Posts Tagged With: home improvement

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

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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074: Gloomy

Laura seated herself on the couch of Chelsi’s small sitting room.  Chelsi meanwhile, moved about in the dimly lit house, replacing the candles in their holders.

“Tomorrow, first thing, I need to call the canter and remind it to pick up at least 15 people from the parking lot of New Shoprite.  The canter is too small to fit all 30 of them, so it’ll have to make two trips.”

“So what is it you need to me to do?” Laura asked.

“From you…” Chelsi paused to collect her thoughts.  Everything that she had been working so hard for was coming to acumination tomorrow.  Tomorrow, when thirty, nearly perfect strangers will be showing up to the spend week, expecting to learn about the environment and have their basic needs met.  Chelsi felt secure in the environmental education part.  Even if everything went awry she felt confident she’d be able to carry on seamlessly with sessions.  It was the caring for everyone’s needs.  She worried how long the tomatoes would keep, whether the campers and adult mentors would readily accept sleeping on reed mats, how they would manage carrying water from the well or after sunset without electric light.  It was unprecedented, the venue Chelsi and her Lunda counterpart Tyler, had selected for this year’s Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment.  ‘The village will be cheaper.  Arrange with the teacher to let the campers sleep in the school block. Reed mats are only 25 kwacha each. Plus, there’s no rules about where you can and can’t dig.  I think there should be lots of digging this year,’ Tyler had reasoned with her.  ‘And we wouldn’t have to limit the number of volunteers who can attend,” Chelsi added, remembering last year how she was unable to attend because the camp was held in a National Park, where space limited and costs was exponentially higher. ‘And camp in the village can be a whole five days of sessions, since we won’t have to spent half the time transporting people around the province.’  To the two of them at the time, the advantages of their scheme seemed untouchable by the shortcomings. But now every weakness was highlighted in Chelsi’s mind, even with every mitigation she could think of in place.

“From you, I mostly need emotional support,” she confessed.  “I’ll be fighting the desire to run and hide when I see that big blue canter roll up with the first group of kids.”

Laura chuckled, not distastefully though. “I’m just imagining the canter pulling up and you hiding behind a tree!”

“Seriously though! Big groups and loud noises make me anxious.  And what it Camp if not a large group of children, and what are children if not noisy?” having just finished lighting the candles, Chelsi threw her exacerbated self in to her easy chair.  She now wondered if her anxieties would have been lessened if Camp was being held anywhere else but her own house.  Tulip then broke her train of thought, having jumped into her lap with a purr and attempt to suckle her arm.

“You’ll be fine!” Laura reassured her friend. “You’ve been working really hard and everything looks to be in order.  Tomorrow morning we have to what? Bring the reed mats over to the school block, roll them out.  You said the mosquito nets are already organized, they just have to be strung up.  Toiletry kits and notebooks have to be set under the nets.  The welcome banner has to be hung…”

“We need to fill the tipy taps,” Chelsi continued, “and hang the chitenges on the bathas and toilets…”  A wind blew up over the walls, under the roof causing the candles to flicker.  “The pots and tomatoes need to be brought to Gladys, so she can start dinner sooner rather than later.”

“You said Tyler and Rider are coming with the rest of the veg and some buckets of chicken?”

“Yeah,” Chelsi replied with a sigh.

A more substantial wind now blew through the house, nocking some lose grass from the roof.  “Do you think it’s going to rain?” Laura asked.

“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t mind if it did.  It’s been so hot, and I’d rather it rain now than during Camp, where I don’t have any place to shift activities inside.  It’s drizzled a bit a few times so far, but nothing substantial like in Mwinilunga.” Just then, as if on que, the sharp sound of rain drops hitting the tin roof of her porch reverberated through the house.  “Well, speak of the devil…” Chelsi stood up, Tulip spilling out of her lap, and pushed aside on of the curtains.  “It’s probably just a short, passing thing.” When again, on que the ferocity of the rain doubled.

“Well, I’m glad you were able to get this new roof put up.” Laura commented, looking up.

“Right?” Chelsi started to move about the room, her arms outstretched feeling for any offending leakage.  When she crossed in to the bedroom she paused.  If she was still she could feel a light mist surrounding her body.  She looked around for the possible source. “You want to come in here for a minute?” She called to her friend.

Laura relinquished the rest of the space on the couch to Daisy and entered the bedroom.  “It’s like a mist almost.”

“I know, right? You think it blowing in from over the walls?”

“Ummm,” Laura looked about equally confused.

“Or ricocheting of the tin sheets, and then over the wall?  It kind of feels like it’s coming from that side.”

