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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084: … and On and On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Who is it? Who died this time?”

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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.

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044: PCVL

Chelsi stared at the Shoprite shelf in the open refrigerator.  “All I really want to eat is cheese,” she thought aloud.  But there was none that she could afford.  30 kwatcha for an ounce of cheddar … No. 24 kwatcha for ten individually wrapped slices … Double no.  She wandered away from the refrigerator section. Maybe they’ll have the big bags of fake Cheetos, she thought. 
It was pushing close to 5pm, she had left her house at noon.  When she offered to take the position as Acting Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the rest of the week she had double checked that it was alright that she arrive later in the afternoon, but she never anticipated it taking her five hours to get to town.   Her feet dragged through the crowded isles, the extra mass from her backpack not doing her any favors. 
“Chelsi! Chelsi!” She took her eyes briefly off the shelf of snacks. “There you are.” It was Chad. Close in tow was Mike and Aubrey. A whole Mufumbwe gang.  Chelsi spirit picked up a bit.
“Hey, guys,” but her mind was still focused on cheese flavored snacks.  Chad and Mike pushed their way through the crowd towards her.  Aubrey continued perusing the shelf of cookies. 
“We’ve been trying to call you all day,” the urgency in his voice was settling in to relief. 
“Yeah, my phone only works when it’s plugged in. Sorry.” She paused to think, hopefully the status of her phone: broken, would not conflict with her official duties of minding the volunteers. “Why did something happen?”
“Well, it’s just that Ephriam left yesterday morning and we were expecting you then. We thought maybe something happened to you.”
Chelsi sighed and shook her head, “I swear the posting for the opening was from the 25th to the 27th, and I told Ephriam I wouldn’t be coming in till this afternoon. He said it was fine. Sorry you all were left to worry.”  Go figure. “He didn’t leave any instructions, you know about house schedule, generator rules, house goods, duty phone, did he?”
“No he just left,” Chad’s relief was now calm.  He clutched a Shoprite basket in one hand and played with his beard with the other. 
“Great, cause he didn’t tell me anything.” Chelsi shrugged, too tired to care, there’s always plausible deniability if something happens.
“We’re going to make a Greek pizza, with olives, and tomatoes, and some reasonably priced feta, if you want in.” Mike chimed in sensing the weariness in her response.
“That would be great. Cause I was just going to eat cookies and NikNaks. Who else is at the house?”
“No one, it’s just the three of us.”
“I’m still going to eat this bag of NikNaks.”
“Even me,” Chad chuckled grab a bag off the self for himself. 

