Posts Tagged With: backyard safari

096: the Flood

Daisy whimpered, tap dancing her toes on the porch, wagging her tail excitedly.  “Awww, did you miss me baby girl? I missed you, ohh yeah, I miss you baby girl!” The more excited Chelsi made her voice the more excited her puppy became.  “Come on, let’s go inside, come on, let’s go!” Chelsi laid her bags down on the concrete bench of the porch.  Over at the door, she twisted the combination lock, right, right, left, right, and it clicked open. Chelsi loosened the bolt on her door and pushed it open.

“You have got to be kidding me,” the words escaped her mouth as she looked around the room.

Water pooled, puddled and flowed between the various angles and dips of her floor.  Looking to her left she found that her table had been turned in to a bird bath.  The press board top, saturated, bowed down towards the floor, collected water in to a little pool, all I need to do is let the birds in.

Needing to let her eyes refocus, Chelsi looking towards the back wall.  The pots and pans rack had fallen again, no doubt the ka pushi knocked it down again, trying to jump up onto the back wall.  Her eyes followed along the back wall, till it stopped at a crack in the mortar.  That new though. Chelsi picked her way through the puddles to get a closer look. The new crack started a brick layer from the top of the wall and followed the mortar down, like a stairway to the land of broken hopes and dreams. It let the traveler off in a muddy pond that covered the toes of Chelsi’s shoes. “And now my socks are wet.” She said turning around to look at Daisy, who only wadded in to water to follow fish, and otherwise avoided it at all costs.

Chelsi sighed, walking back to the doorway.  She removed her shoes and peeled off her socks, hanging them over the cross beam of her porch to dry. With her broom in hand, she followed the back to the deepest part, and with nothing else to do, began sweeping it out.  Chelsi thought back to a story Rolla, a volunteer of the 2014 – 2016 class, had told.  After breaking her collar bone and spending six weeks in South Africa, she said she home to ‘a mosquito breeding ground of epic proportion.  Water as far as the eye could see.’ Her next step was to close the door and tell her host family that she would be living in their house until they cleaned it up… Chelsi didn’t have that flare for dramatics, and was nauseated by even the idea of staying in her host family’s house. It was better built, but dark and musty, with no spare space.  And after six weeks, sure, I getting it. A little bit of water added every day from the rain.  But I’ve only been gone for ten days maybe. She continued to push the water towards the door.

There had been a heavy rainstorm a few day previous, in town. And it wasn’t unlikely that it her village, with rain that heavy it could have slid under the door, and there is a leak over the table, but the counter top? There’s never been a problem there. She swept and swept the water towards the door, and like the waves she created with her broom, anger, disappointment and sadness swelled, then subsided, swelled and subsided inside her.

When the floor was clear, though far from dry, Chelsi stopped to stretch out her back and survey the damage to the table and counter top.

Chelsi brushed the water from the top of the table.  The finish, once again fully hydrated had become yellow and sticky.  The forward left leg was warp, and little bits of black colored mold were creeping out of the joint.  Chelsi wiped it away with her finger.  “The only thing left to do, is to hope it dries okay,” she said to Daisy, who was now taking a few uneasy steps into the house.

Chelsi was most puzzled by the story of the counter top, which she now scrutinized.  The wood itself was a lot sturdier than the table, but everything on top was saturated.  She began by moving everything to wipe it down.  As she worked her eyes drifted back to the wall, to the crack.  She followed it up this time to the corner where the roof met the wall.  “Ugh…” escaped from her subconsciously, and the mystery was solved.  She dropped the rag she was using to clean and walked out the door. Slipping into her flip flops she rounded the house to view the suspect corner from the outside.  And there it is….

What she was confronted with was a collapsed support beam.  The beam the held up the frame of her roof had fallen to the wayside, pulling the frame apart with it.  A large crack now ran up the seam of her roof to the top.  She hadn’t noticed it inside because it was covered by plastic.  Now that same plastic acted like funnel, dumping any water that fell on the south side of the roof right into her house.

Chelsi dragged herself back inside, unsure what to do.  If it had just been a rip in the plastic she could have covered it with tape.  A crack in the wall? Fill it with mud. A collapsed roof? A brand new roof? Not nine months old? She picked up her phone and dialed the number of her volunteer leader, Laura.  She listened to the phone ring, ring, ring….

