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.

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

077: Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party Time

Thank you one and all who were able to attend my Going Away/Birthday Party (and those of you who attended in spirit!). It was an amazing send off.  I will miss you all and stay in touch!

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