Laura twisted up her face, “I think it’s just coming down from the roof.”

“Pshh, the roof is brand new,” she moved back in to the sitting room in protest, only to have a large drop of rain splash over her head.  Outside the strength of the rain redoubled, inside a little private rainstorm was taking place.  Chelsi’s inside wrenched.  A quiet scream of anger and frustration escaped her.  “Fucking Kaonde roofs.  What short straw I pulled, not being a Lunda.”  Her soured temperament fell back on cursing the age of stereotypes of her tribe.  Meanwhile, rain was puddling around her.  The smell of sad, wet dog filled the air, and Daisy’s ears drooped with a whimper.

After a few moments, when Chelsi had collected herself, she set to work protecting all matter of things that she could of importance.  “I guess it’s good you have all these big plastic buckets,” Laura commented, helping her.

“Yeah, well.  This is one of the reasons.  And if I didn’t have all this stuff for Camp….”  Fucking camp, and all its blasted stuff, she thought now. “Camp’s cancelled,” she announced to her friend.

Laura, having finished packing up all the things they could started unpacking her tent.  “What do you mean? Camp’s cancelled?”

“If there was ever a reason to cancel camp, this would be it.” After all, to Chelsi, completing Camp had seemed like an unsurmountable challenge, and now it would be.

Laura was exercising the fullest extent of her empathy, but wouldn’t indulge Chelsi’s dramatic flair.  “You know, sure, the whole life you have been building for yourself in Zambia, is being ruined, but it could be worse.” Chelsi lightly glared at her friend, her now idle hands reaching for the bottle of Royal Kingston on her kitchen bench. “At least you are home, so you can protect what things you can.”

“And good thing you’re here with me,” she interjected, “so first thing tomorrow you can help me put up the plastic lining of my roof.” Taking a strong pull from the bottle, she ended sourly, “Not how I wanted to spend the morning before camp…”

“You can sleep in the tent with me if you’d like,” Laura kindly offered.  And with that Chelsi started to pack up her bad mood.

“Thank you.  The rain outside does sound to be letting up too.” Though inside it still seemed to be pouring around them.  “The old roof still would have been much worse.” She almost chuckled, imaging how absolutely horrid it would have been to be under the old roof.  “That one would have likely collapsed on us.” She made her again idle hand busy again help Laura with her tent poles.  “Then Camp really would have been cancelled.”

“Or you could be in Neal situation, with no roof at all.

“Really?! How’d he manage that?”

“After months of trying to get his village to come and replace it, he felt it last resort was to just remove it himself and move out till they fix it.”

Chelsi laughed, “I might have been the one to give him that advice.”

“I think a lot of people did.”

“Ironically too, because exactly one year ago is the day I move out of my house to have it refitted.”

“See! And look how far you’ve come!”

The two friend smiled amidst the rain, and crawled into the tent.

Categories: DIY, Nature, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

068: the Sky Above

Chelsi sat on the easy chair inside her house and looked up at the sky through the fresh bamboo reeds of her new roof.  Small miracles, she thought. Though this was no small miracle. The roof on her house was worse that she thought.  As her two Zambian friends removed the old grass on the roof the day before it had near collapsed; even though their frames were slight.  The old roof had always sloped awkwardly over her common room, it had simply been made that way. The poles on that side just weren’t long enough she knew.  What the grass had hidden though was how much shorter they actually were and how poorly than had been roped together to make a semblance of a standing structure.

No amount of black plastic would have kept it from raining on me.  Now she would have a properly made roof. With so much grass.  She had the 30 bundles she had purchased a few weeks before, plus what looked like 30 more bundles off the old roof.  Originally Chelsi had been worried that the old grass would become too damaged upon its removal that it couldn’t be reused. ‘The pulling and tugging’ she was told ‘that would be needed, because it’s tied down, might make it unusable.’ Only to find out it wasn’t tied down at all.

The new roof was balanced perfectly, peaking over the center of her house.  ‘With proper pole placement and river grass, it will be a five year roof,’ she had been promised.  Roofing in Zambia was described by the length of time it should last.  A roof with made of marsh grass was a one year roof. A roof of broom grass, thatched in the Luvale style, could keep you sheltered for 25 years.   The roof Chelsi had moved under last December was two month roof.  ‘Good’ Chelsi had replied to the promise, ‘because if you have any hope of getting a volunteer to replace me next year, we have to make the house nice.’ It was just the threat it sounded.  If the house wasn’t improved, she wouldn’t recommend a replacement.  She couldn’t, in good conscious, lead another volunteer in to the circumstances that she had been placed. But, now that the work was being done, she only hoped that whomever it was that came to replace her would appreciate her efforts.  It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be an immense upgrade to the dilapidated shack I had been presented with, more than a year ago now. 

