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.