Nature

All the flora and fauna

096: the Flood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

095: Lusaka Botanical Gardens

“Good thing Cleopher mentioned that the Department of Fisheries office was just across the street, otherwise I wouldn’t have known where to get off,” Chelsi said starting off away from the minibus.

“Oh man that minibus, it was so crammed in there, within 10 seconds I couldn’t feel my feet.” Chelsi’s friend Oliver shook out his long legs and followed just behind her.

“Yeah, I hate minibuses. And this particular ride is a long one.  But we made it.” Sign with an arrow was painted along the wall, advertising the direction of the Lusaka Botanical Gardens.  “I’m glad too, I couldn’t just keep sitting around Kabulonga any longer.”

“Me too.”

The two friends passed through the bright orange, wrought iron gates, guarding the entrance to the park.

“If I remember correctly it’s like 20 or 25 kwacha to get it in.” Across the empty grass and gravel parking lot they entered a small brick reception room.  “I’m glad it’s a Thursday in February too, so it’s not crowded.”

“Good Morning,” the fashionably dress receptionist greeted them.

“Well, hello there!” Oliver returned as exuberant as ever. “We’re here to see the garden.”

The receptionist smiled and laughed.

“We have come to the right place?” Chelsi added, reaching for her wallet in her bag.

“Yes, you have.  It is 30 kwacha per person to enter.”

Chelsi sighed and dug through her wallet. “I have a 50, do you have a 10 Oliver?”

“Yeah, sure, of course.” He riffled through his pockets until he found a 10 kwacha to place on the counter.  When the receptionist finished filling out the receipt for two, she tore it from the book and handed it to Chelsi.

“When you exit the office, the animals are off to the left and the gardens, straight ahead.”

“Thanks!” Jovially Oliver led the way into the garden.

“Last time I was here,” Chelsi started, “it was dry season. So everything was brown, and dry and dead.  And that was,” she had to pause to recount, “nearly two years ago now. Which is why I wanted to come back now, you know, during rainy season. So I could see the plants with flowers on them.”

“Yeah, I was hoping to take some cutting so I could plant them around my house too.” Oliver took in their surroundings.  An old stone atrium, over grown with a flowering purple vine, lay just before them on a path leading to a bridge over a small creek.

“Well that purple vine looks nice,” Chelsi pointed out.

“Do you think it’ll grow from a cutting?”

“I don’t know, but this is Zambia.  Even dead sticks start to grow when you stick them in the ground.”

Oliver laughed.

“Are you going to plant them at the new house? The one at Paul’s place?” Oliver was extending along with Chelsi, only he was moving only down the road from his current site to help a missionary farmer start an aquaculture facility.

“You know, I don’t know. I guess I can plant them at the new house.”

“You’ll be able to enjoy them there longer. 14 more months!” Chelsi raised her hand and Oliver gave her a high-5.

“Alright! 14 more months.”

Reaching the atrium, Chelsi took a seat on bench, while Oliver search for tender off shoots to collect for his garden.  Across the stream was a broad leafed plant with red flowers. Like birds of paradise, Chelsi thought but drooping. Farther off Chelsi could see the path leading to flowering bushes. No, those aren’t flowers. She could see against the green backgrounds, the white, yellow, orange, brown, purple flowers fluttering, because they’re butterflies. 

“Where to next?” Oliver’ voice broke her focus.

Chelsi pointed across the stream, “maybe some of that bush over there.  It seems to be attracting lots of butterflies.  That might be nice.”

“Okay, let’s go!” Oliver waited for Chelsi to collect her things, then the pair crossed the bridge together, to the bushes filled with butterflies.

 

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

093: ka Mbuzhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, what do you know?”

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

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

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

img-20170211-wa0002

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

089: Boiling Pot

Chelsi showed her ticket to the guards at the gate of the falls.  While they stamped it she signed her name in the visitor’s book.  It was the third time she had signed it; the first time was last April, with Chad and Aubrey, the second in June, with her mother, and now alone.  Chelsi was new to travelling alone.  For the last two year, any time she even ventured outside of her district in Northwest province she took a travel buddy.  But even from the initial thought of coming to Livingston after COS conference, she didn’t think to invite anyone else.  It wasn’t even because she thought no one would want to come; though it was true, at this point in her service nearly everyone she knew would have already been, multiple times.