Sitting in the easy chair Chelsi felt luminous; with the sunlight reflected off the white, limed plastered walls of her house and the sky a glittering blue.  This week was the most continuous time she had spent under the Zambian sun.  Her skin was showing it too; red, despite the sunscreen.  But Chelsi was smiling, imagining the thatch on her new roof.

A few of her doves flew up and perched on the reeds of the roof.  The black and white mottled birds preened themselves contently.  Above them small jobies sang in the tall tree that shaded the house.

Categories: Current Events, DIY, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 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

047: Free the Birds

“Todays the day! Todays the day!” Chelsi excitedly rubbed Daisy’s face between her hands.  The air warm but the cement floor was cold on her feet.  She pulled back the curtains, and pushed open the rear window.  Leaning out the window, the way she did every morning. She could see her large bird house, brightly painted flowers showing and bits of grass thatch poking through the net covering.  A few of her birds were perched on the sticks holding together the house stand. After this morning she would no longer have to bring them plates of food twice a day, check their water every hour.  After five weeks I finally get to remove the net, and the birds will be free.
“Odi!” Menace’s deep voice boomed from the front of her house. 
“Naiya!” Quickly, Chelsi slipped on her skirt over her undershorts and rushed out the door to greet Menace.
“Juba jikatampe!” Chelsi exclaimed throwing her arms into the air.  Menace laughed.
“Thank you for coming to help.  My hope is the net comes off easier than it went on. Let me just grab the chair and stool from the house and I’ll meet you over there.” Chelsi ducked back into the house. 
She reappeared to find Menace had ignored her, probably for the best. She was struggling with the odd shape and size of the chair. “Here, can you take this?” she thrust it at him. “I’m going to grab the scissors too, cause we’ll probably need them to cut some of the ropes.”
Chelsi and Menace positioned the chair and stool so they were on either side of the house, then they started picking at the rubber ropes holding the containment net in place over the house.  “Elizabeth was telling me that you tried to bring some doves from your uncle’s house in town too. But that they flew away.” A few weeks before Menace had approached her asking for some nails to build his own small dove house. She obliged, after all he helped me paint and thatch mine.  Then built the stand its sitting on now.
“No, a dog ate two and the other two flew into the bush,” he corrected her. 
“Did you pull out their feathers so they couldn’t fly away?”
“No,” he said it with a chuckle. “But I didn’t know.”
“You should have told me you were bringing them and I could have help you.  If you don’t pull their feathers, or put a net around their for the first 21 days when they’re in a new home they’ll just try and fly back from where ever they came from.” She pause picking at a particularly difficult piece of rope. “Next time.  I’ll let you borrow my net if you want too.”
The more rope they stripped from the net the more violently the butterflies in her stomach started to flutter.  This is really the moment of truth.  For so many weeks and months she envisioned what it would look like; to be in her garden weeding and look up and see her brightly painted house, covered in colorful dove, glistening in the sunlight.  Momentarily she forgot the dangers of looking up while standing underneath a bird perch.  The morning gloom had not burned off yet.  There would be no glistening till this afternoon.  So long as all my birds don’t immediately fly away.
The big grey cock cooed from the door of his box. His mate pushed past him to see better what all the commotion was about.  I wonder if that pair can even remember how to fly, Chelsi wondered.  They were some of the first additions to the house. And though she was quiet certain that their flight feather had fully regrown, she wondered about muscle atrophy. 
“Alright, do you want to hand me the big piece of bamboo?  And grab that one for yourself.  I’m going to stand on the chair, so if you get on the stool… Yeah just like that. I think it might work that we just push the net up over and off the house.”
I want them to fly! I want to see the wind in their wings! Menace and Chelsi worked together to clear the first half of the house from the net. Just not too far for too long.  All seven of her birds were huddled up on a perch in the far corner, fearing that this change in their daily routine might be the mark of their end. 
“Perfect!” And just as the net cleared the last half of the house one of her birds lunged forward and took off.  It flew straight back into the bush.  Chelsi’s stomach dropped a little bit.  When the whole net hit the ground the flighty birds mate took off after it.  She looked across the house at Menace.  “I would have felt a little better if they all had taken off…” They looked up at the five remaining doves, perched stone still.  Oh my gosh, maybe they have been lock in the house to long and I broke them! She let out some of her unforeseen anxieties on Menace.  “I hope the other ones come back.”
“They will, look!” The two birds, side by side, swooped down over the house then lifted back up to circle the compound before landing in the tall branches of the tree beside her house.  Chelsi smiled and tried to calm the butterflies still fluttering away in her stomach. 
The pair of doves stayed perched in the tree for quite a while, preening their feathers and stretching their wings.  As Chelsi and Menace cleaned up the bits of string the remaining doves started to loosen up a bit too.  When the cleaning was down they sat on log beside the garden and watched the birds in the house, until the sun came out and glistened on their feathers. 