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041: Two steps back

From the time Chelsi saw her first horror film as a child she had practiced mentally preparing herself for finding a lifeless body behind every door.  After all, she reasoned, crisis situations are no time be acting emotionally; especially if there’s an ax murder in the house. Over the last 25 years she had opened the door many limp, lifeless bodies.  Mostly fish, a few reptiles, lots of plants.  But coming home from Mufumbwe last Tuesday, two days later than anticipated, she skipped the mental.  Her house was too small for murder to hide and everything seemed accounted for as she pushed the door open.  Except the excited mews from Poppy, who usually sat just behind the door anxiously waiting for her to arrive. 
She had dropped her stuff just beyond to door and sat her basket full of doves on the table.  She had checked the bushes around the house he like to sit in. Nothing.  Maybe he’s napping in the trees somewhere, she thought returning inside the house.  Daisy wiggled and sniffed excitedly at the doves. 
“Leave’em alone Daisy,” Chelsi had said turning her gaze towards the table. “God damn it,” she sighed. Just beyond the table a lump of glossy black fur was sprawled on the floor. “Go outside Daisy,” she pushed the dog outside, shut the door and opened the curtains to let in the light. 
He still looked full of life, that if Chelsi had just called his name gently he would spring back up.  “This couldn’t have happened more than an hour ago.” Not only were his expelled feces still fresh, but the puddle of urine was still wet and his eyes were still plump and dilated.  There’s not even any ants on them yet, the true test of freshness of anything. 
Using a grocery bag, she picked him up and brought him to her host father.  The top contenders for his demise was poisoning, maybe he ate a rat that had been poisoned, snake bite and ju ju. And that’s where Chelsi stopped the conversation. She knew too many volunteers that had to be removed from their villages after accusation of black magic were made; whether against them or by them.  She had been sad about Poppy, but like so many situations in Zambia the truth wasn’t important, probably didn’t even exist.
But all that was yesterday, she put the break in her mind to help her deal with today’s visits from the reaper.  She was sitting in her folding chair stripping the feathers from her most prized dove.  She was one of four that Chelsi had carried from Mufumbwe. We haven’t even been home for a day… Just after feeding them that morning Chelsi had returned to the house to feed Daisy. Through the open window in the back of the house she sudden heard the fluttering of wings. Good thing I hung that net under the house, she thought. The birds had their flight feathers removed so they would learn that Kamijiji was their new home, and Chelsi had hung a net under and around the house in the event that one of them fell they wouldn’t end up on the ground where one of the other animals could get them.  She hurried herself outside to help the dove back up to the house, but quickly realized her had made a terrible mistake. 
Her host father’s dog Trigger sat just under the bloody net, where the dying dove was cradled.  “You fucking bastard,” she cursed at the dog and looked franticly around for something to chuck at him.  Before she could find something the sound of her voice sent him skittering away.  Daisy and Lion were in tow behind her.  She had never cared for that dog, but had never had a more compelling reason to dislike him.
