Posts Tagged With: Africa

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.

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

060: Victoria Falls

I’m glad we got the umbrella, Chelsi thought to herself whirling it on her shoulder. The sun cast through the fabric creating a blue halo for Chelsi’s shadow.  She smiled, looking ahead at her dear mother chatting with their Zimbabwean cultural and natural history interpreter, Cynthia.  What would we have done without Cynthia?

The vegetation around the cemented stone path was lush. Bright green palms hung down, drip, drip, dripping mist on to path.  Just a step off the path, a fawn colored bush buck grazed on the tall grass.  Chelsi did not understand though why all the grazers hadn’t flocked to the edge of falls.  Just on the other side of the fence, the boundary for the Victoria Falls National Park, the landscape was scorched.  Dry grass crunched under foot and brown leaves clung to thin trees.  And to think it probably wouldn’t rain again till January.  At once she was relieved and startled that she was glad to call her home Solwezi, where tall trees would still be flush with green leaves till the next rain.

Chelsi continued following her companion down the path, until they reach an off shoot with a clearing to her left.  She took it to the rail, figuring her mother and Cynthia would eventually stop to look for themselves and she would catch up then.  The Mist that Thunders, that’s for sure.  Water gushed over the edge of the earth, hitting the rocks below with such force the water sprang back like upward rain.  When the Zambezi called it back, the water returned reluctantly, falling as a slow, delicate mist.  Chelsi listened hard for the tinkling of it on her umbrella over the thundering of the falls.

Her thin cotton, chitenge dress was becoming drenched, but was glad she passed up the poncho.  She knew the day would come, even in Northwest Provence that she would wish to be as wet and cool as she was now.  She soaked it in.

“Hey there hun, how are you doing?” It was the voice of her dear mother, calling from the protected cover of the trees.  They have turned back for me, she turned to face them.

“Good,” Chelsi smiled. “I’m glad we got the umbrella.”

The two women laughed.

“You don’t want to get a better look at the falls?”

Her dear mother shouted over the roar of the falls, “No, we’re okay here.  I can see.” Even wrapped in your thick rain poncho, huh? Chelsi looked back over her shoulder.  An electric colored rainbow revealed itself through the mist. The colors shown brighter than any she had seen before, so bright in fact it appears to be casting a shadow; the colors there where a subtle pastel.

“You don’t want to see the double rainbow?” Chelsi called back, now looking at the empty space where her mother had been standing.  After one more look she hurried after them.

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Double Rainbow!

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

059: Safari

The open topped jeep bumped up and down on the dirt road into the bush.  Chelsi pulled the blanket tightly around her in the pre-dawn cold.  Turning her head out of the wind she could just see the first light of day peaking over the edge of the earth. This was not what she had expected out of her vacation.  Up before the sun? So tired at the end of the day my eyes close on their own?  Of course if you skipped the morning safari ride who knows what you might miss; lion? leopards? giraffes?  She really wanted to see ostrich, or wild dogs. But to want was vain. This wasn’t a zoo; they weren’t just rolling past enclosures.

There was quick jerk of the jeep and the group was turned off the road and onto a herd path.  Made by elephants maybe? It was wide enough for sure.  Most of the trees on either side were bulldozed down to stumps.

“This is the work of elephants hear,” their driver and guide, Mike, called over the engine. “Elephants will start with the leaves, then, once those are gone, they’ll eat the twigs and sticks. Or they’ll strip the tree of bark and eat that soft, wet part of the tree we call the cambium layer.  It’s the vascular system of the tree, so once it’s gone the tree dies and maybe the elephants knock them over or they fall apart on their own.  But elephants are also known to knock down the species of trees that are not favorable for eating.”

To Chelsi it looked not much different than a clear cut forest.  Mike slowed the jeep to a crawl and peered over the side, into the soft dirt. She was out for her element when it came to tracks here, but there’s no way those are elephants; dinner plate sized ovals with thin ridges of dirt running through them. Without obvious toes, she wondered how Mike could tell which direction they were headed, when a trumpet of a hundred French horns sounded in her ears.