The guard held her stamped ticket out to her.  Chelsi replaced the pen on the book, took her ticket and crossed over into the park.   She just wanted to be alone, to decide what she wanted to do, whenever she decided she wanted to do it.  Not having to constantly worry about enjoyment, problems of another person.

And she was alone, even in the park.  Only three other visitors to the park stood in line with her to buy a ticket that morning, and they had all first stopped at the craft stalls.  It was the second week of school, too soon for student field trips, and a Wednesday, so no church groups.

The added rain from the season helped the foliage grow extra lush.  Grasses grew up around her knees, large leafed vines crept up into the trees, while tree branch, heavy with rain and mist on their leaves bent down to greet her.  Chelsi had in mind a particular spot in the park to visit this time.  Her feet followed the cobble stone to a rock stairway that looked to drop off, right into the canyon.  ‘This Way’ a yellow arrow pointed, ‘to the Boiling Pot.’

She took the first step down; every other time she had come to Victoria Falls the stair way was closed, due to the height of the river below.  Though it was rainy season now, most of the water was still upstream in the Zambezi, making its way down from Ichelenge, Mwinilunga and across Western province.  The water wouldn’t reach Livingstone and the falls until April.

Chelsi continued her decent.  The stairwell started with even steps cut into the bedrock of the canyon. A wrot iron hand rail began just as the depth of the stairs dropped off.  Now the short stairs were rocks buried and cemented in to place.  It took all of Chelsi’s concentration not to lose her footing. When she did pause to look around she found that the trees had given way to scrubby bushes, which were clinging to the rock face of the canyon for their life.  Yet with just a few more steps, her gaze was met with the canopy of the forest below.

The trees grew taller and taller as she carefully, carefully, climbed down into the forest.

At the bottom as heavy mist clung to the air.  Huge leaves of the Elephant Ear bush hung over the path, vines with heart shaped leave bounded the canopy of the trees together and epiphytes dangled their roots to brush the top of Chelsi’s head, just as children sitting on a bridge might to the oarsman passing under.  And here, Chelsi noticed, the chorus of insects and birds is so thick you can no longer hear the falls. 

She followed the path, across a bridge, under a boulder, across a bridge, over a rock wall, and up, up, up, she scrambled, onto a flat rock. No soil, no trees, she looked out into the clear, where the powerful sound of rushing water again filled her ears.

Crossing the rock the little canyon opened up to the foot of the falls where the water crashed and cut into the rock walls of the canyon, forcing it back, creating a giant eddy of churning water, like water boiling hard in a pot.   From her position she could the Victoria Falls Hotel and the bridge that connects Zambia to Zimbabwe. She had look down into this part of the canyon before.  Even with high water, it didn’t look like much more than a swirl.  But change your position, change your perspective.

Categories: Adventure, Nature | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

085: Zanzibar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

079: Kapishya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

078: Kasanka

​The alarm rang at 3:15. It was dark and crowded inside Chelsi’s tent, but she unzipped her sleeping bag and slithered out of her sheets.  Beside her Laura groaned.  The two women dressed themselves the best they could in the cramps quarters before emerging from the tent.  The air outside was cool, and for a moment Chelsi regretted not bringing a sweater with her.  It won’t last though, she thought to herself.  As soon as the sun comes up we’ll be sweating.  She wrapped her scarf around her and took a seat on the campfire bench to wait for the truck.  

“You don’t think it forgot about us?” Chelsi asked, leaning against her friend. 

Laura shrugged. 

“It’s nearly a quarter to 4 and the sun will be coming up soon,” but again, Chelsi’s eyes were starting to drift close. She was still tired after so many days of travel.  She left her house a full three days ago, and only late the previous afternoon did she arrive at her first vacation destination; Kasanka National Park.  But it’ll all have been worth it, her foggy mind floated through her consciousness.  