She reached the dove house in time to hear the speckled white dove make one last coo.  After removing around her porch.  Chelsi tied the net back up, tighter this time and look up at the little girl’s lonely mate.  The odd number would torture her.  She had to call every single person she knew, dragged herself all over Sowlezi and even stopped random people on the street, trying to find people that would be willing to sell her doves and she had still only come away with four. Now it was three.  She needed eight to have an established colony.  Walking back towards her house she wildly threw the rock at Trigger, who took off towards the road with a yelp. 
So now, when she had planned on spending the morning weeding her garden, was feathering the little dove.   Chelsi had ask her host father yesterday to take Poppy to the farm and bury him there because she didn’t know what he died of she didn’t want Daisy digging him up and eating him.  The dove would most certainly be dug up and eaten by one of the dogs, and unjust reward and if she handed off to her host father one of the kids would just eat it, setting the precedent that they would get any dead doves.  She definitely didn’t want to go down that road. 
She had killed and eaten more things than she could remember, but the weight that this one had been so unintentionally it hurt for the first time.  All wanted was the body to be bare so she could at least pretend the circumstance of this meal were different.  When she was done she dropped the tiny bit of poultry into a brine and went out to start on her garden.
Her goal was to finish weeding just one bed of her eight beds.  All the plants had really taken off in the week she was away, including the weeds.  Chelsi was surprised by how long the weeding took too; after two hours she had only finished half a bed.  She stood up to stretch out her knees and back.  Lion and Daisy stood watching her just beyond the garden fence, watching her.  Man, I just built this and the termites are already destroying it, she thought when she notices a few of the fence poles slumped toward the ground. That’ll have to be really close to the top of the list getting fixed. Just beyond the fence though, through the passion fruit vine she saw a mother hen with her seven chick. Not really chicks any more, the plants weren’t the only thing that grew while was gone.
Her smile turned quickly to a frown, “Lion, No!” Chelsi’s yelled but not fast enough.  She rushed through the gate.  Little chicken feet protruded from Lion’s mouth. Lion took a quick leap away.  The commotion caught the attention of Chelsi’s host sister, Juliet. Lion was her husband’s dog.  She hurried over in just enough time to see the wind blow away the last few feathers; Lion’s fate was sealed.  Juliet cursed at the dog in kiikaonde and dragged her away by the rope tied around her neck.  From across the yard Chelsi heard an exchange of thwacks and yelps between Juliet and Lion. It was quiet again in a few minutes and with nothing left for her to do so Chelsi went back to weeding her garden.   
Chelsi retired into her house early that evening.  Before starting dinner she took some cuddle time with her darling Daisy.  She reclined into her chair and scooped her puppy up on to her lap.  Shortly after Chelsi heard Maurice, her host brother-in-law, return from wherever he goes during the day.  The conversation between Juliet and her husband was short, and though Chelsi didn’t catch all the words she understood the intention.  Daisy say quietly, Chelsi whispered sweetly into her ear.  She heard Lion, at the end of her chain, being dragged in to the bush just behind her house. 