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

042: Dirt and Water

Is it because they are made of mud? Chelsi thought to herself staring at the exposed brick that was the insider of her house.  Or is it because the roof is made of grass? But then what about the volunteers who have been upgraded to iron sheeting? And what about the glass in my windows? Those certainly don’t go along with the typical image.  So, if not but all those things, what makes a hut a hut and a house a house?

Chelsi squeezed the glob of mud in her hand into a perfect ball the same way she would a piece of nshima. Only a giant piece of nshima.  She found that if the ball formed without cracking or slumping in her hand when held still it was the right consistency for smearing on the wall.  Too dry and the plaster would not cling to the bricks and it would fall with a thud to the floor.  Too wet and it would either run or cause the previously smeared plaster to pull away from the wall.

“Personally, I’ve never really thought that we lived in a hut,” She said as she pressed the ball of mud on to the wall and kneaded it in to the bricks.  Daisy was lounging on the ubiquitous reclining-folding chair of Zambia.  The kind you might sit in, enjoying a quite boardwalk, on a tropical beach, of a secluded resort. Only Zambia had none of those things.  Except for the chairs.

Daisy perked her ears and lazily lifted her tail at the sound of Chelsi’s voice, but didn’t otherwise stir.  “Even before the house was fixed… Mmmm. Yeah, even then.  Although I do remember likening it to a shack a few times, and Mike referring to it as a shed.  Or at least saying ‘Yeah, I basically just use it to store stuff.’” She pick up another handful of mud.  It had been awhile since she had done any plastering in her house.  Last time being shortly after she moved back in in December.  Plastering and liming the walls were of course, part of the house standards that remained unfinished when she moved back in; but you have to pick your battles if you want to live through the war.

“What about the homes that we pass, the ones made of latched crisscross like and then have mud packed in to the holes? Do you think those qualify as huts? Because even a few of those have iron sheets.” The fact was Chelsi’s house was actually the odd one out for have a grass thatch roof.  Of the hundreds of structures between her and the tarmac she was one of maybe a dozen that still had a grass roof. Chelsi glanced over the chair at Daisy to check that she was listening.  Her eyes where open and they tracked the movement of Chelsi’s face until it was beyond the periphery of her vision. Her body didn’t move except to let out a sigh.

Chelsi could feel the heel of her hand wearing thin as she pushed the next ball of mud across the bricks.  “Although I’m not sure anyone really lives there, there’s that grass building a couple doors down.  Also iron sheets though.  Plus I think if a majority of your building is grass and sticks, then I think you qualify as a lean-to.  Those shelters, especially around town, made out of iron sheets and black plastic, definitely lean-tos.”

“I can see some of the benefits; if your structure were all black plastic and irons sheets you wouldn’t have any termites. Or, if your walls were grass they wouldn’t melt in the rain, like the mud does. Although, the nice thing about mud, after it stops raining you can just pick it up and slap it back on the wall.” Chelsi paused to shake the weakness out of her arm.  Little bits of mud flew everywhere offer her hand.  But what’s a little more mud? “After all, the mud bricks are held together with mud mortar, smeared with mud plaster, painted with muddied water, then brush with lime, which let’s face it, is just a dirt of a different kind.”

“I wonder though,” Chelsi said aloud after a long pause. “If the work hut, among volunteers has more to do with the way they think about their place here.  Because after gathering at the Prov house, volunteers are always going back to site, it seems they’re never going home.

