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.

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

092: Birthday Bananza

26, 26, 26, Chelsi thought over and over to herself, stepping out of the cold shower at the Pace Corps bunk house in Lusaka.  Two times 26 is still only 52. I can’t imagine that the next 26 years will be anything like the first 26 years. But probably, maybe the next six will be like the last six.  After toweling off and brushing out her hair, she slipped in to her blue dress with elephant chest pocket.  I guess I knew what years 24 and 25 were going to be like.  And now if I stay in Zambia, move to Siavonga; that will be year 26 and half of 27. WOW, 27 is awfully close to 30. Chelsi slipped her shoes back on, collected her things and left the bathroom.

The bunk house in Lusaka was reserved for volunteers called to the main office for medical reasons.  It was Chelsi’s first time, though she didn’t identify at all with her current bunk mates.  None of them were people she had ever seen before, and nearly all of them were coughing, sneezing, red faced.  The handful of them well enough to stand were now collected in the common room, through which Chelsi had to pass to make it outside to the bunks.  She didn’t want to be unfriendly, but she was concerned about the contagiousness of their afflictions, and she would be leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow, which didn’t leave a lot of time for making friends.

She smiled and greeted them as she passed through.  They were chatting about what to order for dinner, when a large red bearded volunteer stopped her. “We were going to order some take out. Do you want us to get you anything?”

Chelsi’s smile widened by the gesture. “Ummm, thank you. But, it’s actually my birthday, so I’m going to go out…” She looked around at the blank faces, “It’s not that you’re not all invited, but I’m going out with all of your PCVLs. So I figured none of you would be interested in coming anyway. You know, it’s not all that great to party with your boss…” Chelsi felt a little bit awkward, but it was all true. Plus they’re basically strangers.

“Oh so you’re a PCVL?” a curly brunette sitting on one of the old couches asked. “Of which province?”

“No, no, no, I’m not a PCVL. I’m just at the point in my service where all of my friends have become PCVLs.” Clearly none of them have been in country for more than a year, Chelsi thought. That’s why none of them look familiar.

“Oh, okay,” the group kind of nodded in collective understanding.

“Well, have fun,” the bearded one added as Chelsi slipped out of the room.

When Chelsi arrived at the meeting place to catch a taxi with her friends, it looked like everyone was already waiting for her. “Hey, dude!” Her friend Sara waved her over. “We were almost starting to think you weren’t going to make it.”

“Nelson, we’re waiting for a man named Nelson,” Justen said over and over to other taxi drivers, harassing him for business.

“Everything’s ready, the restaurant has our reservation. I just called to reconfirm that they’re expecting us,” Ginny had agree to be head of the party planning committee.

“How are you feeling? What did the dentist say?” Chelsi’s PCVL, Laura asked.

“I feel fine now. He definitely thinks it’s my jaw and that some kind of special mouth guard or split he called it, should do the trick.” Chelsi looked around for the last member of their party.

“Ah! Ba Nelson!” Justen motioned the rest of them to a taxi on the far side of the parking lot.

There she is, Chelsi thought spotting Lani on the other side of Justen.   Chelsi snuck up behind her and gave her a big bear hug.

“Ohh,” Lani let out with a laugh. “There you are. Are you ready to have your best birthday yet?”

Chelsi smiled and gave Lani another big squeeze. The two women laughed.

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091: mere Volunteers

“Hey Girly, what are you doing here?” Chelsi’s friend Mike asked, taking a seat at the dinning room table of the basement office.  Chelsi spun around in the computer chair, at a desk off to the side to face her friend.

“Didn’t you know?” Chelsi smiled. “I’m the APCVL for this week!”

“Laura’s gone again?”

“Yeah, for like a full three weeks. But I’m only here until Monday.” Chelsi swiveled back to face her open email page on the computer.

“Because we have the Animal Husbandry Workshop!” Mike added excitedly.

Chelsi laughed, “Yeah, it almost wasn’t going to happen.  Oliver didn’t get the grant money till like yesterday.  But I actually can’t go.”

“Oh no! Why?”

“Like, a week ago I opened my mouth to floss, and I got this super sharp pain in the left side of jaw. And it was like that for like four or five days, till I called the medical office nearly in tears to get an appointment with the dentist.  So they scheduled me one for Tuesday.” She paused, then continued, “It feels fine now, but I still want to have it looked at. And it just especially sucks cause I missed animal husbandry last year, because my counterpart just couldn’t get his act together enough to go.  But who knows, maybe next year, maybe third times the charm.”