Categories: Horror, Law, Justice and Order, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

029: What’s up with your house?

Chelsi was sitting out on the steps that led down from the small porch at the back of the Prov house. I can’t believe it’s been six weeks! She thought to herself. She lifted her head from between her knees and looked out over the freshly slashed grass of the walled in compound.  It really was like a separate world behind the twelve foot, cement walls.  The compound was big enough with enough space and trees that the walls did not seem intrusive, but at the same time you could see the razor wire that ran along the top of them; like a separate world? Or just a prison?
She could spend days behind the walls, almost forgetting all together that she was in Zambia.  And what purpose was there in leaving from behind the walls really? What am I going to do? Stroll around dusty Solwezi alone? With minibus drivers grabbing at me? Or wander around Shoperite buying things I don’t really need? Yet there was not much left to do inside the walls.  I planted trees, made animal feed, built and painted a giant bird house. The internet is non-operational… I guess I could read another book.
“You’re still here Chelsi?” a friend voice sounded from behind her.
“Yep, I’m still here.”
Chelsi’s friend Ginny took a seat next to her on stairs.
“You mean your house still isn’t done?” her voice was filled with disbelief.
“Wow, how long has it been now? How long have you been staying here?” she pulled a cigarette from a small box and lit it.
“We’re going on week seven now.”
“What’s going on? Why’s it taking so long?”
“I don’t know… My host father says it’s because no one else in the community has been coming to help build the house, but at the same time he told Chunda the other day that he chased away two men that said they wanted to help. When Chunda relayed this to me he was kind of laughing, so I don’t know if it really wasn’t a big deal or who these men were but, I don’t like the sound of it.”
“What did it look like when you saw it last?
“All the walls were up, which is good.”
“Right, cause they are making your house bigger.”
“Yeah I’m going from a 2.8 meters by 4.5 meters to the ‘standard’ 5×6. Which means they also had to rebuild the roof and cut new poles, which were also on the house.”
“You’re still going with the grass thatch? I heard a lot of the newest volunteers are getting iron sheeting.”
“Yeah, I probably could have, and it would have made things easier maybe and a little quicker, but I like the grass.  It’s cooler in hot season and makes a whole lot less noise when it rains. And I plan on getting a cat, so that should help with the rat problem.”
“Okay,” Ginny stood up and paced on bit on the small cement slab in front of the stairs.
“And there was grass on the roof, but when they were building the walls they didn’t have the windows. They have them now so they still have to put them in.  The floor needs cement, and roofing plastic needs to be hung…  They’re so close it’s just taking so long…” Chelsi pause to organize her thoughts, she had so many on the subject. “And I understand too, they can’t spend all day working on it.  They have the farm to take care of, and you really can’t be out working between 10 am and 2 because it’s just too hot. And I don’t think anyone from Mitukutuku is coming to help because they think if the house doesn’t get built I move closer to them…”
“Yeah, what happened with that?”
“Back in June, when I was trying to get my house fixed up no one in Kamijiji, my immediate area was coming to help, and before he left Mike mentioned that there were people in Katoka and Mitukutuku, up the road by the tarmac, that would be interested in coming to help. So I went to them to ask for help and they got the idea in their head that instead of coming to Kamijiji to fix the existing house they would just build me a new house closer to them.  I told them maybe but we would have to talk to Peace Corps, wait, don’t make any plans.  But instead they started holding community meeting about where they were going to put this new house of mine.  This is now mid-July and words about this got back to my host-father and he got upset, thinking I was trying to move without asking him. So he call Chunda and told him to send me back to America.  So Chunda came to smooth out the situation, then threatened my host father that if the house wasn’t ready to be fixed, to move me and my stuff out, by the end of August I would move to Mitukutuku.  I have since found out that they would have never move me there no matter what, but any way.  I came back from Malawi at the end of August, and was told to ‘sit tight.’ Though none, of the materials for my house were ready. And I should have pushed then, to move to a new site.  Cause I know now that there is no other place in Northwest Provence for me to go now.  It’s either I go back to my house, or maybe I go back to America.  Which sucks, It took them six weeks after the deadline of when I was supposed to be moved for them to get enough, enough that is, not all, the material together to start working on the house before I could move out and I don’t know it’s just shitty. And frustrating.”
Chelsi let out a sigh. Having finished her cigarette Ginny took back her seat next to Chelsi. “It leaves me feeling stupid for even asking for what I’m supposed to have, as housing standards are supposed to go. I know it would have been really hard, but I probably would have made it in the ka tiny house.  Though the roof wouldn’t have made it.”
“No, there is nothing wrong with asking for your house to be fixed. They told you this is what you are supposed to have so you have every right to push for it. Peace Corps, they’re the ones who put you in this situation.  If the house wasn’t done, and the community didn’t have the buy-in to fix it up appropriately then they should haven’t put a volunteer there.” Chelsi was relieved to hear the strength in her voice, because she had been searching for some.
“You know what’s funny, the agricultural extention agents that work in the village, they’re always asking me ‘but wouldn’t you rather live in town?’ No, I’d much rather live in the village. There I’m free to do what I want, when I want.  I can work on my garden, take a walk in the bush, play with Daisy.  That’s the other thing, I hate thinking of Daisy sleeping outside all alone, especially now that it’s raining.   Here, there nowhere to go. You just end up spending a lot of money and there is constantly people around. Which gets exhausting after a while.”
“I agree. I don’t even like coming here for more than a day or so at a time. I can’t imagine what it must be like after what, seven weeks?  Is there an end date? A date where a decision is going to be made about what happen with you? You can’t stay at the Prov house forever.”
“Chunda told them next Friday when we were there on Wednesday.”
“So the day after Thanksgiving.”
“Yeah. He’s supposed to go on Monday to help move sand for the floor and he’ll let me know more about how it’s looking then. But I don’t know man, I just don’t know.”