“Hello?” the voice of her friend sounded through the speaker.

“Hey,” Chelsi responded. “I think I have a problem.”

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

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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079: Kapishya

​As Chelsi pulled her shirt off over her head a gentle drizzle began to fall from the grey cloud cover.  Carefully, she draped her shirt over the back of the bench next to her skirt. Though the air was warm, goose bumps began to rise over her skin as her exposure to the rain rapidly cooled its surface. She was surrounded by lush green trees, her eyes drawn to the first white, pink, red and purple flower buds of rainy season.

Stretched out in front of her was a large, clear, shallow spring. Shimmying out of her shoes Chelsi stepped closer to it.  Warm steam rose off the water, creating a thin mist in the air.  She stepped into the water.  Smooth stones messaged the soles of her feet as she waded farther into the spring.  

“So, what do you think?” Chelsi’s friend Laura asked as she approached.  

Chelsi laughed, “I think it was worth every bit of stress that was the result of yesterday’s transporting.” Having waded to the center of the pool, she eased the length of her body into the warm water.  “Even with the rain, I’m glad we came.”

“I think the rain makes it better.  Think, if it was a bright, sunny day the water wouldn’t feel so inviting.”

“True.” Chelsi used her arms to glide around the pool while floating on her back. “I’m glad we’ve travelling in ‘off season’ too.  Could you image what this would be like if that campsite was full? And the rooms and chalets?!”

When they had arrived the previous evening the manager of the lodge invited them to pitch their tents anywhere and opened his arms over an expansive campsite with nearly two dozen fire pits, wood stoves and chinzanza no more than 15 feet away from each other in any given space.  “Yeah, we got lucky that there’s only those two other couples here. Or lucky in the sense that this turned out to be the best time to travel. And this really is a beautiful lodge.”

“Easily one of the nicest places I’ve been in Zambia,” Chelsi admitted. “I am, but also not, surprised that more volunteers don’t come here.”

“Mostly the ones I know that come are a part of couples. They probably find it worth it, but most volunteers don’t want to have to pay for that transfer from the tarmac.”

“It’s nice that they offer it though, and split between you, me, Ben and Felicia, it wasn’t that expensive.  Not to mention, that drive was beautiful as well!”

At the sound of their names, their two remaining friends appeared through the trees.  “Come on in you two!” Laura called to them.  From the edge of the water Chelsi and Laura splashed their friends with the warm spring water. 

“We’re coming, we’re coming!” Felicia giggled.  With that a streak of lighting split the sky and the rain fell harder.  But with laughing with her friends in the warmth of the pool Chelsi smiled to herself, I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried.

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078: Kasanka

​The alarm rang at 3:15. It was dark and crowded inside Chelsi’s tent, but she unzipped her sleeping bag and slithered out of her sheets.  Beside her Laura groaned.  The two women dressed themselves the best they could in the cramps quarters before emerging from the tent.  The air outside was cool, and for a moment Chelsi regretted not bringing a sweater with her.  It won’t last though, she thought to herself.  As soon as the sun comes up we’ll be sweating.  She wrapped her scarf around her and took a seat on the campfire bench to wait for the truck.  

“You don’t think it forgot about us?” Chelsi asked, leaning against her friend. 

Laura shrugged. 

“It’s nearly a quarter to 4 and the sun will be coming up soon,” but again, Chelsi’s eyes were starting to drift close. She was still tired after so many days of travel.  She left her house a full three days ago, and only late the previous afternoon did she arrive at her first vacation destination; Kasanka National Park.  But it’ll all have been worth it, her foggy mind floated through her consciousness.  

“Here it comes,” Laura said, standing up, jostling Chelsi’s position.  Bright yellow head light illuminated their campground.  The truck rattled up the driveway.  

“Are we all ready to go?” their guide quietly called from his perch on the benches mounted to the truck bed.  Chelsi, Laura, and four other volunteers that were accompanying them gathered themselves up and headed towards the vehicle.
It probably wasn’t more than a few kilometers, but with the icy, morning wind biting at her face, it felt like a journey. To distract herself, Chelsi looked up at the stars.  She had had high hopes that the stars at in the park would shine brightest, but it wasn’t proving to be the case. The light of the moon was growing though, it would be full by the end of her trip.  