“He just has his pants all in a twist,” Chelsi heard Mike say. “Admin is just very reactionary, and because everything is treated like an emergency, no one stops to think about what’s really going on.” Chelsi then heard the little bell that comes after sending a voice message on Whatsapp.

“What’s that about?” Chelsi ask with curiosity, spinning her chair back round.

Mike didn’t even take his eyes off his laptop. “You know that letter that got passed around about some of the volunteers feelings about new policy changes at the white house?”

“I might have seen it.”

“Well, apparently it got leaked to admin before the people involved got a chance to post it. And now Lusaka is acting like it’s the apocalypse. They’re saying things like, if it gets posted online, there will be a backlash against the PC Zambia post, people could lose their jobs, funding could disappear, duh di duh di duh.”

“What they really mean is that the country director could lose his job.”

“Right.”

“But really, among all the related letters out there, being written and posted, by all kinds of different organizations, associations, whatever, the chance of someone even pseudo-important picking up one for PC Zambia and passing it up to the administration for individualize persecution, is like what? One and…”

“Not likely at all,” Mike finished her comment. “But now they’re talking about administratively separating anyone who posts it.”

“I know that we’re not allowed to make statements regarding the politics of our host country.  We’re not allowed to write or sign domestic petitions identifying ourselves as Peace Corps volunteers. But this has nothing to do with Zambia politics and is nothing close to a petition.  Petitions ask for things, request a review of something, and are written in specific address to the person or office that is in charge of whatever the petition relates too.  That is an open letter, addressed to no one in particular, asking for nothing specific. Or non-specific for that matter.  It’s just a compilation of thoughts and opinions that happen to be mutually held by a group of people.” Heat began to pervade Chelsi voice. “I’ve found that people who wave around the ‘right of free speech’ don’t really understand what it’s intended to protect, but this is it; protection from governmental persecution when opinion are expressed publicly by persons about the government and/or its policies.” She pause to collect herself. “Maybe if we were federal employees, and the upper administration was worried that these conversations were taking place during the work day… Then, sure Lusaka would be in the right to take disciplinary actions; but they make it far too abundantly clear that we are not employees, just mere volunteers, not held to the same standard.”

“I agree,” Mike added, once she had stepped down from her soap box.

“And of course, something like this would blow up, right when I’m planning an extension.”

“WHAT?!” now Mike’s full attention was on her. “You got it?! And you didn’t tell me right away!?”

Chelsi smiled coyly, “Well, it’s pending medical and housing approval.” Mike stood up and approached her for a hug. “And you know, I didn’t really think to tell anyone; I figured the rumor mill would spread it around.”

They embraced, “Congratulations!”

“I know! Now we can be extension buddies together!”

Categories: Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

090: Every Morning

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep, you hear the 6:45 alarm go off. You stretch a little, roll over in bed.  Daisy in the next room on the couch; you know she mirroring your actions.  Her nails click against the cement floor as she jumps off the couch and walks over to the side of the bed.  She lets out a little sigh as she stretches and paws at the mosquito net. ‘It’s cuddle time,’ she’s saying, ‘Let me up on the bed.’

You reach your arm around and pull some of the net out of the bed frame; just enough so that Daisy has room to jump up.  She steps over you, curling up so her back it up against your belly.  You both drift back to sleep.

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep, the 7:30 alarm, now it’s time to get up.  Daisy stretch out first, scooching herself up so her head is resting on the pillow beside yours.  She rolls and sighs.  Morning dog breath is your limit.  “I’m getting up,” you tell her, pushing off the blanket and swinging your legs over the side of the bed.  You’re startled when your toes touch something furry.

“Meow, meo.” The fog clears from in front of your eyes and you see Tulip, sitting, looking up at you.

“If you’re not careful I’m going to step on you one of these days,” you warn, grabbing the empty mug wedged between the mattress and the wall in one hand and your phone in the other.  You walk out of the small bedroom, through the narrow doorway into the common room.  You empty your hands onto the table and make your way to the back room, pulling aside the curtains on the windows as you go.  The back room is still dark, but you know where everything is.

You open the nozzle on the water bag hanging from the ceiling poles and let fresh water run in to a small black basin.  Using your hands, you splash the cool water on your face, then apply some face wash, and rinse in the same manner.  A towel hangs on the curtain rod and you use it to dry your hands and face.  You grab your tooth brush from as cup sitting on a chest high shelf, used to hold your toiletries and tools.  While you brush, you fill a cup with clean water from the filter in the common room.  After rinsing you slip in to the cloths you left hanging on the curtain rod the day before.