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027: A house for birds


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.

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

007: Fire Season


Bush fire on the side a path to Solwezi

Life is good, doo da doo doo,” Chelsi’s phone chimed from the table top. Valerie S. she read on the phone screen. I wonder what she’s calling about.
“Hello?” Valerie was a CHIP, or community health volunteer in Chelsi’s district.
“Hi, is this Chelsi? This is Valerie.”
“Yea, how are you?”
“I’m doing fine, but I’m calling because, do you remember when you were posting Ephraim had told you the married couples stuff in the garage was free game? Well, do you remember seeing a black bin in there with a blue sleeping bag on top and a piece of paper with my name on it?”
“Umm…” The whole process of posting, now three weeks ago was kind of a blur. “Maybe?”
“Okay, because that bin was filled with my stuff and now it’s gone and the sleeping bag was laying on the floor.” Valerie’s voice sounded uncommonly calm given the circumstances.
“Oh, ummm, well Jason was the first one to go in there because he took over the married couple’s site. By the time any of the rest of us got in to the garage it was already torn up into a mess. Maybe you can tell me what you’re missing and I can tell you if I have any of it.”
“There was some soap and some fabric.  A pack of baby wipes… I can’t remember all that was in there.”
“I did take some soap and some baby wipes.”
“Great! Was there anything else?”
“I took a mortar and pestal, a couple of baskets, a juice pitcher, umm.” Chelsi paused and looked around her tiny house. “Some picture books and matches.”
“No, none of that’s mine.”
“Have you called any of the Lundas? I think I saw Oliver with a large black bin.”
“No I don’t have their numbers.”
“No problem, I’ll text them to you.”
“Thanks Chelsi, how is community entry going?” Valerie was referring to the first three months that a new volunteer spends on their village. A time where they are not allowed to take vacation days or stay at the Peace Corps house in the Provencal capital or even run any programs, though most volunteers end up doing so anyway.  During those three months many volunteers will describe it as the worst part of their service, although when it’s over look back on it fondly. 
“You know, it’s really not as bad as everyone made it sound like.” Chelsi stood in the doorway of her tiny house and peered outside. A chicken dug in the dirt just beyond her dilapidated fence. “There’s good moments and bad moments, but I haven’t had the proverbial break down that a lot of volunteers mentioned having.”
“Yea, I didn’t think it was all that bad either.”
“Getting the repairs to my house done have been frustratingly slow, and the bricks I paid for eight weeks ago still haven’t been made. But I don’t dread having to spend time in my village, and I have my dog which helps.” Chelsi watched Daisy chase the chicken away from the soft patch of dirt so she could dig her own hole.  In the direction of her gaze she could also see a few wisps of smoke sailing up towards the sky.
“Oh, you were able to find a puppy?”
“Yeah, one of Dick’s dogs.” Chelsi’s eyes tracked the thickening smoke back to just across the path to her host family’s house. 
“I think an important part of community entry is just working on project you can control.”
“I’m trying to set up a small garden next to the house.”
“Yeah that’s an excellent idea.” In the ear that wasn’t pressed up to the phone Chelsi could now hear loud crackling as the intensity of the fire picked up. “All right, thanks for your help.” Valerie started to say,
“Wait, just one more thing. There have been pretty large fires just being burned on the side of the road. Right now there is one just in front of my house…” she trailed off as five foot flames started to lick the trees.
“Yeah, that’s normal. People will just come and set fires on the side of the road. They’re burning back the bush.”
It seems awfully close to my house, which is covered in dry grass. At what point is it a safety and security concern?”
“How do the other people seem to be reacting?”
“They’re just standing causally around watching.” Her yard was filled with a thin haze of smoke that made her cough if she breathed too deeply. “The kids are playing in the path right by it.”
“If nobody else looks concerned then you’re probably okay.”
“So, I don’t have to call and tell Peace Corps?”
“No, they only care if your house actually burns down.”
“Okay. But at what point should I been concern, you know personally?”
“If there’s a fire burning really close to my house I’ll cancel any programs that day so I can stay and keep an eye on it. Or if you start to see kids taking green, really healthy looking branches off of trees and they start trying to beat back the flames, that’s also a pretty good sign that you should clear out.”
“Okay,” Chelsi said rather unsettled.  Especially since she worked with the U.S. Forest Service and now that some of her friend were wildland firefighters, she had become for more sensitive to the dangers of fires and their pending consequences which she felt far more acutely.
“It’s dry season, be prepared for a lot of fires.”
“Okay, thanks Valerie.”
“No problem, enjoy community entry and I’ll see you in three weeks at prov’s.”
“Bye.” Chelsi hung up the phone and set it back on the table before taking a seat on her porch.  Daisy came running over and she picked her up and placed her in her lap.  “Don’t get to close now you silly dog.” Daisy sat contently, chewing on Chelsi’s thumb.
They sat and watch the fire for another 20 minutes before the flames died down.  What was left was blackened earth, but the thick stems of the tall grass were still standing and the higher reaches of the trees remained untouched. The only other wildland fire she had seen this fresh was on the banks of the Deschutes River, a week or so after a mega fire had rolled through.  All that was left there was scorched earth, not even the woody stems of the sage brush survived.  Despite her uneasiness, Chelsi thought to herself, Maybe the villagers know what they’re doing.

