Posts Tagged With: darling Daisy

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

102: Last Day

Chelsi inspected the finish on her table.  She reached underneath and pushed up on the particle board surface.  It dried a little warped after the flooding, but it could have been a lot worse, Chelsi thought to herself.  Not that it matters now.  It was her last day calling it her table, her chair her house.  She looked up and out the door from her seat at the table.

It was the same scene she had looked up to see a thousand times before.  A few goats were scattered on the porch, the leaves on trees growing up the ant hill were beginning to yellow with the changing season.  The path out to the road had been cleared and widened, the chinzanza to the left had totally collapsed.  She stood up and padded outside, ducking deep to avoid the roofing beam.  I certainly won’t miss whacking my head on that.  The goats caught notice of her presence but didn’t move, they chewed their cud, watching.  Chelsi held her head down until she cleared the roof of the porch.

The sun was starting to set.  Three of the doves swooped in overhead, touching down gracefully on porches of the bird house.  Mary Lou cooed from here perch in the pophole.  It was quiet Chelsi noticed.  It was rarely quiet.  Usually babies cried, goats bleated, sound systems blared, roosters crowed, but not this evening.  She turned around to the back of the house.  Daringly she shook one of the poles propping up the rear roofing beam.  What if? She thought, what if on this one last night?  The pole reverberated when she let it go, but it held strong.

She walked past the lemon tree, and the cement pad that had once been a batha; once upon a time. She looked admiringly at the flowering purple tree she had planted last more than a year and a half ago now.  It was taller than her now, having grown more than a foot a month throughout rainy season.  Watching it grow had been satisfying, everyday a little taller, a little stronger.  She had hoped to see it flower, but next time. Maybe next time I’ll get to see it flowering. 

The goats were watching her again.  Chelsi could hear the nearest one smacking its lips.  The chewing paused and the nanny called to her baby.  Chelsi went to sit on the porch bench.  The lip smacking nanny stood to move out of the way, and moved on to find her baby.  The cement was cool on her legs, and a light dusting of lime fell to her shoulders as she leaned up against the house.  Across the compound she saw a little white face poking out from the bushes.  The face closer and a little black body was revealed.

Tulip trotted toward her.  He paused to sniff the porch roofing poles before coming to rub up against her legs.  Chelsi scratched to the top of his head and lifted him on to her lap.  She stroked his fur and he purred, happy and content; the two of them, enjoying the evening air.

Categories: Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

098: the Home Stretch

Wow, Chelsi thought, quickly scrolling through the folder of blog posts on her computer.  97 stories, that’s quite a feat.  How’s is it I got all the way to week 97? She wondered this, even as she stared at the answer.  Every week was accounted for, all the way up to the present.

She looked closely at the story titles from weeks 45 to 55; the stories she wrote about one year ago and halfway through her service.  She thought about how when she was writing story 52, she couldn’t even have conceived the titles for week 70, the week Thomas and Janelle got married.  At the same time though, she would have hoped for a title like week 68’s, when she was finally getting her roof replaced, but at the same time could have never foreseen the follow up’s regarding the story of her roof in weeks 74 and 96.  And now, only six more stories to go… it’s the home stretch.

Chelsi closed the top to her computer and snapped it shut into the hard plastic pelican case.  After replacing the case on the bookshelf beside her bed, she reached under the wooden frame for her duffle bag and backpack.  She figured now was as good a time as any to start packing.  This was in part because she wasn’t sure how long the supports on her roof would hold, and if she had to evacuate, it would be little notice and she wanted to be sure that at least her most valuable things were ready to go. Secondarily, she didn’t have a lot else left to do.  She was done running programs, most of her friends in the village were away at school and she had finished most of the books in her house.