You make your way back into the common room.  Tulip is sitting on his food bin grooming his paws.  He’s hungry, but he can wait till Daisy gets up too, you think to yourself.  At the kitchen bench you start the process of making coffee.  The coffee is in the green plastic basket, on the shelf below the countertop of the kitchen bench.  You grab it, unscrew the top of the espresso maker, fill the lower chamber with water from the filter, pour grounds into the grate and screw the top back on.  You pump air into a bright red fuel container and attach it to your MSR Dragonfly backpack stove.  Carefully you open the fuel line valve, and the faint smell of gasoline wafts up.  When the smell seem strong enough, you close the fuel line, light a match and move it ever closer to the stove until the gas catches with a POP.

While the stove heats up, you take a green plastic bowl from off the shelf over the bedroom doorway.  To it you add oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon, peanut butter and water, kept hot in your thermos brand thermos from the night before.  Quickly you stir it up and set it to the side, refocusing your attention on the stove.  Reopening the fuel line allows the gas to catch, burning with an even blue flame.  Atop the burner you set an old lid to a giant can of dog food, then balance the espresso maker atop it.

Daisy rustles the blankets in the bedroom. Is she going to get up? You ask yourself.

When it’s not followed by the click of her nails hitting the cement floor you think, not yet.

Over at the table you touch the screen of your phone, bringing it back to life.  You re-enable the network and leave it to sit and catch up with morning.  Meanwhile, you bring your stainless steel mug back to the kitchen bench.  To it you add some powdered milk and hot water. You turn the flame up on the stove.

A plastic bag is heard crackling behind you.  When you turn, you see Tulip pouncing on the bag you keep all your extra bags in.  The sound is enough to make Daisy think you are reaching into her food bag.  She Click Clicks on to the floor, stretches and comes in the common room, her tail wagging, ready to greet you for the day.

Now that Daisy’s risen, Tulip gets extra excite, bouncing between the bloated bag of bags, Daisy and his food bin.

“Alright, alright,” you tell them, as Daisy paws at your legs.  “I’m coming, hold on.”

You fill Daisy’s stainless steel dog bowl with heart shape, chicken flavored kibbles from a giant, red plastic bin.  When you replace the bowl on the floor, Tulip attempts to get to it first, but is distracted by the sound of the doves flying on to the roof, cooing to one another.  Your take his little blue plastic food bowl off the cat shelf and fill it with star shaped, liver flavored kibbles from a clear plastic bin.  Tulip climbs the branch to his cat shelf, antsy with anticipation.  As the animals eat you prop open the front door, allowing in more light.

The house fills with the scent of coffee.  Returning to the kitchen bench you turn up the flame on the stove then shut the fuel valve.  The flame sputters out.  Carefully you pour the coffee into the milk.  When it’s finished you take up the black handle of the coffee mug in one hand, and your green plastic bowl filled with tender oats in the other.  At the table you set them down near a dinning chair, covered with a red cushion. You take your seat and look out the window, to see the sun coming up over the tree tops.

Categories: DIY, Fantasy | 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

088: Close of Service Conference

​Bethany, Bethany, Bethany, Chelsi thought, over and over to herself.  What can I say? The two women had hardly exchanged more than a handful of words until Bethany expressed interest in going on the trip to Kasanka.  And even then, it was a simply yes, then no.  Maybe if she had come, I would have something to say…  It’s not as if we were unfriendly to each other, I’ve only ever heard good things when I hear them. But it’s just that, I never hear about her, she lives two provinces and a world away…

Chelsi tamped down her anxiety for the coming activity she had heard so much about from past COSing intakes.  ‘I drew someone’s name I didn’t even like,’ one volunteer had said.  ‘A lot of people cried’ another had said.  ‘I wish they would have just let us pick people we knew to talk about,’ said still another. ‘It all sounded so fake; It took way too long; I dropped my candle and burned my foot on the hot wax; I guess it was a nice idea…’  Chelsi sighed and wiped her mouth with her napkin.  

“Are you alright, girl?” her friend Rachel asked from across the dinner table.  

“Yeah, I just wish they would make announcements about extension already.  The applications said they would let us know by the 11th, and it’s now the 19:30 on the 11th.”

Rachel laughed, “You know its Peace Corps, what did you expect?”