Categories: Mystery, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

004: Visiting the Sub-Chief

“Kneel!” her host brother Jonathan whispered as they were gently clapping their hands in the customary greeting of the Kaonde people.  Through the trees, maybe three meters away, sat a middle aged man in a lawn chair.  This was the sub-chief of the Sandang’ombe area which included Chelsi’s village of Kamijiji. In training she had learned about the Chief-Subject relationship, but in practice it felt extremely odd.  To this man people were supposed to bring gifts when seeking he counsel, Chelsi’s a brought a small bag of loose leaf tea, and in return he helped settle disputes of landownership, petty crime, adultery and accusations of witchcraft.  Below him is a network of Group Leader and Headman, about one per village, who deal with many of the same issues, but the complaining parties could appeal to the sub-chief if the ruling of the Headman or Group Leader was unsatisfactory.  Above him is Chief, Senior Chief and in some tribe a Paramount Chief, who’s Chiefdom can span across countries, but not for the Kaonde tribe.  As the crème de la crème of their people they are considered royal and chosen for their positions because of their matrilineal lineage.  They are the custodians of culture and tradition, protectors of the land and, most recently, imbued will the responsibility to see that their people receive development; but no volunteer should start their work without formal blessings from a Chief. 
Chelsi started down to one and began to wobble, she broke her customary clapping to grab for the nearest tree.  She was lucky though that she even had a chance at staying clean, in some tribes it would have been customary for her to log roll twice on the ground while clapping before making her introduction to a Chief. 
“Ikalaiko.” Please sit.  Her host brother Jonathan and Chelsi positioned themselves on little stools.  In the silence that followed Chelsi thought, Oh, I guess I’m supposed to talk…
“Jizhina jami ne Chelsi.  Ne wipaana na Peace Corps. Ne mwina Meleka ku Chicago. Nkafunjisha bya bunjimi bwa masabi ne bunjimi bwa bishu ne bumi na HIV/AIDs kabiji Malaria, kabiji… bya kupanga malasha na bipukutu.”
This was the response she dreaded the most.  Her Kikaonde teacher in training had promised that the people would understand, once they became accustom to listening to the way you speak.  Problem was most people were not accustom to the way she spoke.  ‘Keep trying, they will eventually get you.’
She tried her lines one more time. 
She did not like speaking in English, first because speaking like the villagers was the closest she could get to seeming like one, she was never going to look like one after all, and second because although English was spoken by many of the village it was only spoken by those lucky enough to have an elevated level of education, say up to the eighth grade, and she did not want to accidently insult any ones level of education by assuming they spoke English.   But at the rate this was going it seems like she was to have no choice.
“My name is Chelsi. I’m a volunteer with Peace Corps, from America.  I will be teaching about fish farming, gardening, HIV/AIDs and malaria and I would like to teach people how to make charcoal from what’s left of the maize once you remove the grain.”
Jonathan picked up the conversation from there.  She heard him restate some of the things she had just said then explain a little more about Peace Corps and how she was related to Mike, her predecessor.  She lost track of the conservation after that and started to look around.  They were sitting in a thicket of sorts next to house, slightly larger than average size, a palace is how the other villagers referred to it.  There was about fifteen children that had been running about until she arrived, now they were collecting at the edge of the thicket, staring at her.  Like every other banzubo, the space around the house was clear of all vegetation and the top soil swept until the hardpan of the earth was exposed.  Chicken hopped on and off fallen trees in their thicket and a dirty puppy with floppy ears and paws three sizes to big moped by.  Daisy! She turn her body to check on her own puppy who was hopefully still sleeping in the chitenge sling tied to the hand bars of her bicycle. Ah, still sleeping.  But her drastic movement had caught the attention of the sub-chief.  Six or so women also started to gather and sit around the edge of the thicket. Why so many? She wondered.  Kaonde’s were not known to be polygamists like the neighboring Lunda tribe.  And even so, it was a lifestyle that was quickly falling out of fashion.  Sisters maybe.
“…kabwa…” Chelsi’s ears perked up.  That was a word she knew.  She looked back towards the chief.  He was peering through the trees, between her and her host brother towards her bicycles where Daisy was sleeping.
In the pause that followed everyone’s heads turning towards her dog she instinctively interjected, “kakabwa kami, nobe mwana yami.”  Some of the women began to chuckle.  When talking to villagers she eagerly offered the comparison of her small dog being like her child.  This better explained the relationship she with Daisy, which was very different then the way Zambians related to their dogs and deflected inquiries to her motherhood statues.  ‘and what about your children?’ people would ask.  ‘I have my small dog, she is like my child.’  People would laugh of be so taken a back that further inquiries would be dropped. 
She heard the sub-chief ask, “Kwepi?” Where did the dog come from, a common question.  People thought that because she was from America her dog must be too.
“Mashinda, she came from a volunteer that lives in Mashinda.”  He nodded in understanding. 
Jonathan turned towards her.  “The sub-chief wants you to organize a meeting with him, the chief, the Department of Fisheries and Peace Corps.  He wants you to have the Peace Corps car transport us to the chief’s palace about 80 kilometers away, to discuss what you will be working on and the future of fish farming here.”
More than once she tried to explain that she can just make the Peace Corps vehicle go where she wants to, but now was not the time to hash it out again.  She smiled and looked at the sub-chief, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Categories: Adventure, Mystery | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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