I guess that’s what you miss, if you stare at the ground, she laughed to herself, after her thoughts had recovered.  The animal towered sky high just in front of the jeep.  Rough, grey skin looked draped over broad bones. Deep wrinkle and ridges especially marked her legs and belly. She flapped her ears, creating a velvet back drop for gleaming tusks.

“It seems like we might have snuck up on this one a little bit,” but there was an air of aloofness in Mike’s voice that helped her relax.  “Elephants have very poor eyesight, only able to see about ten meters in front of them and not very well in low light conditions.”

With the whole body of the sun was nearly reveled, more light was being shed on their surroundings.  As Chelsi’s eyes adjusted and looked around she saw elephants coming through the bush all around them.  Babies poked out between the legs of their mothers, who were using their muscular trunks to gather the vegetation around them and stuff it into their mouths; the little ones yours theirs to sniff at the mysterious new comers.

After the herd’s Matriarch gathered her wits she started back across the path in to the bush.  Dutifully all the rest followed.  When they were clear of path Mike re-fired the engine and pushed the jeep up the path to the next adventure.

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Elephant Family

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049: Kaonde Cousinship

“I know we talked a lot about cousinship in training.” Ginny balled up the nshima in her hand. “And it’s just an understanding among different tribes that they shouldn’t take offence from each other’s comments, or make war on each other.” She picked up some beans with the same hand and pop it all into her mouth. 
“Yes, that’s true,” Harrison, the host of their lunch and village carpenter and traditional healer started. “But it wasn’t always that every tribe was cousins with everyone else.  And it the case for everyone.” Seated just to Chelsi’s right, Harrison took a break from his nshima and pulled his knobby knees in towards his chest. 
“In training, Ba Joyce, my language teacher always told us the story of the Kaonde – Lozi cousinship.  And that it took place just of there at Kasempa Hill. Or something like that.” Chelsi turned her attention toward Harrison.  She knew the story involved a war between the two tribes, but it wasn’t ever made entirely clear.
“Yes, the Lozi’s of Western Provence were trying to expand their territory.” Chelsi, Ginny, Sami, Tyler, Ryder, they all leaned in to better hear the quiet man’s voice. “They started by invading the Tongas in Southern Provence, and were very successful there.  Then they looked north, in to Northwest Provence and the land of the Kaonde people. When they Lozis first came they started by kidnapping women and some children from outlying camps and villages. Shortly it became enough that the rest of people in the villages fled.  They hid on the hills in the bush. So that when the Lozis came into the empty villages they thought their campaign a great success.” Harrison foreshadowed the rest of the story with a big smile. “So the Lozi people start going out into the bush.  And what did they find, but all the Kaonde people atop this great hill, drinking and sitting around big fires.  So the Lozi people got together to devise a plan to sneak up on the Kaonde men on the top of the hill.  They were going to come up slowly, on the dense bush side of the hill. But of course the Kaonde men saw them coming.  They would go and see how far the Lozi people were up the hill, then they would say ‘Oh, but they are still far’ and they would go back to their drinks. And they would come again and say ‘Oh, but they are still far’ and again would go back to their party.  Until they went and said ‘Ah, but they are now close enough.’  And they pushed these great big stones down the hill on the Lozi people and killed them all!” Harrison chuckled.
Even Ginny began to laugh, “Oh, so that’s how it happened! Whenever I heard the story before I thought the two sides were just throwing small rocks at each other.”
“Even me,” Chelsi picked up another ball of nshima. 
Tyler, Ryder and Sami were volunteers hailing from Lunda land and were ignorant to the story, “so what, after that they were just like ‘We’re cousins now?’” Disbelief was strong in Tyler’s voice. 
“When the rest of the invading Lozi people came and saw what happened they ran away. They were saying ‘These Kaondes they are not to be messed with. They are very fierce!’ And so the Lozi people became our cousins instead.”
“And on the hill just over there?” Ginny pointed in the general direction of Kasempa.
“On the hill just over there,” and Harrison dipped his hand back in the nshima pot for another lump.

