“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.