“Here it comes,” Laura said, standing up, jostling Chelsi’s position.  Bright yellow head light illuminated their campground.  The truck rattled up the driveway.  

“Are we all ready to go?” their guide quietly called from his perch on the benches mounted to the truck bed.  Chelsi, Laura, and four other volunteers that were accompanying them gathered themselves up and headed towards the vehicle.
It probably wasn’t more than a few kilometers, but with the icy, morning wind biting at her face, it felt like a journey. To distract herself, Chelsi looked up at the stars.  She had had high hopes that the stars at in the park would shine brightest, but it wasn’t proving to be the case. The light of the moon was growing though, it would be full by the end of her trip.  

The truck came to a stop in a tall grass field on the edge of a dense forest.  Their guide hopped out and motioned for them to follow.  There was no clear path that Chelsi could see but her and her companions followed none the less.  Her fellows had kept some of their blankets with them and were now using them to shield themselves the dew covered grass as they made their way into the forest.  Chelsi had to hold up the hem of her skirt to keep it from getting caught on loose shrubs and branches.  This is not quite what I had in mind, Chelsi through as she picked her way with the group through the grass, but who am I to complain about a little extra adventure.  Their walk went on, about a half a kilometer more into the forest and ended at a ladder that climbed up into the tree canopy.  

One by one, each member of their group climbed up, up, up.  When it came to be Chelsi’s turn she climbed slowed, careful not to miss any of the rungs on the ladder.  The ladder climbed up through a hole in a floor perched amongst the tops of the trees and when Chelsi poked her head up through the hole she was greet with some of the first rays of morning light.  

“Oh wow!” she cried pulling the rest of her body.  Straw colored fruit bats, nearly the size of a house cat, blanketed the sky.  They were flying into the forest, after a night a forging fruits, in search of a place to roost for the day.  On their way some flew close enough overhead she could have reached out and touch them; close enough that she could see the texture of their fur and features of their faces.  Others seemed to look on at their group with the same curious fascination they Chelsi and her friends looked at them.  

As the light from the sun grew stronger the number of bats overhead became few.  Late morning stragglers.   The trees below their stand though, now seemed to flutter with wing like leaves; everyone in their place trying to get comfortable for bed.  With that thought, Chelsi yawn, I could use a comfortable bed. She smiled and gazed on at the sunrise, but not too soon

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

075: Crowning Achievement

“Hey, Warden Burger,” Neal’s voice called across the school yard.

Chelsi’s ears twitched at the designation.  It didn’t feel in poor taste given her general mood and the state of things, but is just sounds so unbecoming beside the fact that I’m running an environmental education camp for children.  “What?” she yelled back, feeling that mood of her flaring up.

“Good morning,” he replied cheekily.  She closed the distance between them, approaching the porch of the school block.  “Do we get two eggs today?” Neal asked, as Oliver Twist might have, but with all the sass of one in false hardship.

Minding the reality of their situation, her temper cooled and she played of his jest, “I have asked the cook to prepare a double ration of porridge for all, and two eggs today.”  Neal help dismount the large pot of oatmeal from her head and placed it on the stoop.  “I think Lauren and Ken are coming with the other pot and the eggs.”  Her head now free, Chelsi looked around the school yard.  At 7 am it was still earlier for her, but her Zambian campers, probably rose at 5:30, and now they were running about the school yard playing a pick-up game of hand ball.  They looked happy and content.  The remaining volunteers, and the more reserved children, were sitting on the stoop of the school block playing Euchre.  It wasn’t the best form for them to be sitting around playing cards, but it was the end of a long week, and they had earned some space.  “Alright, if I can have everybody’s attention for a moment.” She went to the stoop and sat down with the group.  “Ken and Lauren are being over the rest of breakfast. But first of all, happy final day of camp! You’ve all been working really hard and have dealt well with the few challenges we’ve had.”

“You mean like not having water?” Neal interjected.