Categories: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

041: Two steps back

From the time Chelsi saw her first horror film as a child she had practiced mentally preparing herself for finding a lifeless body behind every door.  After all, she reasoned, crisis situations are no time be acting emotionally; especially if there’s an ax murder in the house. Over the last 25 years she had opened the door many limp, lifeless bodies.  Mostly fish, a few reptiles, lots of plants.  But coming home from Mufumbwe last Tuesday, two days later than anticipated, she skipped the mental.  Her house was too small for murder to hide and everything seemed accounted for as she pushed the door open.  Except the excited mews from Poppy, who usually sat just behind the door anxiously waiting for her to arrive. 
She had dropped her stuff just beyond to door and sat her basket full of doves on the table.  She had checked the bushes around the house he like to sit in. Nothing.  Maybe he’s napping in the trees somewhere, she thought returning inside the house.  Daisy wiggled and sniffed excitedly at the doves. 
“Leave’em alone Daisy,” Chelsi had said turning her gaze towards the table. “God damn it,” she sighed. Just beyond the table a lump of glossy black fur was sprawled on the floor. “Go outside Daisy,” she pushed the dog outside, shut the door and opened the curtains to let in the light. 
He still looked full of life, that if Chelsi had just called his name gently he would spring back up.  “This couldn’t have happened more than an hour ago.” Not only were his expelled feces still fresh, but the puddle of urine was still wet and his eyes were still plump and dilated.  There’s not even any ants on them yet, the true test of freshness of anything. 
Using a grocery bag, she picked him up and brought him to her host father.  The top contenders for his demise was poisoning, maybe he ate a rat that had been poisoned, snake bite and ju ju. And that’s where Chelsi stopped the conversation. She knew too many volunteers that had to be removed from their villages after accusation of black magic were made; whether against them or by them.  She had been sad about Poppy, but like so many situations in Zambia the truth wasn’t important, probably didn’t even exist.
But all that was yesterday, she put the break in her mind to help her deal with today’s visits from the reaper.  She was sitting in her folding chair stripping the feathers from her most prized dove.  She was one of four that Chelsi had carried from Mufumbwe. We haven’t even been home for a day… Just after feeding them that morning Chelsi had returned to the house to feed Daisy. Through the open window in the back of the house she sudden heard the fluttering of wings. Good thing I hung that net under the house, she thought. The birds had their flight feathers removed so they would learn that Kamijiji was their new home, and Chelsi had hung a net under and around the house in the event that one of them fell they wouldn’t end up on the ground where one of the other animals could get them.  She hurried herself outside to help the dove back up to the house, but quickly realized her had made a terrible mistake. 
Her host father’s dog Trigger sat just under the bloody net, where the dying dove was cradled.  “You fucking bastard,” she cursed at the dog and looked franticly around for something to chuck at him.  Before she could find something the sound of her voice sent him skittering away.  Daisy and Lion were in tow behind her.  She had never cared for that dog, but had never had a more compelling reason to dislike him.