The duffle bag, she had decided, would be the bag she takes back to the States for home leave, the 30 days of special leave she would get starting May 9th to the second week of June, before she would officially start working on her 12 months as an extension volunteer, in Southern Provence’s city of Siavonga.  In it, she began to pile the trinkets, knickknacks and gifts she had picked up on her other vacations; paintings from Malawi, perfume from Zanzibar, colorful stones she had pick up from the bed of the hot springs in Kapishya.  She added a few of the chitenge dresses she had made in the preceding few months.  Most of the rest of this is garbage though, she thought, looking at the remaining clothes hanging in her bedroom.  She hadn’t switched out her skirts and t-shirts as often as she had thought she would when she arrived in country.  She thought about the few t-shirts and skirts the remained pristinely sealed in their bags at the Prov house.  Those she would take to Siavonga; though she was still unsure what the dress code would be at the Yalelo fisheries office there, she figured there was always weekends and holidays for t-shirts.

In the backpack, she put the things worthy of the trip to Siavonga.  Surveying the things in her house, she tried to decide what was she should taking with her and what she could replace on arrival.  The pots and dishes can stay, but the knives were expensive, so I think those will come.  Anything that couldn’t go in the bag right away because she was still using it, was added to a list, so as not forgotten on the final day of departure.

Happily, she knew now that there was a house waiting for her in Siavonga, and a little bit about it.  ‘A small guest house,’ her new manager had described it. ‘There’s electricity, running water, no proper kitchen, but we’ll give you a toaster oven with a cook top and small table to set it on.  I also requested for you a chest of draws.’ Chelsi had scrutinized the few pictures she had been sent, trying to judge just how small, ‘small’ meant.  In one of the pictures, you could see a full size mattress and box spring already in the house.  Using it as a reference, Chelsi decided that ‘small’ was at least four times the size of the mattress, so at least the size of my current house, which is comfortable now.

She knew all this, but still left undecided was the day she would officially depart from Kamijiji. She wanted to be in Siavonga by the 1st of May, acquaint herself with the city a little before she left for home leave. So that she could see the rest of her friends from her intake before they all left on their last day as volunteers, April 27th, Chelsi needed to be in Lusaka by the 26th of April. Her duffle bag finished and zipped shut, and her backpack about half full, she sat on the couch next to where Daisy was napping.  Chelsi stroked the top of her head and her eyes peaked out a little.  The decision when to leave wasn’t so simple because she would probably be left hitchhiking down; the bus wasn’t an option. She kissed the top of Daisy’s head, and she wagged her tail, “don’t worry, when the day does come, you won’t be left behind.  We’ll figure it out.”

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

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.”

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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Categories: Drama, Nature | 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

083: the Pastel Palace

​”Come on baby girl,” Chelsi called to her dog. “It’s alright you can do it, come on.”  Daisy hesitated at the foot and a half drop out the minivans door.  “Come on,” Chelsi clapped her hands in encouragement. 

With an unsteady hop, Daisy stretched out her front legs and touched down on the gravel. “Good girl, see it wasn’t that bad.  Thanks again,” Chelsi said waving to the minivan driver and hooking up Daisy’s leash to her harness.  The minivan pulled away and Chelsi surveyed her surroundings.

She could believe it had been more than a year and half since she had been to Mshinda, as medium size village just north of the town Manyama on the tarmac of the road to Mwinilunga.  It had been her introduction to Northwest Provence.  Leading Daisy away from the tarmac, across the school yard, she tried to recall what that visit had been like; excited, scared, tired. At the time she was still a trainee, with just two months in country, it was days before she would be introduced to her permanent site and only three more weeks before she would be on her own in the village.  

A few children gathered along the path to stare as she led her dog on to the volunteer’s house.  Previously it had been the home of woman named Dick, but a new volunteer had taken over the house, Chelsi’s friend Amanda. As the house came into view it began to stir up memories from her last visit; bottles of Desert Island and London Dry, solo language lessons, grilled cheese and sauce packets, meeting her darling Daisy for the first time.  

The house stood tall and strong.  Well laid bricks were painted with Lunda greetings, the roof thatch was thick and the window covered with screens and glass.  A few steps to the south sat the chinzanza, square with a waist high wall. Inside sat a few chairs, a table and a bag of charcoal.  After setting her backpack down on one of the chairs, Chelsi walked past the chinzanza towards a woven bamboo enclosure, elevated off the ground on what looked like a dish rack.  There were two chicken wire covered opening on either side.  She peeked into the window.  A fat white rabbit sat contently chewing on a cabbage leaf at the center of the enclosure.  Chelsi smiled, when she felt Daisy tugging at her leash she turned around.  