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031: A New Start

Chelsi began to stir from a restless night of sleep.  She stretch out, trying to remember where she was.  On the floor, she knew. Under my pashmina, in my tent. “Back to the village.”
She remembered now. Late last night the cruiser dropped her and her things back at her house in the village.  Finally, she felt relieved, two months she had been gone, but it was coupled with the stress of all the things that were left to do.  Last night she hadn’t even the energy to put her bed together; sheets, blanket mosquito net. So opted for the floor, and the tent to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  What little time she had the previous night she spent piling all her things together, but off the ground and under her tarp, in the even that it rained that night.  It takes a few good rain storms before thatch roofs situate themselves into a water resistant layer. That and the fact that her plastic roofing liner still remained to be hung, a nighttime rain storm could have spelled disaster.  That’s the first thing that needs to be done, she thought rolling into an up-right position. The plastic needs to be hung.
Because she hadn’t lit a fire last night for diner there was no coffee for this morning.  She stood for a moment thinking whether it would be worth lighting one now, staring at the mountain, which were her things that needed to be organized and put away.  “If I don’t I’ll have more time in day to get all this stuff done,” she said to the puppy wiggling about her knees.  “Ooh, yes. I missed you too.  And look how much you’ve grown! You’re almost twice the size as when I left! How is it my darling Daisy that you’re always going through these growth spurts when I’m not around? It’s all the nshima from the neighbors, fattening you up!”
She propped open the door to take a look at the yard in the light.  The door also needs locking mechanisms for the in and outside. The air was muggy but the landscape was green and crisp.  Rain season had begun while she was a way, which had result in a new crop of grass.  Some of which already reached up to her waist.  Not a bad thing, she thought.  This way when it dries out in July I can apply it to my chinzana, which she looked at sadly, still without a roof.  With the chinzanza, which was supposed to be her cooking area, the way it was it really was a necessity having the house expanded. As she thought about how silly she would look trying to light a fire in the rain, the morning sun began to peak at her through the trees.  “The porch that’s what’s different.”
Mike, the previous volunteer, had built a cement slab just off the front door with an iron sheet roof.  “That’s where he cooked in the rain.” The villagers had widened the slab to accommodate her bigger door, “a nice touch. But the iron sheeting needs to be put back up.” She sighed.  She knew what she had to do next.  In the dark of the previous night she had gotten a glimpse of what had become of her garden while she was gone and now in the light she was afraid to look.  Stepping of the slab on to the ground she shielded her eyes.
Between her fingers she could see jungle grass growing thick on the beds. Beds that had taken her six weeks to dig and nearly broke her back.  The fence, which had taken her her first three months to build, had blown over completely. Grass, wire, fence posts, all up rooted and lying limply on the ground.  “I’m really glad now I waited to plant. But a thing it’s still salvage able.” She wanted a garden more that almost anything, but it was certainly turning out to be quiet the investment.  “What do you think Daisy?” Carefree, her puppy walked over the fence and on to a bed. She looked up at Chelsi and wagged her curly tail.  “Yeah, a new fence is definitely going up first.” The dogs are worse than the goats and the chickens! She thought. 
She turned to get a view of her new house from the outside.  The out and new portions of the house stood out starkly part from each other.  Though it was pitted and chipping, the old portion of the house had a thick coat of plaster and lime; compared to the new portion which had been left bare brick.  The whole house is going to need to be re-plastered and limed¸ she thought. Inside and out.  The crumbling looking old house might have been fine for Mike, but she strongly felt that just because she was living in the village that didn’t mean she couldn’t have her house looking nice. For a moment her mind toyed with whether she should start improving the outside or the inside of her first, when the roof caught her eye.  The thatch glittered as the sun rose over her head. She smiled. So much nicer than the old house. Waiting for it was terrible, that could easily be the bar for bad experiences during my service, and it still needs a lot of work, but like the rest of this place, it has so much potential to be really, really nice.
The new house was even adorned with glass paned windows; three of them.  They were part of the rising house standards for volunteers in Zambia.  Not a requirement for her house, but they were a nice touch.  On closer inspection she found them to be nailed shut from the outside, but she felt confident in her ability to apply hinges. Maybe I should start a list of things needing to be done. As she thought about where amongst her things they might be her host father and a neighborhood boy approached her from the rest of the family’s compounds. 
“Good morning!” She greet them.  Daisy gave a few happy barks to the arrivals.
“Hello, how are you?” the neighborhood boy Menace asked, with a big smile holding out his hand.
Chelsi grasped it, “I’m fine, and how are you?”
“Now me, I’m fine.”
“And your mother? And her sister? And the kids?”
“They are fine.”
“I am very happy to be back,” her excitement to be home exploded out at the sight of one her village friends.  His smile grew in response.
“No, that’s good. I am here to help hang the plastic in your house.”
“Fantastic! I’ve got nails and pre-made the cardboard squares.  And that was the first thing on the list to do… Here come in, come in. Let me move some of this stuff around and we can get started!”
Before living to have her house fixed, and even during her stay at the prove house, Chelsi had felt frustrated, stresses, unhappy.  But her time away helped her understand what was important to her happiness and success as a volunteer. Having an actual size house was one of those things, doing more for the people she felt really shined in her life was another.  Coming back and seeing the people and animals and the parts of her life that she had missed really brought in the feeling that this was the place she was meant to be, this was her home. 