She reached the dove house in time to hear the speckled white dove make one last coo.  After removing around her porch.  Chelsi tied the net back up, tighter this time and look up at the little girl’s lonely mate.  The odd number would torture her.  She had to call every single person she knew, dragged herself all over Sowlezi and even stopped random people on the street, trying to find people that would be willing to sell her doves and she had still only come away with four. Now it was three.  She needed eight to have an established colony.  Walking back towards her house she wildly threw the rock at Trigger, who took off towards the road with a yelp. 
So now, when she had planned on spending the morning weeding her garden, was feathering the little dove.   Chelsi had ask her host father yesterday to take Poppy to the farm and bury him there because she didn’t know what he died of she didn’t want Daisy digging him up and eating him.  The dove would most certainly be dug up and eaten by one of the dogs, and unjust reward and if she handed off to her host father one of the kids would just eat it, setting the precedent that they would get any dead doves.  She definitely didn’t want to go down that road. 
She had killed and eaten more things than she could remember, but the weight that this one had been so unintentionally it hurt for the first time.  All wanted was the body to be bare so she could at least pretend the circumstance of this meal were different.  When she was done she dropped the tiny bit of poultry into a brine and went out to start on her garden.
Her goal was to finish weeding just one bed of her eight beds.  All the plants had really taken off in the week she was away, including the weeds.  Chelsi was surprised by how long the weeding took too; after two hours she had only finished half a bed.  She stood up to stretch out her knees and back.  Lion and Daisy stood watching her just beyond the garden fence, watching her.  Man, I just built this and the termites are already destroying it, she thought when she notices a few of the fence poles slumped toward the ground. That’ll have to be really close to the top of the list getting fixed. Just beyond the fence though, through the passion fruit vine she saw a mother hen with her seven chick. Not really chicks any more, the plants weren’t the only thing that grew while was gone.
Her smile turned quickly to a frown, “Lion, No!” Chelsi’s yelled but not fast enough.  She rushed through the gate.  Little chicken feet protruded from Lion’s mouth. Lion took a quick leap away.  The commotion caught the attention of Chelsi’s host sister, Juliet. Lion was her husband’s dog.  She hurried over in just enough time to see the wind blow away the last few feathers; Lion’s fate was sealed.  Juliet cursed at the dog in kiikaonde and dragged her away by the rope tied around her neck.  From across the yard Chelsi heard an exchange of thwacks and yelps between Juliet and Lion. It was quiet again in a few minutes and with nothing left for her to do so Chelsi went back to weeding her garden.   
Chelsi retired into her house early that evening.  Before starting dinner she took some cuddle time with her darling Daisy.  She reclined into her chair and scooped her puppy up on to her lap.  Shortly after Chelsi heard Maurice, her host brother-in-law, return from wherever he goes during the day.  The conversation between Juliet and her husband was short, and though Chelsi didn’t catch all the words she understood the intention.  Daisy say quietly, Chelsi whispered sweetly into her ear.  She heard Lion, at the end of her chain, being dragged in to the bush just behind her house. 
THUMP!
YELP!
THUMP!
Yelp.
THUMP…