Her two friend, Amanda and Adam were walking up the path towards the house carrying a shopping bag.  “Hey friends!” she said, alerting them to her presence. 

“Hey Chelsi, glad to see you made it okay.” Adam walked up closer to greet her and gave Daisy a strong rub of her side.  “Hi Daisy, how are you?”

Daisy, looked up at Adam and licked her nose. 

“Hiii,” Amanda replied with a big smile. 

“Hii eee,” Chelsi laughed.  The three friends chattered briefly about their transport as they walked towards the front door of the house.  The key clicked in the lock and the bolt slid back.  

It had been a very nice house under ownership of Dick, but Chelsi was unprepared for the beauty that its new owner added. 

Tidy shelves of teas and spices lined the walls of the front room.  A table and chair Chelsi recognized were pushed up next to the window, but now a decorated in cute tea cups and glasses.  When Chelsi noticed that her two friends had removed their shoes she followed suit and stepped further into the house.  Daisy wiped her paws on the mat and followed, closely behind and into the house.  Through the doorway into the main room Chelsi saw Amanda’s cat, Kitty, nursing her three tiny kittens on a cat bed tucked in to the corner of the wrap around couch.  Soft colored fabrics covered the walls and a spread to match was laid over the bed.  Above the bed was a colored glass window made of the bottoms of wine bottles and neatly organizing pens, pencils and other stationary supplies.  Across from the foot of the bed sat a book shelf covered in colored candles.  As Chelsi ventured further into the room she noticed the soft rugs beneath her feet.  She fell back onto the couch.  “This is amazing,” the words spilled out of Chelsi’s mouth as think and silky as cream.  

Amanda’s face pulled back into a smile, “I know.”

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075: Crowning Achievement

“Hey, Warden Burger,” Neal’s voice called across the school yard.

Chelsi’s ears twitched at the designation.  It didn’t feel in poor taste given her general mood and the state of things, but is just sounds so unbecoming beside the fact that I’m running an environmental education camp for children.  “What?” she yelled back, feeling that mood of her flaring up.

“Good morning,” he replied cheekily.  She closed the distance between them, approaching the porch of the school block.  “Do we get two eggs today?” Neal asked, as Oliver Twist might have, but with all the sass of one in false hardship.

Minding the reality of their situation, her temper cooled and she played of his jest, “I have asked the cook to prepare a double ration of porridge for all, and two eggs today.”  Neal help dismount the large pot of oatmeal from her head and placed it on the stoop.  “I think Lauren and Ken are coming with the other pot and the eggs.”  Her head now free, Chelsi looked around the school yard.  At 7 am it was still earlier for her, but her Zambian campers, probably rose at 5:30, and now they were running about the school yard playing a pick-up game of hand ball.  They looked happy and content.  The remaining volunteers, and the more reserved children, were sitting on the stoop of the school block playing Euchre.  It wasn’t the best form for them to be sitting around playing cards, but it was the end of a long week, and they had earned some space.  “Alright, if I can have everybody’s attention for a moment.” She went to the stoop and sat down with the group.  “Ken and Lauren are being over the rest of breakfast. But first of all, happy final day of camp! You’ve all been working really hard and have dealt well with the few challenges we’ve had.”

“You mean like not having water?” Neal interjected.

“Like with the shortage of water filters; thank you Neal for putting a spigot on that bucket.  I just wanted announce some changes to the schedule today.  Marmar is going to go back into town today and bring Newton his things.” Newton, Maddy and Chaz’s counterpart who had suffered a seizure halfway through the week and had to be admitted to the hospital was going to be released that morning to the care of a nearby relative. “So I will be taking over her session on ecosystems this morning.  But I still need time to write it, so instead of going first hour, I’m going to go third.  So I need Adam and Amanda to do the Crafts with Trash session first, then if Neal can you do the fruit dryer.  My session should be done by then.  Then after lunch, Maddy and Chaz with do Climate Change and Mike and I will finish up camp sessions with Chongololo Club and how to be a leader.  How does that sound?”  There was a general nodding of heads that Chelsi took for understanding.  “Don’t forget to be drinking plenty of water, it’s going to be another hot day today. And if we can just power through everyone will be able to relax tomorrow.”