The truck came to a stop in a tall grass field on the edge of a dense forest.  Their guide hopped out and motioned for them to follow.  There was no clear path that Chelsi could see but her and her companions followed none the less.  Her fellows had kept some of their blankets with them and were now using them to shield themselves the dew covered grass as they made their way into the forest.  Chelsi had to hold up the hem of her skirt to keep it from getting caught on loose shrubs and branches.  This is not quite what I had in mind, Chelsi through as she picked her way with the group through the grass, but who am I to complain about a little extra adventure.  Their walk went on, about a half a kilometer more into the forest and ended at a ladder that climbed up into the tree canopy.  

One by one, each member of their group climbed up, up, up.  When it came to be Chelsi’s turn she climbed slowed, careful not to miss any of the rungs on the ladder.  The ladder climbed up through a hole in a floor perched amongst the tops of the trees and when Chelsi poked her head up through the hole she was greet with some of the first rays of morning light.  

“Oh wow!” she cried pulling the rest of her body.  Straw colored fruit bats, nearly the size of a house cat, blanketed the sky.  They were flying into the forest, after a night a forging fruits, in search of a place to roost for the day.  On their way some flew close enough overhead she could have reached out and touch them; close enough that she could see the texture of their fur and features of their faces.  Others seemed to look on at their group with the same curious fascination they Chelsi and her friends looked at them.  

As the light from the sun grew stronger the number of bats overhead became few.  Late morning stragglers.   The trees below their stand though, now seemed to flutter with wing like leaves; everyone in their place trying to get comfortable for bed.  With that thought, Chelsi yawn, I could use a comfortable bed. She smiled and gazed on at the sunrise, but not too soon

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073: Pokemon Go

“So are you going to come with us?” Chelsi’s friend Mike asked about this evenings activities. Chelsi was seated at the long table in the sitting room of the Provincial house.

“I really need to tally up the receipts for the grant and prepare tomorrows shopping lists for camp.”  Chelsi was in town for a few days, for the second time that month preparing for the youth environmental education camp, Camp TREE, that she would be hosting at her house in less than two weeks.

“Yeah, but you’ve worked hard today; you need to take a break,” Mike added patting her shoulder.  “I’ll help you with your receipts if you just wait till tomorrow.”

Chelsi sighed, “Where are you going again?”

“Neal and I are going to the airport.”

“Remind me why again…”

“BECAUSE it’s the only pokestop in Solwezi!” Mike was walking into the kitchen. “And I’m out of pokeballs! And I really want to hatch this egg.  I only have to walk like, four more kilometers.  So we’re going to walk to the airport from Kyawama.” He returned with a knife.

“Then we’re coming back?”

“Yeah, or whatever,” he said placing the knife on the table and bending down to pick up a small box.  “There’s that new restaurant, pub thing that just opened by New Shoprite.  Remember we saw that woman walk out today with a pizza box.  Maybe they have pizza there. We can go for dinner after the airport.” The box was plopped on the table with a clink.

Chelsi closed her eyes, rubbed her temples.  She was tired; tired from the dust and the heat of town, and tired from running around all day in it.  She was tired of diligently watching the bricks of cash that was her grant.  Just one stupid mix up and I’m done with. Any money missing that was not was not accounted for by a receipt, she was liable for, to be removed for the volunteer’s readjustment allowance, the waiver of understanding had said.  And she knew that the amount of her grant, though no more than a few thousand dollars, was two to three times as much as she would make in all her service.

Mike cut into the box with the knife, and peeling back the flaps revealed a cases of kijilijili; pint sized glass bottles containing cheap liquor of various sorts.  This particular box was full of Ginger Sky, a local specialty, which Chelsi had recently learned was available only in the northwestern part of the country.  The giddiness on Mike’s face was obvious, “can you believe, this whole box was only 80 kwacha?”

Chelsi reached in removing a bottle and studied the label.  “It’s really that good?” she wondered aloud.

“It’s really not bad the way it is, but we’re going to take a few bottles with us to the airport, and there’s a bar there we can get cold cokes from.”  Mike removed a few more bottles and fit them in to the pockets of his shorts.