“Like with the shortage of water filters; thank you Neal for putting a spigot on that bucket.  I just wanted announce some changes to the schedule today.  Marmar is going to go back into town today and bring Newton his things.” Newton, Maddy and Chaz’s counterpart who had suffered a seizure halfway through the week and had to be admitted to the hospital was going to be released that morning to the care of a nearby relative. “So I will be taking over her session on ecosystems this morning.  But I still need time to write it, so instead of going first hour, I’m going to go third.  So I need Adam and Amanda to do the Crafts with Trash session first, then if Neal can you do the fruit dryer.  My session should be done by then.  Then after lunch, Maddy and Chaz with do Climate Change and Mike and I will finish up camp sessions with Chongololo Club and how to be a leader.  How does that sound?”  There was a general nodding of heads that Chelsi took for understanding.  “Don’t forget to be drinking plenty of water, it’s going to be another hot day today. And if we can just power through everyone will be able to relax tomorrow.”

Ken and Lauren, having just arrived, and sat the remaining breakfast pots on the school block porch.  “Great thank you,” Chelsi said standing up.  “Also, there’s two eggs for everyone and two pots of oatmeal, so be free.”  Chelsi plucked a hard boil egg from the top of the pot and pealing it tossed it to Daisy.

“RED EKLANDS!” Lauren called out to the kids in the school yard to come be served breakfast.  “If you have a red name tag and you’re an ekland it’s time to get your food!”

 

Breakfast was served and eaten.  The campers came back for seconds and thirds until the porridge pots with scraped clean.  Neal liked teased her with talk of rations, seeing how the pots were scraped clean at every meal but Chelsi had been pleased so far with the way her food planning had turned out.  Nshima, the staple of ground maize, boiled until stiff, which must be had in a Zambian’s mind in order for food to be considered a meal, even if nothing else was offered, and many volunteers considered a large factor of malnutrition of children, had only been served once, the evening camp started.  As far as Chelsi knew, she had been the only one in history of Peace Corps Zambia to deny Zambians nshima for so long.  But everyone is better off for it.  The campers get some variety in their diet, the volunteers aren’t complaining of being bloated on nshima, and the counterparts get a lesson in adaptability.  Long in advance, Chelsi had made it clear, that if at any point people were unhappy with the food they could leave.  She heard only one comment and crushed it immediately.

After everything was cleaned up from the meal, at about 8 o’clock, and the first hour session commenced, Chelsi sat down on the ground of the school alcove and began to write her session.

Talking points, session topics and take-a-ways from the week bounced around Chelsi head.  Monday had been Water day, with sessions and games focusing on the water cycle, water quality and fisheries dynamics. Tuesday, Soil & Fire day, which help answer simple questions like ‘what is soil? What are village friendly solutions for improving soil fertility? And, how do fire affect soil and the landscape?  Air & Atmosphere day followed, when, after learning about oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other air and atmosphere molecules, the campers made terrarium biomes glass jars to help hammer home the point that, like in the jar, everything on earth is finite, contained inside the atmosphere.  Thursday was Plant & Animal day, where sessions touched on biodiversity and food webs.  And all of this culminated to today – Ecosystems and Climate change day.  But have they been putting it all together? Chelsi wondered.  She flipped to a clean page of flip chart paper, pulled a set of water colors from the crafts bag, set up a cup of water and began to paint.

 

 

“Hey Chelsi?” Adam approached her from behind.

“Yeah?” Chelsi glance briefly over her shoulder at him to let him know he had her attention.

“Neal is just finishing up with the fruit dying session, are you ready for your session? It’s next, right? Is there anything you need me to do?”

Chelsi glanced at her watch, ten minutes to 11, not bad. “yeah, I’m just about done.  Let the campers have a ten minute break to fill their water bottle if they need, and if you can make sure lunch is being finished up on time, that Ba Gladys has everything she needs.”

“Sure,” he turned to go and Chelsi finished up her last learning aid.  She had drawn up five microsystems, each on its own flip chart page, that when arranged together created the big picture of the ecosystem.  There was a stirring in the school yard of the camper stretching, filling their bottles and grumbling about the heat.  Just a few minutes, and we’ll be ready to start.