Ken and Lauren, having just arrived, and sat the remaining breakfast pots on the school block porch.  “Great thank you,” Chelsi said standing up.  “Also, there’s two eggs for everyone and two pots of oatmeal, so be free.”  Chelsi plucked a hard boil egg from the top of the pot and pealing it tossed it to Daisy.

“RED EKLANDS!” Lauren called out to the kids in the school yard to come be served breakfast.  “If you have a red name tag and you’re an ekland it’s time to get your food!”

 

Breakfast was served and eaten.  The campers came back for seconds and thirds until the porridge pots with scraped clean.  Neal liked teased her with talk of rations, seeing how the pots were scraped clean at every meal but Chelsi had been pleased so far with the way her food planning had turned out.  Nshima, the staple of ground maize, boiled until stiff, which must be had in a Zambian’s mind in order for food to be considered a meal, even if nothing else was offered, and many volunteers considered a large factor of malnutrition of children, had only been served once, the evening camp started.  As far as Chelsi knew, she had been the only one in history of Peace Corps Zambia to deny Zambians nshima for so long.  But everyone is better off for it.  The campers get some variety in their diet, the volunteers aren’t complaining of being bloated on nshima, and the counterparts get a lesson in adaptability.  Long in advance, Chelsi had made it clear, that if at any point people were unhappy with the food they could leave.  She heard only one comment and crushed it immediately.

After everything was cleaned up from the meal, at about 8 o’clock, and the first hour session commenced, Chelsi sat down on the ground of the school alcove and began to write her session.

Talking points, session topics and take-a-ways from the week bounced around Chelsi head.  Monday had been Water day, with sessions and games focusing on the water cycle, water quality and fisheries dynamics. Tuesday, Soil & Fire day, which help answer simple questions like ‘what is soil? What are village friendly solutions for improving soil fertility? And, how do fire affect soil and the landscape?  Air & Atmosphere day followed, when, after learning about oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other air and atmosphere molecules, the campers made terrarium biomes glass jars to help hammer home the point that, like in the jar, everything on earth is finite, contained inside the atmosphere.  Thursday was Plant & Animal day, where sessions touched on biodiversity and food webs.  And all of this culminated to today – Ecosystems and Climate change day.  But have they been putting it all together? Chelsi wondered.  She flipped to a clean page of flip chart paper, pulled a set of water colors from the crafts bag, set up a cup of water and began to paint.

 

 

“Hey Chelsi?” Adam approached her from behind.

“Yeah?” Chelsi glance briefly over her shoulder at him to let him know he had her attention.

“Neal is just finishing up with the fruit dying session, are you ready for your session? It’s next, right? Is there anything you need me to do?”

Chelsi glanced at her watch, ten minutes to 11, not bad. “yeah, I’m just about done.  Let the campers have a ten minute break to fill their water bottle if they need, and if you can make sure lunch is being finished up on time, that Ba Gladys has everything she needs.”

“Sure,” he turned to go and Chelsi finished up her last learning aid.  She had drawn up five microsystems, each on its own flip chart page, that when arranged together created the big picture of the ecosystem.  There was a stirring in the school yard of the camper stretching, filling their bottles and grumbling about the heat.  Just a few minutes, and we’ll be ready to start.

 

“Remember, during session, we; listen with our ears,” Chelsi wiggled her ears, “and watch with our eyes,” she fluttered her lashes, “and if we have something to say we…” she closed her lips and raised her hand.  The students quieted their chuckles and prepared their notebooks.