“That and all this rich food is really doing a number on my stomach and lower bowel. I’ve been sick for the last 15 out of 20 days now and this really isn’t helping.”

Rachel rolled her eyes and smiled at her friend, “Then stop eating it!” 

“But it’s sooo good!”

“Excuse me, if I could have everyone’s attention.” Gloria, the most recent American to join Peace Corps Admin in Lusaka stood from her chair just behind Chelsi.  

Chelsi heart jumped a beat. She didn’t turn around.

“I have some exciting announcements to make.  I have just received an email from your country director Leon, with the list of volunteers who are being invited to extend their stay with Peace Corps Zambia. First, I would like to congratulate all of you who applied, good work, I know you have all been working very hard. Alright,” Gloria slipped a pair of read glasses on to her nose, “first we have, Laura Shepard, who will be staying in her village another six months!” Applause and cheers rose up around the dining room. “Next, Laura Mckinstry, who will be extending her stay in Central Provence for 13 more months. Ray and Liz will be joining our partners in Kasama together, for 13 more months.  Daniel, from Lulapula, will be moving to Lusaka, to continue his great work on Girls can Code. And Chelsi will be joining the team at Yalelo, in Siavonga district.  Oliver, Oliver has been invited to stay at Mujila Falls farm for 13 more months as well.” And with that Gloria slipped the glasses off her nose, “I would like to thank again all those who applied and to all of you for your great work in the field.”

“There you go, good work,” Rachel said when Chelsi looked up at her.

“Congratulations! I didn’t even know you applied for an extension,” and her friend Chris gave her a solid high five.

“WAIT, wait there’s one more,” Shoo shouted across the dining room. “I, Amy Shuman will be extending with USAID in Chipata. Thank you, thank you all for remembering me.”

Oops, Rachel’s face grimaced at Peace Corps’ mistake.  

When Shoo finished, Gloria stood back up. “Now that it’s evening time, when you’re all finished with your dinner I ask the you move on to our next activity, down by the tennis courts, our candle light ceremony.”

Chelsi sighed and stared at the remaining food on her plate. “Come on, let’s go,” Rachel prompted her.  

On the porch off the tennis courts, nineteen chairs were arranged in a circle with a fire lit at the head.  “Please if you can all take a seat,” Cleopher, her program manager asked when it looked like everyone had arrived.  “Fraiser is coming around with candles, if you could all take one.” Chelsi took her candle and slipped on the wax catch.  “I hope you have all been enjoying your Close of Service conference so far.”

“Yeah this place is beautiful,” Matt replied to Cleopher’s rhetorical statement, but a lot of volunteers hollered in agreement.

Cleopher chuckled, “yes, yes.  We just wanted to thank you all for the work you’ve been doing out in the villages.  You’ve all been working very hard, and even if fish farming hasn’t worked out in your village, you’ve adapted to take on the challenges unique to your communities and have made a difference in the lives of real people.  Now most of you have just three, four months left and we’ve been talk this week a lot about going home, how to adjust, what to expect,  we wanted to take this time for all of you to reflect on the relationships you have made here.  Everyone has some ones name from the envelope yesterday?” He took a brief scan of the circle.  “Good, so if someone can volunteer to start, you can say something about the person whom you drew yesterday, then use your candle to light theirs, and we’ll keep going around the circle till everyone’s candle is lit.  Is there a volunteer who would like to start?”

Chris raised his hand, and after a little confusion over how to lite the first candle when no one’s candle was lit the lights were dimmed.  

Chelsi listened, laughed and remembered with her fellow volunteers, all the while quietly terrified for her turn to come.  It was a mystery who would speak about her until Janelle stood up.  It sounded like a blur of vague compliments until her name was mentioned, and her work on Camp TREE and her tipsy humor. And her heart began to race when the wick of her candle was lit. 

Stick to the plan, stick to the plan, she told herself.  “Thank you Janelle.  Umm,” Chelsi struggled with her candle in one hand while tying her scarf around her hips with the other. “I’m not so great with words, and with so much to say, I couldn’t chose, so ummm,” she walked across the circle to the chair next to Bethany’s. “Could you hold this for me, yeah, just like this,” Chelsi handed her candle off to Matt, and regain her place in front of her empty chair.  “Instead I’ve prepared this short, interpretive dance,” there was sudden whooping and hollering from the circle of volunteers.

“Do you want us to drop a beat!?” someone called from the crowd. 

“No, no, no silence is fine.” Deep breath, deep breath. Side step, step, step. Twirl, leap, spin, step, step, she went through the motions again in her head, then her feet left the ground.