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

022: Just a small garden

Chelsi was excited, it was the first official day, of her first official workshop. She smiled at the small group of woman standing beside her with her hoe was in her hand.  The small space felt like a blank canvas that she would get to paint with brightly colored vegetables, and flowers. She had always wanted a garden.  In fact, the opportunity to learn about gardening was one of the prevailing reasons she had joined Peace Corps.  All of her previous attempts had failed miserably. There had been the year she tried to grow some vegetables in her parents backyard and ended up with only one eggplant, and the year she tried container gardening and dragged a couple of tomato plants all over the country.  That attempt produced just three tomatoes all summer. But this time I’m ready. I’m going to be just here to take care of it and people are going to come and help because they also want to learn about gardening.  And there are no vegetables in the village…
At IST, in-service training, the Peace Corps permagardener, Peter, had come and giving a two day workshop on how to dig climate resilient gardens using village available materials as a way to improve mother and child nutrition, or MABU, the mother and baby unit, as he often referred to it. 
“If dug properly and managed well, you will only have to water this garden two to three times a week. Instead of everyday, twice a day. And the most meaningful difference,” he continued, “is now, because we’re water less often we can dig our gardens closer to the house.”
Chelsi had spent most of community entry erecting fence beside her compound. When people asked what it would be for they laughed when she said a garden.  ‘But where will the water come from?’
“So where is the water going to come from,” Peter had asked rhetorically.”Many Sub-Saharan Africa countries get just as much, if not more rain then places like London. But we think of Sub-Saharan Africa as being dry and London as being wet because of the pattern in which the rain falls.  London receives its meter and a half of rain in little bits over the course of weeks or months.  Arid Ethiopia, where I do most of my work, gets its meter and a half of rain in a couple of half an hour rain events that happen all within six weeks. So what we need to do is create a micro climate of our gardens that catches and stores that rain for use during the dry season.  Otherwise if you’re going to be able to have a garden at all it will likely have to be far, far away from the house near water and where it’s harder to manage.”
Chelsi thought about this, and it was true.  Chelsi’s host mother in the village, her Bamaama, had her garden near a borehole, a four hour walk away.  Because of the distance, managing it well was difficult.  Some villagers who gardened in the wetlands just a short walk from the house.  There the water was less than a foot or two under in mostly place but the soil, though it was black and looked nice was heavy and even over log with water making it labors to form in to rows of mounds which is the traditional method. 
“I have picked this spot here,” she told the Bamaamas, “because it is just next to this ant hill which will funnel lots of rain into our garden.  So when you’re looking for a place by your homes to put a garden look for someplace on a gentle slope, near an anthill or an iron roofed house.” Chelsi repeated her instructions one more time, using interpretive hand motions and the kiikaonde gardening vocabulary she had been studying up on. 
After, Chelsi led the group of women moved into the fenced in space. “So what we want to do first is create a small wall or berm, direct water in to half meter by half meter holes which we will dig around the outside. To improve the walls so that we can still use them for cultivating we are going to do what in English we call double digging.”  Again, this was followed by interpretive hand motions and kiikaonde gardening vocabulary.  And then she dug her hoe into the ground. “To start double digging we will first dig just a little bit, in a little section.  We just want to loosen up the top layer of soil, down to where the ground becomes hard and compacted again.”  The women’s eyes widened as Chelsi started digging in the dirt.  She would be told later by one of her younger gardening students that she had never seen a white person dig in the dirt before.
The women took turns loosening up the dirt, removing wads of roots and adding wood ash, bits of charcoal and manure to the loosened dirt.  As they dug Chelsi did her best to explain how the garden worked.
“When water, from the rain, is directed into the holes it sits and is able to sink deep in to the soil where it will be stored until dry season, May, June, July, August, September… Then as the soil in our garden dries out in the sun the water will be drawn up into our beds; which will be soft and sponge like because of the double digging.”  Chelsi looked around, some of the women were nodding their heads.
“But all this digging, it’s very difficult. And when do we add the fertilizer?” asked a women in a bright yellow tank top.
“To start, if we dig good, next year no digging. But we must not be on the beds or berms.”  Speaking kiikaonde was not too difficult if she was convening thoughts from her own mind where she had time to prepare, but answering questions were like pop quizzes that pushed her languages skills. “No fertilizer, because we put charcoal, manure and wood ash and dig all, we put fertilizer, no.  After we will, can learn about making compost.” While speaking her gaze had wandered towards the sky as if her eyes could turn about and look for the right words in her mind. She looked back at the women now. “Putting charcoal, wood ash and manure, like fertilizer.” She added for good measure.
The women were smiling and giggling.  Remember, they are not laughing at you, they are laughing because they’re happy. And right now you are making them happy.  Chelsi reminded herself of this often. 
It took the better part of the morning for the group to finish up the front berm and dig out two of the water catching holes. Now many of the women were sitting off in the shade, or leaning on their hoes. In training she was told not to keep her gardening students any more than two hours, so as not wear them out.  “When you are making your gardens at your homes they do not have to be this big.”  Chelsi opened her arms, it was the first time her 6 by 7 meter fenced in plot was feeling big. “4 by 4 meters is a good size to start.” I’ll do another berm this afternoon, Chelsi thought, maybe another group of people will come. “But this is all for today.  You’ll all done a wonderful job.  The garden is looking very nice so far. I will let you know when we start digging beds, or if you would like some help getting your gardens started, let me know and I’ll be happy to come.”
The group thanked her, and started to make their way out of the gate. 

