But that’s laughable, we can hardly do that in the States. But if of all this there is anything we know for sure it’s that prevention is better that cure, and, and, and I don’t know. I think maybe we need Aquaculture volunteers to be working with in communities to improve the environment and take a stab at bring back wild fish stocks while there’s still a chance… if there is one.” Chelsi brought up her gaze which had drifted to the ground. “That all, I guess. I mean, I can go on longer, but I think you get what I’m trying to say.”
She watch as the project reviewer finished filling his new page with notes. “Your right. I don’t think any of the volunteers are going to mention all of that.”
When he finished, he tucked his notebook away. They stood up and Chelsi replaced her chairs inside her house. She locked the door, and the two started towards the road to look for her program staff, Cleopher and Frasier.
“You’re a good volunteer Chelsi,”
“How do you figure that?” she replied, curious as to what part of their conversation stood out to him on that matter.
“You think of this place as your home.”