Chelsi began her lesson with a brief review of all they had talked about over the last week before venturing into the idea that an ecosystem is how water, soil, fire, air, plants and animals operate together.  She was pleased with how engaged many of the students were offer tidbit they had learned throughout the week.  After the opener, Chelsi asked the campers to get in their teams, and passed each of the five teams one of the pictures she had painted. “Now what I want you to do in your groups is answer these questions: In our picture, Where is the water? Where is it being stored how is it being used? What is the soil quality like? Describe its condition using evidence from the picture.  Where is the air? How do you know it’s there? What plants and animals to you see? How are they interacting? Is there human activity? How can you know? Is the activity good or bad for the environment? Why is this activity being done? What could have been done instead? When you’re finished you’re going to present you picture to the rest of the group.”

As the campers chatted in their groups Chelsi walk around listening like a dutiful teacher.  Generally, she liked teaching sessions, she liked commanding the attention of the room and coming up with activities, and teaching styles that help keep her students engaged.  But, because she’d been tending to the other duties of Camp director, or warden as Neal like to call her, she hadn’t much committed to teaching any sessions at the start, and then barely found the time to sit-in on the sessions of others for more than a few minutes. She was only teach ECO ECHO now, and a session on fire earlier in the week, because it had fallen into her lap.  Though the conditions under which this had happened weren’t great, she was happy to receive this session in particular.  She thought it would be the best measure to see what the campers had learned in the last week.  After all Environmental Education was the whole point of planning this year Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment.  If they hadn’t learned anything, all the stress, anxiety, and hard work to make it happen would have been for not. 

When the chatter had died down and it sounded like each group had come to a consensus on their pictures, Chelsi invited the groups up one by one to explain their pictures to the group.  The first group to go had a picture of some birds sitting in the tree tops.  They talked about water transevaporting through the trees, and wind blowing the leaves.  In the background they identified were trees had been cut and piled for conventional charcoal making. ‘Instead,’ the group identified, ‘they should be using the maize cob method we learned Tuesday and Wednesday.’  When the next group stood up, Chelsi pasted their picture just under the tree tops.  Here was a picture of the forest floor under the canopy.  On one side the group recognized that the earth was scorched by a bush fire.  ‘Likely one set by a hunter’ they added after identifying a prominent game rodent in the picture.  ‘Instead, the hunter should have brought a dog to help find the Fuko, because now the soil has been destroyed and young trees burnt.’  After they finished, the next group stood, pasting their picture of a small maize field in the forefront of the forest floor.  “The soil here is good” the group decided, because the maize had grown tall. They pointed out the small group of goats being managed in the field. “The goats here can be eating the farm waste and dropping manure on the field, but here they are still burning some of the compost, which is polluting the air and could have been tilled into the soil.”  Just in the corner of the picture of the maize field was a blue stream; which in the following picture connected to the rest of the stream.  This was the picture most different from the rest. It was a cross-section of the stream, featuring a few fish and frog, a couple aquatic plants and garden beds planted just on the banks. In the background and abandoned fishing net could be seen stretched from bank to bank.  “And the air in this picture?” Chelsi prompted after the group talked about the fishing gear, fish habitat and how stream banks shouldn’t be used for gardens. ‘Why, the air most be going in to the water.  Otherwise the fish wouldn’t be able to live.’  Excellent, how excellent, Chelsi thought.  The final picture portrayed the other side of the stream. A tall grass wetland was being cleared with fire.  The mice and snakes were racing towards some homes in the background, not having anywhere else to go.  The final group hit on every point in an appropriate way.

When the final group had finished the summery of their picture, refocused everyone’s attention and asked them all to take a step back.  “In front of us, we have a very familiar seen.  The bush, with birds and fuko, alongside our maize fields and animals, near streams for watering gardens, not too far from our homes, where we live.  After having looked at the pictures individually, we can easily see, now that they are fit together, aspects of an ecosystem, like the water cycle. And how a human’s decision to do something like light a bush fire affect can affect the whole picture.  Is everyone together with this?”  There was a vigorous nodding of heads.  “Because this afternoon Ba Maddy and Ba Chaz are going to talk about what happens when humans make too many decision that are bad for an ecosystem.” Chelsi glanced quickly at her watch; just after noon, right on time. “Thank you all for your attention.  I’m really, really pleased to say that I can tell you all have learned a lot this week.  It’s certainly made all the planning worth it” She added quietly to herself, turning to remove her learning aides. “There’s a half an hour of quiet time before lunch. So go enjoy!”