Categories: DIY, Gardening, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

012: Stronghold

They were seated on the walls of the chinzanaza, passed the pleasantries for started a meeting, though Chelsi was not in a pleasant mood at all. She leaned back against one of the roof posts, only to have it snap in half and cause pieces of the roof to fall on top of her. 
“This,” she stood up pointing at the post, “this needs to be fixed too.” She resituated herself on the wall closer to Ba Chunda, the Peace Corps Provincial Coordinator or liaison between volunteers and their villages.  The first three months had come and gone and not a single repair had been made to Chelsi’s house.  The purpose of this meeting was to do nothing more than remind the group leader of Kamijiji, and Chelsi’s host father, that he was responsible for organizing repairs.  Going into the meeting Chelsi thought it was going to be more of an open dialog about her situation and alternative options.
“This man,” Chunda briefly gestured towards Mr. Kalulu, “called me last Friday to tell me I should come and pick you. Do you understand what that means?”
“Sure, that he no longer wants me here.  Which sounds fine to me if the people in Mitukutuku want to build me a new house closer to them.” She said smugly. “You know, close a door, open a window.” Except in the new house she hoped the door would be big enough for her to fit through and the windows would actually open. 
“It’s not up to you to decide to move.”
“It wasn’t my idea!” the words came out in a hushed shout of frustration.  She had told him before, “After two months of me asking for my house to be repaired and reminding them to put together a housing committee I started asking other people for help because nothing was getting done! And I don’t want to get wet when it rains. When I went to ask the people in Katoka for help THEY suggested just finding me or building me a new house because Kamijiji is really far for them to come and work. I told them ‘maybe that’s an option but I have to talk to Peace Corps, they need to be involved.’ I told them. But Ba Julius happened to be there and he took the idea back to the group leader in Mitukutuku and he started holding meetings about building me a new house. I told them, ‘We have to talk to Peace Corps.’ But obviously they didn’t listen. There is nothing I can do to keep people from talking about it.”
“But don’t you see, YOU are creating a safety and security situation for yourself.” – “There is nothing I can do to keep people for building a new house for me!”
“Can I finish?” Chelsi could feel her blood boiling, of course this was all her fault.  This man’s pride was wounded, pride which in Chelsi’s eyes was undeserved, and it was her fault because she ask for nothing but what she was due.
“Sure, whatever.” She reached down and picked up her puppy, who was pawing at her knee.  With sharp contrast to the mood of the conversation Chelsi affectionately nuzzled her puppy and kissed her on the top of the head. 
“Mr. Kalulu is the group leader here, the headman of the village, you know what that means?” Actually I was late for that day of training, but she flashed him a glance that said she would be treating it as a rhetorical question. “The people here are loyal to him, they do what he says and they will follow him. Eeh?” Chunda’s voice was forceful, trying to drive home the point like nail into wood. “If you make him unhappy it can poison the whole community against you.” Chelsi looked over across the chinzanza.  Mr. Kalulu had this open mouthed grin while he nodded his head.  He did not speak much English, but Chelsi imagined he was thinking, ‘Ah! But now she must understand.’
Wait a second, “If people are supposed to follow his direction then why the hell is getting the house fixed so much trouble? And even more so, this is a house that should have never been approved for inhabitance by any volunteer, but it had come to my attention that it is the way it is because when it was originally being built no one from the community came to help which should have been an obvious indication that a volunteer should have never been put here in the first place!” 
Chunda turned his head towards Mr. Kalulu and started speaking to him in Kiikaonde, as if somewhere in their conversation he was going to be able to dig up some ultimate understanding. This was the overarching paradox of Chelsi’s understanding of this whole situation, and she did not caring enough to listen closely to what they were saying. She was past believing she would be given a satisfying response, because in true Zambian fashion the response never explained the observation.
Chelsi was staring down at the puppy in her arms, but she could feel Chunda’s eyes back on her when their sidebar quieted down.  “When it was first decided a volunteer would be placed here the community was sensitized and they decided this is where the volunteer should stay. They were organized but when it came time to build the actually house, only three other people come to help.” Right, so clearly the community wasn’t invested enough to receive a volunteer, my point exactly. “And Mr. Kalulu has been very disappointed by the community’s response to coming to fix the house, now.” Then what it the point of calling him group leader? I know people here want to come and help, it feels more like he’s been blowing off his responsibility to organize them.
“All reasons a volunteer should have never been placed here to begin with…”
Chunda sighed, “But now they know they have a really chance of losing their volunteer and they need to be given a chance to make repairs to the house before we can arrange to have you moved.”
“Because three months’ worth of chances haven’t been enough… Three months… and I won’t be lost, I would just be moving up the road a little.”
“Making bricks to expand the house, it’s not difficult.”
She rolled her eyes, for among other reasons, she had told Chunda multiple times, ‘the size of the house was the least of my concerns.’ “But also making bricks to raise the roof, because my head doesn’t fit through the door, and rebuilding the roof and putting new grass. Fixing the giant holes in the cement floor in house. Doing something about THAT,” she pointed towards her chim. “So passersby on the road don’t feel obligated to greet me while I’m doing my business because they have a clear line of sight. And that drying rack which is rotting, and obviously this.” She simultaneously pointed at the roof post which had snapped behind her moments ago, and looked up through the gaping gaps of the grass of the roof for the chinzanza, “because I would like to build an oven in here.”
Chunda was still looking towards the chim, “They want to help you even more because you are female,” he pivoted his head back towards her, “and they want you to live decently.” The feeling of bullshit floated into her mind, if they cared one ounce about my decency they would have fixed that before I moved in. My ‘decency as a female’… but then again what could he say? He should have said nothing at all..
“Moving was not my end goal here, but once the ball got rolling it started to seem like an attractive option.  But clearly I don’t have any options and don’t get a say in this,” She rolled right on through.” You’re telling me that they have one more opportunity to fix the house, I’m leaving in two weeks to go to training in Lusaka, I’ll be gone for almost a month. I don’t want them working inside the house while I’m gone. And then when I comeback, You’ll bring the cruiser out here and bring me and all my stuff back to the Prov House for like two weeks while they construct new walls, rebuild the roof, thatch it and re-cement the floor. Because all this would be easier than just building a new house while I’m gone then moving me into it in one afternoon.”
“Yes, we will come with the cruiser while the house is being fixed.”
“But they can fix all the things outside the house while I’m gone.”
“and they’ll make bricks. And if that not done by the time you return then we will have an excuse to move you.”  For moment Chelsi entertained what it would be like for the two villages to have a build off, and she would live where ever they built faster and better; she imagined the ‘new’ house would have a porch too because she had an instinctive feeling Mitukutuku would win and she would miss the porch was not a standard housing requirement.
“Fine, but while I’m here I don’t want anyone making bricks in front of the house after 17:00 hours.” Chunda relayed the message to Mr. Kalulu who nodded.