“Are we going yet?” Neal asked, coming in to the room from the back porch.  “Are you coming Chelsi?” He wasn’t looking at her, but in the box of Ginger Sky.  “Do you have enough? Should we also bring the Castle in the fridge for the walk over there?”

“Yeah man, maybe three for each of us.  And three for Chelsi, she’s coming too.”

Neal started for the front porch, “Chelsi, what did I tell you? you need to be downloading Pokemon Go right now!, so you can play with us.

The absurdity of her friends made Chelsi smile, “Well, there’s no way there’s enough memory on my phone, but grab those Castle for me. I’ll come with.”

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066: Funeral Pyre

Chelsi looked down at the garden bed in front of her feet.  Just yesterday it had been covered in promising little radishes; now all it was filled with was dashed hopes and dreams.  The bed coverings were strewn about, dirt was piled up at the bed edges and claw marks were clear on soft beds center. “Gorged out the by a gardens worst enemy.”

“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” the black bared rooster crowed from Chelsi’s front porch.

“If you could get my hands on you…!” she exclaimed in an empty threat.  But still, the fantasy of the bird, breast up on a roasting pan always calmed her down. Dues owed she thought.

It was the feeling of be burgled. To come home after a long day’s work and find that all your prized possessions had been stolen and the window smashed; you’re angry for a moment and then overwhelmingly sad.  Only Chelsi knew who to be angry with, her host family, the Kalulu’s. It was their chickens and goats that were always destroying her garden. “And then! When and if things do grow they’ll have the audacity to come over and tell me to give them some,” steam poured out her ears. ‘No’ she practiced over and over in her head, ‘you’re chickens already ate your portion. Go eat them!

The whole purpose was it improve child and family nutrition. The whole purpose of my garden is to improve my nutrition. Some of the mothers in Kamijiji had asked for nutrition traing, they know their first graders look like toddlers and the toddlers look like infants. Others in the village just didn’t know or seemed to care. Chelsi hating seeing some of her favorite children eating nothing but packaged cookies and nshima, the local staple of maize mush.

Ahh, but the chickens aren’t for eating’ she was told.

Then why don’t you come to the gardening workshop. We can have some small gardens, they’ll be easy to take care of all year round, improve nutrition that way.

Ah, but there are no vegetable seeds.

If you dig a garden I will give you seeds to start.

Ah, but the chickens, they will just dig up the garden.

Build a fence.

Ah, but it’s a lot of work.

So lock up the chickens in a chicken house and tie up the goats.

Ah…

‘Fine then let your children starve.

But look, they are fat!’

They’re not fat! They are swollen with fluid because their kidneys are shutting down.

Chelsi sighed. Her fence did help. The number of chickens rolling through was greatly reduced, but only one was needed to undue weeks of watering and care. Fuck it, when I go to town next I’m getting fifty meters of chicken wire. She no longer cared that it would cost her an entire pay check. She then had a thought about how well scare crow actually worked.  She took a few deep breaths, started to feel better.  “Because do you really want to be that one?” She asked herself. “The volunteer who totally loses it and acts out rashly?” She had been voted most likely to, for swear-in superlatives last year.  “Most likely to: burn a goat in a funeral pyre.” She had been downgraded, from ‘Most likely to:’ make their house sustainable, after a conversation with PC Zambia’s then CFO, from which the designation was born.

The CFO Jason, Chelsi and three other soon to be volunteers sat in a small office, more than a year ago now, discussing proper volunteer conduct. ‘Don’t take drugs, don’t steal, take only certified taxi’s unless you have no other options. Try not to travel alone, don’t burn down your house, don’t burn down anyone else’s house. Just try not to do anything that would ostracize you from your communities, like killing your neighbor’s goat and burning it in a funeral pyre.

The comment had been presented to off handedly; don’t kill your neighbor’s goat and burn it in a funeral pyre. Chelsi had to ask.

We had a volunteer, who had a garden,’ Jason had stated calmly, ‘not unlike a lot of volunteers. But there was this goat, this one goat, which I guess was always breaking down the volunteers fence and destroying their garden.  So apparently what had happened, is they came home one day, to find their garden again, completely destroyed and the goat just standing there. And the volunteer lost it, killed the goat and built a giant pyre and burn the body.