Categories: Horror, Law, Justice and Order, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

036: Ginny the Cobra Killer

Chelsi had stopped by the house of her friend and fellow volunteer Ginny on her way to town for the month of January.  Ginny, a LIFE volunteer focused on spreading agroforestry practices and improved gardening techniques, had asked her to visit and give a small lesson to newly established fish farmers in her village. Chelsi enthusiastically accepted the request, relishing the opportunity to talk about fish and experience the villages of other volunteers.
The two women started the morning sitting and chatting under the small veranda of Ginny’s house. “But how great would it be to look out and see impala, like right there!” Ginny waved her arm, gesturing to grass lawn just beyond her porch trees to the side of her house.
“Yeah,” Chelsi couldn’t lie.  The lack of mammalian fauna was putting a crimp in her experience of living in Africa. “But I still see some pretty cool things sometimes. Mostly reptiles and amphibians, like there’s this little frog, maybe the size of a half dollar, and it has a bright red body with blue legs and yellow-ringed green spots all over its back.  I see it in my garden sometimes, but once while I was trimming it I saw it perched in the thatch of my roof.” She paused to think, “Or have you seen the really round brown one?  I dug it up in my garden one time. I thought it was some kind of nut, even when it started secreting a milky substance. So I picked it up with my hoe and that’s when I noticed it had a face!”
“You know too, there are hornbills around here.  I can hear them calling just before dawn.  If you look in the bird books they tell you that you can only find them in national parks now; that they’re rare.  But they’re not, they’re out there.”
“What! Do you think there’s any by me?!” What a wildlife revelation it would be if there was! Chelsi thought to herself.  It would be a real good reason to get out of bed before 10. “Where do they live around here?”
“There’s a kind of grass area just over there.”
“I have a kind of wetland, grassy area just across from my house, do you think there are any there?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do they sound like? Or you know what, you should just come spend the night at my house, and in the morning you can listen for them calling, then we can go looking for them!”
“Yeah, alright,” Ginny nodded a bit aloof.  She was staring out over her grass lawn.  Chelsi wondered if she was distracted by the imaginary impala.
“Hey, speaking of backyard safaris, look at that.” Chelsi had barely detected the movement at the edges of her vision.  Under a broad leafy plant, no more than two yard in front of them, a small snake slithered.
“What?”
“Under the plant there.  It’s a little snake.”
“Where?” Ginny bobbed her head, trying to bring it into view.
“Just there,” Chelsi point. “In the small space between the two plants on the end there. There, it’s looking at us now!”
“Oh, okay I see it now. And that’s the other thing. The people here, they are always killing the snakes.”
“And the chameleons.” Zambians believe that chameleons are bad luck, deadly. More than once a member of Chelsi’s community had come to her saying that Daisy hadn’t long to live because they saw her pull one of the reptiles from the bush and eat it.  “Whenever I see chameleons, or even snakes in the road I always stop and encourage them across more quickly, knowing that the next person to come long will stone them to death.”
“But the snakes I sort of understand. There are a lot of really deadly snakes here.” They watched the little critter turn away from them and start to smell-taste its surroundings. 
“But so many of them are just so small, and when I see them they’re generally trying to get away.”
“You know, it funny that you spotted that snake under there, because I stick my hand under there all the time, to clean out the weeds and stuff, you know.”
“See! This is probably one of the friendly ones then.” Chelsi proclaimed. “This probably isn’t the first time it’s hid out under there.”
“Look, it moving.” They watched as the little snake slipped out from under its cover, heading across the front door path toward Ginny’s side lawn.  “Should we follow it? Get a closer look?”
“Yes,” but her words were caught in her wind as she sprung from her chair.
The little snake couldn’t have been  much more than a foot long.  Its scales were black and shiny.  Chelsi and Ginny closed in on it; no more than a yard away now, Chelsi’s head closer as she bent to get a better look.  The little snake turned its graceful head back towards them, looking intently and Chelsi noticed, as it reared up, that its under belly, just below its head, was brushed with yellow creating a reverse pattern of black spots; just like a Clown Trigger fish, Chelsi thought, as the pattern began to rapidly expand.
“Nope, that’s a cobra.” Ginny’s voice was stressed with acute urgency. “We have to kill that one.”
Chelsi straighten up in just enough time to see Ginny disappear into her house. Having relieved themselves of their threatening posture, the cobra too collapsed its hood and began on its way again.
“Are you sure there aren’t any non-poisonous cobras?” Chelsi called looking back at the snake; taking what would be its final breaths of life.  “Or other snakes with hoods.”
“No…” Ginny re-emerged, weapon in hand.
The cobra stopped again when it saw that its audience had double again. Ginny raised the blade of her hoe, high above her head and brought it down on the snake with a thwack.
Having missed the snake recoiled, reared up, hood spread. But Ginny was quick in dislodging her hoe from the soil, bringing it up half as high this time, she split the snake in two on the second swing.
For a few moments she continued dividing the snake in to pieces before making an attempt to mix it in to the soil, burying the head. As she registered the threat to their lives dissipating, Ginny’s mixing of the soil slowed and she took several deep breaths. “Oh my god, that was scary.”
Chelsi beamed at her, “Look at you, Ginny, cobra killer! I wish I had had my camera. We could have gotten that on film.”
“Yeah, right, that would have been cool,” she laughed starting to relax.
“But you better believe I’m writing about this to the folks at home. And from now on you’re being introduced as Ginny the cobra killer.” Chelsi paused, “I also see now why Peace Corps encourages us to keep the area around our houses cleared of grass and debris.” She thought about the jungle that was her yard. “I guess I know what I’m doing when I get back to my village.”

Categories: Action, Nature, Thriller | 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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