When Chelsi had finished the room was more quiet than at any time before, and she was left on one knee in front of Bethany, reaching out for the candle left in Matt’s hand.  Transferring the flame to Bethany she said, “It’s been an honor to serve with you in Zambia, I’m only sorry we didn’t get to know each other better.  But I’ve only ever heard wonderful things about you.  I wish you all the best on the rest of your service and all your future endeavors.” True words to all of you.  

Categories: Action, Drama | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

087: A New Year

​Chelsi sunk back onto the dingy green media room couch next to her friend Tyler.  He was leaned forward though, fidgeting with something on the brown wicker coffee table.  

“So how’d it go? How was Zanzibar?” Tyler asked. 

“You mean, beside perfect in every way?” Chelsi voice was long and tired, but Tyler laughed.

“That good, huh? I mean, I heard about the train ride.”

“Oh, yeah, that god damn train! It nearly killed me, like seriously, we almost died.” Chelsi was sincere in the fieriness of her tone.  “Jason came the closest though.  The train car that derailed was the dining car.  Which was also of course the car smack dab in the middle of the train. Then after 18 hours of playing ‘how are you going to fix the train’ they ultimately decided that the dining car had to be left behind. So the only things we had to eat, was whatever we could buy through the window at short station stops… And, and there was no drinking water.”

“Yeah, it was not like that when Jason and I took it last time.”

“That’s what he kept saying. But you know what? I think it worked out for the better.  Because if the train hadn’t been delayed we would have gotten in to town yesterday, instead of today and because I only had one house day left this month, I wouldn’t have been able to stay for New Year’s. I would have been sitting alone in my house like last year.” She paused for a moment, remembering sitting in her now broken easy chair, staring at the clock on her phone; watching the minutes tick by – 23:50, 23:51, 23:52, 23:53, 23:54, 23:55, 23:56, 23:57, 23:58, 23:59, 00:00, 00:01, 00:02, 00:03, 00:04, 00:05, 00:06, 00:07, 00:08, 00:09, 00:10. Then she went to bed.  She couldn’t even recall if she had open a fancy bottle of wine.  “It’s much better this way.”

“Speaking of,” Tyler straightened himself and stood up. “It’s nearly midnight, and we’ve got fireworks to shoot off!” He looked down at her with a smile and started towards the door.  “Are you coming?” he pulled open the door and music filled the room.

“I’m right behind you,” She called after him looking at her watch; 23:56.  2017 huh? Chelsi thought to herself. 2007 feels like just the other week… But at 16 could I have really imagined myself here? She looked around the dimly lit room. The walls were concealed by floor to ceiling shelves of DVDs, VHSs, books and an assortment of other media materials.  Chelsi wasn’t even sure what color the walls actually were.  Nnn…, mmm well maybe…
She pulled herself up off the couch and walked into the common room. The house speakers, one stacked on top of the other, were bumpin’ the hottest beats from the club.  DJ Neal was squatting at the computer just beside them, finishing up the que for the next 30 songs.  Ireri and Sid, two volunteers from the newest intake were getting down on the dance floor together. Jason on the other hand was up on the dining table, twerking it with everything he had: “Neal! Neal!” he cried, “We need the Thong Song! Play the Thong Song!”

“No! Jtrain! We’re not playing the Thong Song.” Neal looked over his shoulder at him, “and you’re going to break the table if you keep doing that.”

“Alright everyone, if you want to see fireworks, come outside now!” Tyler screamed through doorway to the back porch. And with that, the music was tamed and the whole party filed outside.   

They stood on the steps of the porch watching intently the little cardboard boxes lined up in front of them in the grass.  “I know that one,” Sami whispered to Chelsi. “It’s the most dangerous one, because if they don’t fire at the same time then the whole thing will come shooting sideways across the ground and explode.” She voice crescendo-ed into glee, “and you don’t know where it’s going to go!”

“Please be careful Tyler!” Ireri called from the porch.

“Its fine,” and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, little boxes filled with colorful explosives were lit, and Tyler took a few steps back.  

 With a loud bang, the first rocket shot off and a white flash filled the air.  Another bang, and green and red stars were propelled through the night sky.  And, “Bump, bump, bump,”

“Jtrain!” Neal shouted, “No one wants to hear the Thong Song!”