 

“Remember, during session, we; listen with our ears,” Chelsi wiggled her ears, “and watch with our eyes,” she fluttered her lashes, “and if we have something to say we…” she closed her lips and raised her hand.  The students quieted their chuckles and prepared their notebooks.

Chelsi began her lesson with a brief review of all they had talked about over the last week before venturing into the idea that an ecosystem is how water, soil, fire, air, plants and animals operate together.  She was pleased with how engaged many of the students were offer tidbit they had learned throughout the week.  After the opener, Chelsi asked the campers to get in their teams, and passed each of the five teams one of the pictures she had painted. “Now what I want you to do in your groups is answer these questions: In our picture, Where is the water? Where is it being stored how is it being used? What is the soil quality like? Describe its condition using evidence from the picture.  Where is the air? How do you know it’s there? What plants and animals to you see? How are they interacting? Is there human activity? How can you know? Is the activity good or bad for the environment? Why is this activity being done? What could have been done instead? When you’re finished you’re going to present you picture to the rest of the group.”

As the campers chatted in their groups Chelsi walk around listening like a dutiful teacher.  Generally, she liked teaching sessions, she liked commanding the attention of the room and coming up with activities, and teaching styles that help keep her students engaged.  But, because she’d been tending to the other duties of Camp director, or warden as Neal like to call her, she hadn’t much committed to teaching any sessions at the start, and then barely found the time to sit-in on the sessions of others for more than a few minutes. She was only teach ECO ECHO now, and a session on fire earlier in the week, because it had fallen into her lap.  Though the conditions under which this had happened weren’t great, she was happy to receive this session in particular.  She thought it would be the best measure to see what the campers had learned in the last week.  After all Environmental Education was the whole point of planning this year Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment.  If they hadn’t learned anything, all the stress, anxiety, and hard work to make it happen would have been for not. 

When the chatter had died down and it sounded like each group had come to a consensus on their pictures, Chelsi invited the groups up one by one to explain their pictures to the group.  The first group to go had a picture of some birds sitting in the tree tops.  They talked about water transevaporting through the trees, and wind blowing the leaves.  In the background they identified were trees had been cut and piled for conventional charcoal making. ‘Instead,’ the group identified, ‘they should be using the maize cob method we learned Tuesday and Wednesday.’  When the next group stood up, Chelsi pasted their picture just under the tree tops.  Here was a picture of the forest floor under the canopy.  On one side the group recognized that the earth was scorched by a bush fire.  ‘Likely one set by a hunter’ they added after identifying a prominent game rodent in the picture.  ‘Instead, the hunter should have brought a dog to help find the Fuko, because now the soil has been destroyed and young trees burnt.’  After they finished, the next group stood, pasting their picture of a small maize field in the forefront of the forest floor.  “The soil here is good” the group decided, because the maize had grown tall. They pointed out the small group of goats being managed in the field. “The goats here can be eating the farm waste and dropping manure on the field, but here they are still burning some of the compost, which is polluting the air and could have been tilled into the soil.”  Just in the corner of the picture of the maize field was a blue stream; which in the following picture connected to the rest of the stream.  This was the picture most different from the rest. It was a cross-section of the stream, featuring a few fish and frog, a couple aquatic plants and garden beds planted just on the banks. In the background and abandoned fishing net could be seen stretched from bank to bank.  “And the air in this picture?” Chelsi prompted after the group talked about the fishing gear, fish habitat and how stream banks shouldn’t be used for gardens. ‘Why, the air most be going in to the water.  Otherwise the fish wouldn’t be able to live.’  Excellent, how excellent, Chelsi thought.  The final picture portrayed the other side of the stream. A tall grass wetland was being cleared with fire.  The mice and snakes were racing towards some homes in the background, not having anywhere else to go.  The final group hit on every point in an appropriate way.