Chelsi now knew what that murderous passion must have felt like for that volunteer, but Jason had never described how that volunteer had committed that act.  In Chelsi’s imagination it was a knife, they just stabbed it over and over, until it was dead.

So we had to send that volunteer home, because there was no way to reconcile with the community.

And the proper way to handle the situation, would have been….?

You make arrangements with the owner of the offending goat, to purchase the animal. Then, you may kill the animal if you wish, and if there is too much meat for you alone, you share it with the community. You don’t burn it front of them.

That’s how the story played in Chelsi’s head every morning, when she went out to water her garden, to mentally prepare herself.  She would take Jason’s advice if she thought it would make a difference.  But if she bought all of her family’s chickens, they would just go out and buy more chickens.  And all chickens are offenders. So instead she figured she would keep buying identical copies of her family’s chickens the market, and roasting them, while secretly hoping all the chicken at home would catch New Castle Disease and die.

Categories: Drama, Food & Recipes, Gardening, Health & Fitness, Horror, Law, Justice and Order | 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!

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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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057: Fish Harvest

Neal looked over at Chelsi from across the watery hole. Mud covered him up to his waist, pond slime was splattered across his face and the skin on his back was flush pink from the sun.

“I am really glad I’m not a RAP volunteer… I don’t like getting dirty.”

Chelsi laughed, “You know you’re a Peace Corps volunteer, in Zambia, right? Getting dirty is inevitable. Grab that corner of net, would you? Pass it on Mr. Kahokala,” she gestured to the mosquito net that they were using in the fish pond.  Mr. Kahokala, the Zambian owner of the fish pond, squished the mud under his boots.  “Hold the net really taut this time, across the surface.  I want this to be our last drag, get the last few big fish in here.” Chelsi past her side corner to her helper, Mr. Kahokala’s son, “mwamvwa?”

“Eee,” he replied.

Chelsi and Neal began to easy in the muddy water.  Their feet sank into the soft silt, “You’ve got the net on the bottom over there?” Chelsi had to turn her head awkwardly to prevent water from filling her mouth.

“Yeah.”  They started walking, slowly in step, all hunched over.  The wetted part of the pond was three meters at most, but the weight of the mud logged net and the soft pond bottom made the work arduous.

“Alright, pull the bottom of the net up, quick, Quick!  Or the fish’ll get out!” The crew of four struggled in the mud to haul up the net on to the bank of the pond.  So much for the cod end, Chelsi thought as the mirky water revealed the mud clogged net.  In her mind’s eye, she pretended they were fish.

“Ah, Ba Neal. Pull your side of the net this way.” Mr. Kahokala’s voice was hushed and strained with exertion.    They were trying to make it away from the soft parts of the pond bottom and up on to the sun hardened, clay, berm. “Okay, I think we can put it down here.”

“Shi, oot,” the word came out as Chelsi slipped into the mud up to her thigh. So close… all she need was one more step.  “Neal, do you mind giving me a hand?” The mud sucked her a little farther down, every time Neal gave her a tug out.

Mr. Kahokala, safely perched on the berm, was already opening the net and beginning to sift through the mud for the fish.  “Next time Mr. Kahokala, it’s gonna be you and Neal in the pond.  Now that you know how it’s done.” She let out a chuckle and conceded to the mud.  I can reach the net from here.

“Sure, sure, sure,” he sifted the jelly like mud through his fingers looking intently for the flash of a silver scale.

“Next time I’m gonna be like Mr. Jere, over there. Measuring, weighing, supervising as he says.”

Hearing his name Mr. Jere, the Department of Fisheries officer, looked over his shoulder from his position, hovered over the scale.  “What’s that?” he began standing up to bring them a bucket for collecting the fish.

“Just telling Mr. Kahokala and Neal here that next time I’m going to be in the supervisory role,” Chelsi started sifting through the mud sorting out the two and three inch long fish for the bucket. “You know, passing the torch.” She tossed a few fish in to the bucket.

“Oh my gosh!” Neal exclaimed. “It’s poking me!” The hand-sized fish flopped back on to the mud.

“Quick, get it,” Mr. Jere point at the fish, careful not to dirty his shiny shoes.