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Camp TREE gang

Categories: Current Events, Nature, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

065: We’re not friends

​Chelsi lay on her couch, alternately coughing and blowing her nose.  I might not have malaria, but I’m still pretty sure I’m dying. Her now week long illness had left her chest sunken in, nose raw, and vision blurred.  She couldn’t read, she couldn’t sew, and she wished with all her heart she could skip the laborious tasks of fetching watering.   But if there is one thing I know I’m absolutely supposed to be doing its drinking water. Just get up now, go, get back and you can spend the rest of the afternoon lying around in comfortable, quenched misery.  

She was shuffling around, unsticking her bike from its corner when she heard the sounds of an engine rumbling forth.  Not a motorbike, she knew, and the sound wasn’t diverting off towards her host family’s house as she was a custom.  Grabbing her hat, she poked her head out the door.  

“Good grief.” Daisy was barking and jumping around a silver minivan, one she knew all too well belonged the head master of the secondary school in Mitukutuku. A man she strove to avoid.  She stepped out of the house and started towards the car, it’s engine still rumbling.  Chelsi had stopped making regular visits to the secondary school nearly a year ago after deciding the teacher there where only interested in harassing her and not educational programs.  The few times her and the head master had run into each other since Chelsi never stopped walking away while he talked to her, and always saying that if and when he was interested in programs he could come and find her.  “And now he’s come to find me.”

“It doesn’t bit now does it?” the sheep faced man asked from behind the stirring wheel. 

“It’s vicious, you should probably stay in the car,” she didn’t want him getting comfortable. 

“No, is it,” he replied, faining disbelief.

“Well, if you’re not going to believe me than why ask?” but her question was rhetorical, and so he continued. 

“How are you?”

“I’m sick, how are you?”

“Oh, me, I am fine.  But we have not seen each other, you have not been coming down by the school.”

“No, I’ve been sick, and busy. And you all that side don’t seem all that interested in working.”

“Is that so?” 

“Yeah, I don’t have a car, going down that side it like an all-day activity and I have better things to do. You have a car, if you wanted to come see me before it’s like ten minute drive.” Chelsi voice was thick with annoyance, and grumble from the phlegm in her chest.  

“Serious!?” Chelsi coughed. “On this side, you have been working on what?”

“We’re planning an environmental education camp for October, and fixing my roof, but mostly I’ve just been sick.” She thought that maybe if he got the hint that I’m ill, he’ll leave me alone.

“You’ve been sick, seriously?”  

Chelsi coughed up some phlegm and spit it out on the ground beside her, “Yes.”

“Ahh no, no, no. A beautiful woman like you can’t be sick.”

What an idiot, if there was one thing the head master was good for it was a heavy dose of sexual harassment.  He smiled at her with an open mouthed grin, Chelsi fought the urge to reach in a shake him.  

“So woman, beautiful or otherwise can’t be ill?” She continued on quickly, “Why? Tell me, why is that?”

“Because you are young and beautiful, so you are healthy.  Ahh, maybe it is just some of the dust now that it is getting hot and dry.  It make all of us cough. But it’s just the weather. It’s just the air.”

“A plague of miasma would still leave us all consumed and dead.” As inevitable, Chelsi could feel her nature become sour and embittered. The head master continued to stare at her plain and grinning, and Chelsi craned her neck to see her comment on the other side of his head. “I’m not sick from the air, I caught a virus from my friends. You know viruses, germs. The major reason people become sick.”

“No, no, no. A pretty lady can’t get sick.” What kept Chelsi from just walking back into her house was the bafflement, that this was the person responsible the education of some 300 children.  She knew there were people dumb enough to believe this train of thought reasonable, people who refused to use condoms even after their partners disclosed their HIV positive statues because ‘she was too pretty, she couldn’t possibly be positive.’ But also what could only be blatant racial bias.  He panders to me because I’m white. Or maybe he just doesn’t have one iota of thought for the feelings of his wife. He’ll just hit on any skirt that walks past. 