Categories: Current Events, DIY, Science & Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

086: TAZARA

​“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!” Chelsi screamed as her body was suddenly lurched forward, buckling her knees and slamming them into the metal bench of the train’s third class passenger seating.  But no one could hear her over the train’s screeching.  She gripped the back rest of the bench and braced herself the oncoming halt of the train car.

As the trains pace quicken, the screeching soften so that Chelsi could hear her friend Jason’s wet laughter, “This mother fucking train! You just don’t know what the train’s gonna do!”

It’s true, in the truest sense of itself, Chelsi thought, gripping the bench tighter. It was hard to keep herself from relaxing. She knew, as soon as she let go the train would come to an abrupt halt, probably throwing me on to the ground.  And sure enough, in a matter of moments the train car’s wheels let out a deafening screech, and Chelsi was jerked backwards.  

Quickly, she relaxed her position and started re-stuffing her backpack before the train engineer decided to give ‘going forward’ another try.  “Neal!” Chelsi called over her shoulder.  “Are you still glad we decided to take the train back to Zambia?” She risked a quick glance over her shoulder to see his reaction.  

“Are you kidding?” A semi-smile was stretched over his face. “This is great.  We get to see the train derail, then we get to see it fixed. And look how fast and kind of efficient it’s getting fixed.” Neal took a quick glance at his watch, “We’re only a total of 18 hours behind schedule.  Had the train derailed another 30 kilometers further, in Zambia, we would have been screwed.”

“But so, do you think this means we’re leaving the dining car behind?” Jason asked with a serious thread of concern in his voice.  But before anyone could inject their opinion the train car door towards the back of the train slid open. 

“If you could all go back to your first class cabin now,” a portly Zambian sounding man instructed them. “We will be starting again soon, and the next stop there are dangerous people. You need to go fast, fast.” His last fast, fast was covered up by the sudden forward lurch and screech of the train, and Jason, Sami, Neal and Chelsi being nearly thrown on to the floor.  

When all had recovered the portly Zambian man gave them one more “fast, fast,” before exiting the car. Their group followed closely behind, with Chelsi at the rear.  They reach out and steadied themselves using the back of the benches, when Neal turned around asking Chelsi to go back and make sure nothing was left behind.  

She was double checking under the bench, when she heard the train car door slide open behind her.  Looking over her shoulder she saw another Zambian man, a short skin one, compared to the portly gentleman of before. Righting herself, Chelsi made her way towards him and the exit to the car. 

“Mad ‘am, I just want you to give me,” he started.

But Chelsi cut him off, “No, I’m giving you anything.”

“But mad ’am,”

“No!” She yelled, and the whole train car went dark.  What did he mean when he said ‘there are dangerous people at the next stop? It had been a long time since Chelsi last felt uneasy in Zambia.  When the train pulled out of the tunnel, Chelsi pushed past the man standing and front of her and hurried to the back of the train to be with her friends.  

She reach first class cabin number six and pulled back the door. “Oh look! It was nice of them to remake our beds.” Chelsi surveyed the small cabin; two bench-bunks against either wall with a short table between, and above one more bunks above each lower bench-bunk. Laid out across the tight leather bound foam of each bunk was a blanket, bed sheet and pillow. “Neal can you help me get this up there?” Chelsi motioned her hand to the luggage compartment above the door way.  

“Sure,” and he stood up, relieving her of backpack, hoisting it above his head and into the alcove. But before he could properly regain his seat, he was jerked back into it by the stopping of the train car.  Chelsi’s shoulder was slammed into the door frame.  

Jason laughed, “God damn, it was not like this when Tyler and I took the train last time.”

“What do you think that guy meant when he said ‘there were dangerous people’ at the next stop?” Sami ask push the blonde strands of her hair out of her eyes.  Just then there was a sudden thud that shook the floor, but distinctly different from the lurching and jerking of the train so far.  Chelsi peered out, down the hallway, to see 200 kg worth of rice sacking being pushed into the train car by a Zambian man on the train platform.  

“Holy moly you guy, you’d better see this,” and Chelsi left the cabin doorway for the window just across, Jason, Sami and Neal closely behind.  Hanging their heads out the window they could see a people mobbing the train cars at the head of the train, pushing all sorts of goods through the doors and windows; mattresses, bags of maize and mealie meal, boxes of dishwares, baskets of fish.  

Neal turned back towards his friends from the window, “good thing that guy came by and told us to get out of there fast!”

“Looks like we’re not in Tanzania any more Toto,” Chelsi sighed. 

Categories: Action, Adventure, Horror, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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?”

Categories: Current Events, Drama, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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