The next morning Chelsi emerged from her house around 9 am. It started as business as usual; coffee, dishes, etc. When Mr. Kalulu wandered through the gap in the dilapidated fence her predecessor and she had stopped fixing when the prospect of moving became possible.  She greeted him politely but her heart started to races as her anxiety level began to rise.
“When you stopped coming to greet us in the morning we thought you wanted to move to Mitukutuku.” He voice was quiet and raspy, a man past his prime.
Chelsi sighed. She stopped going over to greet them every morning six weeks ago, long before recent event started taking place.  The two things were totally unrelated, but she could see how it looked. Her change in behavior was more about shirking what would become a polite obligation to sit in a smoke filled chinzanza for at least twenty minutes before awkwardly walking away and trading it for another hour more of sleep.  She would admit though, she did not handle the transition the best.
For the umpteenth time “I’m not Mike, I’m not very social. Sorry, it’s nothing personal.” She had heard he mention Mike a couple of time the previous afternoon, comparing the both of us and even suggesting they bring him back next year. The fact that she was not him was a burden she was forced to bare.  “And All I want is a roof that won’t leak when it rains.”
Mr. Kalulu did his open mouth smile, half nod gestured. “Today, where are you going?”
“Nowhere, I’ll be at the house today.”
“Okay,” He paused, “I am going to church.”
“Okay, Tusakumonaangana.”
“Okay.” And he walked away.

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