“These fish have dorsal spines!” Chelsi laughed, leaning down to pick it up.  She started by gently smoothing back the dorsal fin, then wrapping her fingers around the body of the fish just behind the operculum. “Ba Jere? Do you have a separate bowl for the bigger ones?” He turned back to get the bowl he had been using for weighing. After placing it gently in the bowl, Jere took it the river to rinse the mud off it.  “Remember when I was here, back in April, Mr. Kahokala? With Ginny and Harrison? And Harrison said he saw otter poop?”

“Yes, yes, I remember.”  The crew continued to sort diligently.

“I think it’s that otter that’s made it off with most of your bigger fish.  Because we’ve found like what? Seven or eight, good sized ones, but there’s lots of babies. So what we can today, while we are reshaping your pond, before restocking you pond, is put in sticks going across the pond, kind of close together.  This way when the otter gets into the water, all the fish will swim to the other side of the pond, but the otter won’t be able to fit through the sticks, so it’ll have to get out and go round. Then when it gets back in the pond the fish will swim back across the fence.  And back and forth, back and forth. How does that sound, are we together?”

“No, that sounds good.” It has to be that otter, Chelsi thought. She wanted it to be more than anything.  Getting fish farmers to commit to a pond, to get it ready to be stock, to follow up with six months of care and management, was a feat.  ‘Raising fish, farming fish is such a departure from the way Zambians have traditionally raised animals,’ Chelsi would explain to her friends and family back in America. ‘Goats, pigs, chickens, sheep, even some cows. They’re just freely roaming around. No one feeds them, gives them water, or takes them out to pasture.  But you can’t do that with fish, because they’re stuck in the pond.’ So then to pull up nothing but tiny fish, it’s not good for moral.

They sorted the last few fish out of the mud, and when it was decided that they were done, Chelsi reassessed her position in the mud.  “So, I heard about this technique for getting out of quicksand, where you kind of twist and roll over it.” She thought aloud.  The rest of the men were rinsing the mud out of the next in the nearby river.  “I mean, what’s more mud on my shirt, right?” She started to lean over on to her side, pushing the weight of her body around. The hole that had swallowed her leg started widen.  She pressed harder towards the firmer, raised part of the pond bottom.  When she saw her knee, she made the real attempt to roll.

“What are you doing?” Neal stood on the berm looking down at her.

“I’m getting unstuck… I thought maybe rolling might work. I would have asked you for help. But you know, I didn’t want to get you dirty.” She laughed over the rumbling suction sound that was the mud giving up her leg.  “There we go!” She finished rolling up the berms, to prevent becoming re-stuck. Neal offered her a hand up.  “Thank you! Mr. Jere?! What does the scale say? How much fish did we get?”

“ Umm,” he looked up from the bucket of fish, “about 5.2 kg. And the bigger fish, on average they’re 800g each.”

“Is that good?” Neal looked at her, then him.

“It’s okay,” Chelsi shrugged. “It’ll be better next time after we out smart that otter. Plus for a first time… It can only go up from here!” her voice twanged with optimism. “I think I’m going to rinse off in the river before we walk back to the house,” she said, staggering towards clear water two meters away.

“Feel free. There are no worries,” and Neal ran after her.

Categories: DIY, Food & Recipes, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

054: kovwa ka kabwa

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Ka Kabwa, Ka Daisy

First and foremost, I have to wash the dog, Chelsi thought, looking down at the dusty animal sprawled at her feet.  A few bloated ticks were visible through her hair, meaning that there were at least a dozen more hiding. “Because you’re going to want to sleep on the bed now that I’m home, and I can’t let you in this condition.” Daisy made a few more wags of her tail and sighed.

They were out in the front yard and Chelsi could hear some rustling in the grass. “Mwabuuka,” came a soft high pitch voice.  She looked around, already knowing whom it was.

“Twabuuka,” she replied. “Mwabuuka?”

“Nabuuka! Mwabuuka!?” the same voice came again and giggled.

“Ba Gillie, mwaji pi?” There was more giggling and a hard rustle in the grass.  A little girl in a ragged green dress came tumbling out, all laughs.

“Mwabuuka!? She smiled with little teeth and glittering eyes under a head of patchy hair.

“Twabuuka,” Gillie came running toward Chelsi until Daisy stood up to greet her too.