Either way, you disgust me, “Look, you can’t talk to me like that,” the hoarseness of Chelsi’s voice didn’t well reflect the sentiment, but the backchat had gone on a year too long and had found her to close to home. “It’s incredible unprofessional, and quite frankly makes you sound dumb. If you have meaningful business to talk about that’s fine.” She stumble over some more coughing and phlegm, “But hanging around to make comments about how I can’t be ill because of the way I look is inappropriate.  You shouldn’t be making any comments to me about the way I look or don’t look for that matter!  And you can’t make comments about how I should love you or do love you or love between you and me of any kind. It’s not okay, and if that hasn’t been clear to you before, consider this notice and if you continue we’re not going to work together.” Chelsi noticed now that she had been looking at the ground, and when she reverted her gaze back up at the head master, his features withdrew.  He sat quietly, sullen. He’s probably never been talked back to in his adult life, Chelsi figured. “So do you have any actual business to talk about?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, yes.” He fumbled for his cellphone in his pocket. “My colleague, Mrs. Ngoma. She works at the extension for the University of Zambia. She has a plot by the dam there in Mitukutuku.  She wanted information on how to build some fish ponds. I said that I knew you and that I would drop off her information so that you can call her and come that side to show her.”

“You took a lot of liberties that weren’t yours.” You can’t tell someone I’ll go work with them without asking me first. “Give her my number, tell her if she wants to learn about fish farming she can call me to setup a time to meet me at my house.  I’m done wandering around looking for people and their plots, I have other things to do.  But still give me her number so I can put it in my phone.  I don’t answer calls from unknown numbers.”

“You will have to give me your number again, I think I might have it wrong.  The last few times I tried to call there was no answer.”

You are incredibly dense, “and the network here in the village is terrible,” Chelsi added sourly. She followed it up with her phone number.  

“You said she should meet you here? But she doesn’t have a car.”

“So?” the word shot a pain through Chelsi’s chest and she gripped it in a fit of coughing. “You have one, give her a lift,” she was snide and feeling tired. “Or you’re always suggesting that I come that side when all I have is bicycle. You’re adults, I’m sure I’ll figure it out.” He passed a strip of paper with Mrs. Ngoma information on it through the window.  “Is that all?” she took the slip of paper and folded it up in her hand.

“Yes,” there was no smile, no banter.

“Where are you going?” Chelsi voice was stern, but she was curious.

“I have a farm on this side.”

“Alright, well if you’ll be driving by often stop by if you have business.”

“Okay, okay.” The head master revved the engine of his minivan. Chelsi took a large step back.

Good, she decided, no comments about love or angels. He looked defeated. So hopefully that will be the end of that, and I really hope I never have to have that conversation again.  But her doubt nagged her; she was still young and at the beginning of her career.  And now that she thought about it, it hadn’t even been her first. Not in American, and not in Zambia, but she rarely handled the sexism and harassment so bluntly, though it was rarely in such sharp relief. She shuttered thinking of all the times men had referred to her as an angel, and she subsequently wanted to remind them that they were not friends.  What I really want it to be referred to and treated as a human, but if my choices are between angel and dog, I choose dog. Dogs are at least recognized as have needs, wants and character of their own, while angels are nothing but projections of the believer’s imagination. 

“And we are certainly alive in the world,” she smiled at her darling Daisy, who now took up the place the minivan had been. “Come on, let’s go to the well.”

Categories: Drama, Law, Justice and Order | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

063: Grass

​It’s a small miracle I was able to get any help at all, Chelsi thought to herself, pushing her bicycle towards the road.  It was laden with the fine grass that is preferable for roofing.   She was alone, transporting the last two bundles of grass home.  So alone, never alone, Daisy trotted up beside her.  

“Thank you Ba Kennie. Tukamonaangana pa Monday, at the office.” Chelsi shouted back over her shoulder to the tall this man, now standing next to a massive pile of bricks. 