When the final group had finished the summery of their picture, refocused everyone’s attention and asked them all to take a step back.  “In front of us, we have a very familiar seen.  The bush, with birds and fuko, alongside our maize fields and animals, near streams for watering gardens, not too far from our homes, where we live.  After having looked at the pictures individually, we can easily see, now that they are fit together, aspects of an ecosystem, like the water cycle. And how a human’s decision to do something like light a bush fire affect can affect the whole picture.  Is everyone together with this?”  There was a vigorous nodding of heads.  “Because this afternoon Ba Maddy and Ba Chaz are going to talk about what happens when humans make too many decision that are bad for an ecosystem.” Chelsi glanced quickly at her watch; just after noon, right on time. “Thank you all for your attention.  I’m really, really pleased to say that I can tell you all have learned a lot this week.  It’s certainly made all the planning worth it” She added quietly to herself, turning to remove her learning aides. “There’s a half an hour of quiet time before lunch. So go enjoy!”

dsc_0818

Camp TREE gang

Categories: Current Events, Nature, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

074: Gloomy

Laura seated herself on the couch of Chelsi’s small sitting room.  Chelsi meanwhile, moved about in the dimly lit house, replacing the candles in their holders.

“Tomorrow, first thing, I need to call the canter and remind it to pick up at least 15 people from the parking lot of New Shoprite.  The canter is too small to fit all 30 of them, so it’ll have to make two trips.”

“So what is it you need to me to do?” Laura asked.

“From you…” Chelsi paused to collect her thoughts.  Everything that she had been working so hard for was coming to acumination tomorrow.  Tomorrow, when thirty, nearly perfect strangers will be showing up to the spend week, expecting to learn about the environment and have their basic needs met.  Chelsi felt secure in the environmental education part.  Even if everything went awry she felt confident she’d be able to carry on seamlessly with sessions.  It was the caring for everyone’s needs.  She worried how long the tomatoes would keep, whether the campers and adult mentors would readily accept sleeping on reed mats, how they would manage carrying water from the well or after sunset without electric light.  It was unprecedented, the venue Chelsi and her Lunda counterpart Tyler, had selected for this year’s Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment.  ‘The village will be cheaper.  Arrange with the teacher to let the campers sleep in the school block. Reed mats are only 25 kwacha each. Plus, there’s no rules about where you can and can’t dig.  I think there should be lots of digging this year,’ Tyler had reasoned with her.  ‘And we wouldn’t have to limit the number of volunteers who can attend,” Chelsi added, remembering last year how she was unable to attend because the camp was held in a National Park, where space limited and costs was exponentially higher. ‘And camp in the village can be a whole five days of sessions, since we won’t have to spent half the time transporting people around the province.’  To the two of them at the time, the advantages of their scheme seemed untouchable by the shortcomings. But now every weakness was highlighted in Chelsi’s mind, even with every mitigation she could think of in place.

“From you, I mostly need emotional support,” she confessed.  “I’ll be fighting the desire to run and hide when I see that big blue canter roll up with the first group of kids.”

Laura chuckled, not distastefully though. “I’m just imagining the canter pulling up and you hiding behind a tree!”

“Seriously though! Big groups and loud noises make me anxious.  And what it Camp if not a large group of children, and what are children if not noisy?” having just finished lighting the candles, Chelsi threw her exacerbated self in to her easy chair.  She now wondered if her anxieties would have been lessened if Camp was being held anywhere else but her own house.  Tulip then broke her train of thought, having jumped into her lap with a purr and attempt to suckle her arm.

“You’ll be fine!” Laura reassured her friend. “You’ve been working really hard and everything looks to be in order.  Tomorrow morning we have to what? Bring the reed mats over to the school block, roll them out.  You said the mosquito nets are already organized, they just have to be strung up.  Toiletry kits and notebooks have to be set under the nets.  The welcome banner has to be hung…”

“We need to fill the tipy taps,” Chelsi continued, “and hang the chitenges on the bathas and toilets…”  A wind blew up over the walls, under the roof causing the candles to flicker.  “The pots and tomatoes need to be brought to Gladys, so she can start dinner sooner rather than later.”

“You said Tyler and Rider are coming with the rest of the veg and some buckets of chicken?”

“Yeah,” Chelsi replied with a sigh.

A more substantial wind now blew through the house, nocking some lose grass from the roof.  “Do you think it’s going to rain?” Laura asked.