“Ah! Obewa!” She screamed.  Daisy half-heartedly turned still wagging her tail.  Daisy never understood why everyone didn’t want to be her friend.  Seeing the Chelsi had accepted Gillie on to her compound four other children started to creep up her path.

She saw them, and looked directly at them she called “mwabuuka!?” Gillie giggled again, as did the other children as they responded. “Nafainwa kovwa ka Daisy. Mwakeba kukwasha?”  Gillie nodded her head. Chelsi gathered up her basin, chitenge towel, flea & tick shampoo, harness and cup. She closed the curtains, locked the door and started up her path with Gillie clutching her leg. Daisy danced around them excited to go for a walk.  “Mwaiyia?” she asked the other children.  “Twakovwa ka Daisy.” They didn’t respond but followed her dutifully back toward the road and they started off towards the well.

They picked up more children as they went, the train growing ever longer.  Daisy was the engine out in front.  Chelsi the conductor and children as cars, tapering back according to their size till little baby Kennedy, who was trotting along as the caboose.

The official community water source is a shallow dug well, about 50 meters in front of the community school and a five minute walk from Chelsi’s house.  Over the hole was a waist high cement cylinder, centered on a dais. Two hand carved beams supported an iron crank for hulling up the humble yellow jerry can once it was full with water.  The tether for the jerry can to the crank was always changing, as they wore out and broke.  Now it was a rope, when she arrive last year it was chain. One day she arrive to find it was engozhi; the inner bark of a tree found in the forest, the village’s traditional rope. And still some days she arrive to find no tether at all and so went without water.

The children squabbled over who would get to hold which washing item while Chelsi cranked the well.  Daisy went wandering in to the tall grass unaware of her impending bath.

“Ka Daisy, Kaji pi?” Chelsi asked the children after filling the green basin.

“Atwe,” one of the older girls point the neighboring compound. Now Chelsi could see her dog’s ears pointing up in the grass.

“Daisy, Daisy,” Gillies older brother tried to call her over.  Of all the children, Patricki was the only one who was truly unafraid of the dog.  He was no more than three feet and nothing but skin and bones, but Chelsi often caught him trying to pick up Daisy and carry her away with a big smile on his face.

But, by now Daisy knew what she was in for, and wouldn’t be coming on her own.  Chelsi walked over and scooped her up.  Setting her down by the bucket most of the children took a big step back. One let out a small screech. Daisy was then buckled up in to her harness, so she couldn’t make a dash for it and liberally doused with water.

The flea & tick shampoo was bright pink with a picture of a dog and a cat on the front.  Yet still, more than once, other Zambian women had asked to use it on their own hair.  ‘No,’ she would have to tell them repeatedly ‘It will make you ill, it is only for animals. See?’  In contrast the children stood silently as squeezed out the soap on to the rump of her dog.

“Mwakwasha?” she asked, rubbing it in to a lather.

“Eee mwane,” some of the girls responded.

“Alright then, iyai. Iyai.” She motioned them so come closer. “Iya, iya, iya.” The brave ones came closer with a giggle.  “Okay now,” Chelsi took the hand of one of the girls and rubbed it in to the lather on Daisy’s rump.  When Chelsi let go she pulled her soapy hand away with a giggle. Still a few of the children reached out on their own. First with a finger, then their whole hand.  “Alright, there you go!” they looked up with wide smiles and big eyes.  Chelsi squeezed out more soap.  The younger, shyer children soon drifted over and when Chelsi next looked up from washing Daisy’s front legs even Gillie was lathering up Daisy’s tail.

Alright! What a big step for them! Never in her entire service did she think most of the children would willing touch her dog.

“Kaji mweshika.” One of the girls pointed to Daisy’s shivering back leg.  The crowd of children was blocking out the sun, and the breeze wasn’t helping.

“Okay, everyone take a step back,” she used her arm to motion them away.  With a few splashed of water she was rinse clean.  “Mwacinda chitenge?” Chelsi point at the chitenge towel that the children had discarded in the furry of scrubbing.  It was eventually passed over. She rubbed it over Daisy as she tried to shake herself dry.  Her harness was unclipped and once she was deemed free all of the children took two big steps back or clung to Chelsi’s legs.  Child-sized steps I guess it’ll be then.

Daisy meanwhile took off to roll in the dirt.

Categories: Adventure, Drama, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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