“Okay, okay, okay.” He waived her off with a laugh.

The grass bundles shook as she mounted her bike.  It’s not far, hopefully it holds. So far the most bundles of grass she had been able to carry at once was five.  But it was a gruesome five.  Kennie and Austin had help her that day. One bundle was balanced a top her bicycle rack, while two massive bundles were strapped to the frame on either side. The grass was positioned in such way that she struggled to get close enough to the bicycle to maintain momentum and proper control, not to mention, the closer she got to the bike frame the more thin blades of grass stabbed at the back of her calves.  I was sure I was going to break out in a rash after that, thinking again about that afternoon. 

But I wasn’t suffering alone that day, she started to think back to the previous year.  The same time last year she felt she had no friends.  It would have been just 53 weeks ago that I was fighting, trying to at least get grass for my roof.  

Chelsi was snapped back in to the present when she started to feel her bicycle pull sharply to the left.  She started to hop off, squeezing the rear brake, forgetting for the moment it was broken, then sharply squeezing the front one, coming to a jarring halt.  Looking behind her she could see that the bundles of grass had started to slide off her bicycle rack.  Blades had become tangled in the spokes of her rear wheel.  “Shit,” her good mood started dropping precipitously.  She had already more time that she wanted to on this task, and for goodness sakes! Kennie spent the better part of an hour strapping it on to begin with!  

A few children, unfamiliar to her started to creep out from behind the bushes along the side of the road.

“Muzungu, muzungu,” they muttered between themselves.  It was the word despised by all volunteers, Chelsi beat back the urge to tell them to ‘fuck off,’ knowing that they would probably just continue to stand there, only laughing; taunting her more.  She pick furiously at the knots of the rope tie the bundles, wishing she was back to last year when she remembered better to do things like carry a knife with her.  “Muzungu! Muzungu!” now their comments were directed at her. 

Aah, “Iyai!, iyai!” If you can’t beat’em, join’em. “Iyai!”  One of the larger boys started over hesitantly, she motioned for him. If you’re going to just stand there you should help me. And it all looked like it was going to be alright, until Daisy trotted up around the front of him to get a better look at the situation.

“MAAMA!” the little boy shouted running back in to the bush at the sight of Chelsi’s dog. Well, at least they won’t just be standing idly by now.  She looked grass lying about the ground beside her.  In her mind, she couldn’t fathom a way to both hold her bicycle upright and re-strap the grass, which was now unbundled.  I should have just let Austin get these two when he offered yesterday, one side of Chelsi’s inner voice whine. Meanwhile the stubborn, proud and independent side of her cried, but who are you? If you’re not going to take some initiative it completing takes for yourself. 

Well, I might be able to get one bundle worth on, pile the rest of it by the road and come back for it.

“Ma ’dam? Can I help you?” A voice coming from outside her head caught her by surprise.

“Sure,” she responded gruffly, trying to retie some of the rope to her bicycle rack.  She didn’t look at the man while he helped re-bundle the grass and strap it down.  Her insides were too busy mixing. She was relieved, and thankful for the help, but her ability to express gratitude was being squashed by the echo of the children’s voices, muzungu, muzungu, and her deep seated angst about having had to fetch grass alone to begin with.  Where the hell is my host father! Isn’t this his job? Oh yeah, when he asked me where I was going, and I told him ‘get grass, you should help’ he chuckled and said no… Don’t be angry, be thankful for the help you’ve had. Count yourself luck that you didn’t have to lug all 30 bundles alone. You can handle these last two. You can do it.

When Chelsi finally looked up she could hardly see the multi-colored yarn puff adorning the top of her helper’s hat.  “Thank you,” her voice softened.  

“Thank you,” he replied. She craned the best she could around the grass to see him off.

She knew her best bet for getting her grass home without it toppling over again to push it.  Looking at her watch she sighed, 11:38. It was about an hour walk from where she way.  Daisy stood, and rejoined her from where she had been lounging in the shade.  She stretched and yawned.  “We’d better get started, at least this way the grass won’t be stabbing me the whole time.”

Categories: Adventure, DIY, Drama | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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