“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t mind if it did.  It’s been so hot, and I’d rather it rain now than during Camp, where I don’t have any place to shift activities inside.  It’s drizzled a bit a few times so far, but nothing substantial like in Mwinilunga.” Just then, as if on que, the sharp sound of rain drops hitting the tin roof of her porch reverberated through the house.  “Well, speak of the devil…” Chelsi stood up, Tulip spilling out of her lap, and pushed aside on of the curtains.  “It’s probably just a short, passing thing.” When again, on que the ferocity of the rain doubled.

“Well, I’m glad you were able to get this new roof put up.” Laura commented, looking up.

“Right?” Chelsi started to move about the room, her arms outstretched feeling for any offending leakage.  When she crossed in to the bedroom she paused.  If she was still she could feel a light mist surrounding her body.  She looked around for the possible source. “You want to come in here for a minute?” She called to her friend.

Laura relinquished the rest of the space on the couch to Daisy and entered the bedroom.  “It’s like a mist almost.”

“I know, right? You think it blowing in from over the walls?”

“Ummm,” Laura looked about equally confused.

“Or ricocheting of the tin sheets, and then over the wall?  It kind of feels like it’s coming from that side.”

Laura twisted up her face, “I think it’s just coming down from the roof.”

“Pshh, the roof is brand new,” she moved back in to the sitting room in protest, only to have a large drop of rain splash over her head.  Outside the strength of the rain redoubled, inside a little private rainstorm was taking place.  Chelsi’s inside wrenched.  A quiet scream of anger and frustration escaped her.  “Fucking Kaonde roofs.  What short straw I pulled, not being a Lunda.”  Her soured temperament fell back on cursing the age of stereotypes of her tribe.  Meanwhile, rain was puddling around her.  The smell of sad, wet dog filled the air, and Daisy’s ears drooped with a whimper.

After a few moments, when Chelsi had collected herself, she set to work protecting all matter of things that she could of importance.  “I guess it’s good you have all these big plastic buckets,” Laura commented, helping her.

“Yeah, well.  This is one of the reasons.  And if I didn’t have all this stuff for Camp….”  Fucking camp, and all its blasted stuff, she thought now. “Camp’s cancelled,” she announced to her friend.

Laura, having finished packing up all the things they could started unpacking her tent.  “What do you mean? Camp’s cancelled?”

“If there was ever a reason to cancel camp, this would be it.” After all, to Chelsi, completing Camp had seemed like an unsurmountable challenge, and now it would be.

Laura was exercising the fullest extent of her empathy, but wouldn’t indulge Chelsi’s dramatic flair.  “You know, sure, the whole life you have been building for yourself in Zambia, is being ruined, but it could be worse.” Chelsi lightly glared at her friend, her now idle hands reaching for the bottle of Royal Kingston on her kitchen bench. “At least you are home, so you can protect what things you can.”

“And good thing you’re here with me,” she interjected, “so first thing tomorrow you can help me put up the plastic lining of my roof.” Taking a strong pull from the bottle, she ended sourly, “Not how I wanted to spend the morning before camp…”

“You can sleep in the tent with me if you’d like,” Laura kindly offered.  And with that Chelsi started to pack up her bad mood.

“Thank you.  The rain outside does sound to be letting up too.” Though inside it still seemed to be pouring around them.  “The old roof still would have been much worse.” She almost chuckled, imaging how absolutely horrid it would have been to be under the old roof.  “That one would have likely collapsed on us.” She made her again idle hand busy again help Laura with her tent poles.  “Then Camp really would have been cancelled.”

“Or you could be in Neal situation, with no roof at all.

“Really?! How’d he manage that?”

“After months of trying to get his village to come and replace it, he felt it last resort was to just remove it himself and move out till they fix it.”

Chelsi laughed, “I might have been the one to give him that advice.”

“I think a lot of people did.”

“Ironically too, because exactly one year ago is the day I move out of my house to have it refitted.”

“See! And look how far you’ve come!”

The two friend smiled amidst the rain, and crawled into the tent.

Categories: DIY, Nature, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.